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Frank Slade
09-19-2005, 10:22 AM
<TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD class=yspsctnhdln>Indy's new blueprint</TD></TR><TR><TD height=7><SPACER height="1" type="block" width="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


September 18, 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>http://us.i1.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/i/us/sp/p/yse_lo_70x24_2.gif (http://http://us.i1.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/i/us/sp/p/yse_lo_70x24_2.gif)</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>INDIANAPOLIS Ask Peyton Manning (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4256/) about his football life, and he'll tell you it has found a maddening simplicity.

" three questions," the Indianapolis Colts (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/ind/) quarterback said Sunday. "Can I have your autograph? How many touchdowns are you going to throw? When are you going to beat New England? That's pretty much it in a nutshell."

Now we get to see the answers unfold before our eyes.

And if Indianapolis' first two games are any indication, not only will Manning be throwing fewer touchdown passes this season, but that might actually be the answer to overcoming the New England Patriots (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/nwe/). Sunday's 10-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/jac/) wasn't just about the offense struggling. It wasn't only about a defense posting a second straight strong game, or a running back carrying a team. It was about adaptation.



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Jacksonville dared the Colts to change their style change their dependency on the passing game and Indianapolis obliged in a way that should have the rest of the league taking notice. Despite Manning throwing for a career-low 122 yards and the offense committing mistakes that killed several drives, the Colts erased a 3-0 fourth-quarter deficit thanks largely to a defense that sacked Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6343/) six times and came through at virtually every critical moment late in the game, including the final play when safety Bob Sanders (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6803/) preserved the win by deflecting a Leftwich pass at the goal line.







"We need to be able to win games like this," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. "The good teams that win championships have to win games that go any kind of way. When we played the Patriots in the [divisional] playoff game, it was that type of day where the defense had to step up and we weren't quite able to do it. Today we were."

Dungy's unprompted mention of New England was no coincidence. Defensive end Dwight Freeney (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5897/) even conceded that he thought back to the playoff loss to the Patriots and how the defense failed to pick up the slack for a struggling offense. It's a telling admission. While the Colts are clearly gagging on the "New England nemesis" question, developing the balance to beat teams like the Patriots is at the top of the mental agenda.

While two games is hardly a season, the Indy defense is clearing early hurdles with flying colors. It held Baltimore's Jamal Lewis (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/5034/) and Chester Taylor (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6142/) to only 75 yards rushing in dominating a poor Baltimore offense in a 24-7 season-opening win. And the defensive line looked overwhelming Sunday, hammering Leftwich repeatedly while getting three sacks from defensive tackle Montae Reagor (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4708/) and one sack each by defensive ends Raheem Brock (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6096/), Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/6474/).

"I keep telling guys, our defensive line is something to be reckoned with," said Freeney, who faced constant double teaming. "I get a lot of hype and stuff like that, but we've got a lot of guys across the board that can [get it done].

"I'm ecstatic. [Allowing] three points, zero points, seven points I'm in heaven. Now, get the offense going with 20 or 30 points, I'll really be in heaven."

Asked if the Colts would have won a game like Sunday in past years, with Manning and the offense putting up only 10 points, Freeney shook his head.

"I don't know if we would have," he said.

In that context, the close win over Jacksonville was paramount. The Colts' improving defense needed a tight game one that demonstrated it could carry the load until the offense came around. Not only did the defense lock down what is expected to be a good Jacksonville offense, but the Colts also showed their maturity by shifting to a running scheme when the Jaguars regularly dropped eight players into pass coverage.

"I can count the number of one-on-one situations we had [with the receivers] on my right hand," Manning said of Jacksonville's two-deep zone coverage. " I can't say I'm too surprised by the way the first two teams have played us. There's a conscious effort [to stop the pass]. I think teams are studying what other teams are doing. It can be a copycat league, so this is what I think we have to be prepared for."

Manning, who seemed uncharacteristically erratic at times, completed only 13 of 28 attempts with one interception and zero touchdowns. Eventually, the Colts used the Jags' scheme against them, pounding the line of scrimmage with Edgerrin James (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/4652/), who had 128 yards on 27 carries. That was the most impressive tweak in the game plan, which was highlighted by a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that saw Manning hand the ball off 14 times on a 17-play, 88-yard drive that consumed over 6 minutes on the clock and put Indianapolis ahead 7-3.

Late in that drive, running back Ran Carthon (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/7086/) subbed in for a fatigued James. And when Manning saw the Jaguars were still double-covering his receivers on third-and-goal at the 6-yard line, he checked into a running play that produced Carthon's game-winning touchdown run.

"You won't find defenses that will allow you to [run] it that many times in one drive," Manning said. "Usually a team will say, 'Enough's enough, we've got to load it up in there and blitz these guys.' That's when we usually say, 'Let's change it and throw the home run to Marvin or Reggie.' "

So far, those home runs have been nonexistent, with the Colts' longest pass this season going for 28 yards. If Manning is right, stacked pass defenses will gear up to make the big plays and multiple-touchdown games will be hard to come by. Then again, if the first two weeks are an accurate barometer, these Colts have found a way to adapt to opposing schemes.

Swinging for the fences may not be a necessity anymore.







Charles Robinson is the national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send him a question or comment (http://add.yahoo.com/fast/help/us/sports/cgi_robinson) for potential use in a future column or webcast.




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[i]Updated on Monday, Sep 19, 2005 12:35 am EDT