September 06, 2004
Colts Defense Will Decide The Game
BY: Kevin Rousseau
Amid the renewed love affair between New England and the Red Sox, your Patriots are getting ready to take on the Indianapolis Colts Thursday night in the season opener. This game promises to be every bit as delicious as the other Patriots post-Super Bowl rematch of two years ago against the Steelers (a 30-14 win by the Pats). It’s got the hype of a heavyweight title fight and when the two teams hit the field, they’ll be hitting each other with a little something extra.
You see, ever since January’s AFC Championship Game, the Colts have been complaining to the League and anyone else who will listen that they were robbed out of a trip to the Super Bowl by those street thugs disguised as Patriots defensive backs. There’s no need to repeat their tired arguments as the game approaches. We’ve heard enough of them. It’s now time for the Colts to put up or shut up.
And that’s where their problems begin on Thursday night.
The reason the Colts will probably lose on Thursday night is because of their defense. Or, more precisely, lack thereof.
In that game, the Colts defense gave up 112 yards rushing to an average Patriots running game. It also allowed Tom Brady to go 22 for 37 for 237 yards. And if memory serves me correct, there were a number of near misses by the Patriots offense that could have broken the game wide open.
If that game was the baseline for the Colts defense as a unit, what have they done since January to improve themselves? The answer is not a lot. Unfortunately, due to Peyton Manning’s record-breaking contract and signing bonus, the team was unable to hold onto free agent defensive starters linebacker Marcus Washington, cornerbacks Walt Harris and David Macklin along with defensive end Chad Bratzke. Thus, the Colts lost four of their actually decent starters on a defense that ranked 11th overall and 20th against the run. Handcuffed by Manning’s albatross contract, the team was unable to sign anyone of value in the free agent market to pick up the slack. And then their highest draft pick, 2nd rounder safety Bob Sanders was the last holdout amongst all players drafted in the April; just signing a contract days ago.
Meanwhile, the Patriots went out and gambled a 2nd round pick that franchise running back Corey Dillon will behave and finally give the Patriots offense a balanced running game. All indications from the pre-season point to Dillon indeed still having the goods and giving the Patriots that eat-the-clock, ground attack that has been so desperately missing around here since Curtis Martin left for the Jets. So please tell me how this wounded Colts defense is going to be able to stop a Patriots offense that has more depth at tight end, wide receiver, and more importantly, running back than it did eight months ago?
If Dillon can help the Patriots chew up the clock, especially in the second half, the Colts and their fans won’t have to worry about whether the Colt receivers are being grabbed five yards past the line of scrimmage because they won’t be on the field enough for it to be an issue.
That said, fully expect the Patriots to be called for illegal contact and pass interference at least a few times on Thursday night. It goes with the territory of being the champs. The entire League and its fans will be watching and expecting the officiating crew to “do the right thing” and call it tight to the rulebook. By throwing stones in glass houses, these players, teams, and fans better make sure that their team is holier than thou after accusing the Patriots defense of playing tackle football the last few years. Most teams, if not all, can’t.
Of course there are areas of concern for the Patriots going into this game. How badly will the team miss big Ted Washington plugging up the middle of the line of scrimmage? What would happen if Tom Brady goes down and Rohan Davey is forced to run the offense? He hasn’t shown us much in the pre-season that would make us feel at ease, that’s for sure. Is there sufficient depth in the secondary? And will the special teams return game show any signs of life after a lackluster preseason?
Yet keep in mind that at this time of year, every team and every fan, if they are honest with you and themselves, have plenty of questions about their fate. The good news is that the 2004 New England Patriots have fewer question marks than the other thirty-one teams. So if there was ever a year to feel a little less scared than you normally do, this it it.
Idle Zinger thoughts while still not being convinced that I want to spend $29 to visit Philadelphia after seeing those awful, redundant Southwest Airline ads while watching the Red Sox:
Don’t be surprised if we see old friend Mike Compton brought back into the fold after being released by Jacksonville.
Even more annoying than people talking on cell phones while driving are these people who drive around with dogs and cats sitting in their laps.
NFL.com’s Gregg Easterbrook recently pointed out another fun Buffalo Bills fact: The team has invested four recent number-one draft picks in quarterback in the Rob Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, and J.P. Losman deals. And to think that both Losman and Bledsoe’s other backup, Travis Brown are both essentially done for the season.
Who else out there wants to Deion Sanders fail miserably in his shameless spotlight-grabbing comeback?
My brother, a non-football fan until the Snow Bowl two years ago, has been playing ESPN NFL 2K5 non-stop for the last few weeks. At $30 less than Madden, it’s easy to see why a lot of people are making the switch for relatively the same game experience. (Uh oh, here come the e-mails from the Madden-ites explaining the intricacies of why their game is better. For ease of use, the e-mail link is listed at the bottom of the column.) Among the ESPN game’s features, every time the Patriots get a first down at home, the game’s PA announcer says “And that’s good enough for another Patriots FIRST DOWN.” Just like the real thing. Cool.
And even if you don’t mind parting with $29 to fly to Philadelphia in order to eat a cheese steak, I would still like to hear from you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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