The Colts continue to receive bad news on the injury front on the offensive side of the ball. All-Pro TE Dallas Clark is out indefinitely after suffering an "uncommon" wrist injury against the Redskins. WR Austin Collie has undergone surgery on his injured thumb, and will be out at least a few weeks. RB Joseph Addai's status is also up in the air due to a shoulder injury. RB Donald Brown and WR Anthony Gonzalez continue to work their way back from hamstring and ankle injuries, respectively.
The PFW spin
So much for getting healthy during the bye. The Colts have spent the better part of the week scrambling, with news that Clark is out indefinitely with a hand/wrist injury, Collie has undergone thumb surgery and no one is exactly sure when Addai (shoulder) will be ready to return — not to mention, their punter taking a drunken swim in the wee hours of Wednesday morning in downtown Indianapolis.
The loss of Collie hurts, especially given the fact that he has proven to be one of the real rising stars in the NFL. But the Colts have enough weapons at receiver in Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez, who is expected to return after the bye from an ankle injury that has sidelined him the past five games, and even undrafted rookie Blair White, who has shown that he can get open and make some plays, to absorb the blow.
Garcon, in particular, will have to step up and prove to Peyton Manning that he can not only make the dazzling, highlight reel grab, like he did in Week Six when he somehow managed to haul in a high pass from Manning with only his right hand when his momentum was carrying him in the exact opposite direction, but also be trusted to run the right route all the time and make the routine catches.
Gonzalez also needs to bounce back and show that he is not a player that will always have the dreaded injury prone label attached to him like teammate Bob Sanders. If Gonzalez can return to his rookie form, and Wayne and Garcon keep doing what they do, the Colts, even without Collie, have a boatload of talent at receiver that would make almost any other team green with envy.
Clark's mysterious hand/wrist injury is a much bigger problem. It's not hard to see how a guy who catches 100 balls a season is tough to replace, but the situations in which he makes a lot of those grabs are what makes him so valuable. Manning relies on Clark so much in big third-down situations and in the red zone. Outside of Wayne, that can't be said for anyone else.
Opponents finally figured out this season that the only way to minimize the damage done by Clark is to double-team him with defensive backs. With Clark out of the equation for a while, it's a safe bet that Wayne and Garcon will receive that extra attention.
The guy who will be asked to fill Clark's enormous shoes is rookie Brody Eldridge. The Colts have two other tight ends − veterans Jacob Tamme and Gijon Robinson − but neither of the two, who have a combined 34 career catches, provide nearly the upside of Eldridge. We heard the Colts raving all summer long about the great hands of the rookie who was used more as an in-line blocker during his collegiate career. Well, the learning curve just disappeared for Eldridge. The Colts will need to see a lot more of the physically gifted Eldridge converting third downs and a lot less of him dropping would-be touchdowns like he did in Week Four in Jacksonville.
And then there is Addai, who one source close to the Colts told PFW recently is "the most underrated running back in the NFL." The invaluable, do-it-all Addai is coming off the best game of his career in Washington and has shown a burst, elusiveness and ruggedness this season that haven't been on display since his breakout rookie campaign. He has also maintained his reputation as one of the very best blocking and receiving backs around. But will he run with the same confidence and fearlessness if and when he returns? It stands to reason that a running back, especially one as physical as Addai, needs to have total confidence in the durability of his shoulder.
Colts fans and the Colts' coaching staff adore Mike Hart, but he is not the total package that Addai is, and he has had injury issues of his own throughout his career. And Donald Brown is still a complete unknown. He has shown flashes of the guy who piled up over 2,000 yards rushing in 2008 as a junior at Connecticut, but nothing more.
The talk earlier this week was about the Colts being 4-2 — they could be 5-1 if it were not for a 59-yard game-winning field goal in Jacksonville — without having played nearly their best football. They went on the road for four of the first six games, and did it with several key players, including Sanders, Bullitt, Gonzo and Garcon, missing. Reasonable questions still remain about their ability to stop the run and protect the ball in the return game. The schedule doesn't get easier, either, with road games against the Eagles, Patriots and Titans, and the Texans, Bengals, Chargers and Cowboys coming to Indy. So while the Colts may have faced some adversity early in the season, it's nothing compared to what they must overcome now.