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07-29-2005, 06:46 PM

<TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD class=yspsctnhdln>2005 preview: Colts</TD></TR><TR><TD height=7><SPACER width="1" type="block" height="1"></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE><TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD>By Charles Robinson (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/expertsarchive?author=Charles+Robinson), Yahoo! Sports
July 29, 2005

<TABLE id=ysparticleheadshot cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=1 align=left border=0 hspace="5" vspace="5"><TBODY><TR><TD class=ysptblbdr2><TABLE class=yspwhitebg cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=3 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD><TABLE class=yspwhitebg cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=2 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD>http://us.i1.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/i/us/sp/cn/headshots/charles_robinson2.jpg (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/expertsarchive?author=Charles+Robinson)</TD></TR><TR><TD>Indianapolis ("]http://us.i1.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/i/us/sp/p/yse_lo_70x24_2.gif[/url]</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE><TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=4 width=150 align=right border=0><TBODY><TR><TD><TABLE class=ysptblclbg7 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=1 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD align=middle width="100%"><TABLE class=ysptblclbg3 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD class=ysptblbdr3 align=middle colSpan=2 height=20>AFC South predictions</TD></TR><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=2 height=3><SPACER type="vertical" size="1"></TD></TR><TR><TD width="20%" height=19> 1.</TD><TD width="80%" height=19>[url="http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=cr-colts05preview&prov=yhoo&type=lgns)</TD></TR><TR><TD height=19> 2.</TD><TD height=19>Jacksonville (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=cr-jaguars05preview&prov=yhoo&type=lgns)</TD></TR><TR><TD height=19> 3.</TD><TD height=19>Houston (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=cr-texans05preview&prov=yhoo&type=lgns)</TD></TR><TR><TD height=19> 4.</TD><TD height=19>Tennessee (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=cr-titans05preview&prov=yhoo&type=lgns)</TD></TR><TR><TD width="100%" colSpan=2 height=3><SPACER type="vertical" size="1"></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE></TD></TR><TR><TD height=3><SPACER type="vertical" size="1"></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>Indianapolis Colts (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/ind/)
Head coach: Tony Dungy, fourth season
2004 record:12-4
2004 rankings: Offense, 2nd (404.7 yards/game); Defense, 29th (370.6 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: 15th
<SMALL>From SportingNews.com: AFC South overview (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=2005afcsouth&prov=tsn&type=lgns)</SMALL>

A superb 2004 season ended predictably, as the Patriots once again bullied the Colts out of the playoffs. Though the second-round loss took some luster off their 12-4 campaign, the Colts still enjoyed one of the most impressive offensive runs in league history.

Quarterback Peyton Manning (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4256/) played flawless football down the stretch, smashing the season record for touchdown passes with 49 and engineering an eight-game winning streak that made Indianapolis look unstoppable. But the Colts fell apart in their statement game against the Patriots – an AFC divisional playoff defeat that had as much to do with offensive failure than defensive shortcomings.


There aren't many superlatives that haven't been used to describe the combination of Manning, running back Edgerrin James (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4652/) and receivers Marvin Harrison (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/3514/) and Reggie Wayne (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5477/). And when No. 3 receiver Brandon Stokley (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4755/) is flourishing, Indianapolis becomes as close to unstoppable as any NFL team gets.

With tight end Dallas Clark (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6360/) coming into his own, there isn't a team in the league that has more impressive weapons at the skill positions. Manning is at the absolute peak of his game, the only exception being his troubles against New England. Eventually, he'll get over that hump, too.

The only major change is the departure of steady guards Rick DeMulling (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5668/) and Tupe Peko (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5665/) via free agency. Peko lost his spot to Jake Scott (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6900/), while DeMulling will be replaced by Ryan Lilja (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/7076/). There shouldn't be any drop-off, especially with Manning's quick release rendering him nearly unsackable. Tight end Marcus Pollard (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/3432/) is gone, too, but he was already being pushed out of the offense anyway.


