That sound you just heard was the collective groaning from Colts fans as the team's best defensive player was just ruled out for Sunday's game. This afternoon, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano officially ruled out cornerback Vontae Davis, right guard Hugh Thornton, offensive lineman Xavier Nixon, and linebacker Andy Studebaker for the upcoming game against the Browns in Cleveland.
None of the players ruled out are surprising, but that doesn't make it less impactful, especially when it comes to Davis. Davis has been the best player on the defensive unit and one of the biggest keys to the success the defense has had. Especially this weekend, as the Colts face one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in Josh Gordon, Davis will be greatly missed. He suffered a concussion last week against the Redskins and has been going through the concussion protocol this week. He didn't practice at all this week, and as Pagano said, "we don't really have a choice" when it comes to concussions. With the way the protocol is laid out, it really eliminates any decisions to be made by the coaches and rather it's purely whether or not the player completes the protocol in time to play. For Davis, he'll be out this week.
It was expected, but it's still a huge loss. First off, it will likely force the Colts out of their ideal coverage. They love to play press man coverage and Davis is a perfect fit for that, but without him they'll likely have to back off on their press a bit and perhaps go to more zone coverages. Regardless of what they do, they won't be able to run their ideal defense. Furthermore, it means that the defense will have to play Gordon without their best defensive back. Darius Butler will slide to the outside in the base defense with Greg Toler still at the other corner spot, and then when they go to the nickel Butler will slide into the slot and Josh Gordy will play outside. Pagano said that both Gordy and Jalil Brown saw reps at the spot this week and that even safety Colt Anderson could fill in if need be (as he's done so before).
Hugh Thornton, the team's starting right guard, is also out this week for the second straight week. This one was expected as well, as he didn't practice all week and Pagano said at the beginning of the week that Thornton was still week-to-week. It means that the Colts will also be without their starting right guard, but let's be clear: Joe Reitz, who will continue to fill in for Thornton, has outplayed him this year and myself and others have said that he should continue to start even with Thornton healthy. This week it's not a discussion, however, as Thornton is out and Reitz will continue to play at right guard.
Also, backup offensive lineman Xavier Nixon will miss the second straight week as well, not having practiced at all this week. The same is true of backup linebacker Andy Studebaker, who will miss his second straight game after not practicing this week. Studebaker's impact is most felt on special teams, where he has been a very solid contributor this season.
[UPDATE:] The Colts have released their official injury report for this weekend's game, and in addition to the four players listed as out they have three players listed as questionable. Starting safety Mike Adams, cornerback Jalil Brown, and kick returner Josh Cribbs are all questionable. If I had to guess, however, I think they will all play, though it remains to be seen.