Mike Lombardi, the man every Colts fan loves to hate because he addressed the now-justified injury concerns surrounding the eternally brittle Bob Sanders back in August, decided to chime in on Peyton Manning's play in the Patriots game this past Sunday:
In spite of the turnovers, Manning was amazing. He makes some plays that defy logic and his ability escape the rush is really underrated. His accuracy is beyond belief. Yes, he threw three picks, but had he not been on the field, this game would have been a rout. The Colts are not a good team right now and they are one of the worst at tackling. They lack skill players, and everything they do is "a grind," as Manning often says.
Manning was a one-man show. With a supporting cast that requires most to Google the names, Manning led a fourth-quarter rally that had most of the fans at Gillette Stadium feeling their hearts were going to once again be broken by Manning. The Patriots, as they did last season, controlled the game for 50 minutes, but the last 10 were all Manning.
I wrote Monday that Peyton deserves most of the credit for making the game close. However, the last INT he threw was terrible, and there are no excuses for it. The one thing he absolutely could not do in that situation was turn the ball over. He knew that, which was why he was killing himself at the podium after the game.
FYI: Notice how, after the loss, Peyton was totally and completely available for media questions? It's called being a professional. Bill Belichick should take notes.
For a change, I really haven't seen much written bashing Manning for the turnovers. Most media seem to fall within the same opinion realm as Lombardi, chirping that Manning is doing amazing things throwing the ball to guys who were on the practice squad, or not signed to any team, two months ago. It certainly was not Manning's fault that the Patriots were 6-6 on third down by halftime, or that they were able to score a touchdown on third and ten to go up 14-0 early.
The key right here is Peyton is indeed a 'one man show,' and while injuries have played a major role in that, the failures of our team's defense have also played a significant part.
While the offense has lost players like Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez for the season, and have been without Joseph Addai and Mike Hart for extended stretches, the defense (for the most part) has not been hit too hard save for the strong safety position. Highly paid 'star' players like Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Antoine Bethea, and Kelvin Hayden have played in every game. Fili Moala (second round pick in 2009) has has also played every game. Last year's resurgent player, Daniel Muir, has started every game, and rookies like Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner have made positives contributions.
However, many of the supposedly 'star' players on defense have played very poorly this year, especially on the road.
This year, the Colts are an uncharacteristic 2-4 on the road, and it isn't the offense that is at fault. Despite all the injuries to key players, Indy is averaging 26 points per game (ppg) on the road and 27.5 ppg at home. Not much difference between the two.
When you look at the defense, however, the numbers tell the tale.
At home, the Colts surrender an average of 14 ppg. In for home games, they have not allowed over 20 points to any opponent. On the road, this same defense is surrendering a staggering 26.5 ppg. In six road games, the Colts have held only one opponent (the lowly Denver Broncos) under 20 points. Everyone else has scored at least 28 points on the Colts.
The last time the Colts had a defense as bad as 26.5 ppg was in 2001, when they surrendered 30 ppg and went 6-10 on the season.
Now, the injury excuse holds up for the offense. When you lose a Dallas Clark, it is going to affect you. Yet, without Clark, the Colts are still finding ways to score. Players like Jacob Tamme, Javarris James, and Blair White have stepped up. But on defense, the injury excuse simply does not fly. And if there was ever a time that this defense needed to step up, earn their pay, and carry this team that time is now.
They've responded since the Clark injury by surrendering 17, 26, 17, and 31 points in the last four games. Those two 17 point games were at home. The 26 and 31 point games were on the road.
Now, the long-standing and lame excuse for the defense is that they are 'built to play at home.' If so, fire Bill Polian now. One does not pay Antoine Bethea, Dwight Freeney, and Kelvin Hayden HUGE contracts just so they can show up and earn their checks at home in their warm, snugly stadium with a retractable roof that never opens. They're supposed to produce at home, on the road, or at a neutral location like the Super Bowl.
The 'play at home' excuse also doesn't work because teams like the Eagles, Patriots, and Texans (all teams the Colts have lost to on the road) play on fast turf. This turf benefits the Colts speed just as Lucas Oil Stadium does. So, kindly save the silly 'they're built to play at home' nonsense. They're paid to play everywhere. If they aren't, then they shouldn't be paid, period.
From my observations, tackling and effort on the road is not as consistent as it is at home. Many people (myself included) felt the defense quit during the Week One game against the Texans. While the offense is out there flinging the football around Reliant Stadium, trying to score touchdowns and get back in the game, the defense is seen visibly giving up on plays. We also heard Eagles tight end Brent Celek question Dwight Freeney's effort during the loss in Philly, though I'm not sure that was as obvious as the entire D quitting against the Texans.
When it is all said and done, the only reason I can think of for this dramatic disparity between the defense playing well at home and on the road is effort. And if effort is the reason, that is unacceptable. It reflects poorly on the coaches and on the desire of the players. I can understand if injuries sap talent.
There is no excuse for a lack of effort. None.
As this season has unfolded, it is becoming fairly obvious that the Colts will likely play their first playoff game on the road, even if they win the AFC South. If that is the case, this will be a one-and-done playoff team. The expectation for this Colts team when the season started was Super Bowl or bust. Anything less than a ring was a failure and, for me, a one-and-done playoff season is just as bad as a 6-10 season; maybe worse when you consider draft position the following season.
The bottom line is this Colts team absolutely must find the desire to play as well at home as they do on the road. If they don't, a spot in the playoffs is in jeopardy and the Colts stay in the playoffs will be very short-lived.