Dwight Freeney (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5897/) is one of the league's best defensive ends at rushing the passer, and despite criticisms, he is adequate against the run, too. But the front seven remains mostly an average group, and Rob Morris (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5057/) is still the middle linebacker, despite serious consideration given to upgrading that spot this offseason.

If the defense is going to get better, the improvement must occur in the secondary, where some quality young players are beginning to mature. The Colts need the secondary to stay healthy and for rookie Marlin Jackson (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/7205/) to take over the starting cornerback spot opposite Nick Harper (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5790/).

Jackson is athletic and tested after spending the last four seasons as the best player in Michigan's secondary, and he will eventually develop into a dependable No. 1 cornerback. For now, he'll allow Donald Strickland (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6426/) to provide depth at both safety and cornerback, along with cornerback Jason David (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6884/). Safety Mike Doss (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6394/) is going to miss the first two games of the regular season for an offseason weapons charge.


Punter Hunter Smith (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4860/) is on solid ground, but there is a battle brewing between kicker Mike Vanderjagt (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4525/) and rookie David Rayner. The Colts drafted Rayner specifically to battle for the starting job with Vanderjagt, whose mouth has gotten him into trouble far too often.

Returner Brad Pyatt (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6636/)'s health has been inconsistent, and if he doesn't look reliable, the team could find another specialist in training camp. PREDICTION The Colts will finish 12-4 and first in the AFC South.



foresee a higher percentage of completions in 2005. Quarterbacks have really zeroed in on what the rules are – what defenses can and cannot do – and as a result, they will throw to their tight ends more frequently.

The NFL is getting much better athletes at the tight end position these days (see Antonio Gates (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6663/)). Also, the enforcement of the illegal contact rule has been a huge factor. Not being allowed to bump a guy after five yards made a huge difference for offenses last year. This season, the impact of the crackdown will be felt even more.

Here are the quarterbacks I'll be keeping an eye on this season:

Best in the business: Peyton Manning (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4256/)
He has great command of the Indianapolis Colts (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/ind/)' offense, which supplies him with weapons all over the field. He has a stellar running back in Edgerrin James (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4652/) and he has an unbelievable cast of guys to throw to on a regular basis. His third receiver, Brandon Stokley (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4755/), just might be his best receiver. He also has a talented tight end in Dallas Clark (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6360/). All these things, and his command of that offense, really set him apart.

I think Peyton will put up big numbers again in 2005, and I believe this could be the year he might be even more successful because, defensively, the Colts have gotten better – and this might be the year he finally beats the Patriots. All he and the Colts really need is home-field advantage. Indianapolis is the team that scares the opposition more than anyone else.

Most underrated: Tom Brady (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5228/)
People get consumed with the numbers – 4,000 yards, 40 touchdown passes, etc. But the No. 1 stat is winning games. Right now, no quarterback in the game has been more successful than Brady.

Is Brady capable of amassing great numbers? Of course. The New England Patriots (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/nwe/) have a solid receiving corps and the ability to run the ball with Corey Dillon (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/3914/). But with the conditions they play in, the division they play in and the type of coach they have in Bill Belichick, I don't see Brady compiling Peyton-like numbers. It's not that important to him anyway. So what if he hasn't thrown for 4,000 yards in his career? He's won three Super Bowls. Which stat do you think he's happier with?

Adjusting to life without offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will be tough, but Brady is at the stage of his career where he can grow into the position a little more and take more command of the offense. He has been well-taught in the Patriots' scheme; its fine details have been ingrained in him. But don't underestimate Belichick's knowledge of the offense – or the rapport he has with Brady.

Most overrated: Jake Plummer (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/3895/)
Mike Shanahan is putting too much faith in a quarterback who has shown little improvement over the years.

