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by Al McMordie - 12/19/2005
Think the Colts will run the table? Oops! It was fun while it lasted. The Colts' goose-egg loss season went down in flames Sunday in a 26-17 home defeat to the charging Chargers (a nice win for us as SD was our Steamroller of the Month). In the battle of coaches who can't win the big one, it was the desperate Chargers who outplayed the Colts. Make no mistake: The Colts were outplayed. San Diego had 453 total yards, including 206 rushing. It wasn't the kind of thriller they played a year ago, as seven turnovers 19 penalties marred the game.
What's important to understand is that it was not a fluke. San Diegodidn't throw some unique or intricate game plan at the Colts. They mixed it up, played a physical game -- especially against the Indy running attack -- and pounded the Colts' smallish defense by running right at it. Defensively, Indy is a team built for speed rather than power. Its defense is outstanding at getting a pass rush on opposing quarterbacks with its inside/out quickness, as well as running down sweeps. However, if you take it right at them with a power running game, they are at a disadvantage.
Look no further than when the Rams came to Indy back in October, with Stephen Jackson and Marshall Faulk gaining large chunks on the ground while building a 17-0 lead. It's surprising more teams haven't tried that basic strategy. The Colts were fortunate to catch New England and Pittsburgh at the right time, when both had several injuries to their offensive line and running games. In short, a healthy Patriots or Steelers squad matches up well with Indy, though neither is fully healthy at this point, either.
In addition, the Bengals have a dynamite offense that scored 37 on the Colts with 492 total yards. Throw in the balanced attack of the Chargers -- if they can somehow squeeze into the playoffs -- and there are several AFC teams that match up well with the Colts. One other thing to note: the Chargers put a lot of pressure on Peyton Manning, and offensively San Diego went 7-for-17 on third down and rushed for 5.6 yards per carry. Indy is still the team to beat, of course, especially with home field in January, but they are not head and shoulders above everyone else in the AFC -- or the league -- for that matter. That's what's going to make the postseason so interesting.
Taking the other point of view for a moment, it was still a game the Colts could have won. They were driving for the winning score down 19-17 before sacks and penalties killed them. They also fumbled on a kickoff return deep in their own territory, and on fourth-and-goal at the one, Peyton Manning had probably the worst call/execution of the season with a naked bootleg! He was thrown for a loss and the Colts came away with nothing.
Speaking of getting healthy, a game that took place Saturday should have the Colts and NFL observers taking notice. In a match-up of two postseason teams, the Patriots shut out the Bucs 28-0. New England still has a young, suspect secondary, and nowhere near the ground game they had a year ago because of offensive line injuries and problems keeping Corey Dillon healthy (or perhaps he's just getting old and low on gas). But the Patriots turned in another positively dominating game defensively, their third in a row. Critics were pointing out that the Pats had rolled over two sorry teams (Bills, Jets) and their showdown with Tampa Bay could be revealing. The defense was dominating again. Tedy Bruschi is now in mid-season form, rookie CB Ellis Hobbs has been solid replacing bust free agent Duane Starks, and the huge improvement against the run has all coincided with the return of All-Pro Richard Seymour five weeks ago. The Pats are sitting roughly 18-to-1 to win the Super Bowl, but will be an interesting January team with the improved defense, QB Tom Brady and a guy named Belichick, two men who have a history of excelling in January when all the moneyâ€™s on the line.
Thereâ€™s been a lot of talk about the favorites covering this year, and it has been an unusual year for the chalk. After the favorites went 3-0 SU/ATS Saturday, it appeared to be another weekend for favorites. On Sunday, however, the dogs barked, with 5 of the first 7 Sunday dogs covering. In addition, the unders started 7-4 this weekend, something not unusual as the weather begins to chill. Good luck as always...Al McMordie.