The Colts' offensive struggles in Sunday's 34-7 dismantling courtesy of the Texans were about as surprising as the recent revelations that there is widespread cheating going on in college football. Replace Peyton Manning with Kerry Collins and give Collins roughly two weeks to learn the offense — not to mention three new starters on the offensive line — and growing pains (that's putting it nicely) were imminent.
That the Indy defense was so rotten — while also not a huge surprise — is far more alarming.
Here is a scary thought: The Colts' defense actually improved upon its Week One effort in 2010, when Texans RB Arian Foster rushed his way onto the national stage and into the record books.
The truth, though, is that the Texans still took what they wanted, when they wanted it from the Colts on Sunday — and they did it with relative ease. If not for a dropped TD by All-Pro WR Andre Johnson, a fumble by RB Ben Tate and an ill-advised fourth-quarter interception by Matt Schaub, the outcome would have been much worse.
And the scariest thought of all: Peyton Manning won't be coming to the rescue anytime soon.
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It is hard to quantify how many times Manning has bailed out the Colts' defense over the past 13 years. The Colts' model for success has been to surround Manning with blue-chip talent on offense and lean on DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to make plays on defense.
That model simply won't work this season.
Sure, Collins still has plenty of talent around him, and Freeney and Mathis are talented enough to make impactful plays. But the feared edge rushers no longer have the luxury of pinning their ears back with the team playing with a lead and concentrating solely on decapitating opposing QBs.
It's safe to assume that defensive stalwarts like Freeney, Mathis, Gary Brackett, Antoine Bethea and others did a lot of soul searching following Sunday's debacle. I firmly believe the Colts, the winningest team of the decade, have too much pride to phone it in this season without their leader. I'm guessing the Colts watched film Monday with a fire burning in their bellies to have a great week of practice and play their tails off against a very beatable Cleveland team in front of their adoring fans on Sunday.
If that is going to happen, however, the Colts' defense needs a dramatic and urgent turnaround. The D-line, which added a pair of former first-rounders, Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton, and third-round three-technique Drake Nevis, needs to develop a chip on its shoulder and no longer tolerate being pushed around. The Texans' offensive line that steamrolled the Colts is not one that is known for being overly physical and imposing its will on opponents — until Sunday.
The Colts' young linebackers need to know their responsibilities and tackle far better. Let me repeat: stay in your gaps, fellas. Tate is an exciting running back who might go on to have a very fine career, but he is not the unstoppable force the Colts made him out to be Sunday.
I don't expect the Colts to suddenly stop playing their Tampa-2 scheme that allows yards in the middle of the field, but I could have found open receivers in that soft zone if I were playing QB. Desperate times call for desperate measures and if I'm defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, the time is now to get creative and find ways to tighten up in the middle of the field and still create turnovers. (Indy came up with three takeaways, but I would argue that at least two were gifts from the Texans.)
It is only one week, and we all have watched enough football to know better than making knee-jerk reactions — particularly with these most trying circumstances — but one thing is crystal clear regarding the Colts after the embarrassing loss in Houston: the status quo on defense simply won't cut it this year.
No. 18 isn't magically swooping in and saving the day like he has so many times in seasons past. The Colts must save themselves — and it starts on defense. I know they have too much pride to stink up the field again the way they did on Sunday.