For me, it's always crucial that the guy who touches the ball on every play improves each season. Plummer was successful in leading Arizona to the playoffs in his second year, but how much better has he gotten since 1998?

I think that speaks volumes about Plummer's ability to learn the game and adapt. I believe he has ample talent. But given what Shanahan can do with the Denver Broncos (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/den/)' offense on a regular basis, there's no excuse for Plummer to not develop into one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.

Ready to break through: Carson Palmer (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6337/)
He reminds me of Troy Aikman, and he has talent surrounding him everywhere on offense. The Cincinnati Bengals (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/cin/) have a very good offensive line – one that's really underrated, by the way – and an effective running back in Rudi Johnson (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5548/). Also, I love the three-receiver set that the Bengals can put on the field.

The Bengals' biggest problem is that they play Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice a year. But if you look at what they've done the last two years, teams are starting to become a little more afraid of playing them because the Bengals aren't the beatable Bengals they used to be.

Rookie to watch: Jason Campbell (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/7201/)
It's not Alex Smith (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/7177/). I don't like the situation the No. 1 pick is going into with the San Francisco 49ers (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/sfo/). He's going to get knocked around a lot, and we know that all rookie quarterbacks struggle. Plus he's on the worst team in the NFL.

The kid to watch is Campbell, the second of the Washington Redskins (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/was/)' two first-round picks. They traded up to draft him as their quarterback for the future, but how distant is that future? Is it right now? Is it midseason? We do know that Patrick Ramsey (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5918/) has not worked out as Joe Gibbs' quarterback.

Campbell's situation is a little more intriguing because, ultimately, he could be just as good as Smith.

Backups to watch: Gus Frerotte (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/2869/) and Jay Fiedler (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/3012/)
Keep an eye on the A.J. Feeley (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5603/) situation with the Miami Dolphins (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/mia/), who basically have two backups battling to be the starter. I believe Frerotte will start, but neither quarterback will make it through the season healthy. The Dolphins will be an improved team, so whoever the QB is, he will have to step up and make some plays.

Also, look at Fiedler's situation with the New York Jets (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/nyj/). Fiedler grew up on Long Island and decided to go home and play for the Jets. He's playing behind Chad Pennington (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5047/), a quarterback whose style is a lot like his own. The Jets have developed an offense where Pennington, despite his lack of arm strength, can be very successful. I think that offense will be better suited for Fiedler than the one in Miami.

Biggest surprise: Aaron Brooks (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4781/)
I'm hoping it's Aaron Brooks. I hope he really steps up, plays up to his potential and stops the sporadic play that we're so accustomed to seeing from him with the New Orleans Saints (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/nor/). He has major-league talent, and he always gives us glimpses of that talent in six or seven games each year. This season, I'm looking for a more consistent output from Brooks and for him to really take the Saints to the next level.


Colts still trying to getting over the hump

By John Clayton
Archive (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/archive?columnist=clayton_john&root=nfl)
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<TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD vAlign=top><!-- begin leftcol --><!-- template inline -->TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- For the Indianapolis Colts (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/clubhouse?team=ind), the 2005 season might come down to one game: Monday night, Nov. 7 against the New England Patriots (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/clubhouse?team=nwe). The road to the Super Bowl goes through Foxboro, Mass., and as a much as the Colts don't like to admit it, this offensive machine can't stop breaking down along this road.

The Patriots have won six straight against the Colts, 10 of 12 during the Peyton Manning (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=4256) Era. So clearly, New England has been the nemesis during Indy's quest for a Super Bowl title. Other franchises have had similar dilemmas. For years, the Cowboys couldn't get past the Vince Lombardi-coached Packers. The Raiders and Houston Oilers were derailed by the Steelers in the 1970s.

For the Colts, it comes down to one game, one team.

