Now onto the defense. Ahh the defense, where the Colts otherwise 16-0 record goes to die. Unlike some of the more recent years when there was reason for optimism about the defense, this year questions abound particularly at safety... While the linebacking corps are promising they do not stand out or jump off the page. The defensive line will be improved in the middle, but again, unless the Colts can make a play to resign Sanders or bring in another veteran at safety, that could be their glaring weakness that gets exposed all year.
Also a quick note about the offensive rankings that I wrote up a week ago. Several people jumped all over me for saying that Collie is the best slot receiver and for (guessing/predicting as a Colts' fan) that the Colts offensive line will be the best in the division.
My defense and the actually defensive rankings after the jump...
First to Collie.
Wes Welker is good but how many GM's would take Welker over Collie right now? He's 30. His last 2 years he put up 189 catches for 2,200 yards, 11 touchdowns and had a 10.5 yards per catch average all while being the only decent target for Brady. (Aaron Hernadez, 60 year old Deon Branch and Gronkowski are not true receiving threats).
Or you could take Collie. He is only 25. During his first two seasons (during which he played 8 games fewer than Welker) he had 118 catches 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns along with an 11.2 average. He was also playing behind one of the league's top five receivers and top receiving tight end and Pierre Garcon.
So yeah, call me a homer but I am taking the guy who has more yards per catch, more touchdowns is only starting to blossom into a top flight receiver and still put up those kinds of number while being the third option.
Secondly, to the offensive line. The rankings are for this upcoming year not last year. The Colts' made the most improvements and biggest jumps. Here though is why I ranked the Colts tackles as first. To start, I am a Colts' fan. If I think two units might be close, the Colts get the tiebreaker. Its a Colts blog! Secondly, Charlie Johnson played admirably out of position at left tackle. Now on the right side he will be that much better. Plus Anthony Castonzo is said to be the most NFL ready LT prospect in the draft. Thirdly, the Colts have versatility and depth the Titans don't have. Ben Ijalana can play tackle and Linkenbach (as much as some fans might dislike him) has had good experience. Finally, and this is probably the key point, is that the Colts line benefits from protecting Peyton Manning. Tennessee's tackles might be better technically, but they have to block for a guy in Kerry Collins who holds onto the ball for 54 seconds before he throws it. Peyton holds the ball maybe 1.2 seconds at most. Therefore the job of Castonzo and Johnson is much easier than Roos or Stewart. But yeah, I am a Colts fan, probably got carried away by the prospect of having a strong line and I think our line will be much improved.
Now finally to the defense.
Defensive Ends: Advantage Colts
1. Colts - Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Eric Foster and/or Jerry Hughes
2. Texans - Mario Williams, J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith, Reed Brooks
3. Titans - Jason Babin, Jacob Ford, William Hayes
4. Jaguars - Jeremy Mincey, Austen Lane, Derrick Harvey
This is probably the easiest position battles to rank on both sides of the ball. The Colts have the best two defensive ends in football so without a doubt they are the best of the AFC South as well. The Texans are an easy second with Mario Williams and the Jaguars pass rush is so pathetic the Titans were an obvious third. If only Colts had such an advantage in other areas.
Defensive Tackles: Advantage Texans?
1. Texans - Amobi Okoye, Shaun Cody, Damione Lewis
2. Colts - Fili Moala, Ricardo Matthews, Drake Nevis, Daniel Muir
3. Titans - Jason Jones, Sen'Derrick Marks, Jurrell Casey, Jovan Haye
4. Jags - Tyson Alualu, Terrance Knighton, C.J. Mosley
Unlike defensive end, this spot was probably the hardest to pick. It also ended up being choosing from the least bad. None of these defensive lines are good. However, the Colts is certainly the most intriguing. Moala improved significantly last year and has potential. Ricardo Matthews is also a guy who could really come on and with the addition of Drake Nevis, the Colts might actually have a strong rotation.
Wouldn't that blown your mind? The Colts having strong defensive tackles... It could happen. The only reason the Texans were ranked one was because Amobi Okoye could still be really good if he ever lives up to potential.
Otherwise it was a total crapshoot. The Titans edge the Jags because of the potential of USC's Jurrell Casey.
Linebackers: Advantage Texans
1. Texans - Demeco Ryans, Brian Cushing, Kevin Bentley, Xavier Adibi, Zac Diles, Darryl Sharpton
2. Titans - Stephen Tulloch, Will Witherspoon, Gerald McRath, Akeem Ayers, David Thornton
3. Colts - Gary Bracket, P. Angerer, Clint Session (if he returns) Kavell Connor, Philip Wheeler,
4. Jaguars - Kirk Morrison, Daryl. Smith, Justin. Durant... that's it.
The Texans have a seemingly bizarre draft strategy on defense. They load up on one position. For the last few drafts it was linebacker and this year its defense end with J.J. Watts and Brook Reed. I guess when ranking linebackers it works because the Texans are absolutely loaded. Depending on Demeco Ryans health they should have the deepest linebacking corps in the league. In fact all six players listed could probably start for Jacksonville..
The Colts have an interesting and relatively young mix but still need to show more. They are ranked below of Tennessee because even though they have depth and potential, Stephen Tulloch is a top five linebacker in the league and recorded 157 tackles last season and Akeem Ayers could be really good as well.
Cornerbacks: Advantage Titans
1. Titans - Cortland Finnegan, Alterraun Verner, Jason McCourty,
2. Colts - Kelvin Hayden, Jacob Lacey, Jerraud Powers, Justin Tryon, Kevin Thomas
3. Texans - Kareem Jackson, Glover Quinn, Brandon Harris, Jason Allen, Rashad Carmichael
4. Jaguars - Derek Cox, Rashean Mathis, William Middleton
If you are Jaguars fan and you've read this far down, you are hurting. How can the Jags be ranked below one of the worst secondaries in the history of the NFL? Well, Houston upgraded through the draft and Jacksonville didn't. Also one time star corner Rashean Mathis had a horrible year.
Tennessee on the other hand is loaded at cornerback with top young talent.
Safeties: Advantage Titans
1. Titans - Michael Griffin, Chris Hope, Vincent Fuller
2. Jaguars - Courtney Greene, Don Carey, Sean Considine
3. Colts - Antoine Bethea, Aaron Francisco, Mike Newton
4. Texans - Bernard Pollard, Eugene Wilson
Finally the Jags emerge from the basement. Safety is the Colts' biggest concern heading into the season. We are one injury to Bethea from total devastation as Francisco is just not starting caliber.
For the Texans Bernard Pollard recorded a bundle of tackles, but he was beat so many times it wasn't funny.
Titans - 10
Colts - 11
Texans - 11
Jags - 18
Overall the Colts find themselves in the middle of the pack, a place where they historically seem to reside on defense. As long as the offense is still humming its fine. However, concerns at safety are certainly worrisome.
For the Jags, its going to be a long year. The defense should be unsightly and on offense they are breaking in a new quarterback meaning Jags fans might want to give up now... Oh wait, they already did two years ago.
The texans should be better, especially with Wade Phillips so they will probably be the biggest threat to the Colts. When have we heard that before?