After a tough 24-10 loss in Week 1 to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Texans travel to
on the road 26-21.
Coming off a season in which they started with 14 consecutive victories and eventually lost at home to the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, the pressure is on
Replacing these players will take time, but the Colts still have many talented performers on both sides of the ball and one of the best head coaches in the league in Tony Dungy.
The offense begins and ends with Manning, the best quarterback in the game today. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore gives Manning free reign to call plays at the line of scrimmage in his one back, two tight end offense predicated on play action passing off of stretch running plays. The Colts have ranked in the top four of the league in points the past seven seasons and it has gotten to the point where Manning appears to be a machine reading defenses and picking them apart with ease. The six-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer isn't afraid to spread the ball around to every available receiver and is a master at drawing safeties off his desired receiver with his eyes. Manning has thrown for at least 26 touchdown passes every year during his eight year career and barring injury, which shouldn't come into play considering he's started every one of the 129 games during his career, should do it again this season.
Manning's favorite target is 11-year veteran Marvin Harrison. Even at the age of 34,
will have another big year.
Since then, the Colts have been recognized as having arguably the best pair of receivers in the league.
The unique thing about the Colts offense is their use of the tight ends. They like to use two tight end sets to set up their play-action passing game because it gives the illusion they are looking to pound the ball down the opponents' throat with two extra linemen. All of Indy's tight ends are athletic and capable in the downfield passing game and have the ability to block in the running game. The best of the bunch is Dallas Clark, who in any other offense may have twice as many catches, but serves his purpose with the Colts stretching the middle of the defense and doing a good job of running after the catch. After being converted from linebacker in college, Clark went on to an All-American career at
The strength of the offensive line lies in the offensive tackles. Left tackle Tarik Glenn engulfs defenders with his 6-5, 332 pound frame and has been Manning's bodyguard during his career, leading to his two Pro Bowl appearances. Right tackle Ryan Diem is one of the more unheralded players in the league, but he gets the dirty work done in the running game to give the Colts some success on the ground. At 6-6, 320, Diem is big enough to detain defensive lineman and has the ability to get to the second level to block linebackers. Center Jeff Saturday is one of the best at his position in the league and finally got recognized last season with his first Pro Bowl appearance in his nine-year career. The questions for the Colts start at guard with left guard Ryan Lilja and right guard Jake Scott. While they have proved themselves to be serviceable players, the Colts will need improvement from both of these young players this season to improve the running game.
The big question for the Colts coming into this season was how the running game would go without James, the fixture at tailback for the Colts since 1998. Initial returns were not promising. Fifth-year veteran and declared starter Dominic Rhodes teamed with rookie first-round pick Joseph Addai to rush for only 55 yards on 23 carries. Those numbers will need to improve if the Colts are to be successful this season. While
The best way to attack the Colts is to force them to run the ball, but blitzing isn't a viable option because with Manning's recognition skills, he will pick a defense apart. Pressure from the front four is key and a reliance on the linebackers to decipher Manning's play action game are the two essential elements to overcoming the Colts' overwhelming attack
As good as the Colts are on offense, their defense is starting to garner the same reputation. Last season, the Colts ranked second in the league in points allowed and had three players named All-Pro. Dungy employs the Cover 2 defense he used as head coach in Tampa Bay that relies on pressure from the front four and two safeties deep to prevent big plays.
Just as the offense begins with Manning, the defense begins with defensive end Dwight Freeney. In this first four full seasons in the league, Freeney has been selected to three Pro Bowls and has registered 51 sacks. Coming out of
Freeney relies on his quickness to beat offensive tackles and often draws double teams allowing his teammates to help in attacking the quarterback.
The leading beneficiary from the attention toward Freeney is fellow defensive end Robert Mathis. In his third year in 2005, Mathis accumulated 11.5 sacks beating his counterpart for the team lead. Even smaller in bulk than Freeney, Mathis (6-2', 245) also uses his speed to his advantage although he is sometimes exposed in the running game. At the defensive tackle spots, the Colts have one of the best three man rotations in the league in Corey Simon, Montae Reagor and Raheem Brock. While they may not carry the same name recognition as the defensive ends, all three of these players do the dirty work necessary to make Dungy's defense work properly.
Although one of the smallest units in the league, the Colts' linebackers use speed to their advantage chasing running backs down from sideline to sideline and limiting gains after catches in the passing game. The best of the group is weakside linebacker Cato June. A safety in college, June has terrific instincts in the passing game as evidenced by his five interceptions returned for 115 yards and two touchdowns last season on his way to his first Pro Bowl, even garnering votes for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Alongside June is middle linebacker Gary Brackett, who has gone from an undrafted free agent out of
Backing these three up at the linebacker spot will be former starter and first round pick Rob Morris and Rocky Boiman.
In the defensive backfield, the leader is free safety Bob Sanders. At only 5-8, Sanders may appear to be out of his league, but when a receiver catches the ball over the middle, Sanders lays the wood with the best of them. With a reputation as one of the hardest hitters and surest tacklers in the league, Sanders is also a great leader and excels at run/pass recognition. Next to Sanders is fellow former All-Big Ten first team defensive player strong safety Mike Doss. Doss was one of the captains on the 2002 National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes and is well on his way to cementing a place on the Colts' defense for years to come.
The weakness in the Colts' secondary lies with their cornerbacks. While starters Nick Harper and Jason David have accumulated twelve interceptions combined over the last two seasons, most of that can be attributed to the pressure created by the front four. At 5-10'' and 5-8 respectively, Harper and David could be succeeded soon by 2005 draft picks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden. Both players have excellent size, and like Doss and Sanders were All-Big Ten performers in college, The pair are aggressive, instinctive players that typically succeed in the Cover 2 defense.
If a team is going to attack the Colts defense, it is best for that team to be extremely patient. Although there may be some temptation to throw the ball deep, that is only going to cause a turnover and put the ball in the hands of Manning quicker. The key is to have the quarterback take a short drop to avoid the pass rush, attack the undersized corners on hitches, slants and crossing patterns, utilize the tight ends downfield to attack the weakness of the Cover 2 defense which is the deep middle and mix in a running game that preys on the over pursuance of Freeney and Mathis. This is how
Patience is the key otherwise the defense will put the ball back in the hands of its dynamic offense.
After missing a clutch kick in last January's divisional playoff game against
The punting game is just as strong with veteran Hunter Smith. Although he is rarely needed with the efficiency of the
offense, when he does get on the field, he pins the opponent deep having 44 percent of his kicks land inside the 20-yard line last year.
Out of the NFL since 2003, the Colts resigned their former kick returner Terrence Wilkins to handle the same duties this season. Also a key receiver in their offense from 1999 to 2001 and member of the 1999 All-Rookie team, Wilkins hopes to revive a Colts' return game that was inconsistent a year ago.