<!---------------------INLINE TABLE (BEGIN)---------------------><TABLE id=inlinetable cellSpacing=1 cellPadding=3 width=200 align=right border=0><TBODY><TR><TH style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #000000">Inside Colts camp</TH><TR style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #ececec" vAlign=top><TD width=184>http://espn.go.com/i/teamlogos/nfl/sml/trans/ind.gifWhat's the latest with Edgerrin James? Why are the Colts feeling more optimistic about their secondary? Those are just a couple of the things John Clayton touches on in his observations from Colts camp.
• Inside Colts camp (http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/trainingcamp05/columns/story?columnist=clayton_john&id=2119415)http://sports.espn.go.com/i/in.gif </TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE><!---------------------INLINE TABLE (END)--------------------->"It kinda reminds me of college," said Colts receiver Reggie Wayne (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=5477), formerly of the University of Miami. "Florida State beat us every year until my senior year. It was a little of the same with Virginia Tech. So I've kinda been there before. This is my fifth year here. I guess I'm a redshirted senior and I'm in my fifth year. We've got to figure out a way to win."

What they can't figure out is why the gears go haywire in the presence of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

"We just hope we will be there to be in that position," tight end Dallas Clark (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=6360) said of meeting with the Patriots for a chance at the Super Bowl. "We usually are firing on all cylinders. Sometimes we outplay them. Sometimes they outplay us. They just made bigger plays. If there is a third-and-6, we'd get five yards. Then, we make mistakes we haven't made all year. It just catches up to us."

The Patriots limited Edgerrin James to just 39 yards rushing in the playoffs.

This goes beyond the brilliance of Belichick's schemes. Edgerrin James (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=4652) was stopped three times from inside the 2-yard line on the game's final drive during a home loss to the Pats two years ago. A key James fumble was part of the loss in the season opener at New England last year. Belichick's pass defense is complex but it's designed to force mistakes by the offense. Manning, not known for committing a lot of turnovers, has made some crucial mistakes against New England to kill the Colts' offensive momentum.

"We just need to be on the same page in these games," Wayne said. "It seems like every time we go against them, we seem to lose focus. We get away from things we've been doing all year. We believe in the system. If we do what we do, we should win. Every time we play them, though, we have turnovers or we just have some brain fart here."

Colts coach Tony Dungy isn't panicking. As a coach, he knows his players can't just worry about one game. They have to worry about the season as a whole. And the schedule is set up nicely for the Colts to have possibly another 12-4 year. Dungy stressed in meetings the odds against winning a third consecutive division title and going 12-4 again, but the Colts' machine seems headed in that direction again. Thanks to a schedule that includes the weak NFC West, the Colts have the second-easiest schedule in the AFC, facing opponents with combined 129-127 records.

The team's work ethic should put it beyond taking teams for granted. Manning spends a great deal of time perfecting routes and plays with his teammates. His is a thinking man's game, soliciting defensive responses with his gyrations at the line of scrimmage while calling plays and making audibles.

In games, he's never completely satisfied. In practices, he knows things can be done better. The entire offense works toward perfecting plays and turning as many drives into touchdowns as possible. The checklist of improvements on offense has already started.

"We had 37 false starts last season, 31st in the league and those are drive killers," Manning said. "I know Coach Dungy brought up a stat. If you have a sack on a drive, then you only have a 7 percent chance of scoring on those drives. We did well for scoring touchdowns in the red zone last year, but there were some cases where we had to settle for field goals. We couldn't punch in some drives. We were No. 1 in turnover ratio last year, but we can still cut down on the 17 turnovers we made."

The key to life as a member of the Colts' offense is preparation and patience. Why patience? Much of the Colts' offense is Manning's ability to pick up defensive looks at the line of scrimmage. He'll see a hole in the defense based on alignment and make an audible at the line of scrimmage. This makes the game cerebral.

"The way teams play us now, you don't want to throw it deep down the middle," Manning said. "You throw it short and try to get yards after the catch. Teams mix coverages against us so you never now. You prepare but that's what keeps me up studying at night. We'll change it up.

