Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers preseason opponent, the 2009 AFC conference champion Indianapolis Colts. As this is the third preseason game, you can expect more of a regular season vibe as starters compete against starters (for a half, anyway). Let’s take a look at what’s in store in tonight’s primetime game.
Coming into this season, the Colts are… a well-established veteran team. They know who they have, they know what they can do, and they have every expectation that this year will be better than last year (where they were two games…ish…from perfection). There aren’t too many unknowns for the Colts. You know they’re going to be good…and so do they. In fact, the Colts are returning all 11 of their defensive starters. When you add in safety Bob Sanders and corner Deshea Townshend, the Colts could field 13 Super Bowl starters on Thursday.
Peyton Manning’s offseason regime is ridiculously rigorous. It’s a small wonder the guy is as good as he is…he puts in the work. (If you read about it, it’ll remind you in not a small way of another quarterback that’ll hit the field on Thursday night.)
Want some more déjà vu? The Colts are going into the second year of a new aggressive defense, and the confidence among players is high.
“When you’re on the field, just being comfortable with everyone goes a long way,” defensive captain Gary Brackett said. “It goes right to the success of your team. I think we should develop a little more in the system, and it’s like Coach (Tony) Dungy always said, the second year is when you increase your football IQ.”
Not only that, but the Colts, like the Packers, are a team that places the highest value on the guys that already wear the jersey.
Freeney said the Colts’ approach to signing their own free agents has helped the defense’s consistency. The team re-signed safety Antoine Bethea and middle linebacker Gary Brackett this past off-season.
“I think overall, from all positions, there is more experience,” Freeney said. “I think that is a little bit different by how we do things compared to other teams. A lot of times you bring in all of these free agents and that changes the chemistry of the defense so much you don’t really know about the guy that is next to you. I think the benefit of having things the way we have it is that you get to know what to expect from each guy.”
Sounds about right…and sounds awfully familiar.
The fans at home are… naming names of the guys they think should step up in this game in order to win a roster spot. But, really, they know what they’re getting from this team.
Like Packer fans, Colts fans (and the team itself) want to see more out of the 2009 draft class. Sure, Austin Collie, Jerraud Powers, and Jacob Lacey became starters in the league (and will continue to improve). But running back Donald Brown (1st) and defensive tackle Fili Moala (2d) feel the pressure to step up. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them get the opportunity tonight to show how much they’ve improved from Year 1. (The Colts are looking to see some immediate returns from their 2010 class, too.)
The Colts hope that this preseason game will… give them an idea on how much improvement can be made on special teams. The Colts don’t have a problem with punting (rookie Pat McAfee averaged 44.3 yards last year), but their return game could use some sprucing up…it’s one of the team’s most pressing needs:
Colts ranked 18th in the NFL in kickoff returns last season (22.2 yards per return) and 28th in punt returns (5.2). Last year’s top returners, Chad Simpson and T.J. Rushing, are no longer with the team, leaving the return game as one of the only areas where jobs are available.
Like so many other teams, the Colts have already been bitten by the injury bug. Safety Jamie Silva tore his ACL during the first preseason game against San Francisco, and is done for the year. Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday had arthroscopic surgery and is expected to miss two to six weeks. All Pro tight end Dallas Clark also hurt his left leg (though the Colts are not commenting on which part of his leg), and while he’s expected to be back in time for the season opener, it’s likely he’ll be on the sidelines during Thursday’s game.
Especially with Saturday out, the Colts’ offensive line is also pretty banged up, which has led to some delays in getting the offense installed during training camp. Still, the Colts coaches aren’t too worried, and the company line is pretty standard:
If there’s a silver lining, it’s an opportunity for someone else, whoever that may be. You’ve got a chance to go out and play and prove yourself—and here’s your opportunity. We’ll find out through the preseason until we get this whole thing put together.
Still, while there are “no excuses,” the Colts are realistic about the impact Saturday has on the offense:
“It’s tough, he (Saturday) is the foundation of our offensive line,” Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark said. “What he brings is consistency, his level of play, all those intangibles are just invaluable. It’s definitely the next-guy-up theory, but it’s going to be tough without him.”
Something to chew on… Peyton Manning had some interesting things to say about the proposal to halve the preseason and increase the number of ‘meaningful’ games to 18. Said Manning:
Does Dominic Rhodes make our team as an undrafted free agent? Does Terrence Wilkins? If you go to two games, I guess starters would have to play more of each of those two games, so does a guy that hasn’t gotten a lot of reps get a chance to go out there and return a punt for a touchdown or make a one-handed catch. You saw that guy (WR Victor Cruz) for the Giants the other night caught three touchdowns in the first preseason game. Could the Giants have seen that in practice?
I think that’s the one thing I’m not sure they’ve totally looked at. Think about how many great players throughout NFL history, just on our team alone, who have been undrafted free agents. (LB Gary) Brackett is one of them. I’m not sure if coaches can find out in two games. You say two games and the guy is probably going to get to play a total of maybe a half in those two games. There are some guys that look really good in practice that don’t look real good in games, and there are a lot of guys that look so-so in practice and they get in games and all they do is make one-handed catches and diving tackles and whatever. My guess is that you’d lose some of that, which that would be a shame because you look at our team alone and how many players were undrafted and not a lot known about them, and they shined in the preseason and made a big impact. I think that will change.
Keep your eyes on…
You haven’t seen him on the field in a year, but receiver Anthony Gonzalez is determined to make a splash when he’s back in the game in 2010. He had to watch Peyton Manning hook up with youngsters Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, who, while excellent receivers that blossomed with an elite quarterback, aren’t him. Tonight’s game should give us a good opportunity to see how much rust Gonzo still has to knock off — if he’s anywhere near proficient, he’s the type of #2 receiver that will show Sam Shields, Brandon Underwood, and Pat Lee, just how much work is left for them to do.
With such a dynamic passing game, perhaps the Colts aren’t too worried about having a rushing attack that wallowed in last place in 2009. That’s not going to stop Joseph Addai from thinking about it, though – he’s priding himself on being able to convert the third-and-shorts in 2010 and helping his offense stay on the field.
Rookie LB Pat Angerer was made from the same mold of fast, undersized linebackers as Indianapolis stalwarts Clint Session and Gary Brackett. Plus, he comes from the same school as Packers rookie Bryan Bulaga (Iowa). He’s already had two preseason sacks in one series (albeit at the expense of “pocket-impaired” 49ers QB David Carr), but he also had 14 tackles in that game. I’ll be interested to watch #51 fly around the field…and maybe try to get something going against Green Bay’s #75.
- The Colts have a new offensive coordinator, but, with Manning at the controls, you’d never know it. The transition has been extremely smooth, and we’d expect nothing less from the drama-lite Colts.
- The last preseason meeting was on August 24, 1996, with the Colts taking a 30-6 home victory. The Packers went on to win the Super Bowl. So…if the Colts win, maybe not such a bad omen, eh?
One little note about this game that’s got me a little steamed. Reggie Wayne is a beast, there’s no denying that. But here’s something that got me a little confused today. Here’s the top stat given in an interview with Jason Cole:
Now 31, Wayne has posted six consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards. He will likely surpass the 700 mark in career receptions early in the season (he has 676).
Know who else has 6 consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards? Donald Driver. Know who else will likely surpass the 700 mark in career receptions in 2010? Donald Driver (he has 647). Granted, Driver is 4 years older than Wayne. Who gives a rip? The fact that Driver’s only getting better as he gets older is something that should be talked about more than it is. Psh. Wayne may be a beast, but Driver is the man. Period.