"In the New England opener, we had 12 running plays in a row. Against Green Bay, we threw it for the first 25 plays of the game. Defenses are willing to change and we are, too."

But there is one constant: the offense keeps getting better. Brandon Stokley (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=4755) emerged as one of the league's peskiest inside threats and is coming off a 68-catch, 1,077-yard season. Wayne had 77 catches and 1,210 yards primarily running routes to Manning's left. Marvin Harrison (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=3514) caught 86 passes for 1,113 yards on Manning's right. Combined, they accounted for 37 of Manning's NFL-record 49 touchdown passes.

<!---------------------PULL-QUOTE TABLE (BEGIN)---------------------><TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=2 align=right border=0><TBODY><TR vAlign=top><TD width=4><SPACER width="3" type="block" height="1"></TD><TD>“</TD><TD width=225>We usually are firing on all cylinders. Sometimes we outplay them. Sometimes they outplay us. They just made bigger plays. If there is a third-and-6, we'd get five yards. Then, we make mistakes we haven't made all year. It just catches up to us.”</TD></TR><TR vAlign=top><TD width=4><SPACER width="3" type="block" height="1"></TD><TD></TD><TD width=225>—TE Dallas Clark, on the Colts' struggles against the Pats</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE><!---------------------PULL-QUOTE TABLE (END)--------------------->The release of tight end Marcus Pollard (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=3432) creates more adjustments in the offense. Former first-round pick Clark has to step up and become the main tight end. Unless backup tight ends Ben Hartsock (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=6827) or Bryan Fletcher (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=6145) step up as receiving options, the Colts will shift into more three-receiver sets. They would like to get Dominic Rhodes (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=5793) on the field in passing downs to take advantage of his route-running.

"We used a lot more three-receiver sets last year," Harrison said. "We will do what the defenses dictate to us. Whatever is takes to put as many points on the board as we can is what we will do."

Defensively, the Colts keep loading up on athletes built more for quickness than bulk. The team averaged almost 33 points a game. Because the Colts should score in the first couple of possessions, they play with the lead and force teams into more passing situations. Therefore, the team wants pass rushers, and are loaded with Dwight Freeney (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=5897), Robert Mathis (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=6474) and others.

"Playing against our offense, that makes our defense that much better and we get better every day," said Freeney, the Pro Bowl defensive end. "The defensive line is back from last year. We led the NFL in sacks [45]. A lot of people don't pay attention to that. We probably have the one of the lightest defensive lines in the league but we fly around."

But that is where the Patriots neutralize the Colts' strength. Because Colts' defenders are light, they don't match up as well against teams who can pound the ball against them on the ground. Few teams can score with the Colts so few teams can get into their running offense. The Patriots have Tom Brady (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=5228), who works his "move-the-chains" passing offense to perfection. Because the Patriots and Colts usually juggle leads through the first three quarters, the Patriots can use all their weapons against the Colts' defense and hope their defense forces a mistake or two to win a game.

"With their system, the Patriots dink and dunk the ball with 3- and 5-yard passes," Freeney said. "They really don't try to get it down the field. They also like to run the ball or use a short pass like a run. They try to keep our offense off the field and that prevents them from getting into a rhythm."

So, the Colts prepare and wait until Nov. 7

"We just have to continue to get better and improve," Dungy said. "That's what I've drilled into players. I told them not to expect New England to fall apart and self-destruct. They have a good organization with a good team. We just have to better."

One game. One team. The wait continues.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.


And if someone could get these two INSIDER articles!:

http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/trainingcamp05/columns/story?columnist=clayton_john&id=2119415&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fnfl %2ftrainingcamp05%2fcolumns%2fstory%3fcolumnist%3d clayton_john%26id%3d2119415

http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/trainingcamp05/news/story?id=2112190&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fnfl %2ftrainingcamp05%2fnews%2fstory%3fid%3d2112190