1 Indianapolis COLTS

It's business as usual for Peyton Manning and the high-scoring offense, but for this team to get past the Patriots, the defense has to raise its game
September 04, 2005

WHEN DWIGHT FREENEY was growing up in Hartford, halfway between Boston and New York City, he chose to be a Giants fan because, he says, "the Patriots weren't very good then." Maybe it's karmic payback that now, 15 years later, Freeney's Colts seem capable of beating every team in the league except New England. Indianapolis has dropped nine in a row to the Patriots, including losses to open (27-24) and close (20-3, in the divisional playoffs) the 2004 season. "Now when I go home, I have to hear it from all the Patriots fans," says Freeney, a defensive end, shaking his head. "Then you got the ones loyal to me, who can't stand [New England]; they're always fighting with the Patriots fans."

This year the fighting won't start until the teams meet in November, but already the hype is overwhelming. "The 2005 season might come down to one game: Monday night, Nov. 7, against the New England Patriots," declared one sports website. The Colts grumble about the attention on that game--"It's as if the rest of the season doesn't matter," says Freeney--and they have good reason. Against the Pats, Peyton Manning's record is 2-10, and his quarterback rating is almost 10 points lower (82.9) than his career mark in regular-season games (92.3).

Part of Manning's frustration can be traced to New England's clock-munching, move-the-chains attack, which keeps the Indy offense on the sideline and unable to establish a rhythm. This in turn puts pressure on the Colts' defense, which, according to team president Bill Polian and coach Tony Dungy, missed too many tackles and gave up too many big plays in the '04 season. "We got interceptions, got sacks and caused holding penalties," says Dungy. "We just need to get more consistent. We've got to be a team that flies around and creates havoc in the run game and really pressures the passing game."

Indy's pass rush is strong, led by Freeney (16 sacks) and situational rusher Robert Mathis (10 1/2), but the young secondary remains a work in progress; last season the team ranked 28th in pass defense. Second-year free safety Bob Sanders played in only six games in '04 and is small (5'8"). Third-year strong safety Mike Doss battled hamstring problems. To help the unit, Indianapolis spent its first-round draft pick on Michigan cornerback Marlin Jackson. At 6 feet and 196 pounds Jackson is an explosive, physical player who has good closing speed. "He's perfect for what we do," says Dungy. "He's going to be a good tackler, a guy who's opportunistic and brings energy."

Though it's a lot to ask a rookie to elevate a team's pass defense, Jackson benefits from practicing against the best receiving tandem in the league, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. "It can be rough," Jackson says. "I got beat this morning by Marvin. I had broken up an out route earlier, and I hesitated on this play. I thought [the out route] was coming again, but he took off and Peyton put the ball right on the money. That's what I'm learning now: When I open up and go, I can't hesitate."

The rest of the defense hasn't changed much. To vary the fronts Dungy says he plans to move Mathis around more; last season he primarily played at left end opposite Freeney in passing situations. "We're going in the right direction," says Freeney of the defense. "It's kind of similar to how Tampa Bay's defense was built. This year we need to form an identity. We didn't have that last year."

No one is worried about creating an identity on offense. Still, Manning, who has won back-to-back MVP awards, regularly went into Dungy's office in the off-season with a handwritten list of things he wanted to work on. "He talks about us being better in the red zone, better ball security, ways we can get guys the ball differently," says Dungy. "People ask me, 'Can he improve?' He may not throw 49 touchdown passes, but I think he'll play better."

The Colts' schedule is the second easiest in the AFC (opponents were a combined 129-127 in 2004), which means they should at least duplicate last year's 12-4 record. Of course, to most there's only one opponent that matters. And when it comes to those Patriots, perhaps Mathis puts it best when he says, "Until you do something about it, you're going to hear about it. We just have to do something about it." --Chris Ballard

PLAYMAKER

With the departure of Marcus Pollard (a free agent who went to Detroit), former first-round pick Dallas Clark becomes the team's primary tight end. And he should be a big factor in the passing game from the get-go if Peyton Manning and coach Tony Dungy follow through on their plan to spread the ball around more. Fast and agile enough to line up as an extra wideout, Clark last season averaged 16.9 yards per catch, best on the team. Expect him to at least double the 25 receptions he had in 2004.

ENEMY LINES: AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW

Peyton Manning is totally in control of that offense. When he gets to the line of scrimmage, he knows exactly where he wants to attack. His preparation and his thought process during games continues to amaze me.... Brandon Stokley doesn't have great measurables, but he's got very good body control, deceptive quickness and reliable hands. He really creates problems in the slot because defenses have to respect Manning's play-action fakes. When they bite on fakes, Stokley usually slips by them.... They don't have great talent on their line, but it's a very competent unit. They don't have to hold blocks for long because Manning gets rid of the ball so fast. They're also sharp enough to adjust to all those audibles he calls.... Dwight Freeney scares the crap out of us. You have to have a tight end or a back help block him because he'll eat you alive in a one-on-one matchup.... They're not helping David Thornton by playing him on the strong side. He doesn't have the size to play over the tight end, and he doesn't look as instinctive as he did on the weak side.... They still don't have much on defense. They're just a bunch of quick, undersized guys who are good at running to the football.

"Dwight Freeney scares the crap out of us. He'll eat you alive in a one-on-one matchup."

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

OFFENSE

EDGERRIN JAMES

POS. RB  

PVR 19

ATT. 334

YARDS 1,548

AVG.4.6

REC. 51

YARDS 9.5

AVG. 483

TDs 9

 

PEYTON MANNING

POS. QB

PVR 4

ATT. 497

COMP. 336

% 67.6

YARDS 4,557

TDs 49

INT. 10

RATING 121.1

 

BEN HARTSOCK

POS. TE

PVR 184

REC. 4

YARDS 33

TDs 0

 

MIKE VANDERJAGT

POS.K

PVR 182

XPs MADE 59

XPs ATT. 60

FG MADE 20

FG ATT. 25

PTS. 119

 

MARVIN HARRISON

POS. WR

PVR 13

REC. 86

YARDS 1,113

TDs 15

 

DALLAS CLARK

POS. TE

PVR 69

REC. 25

YARDS 423

TDs 5

 

TARIK GLENN

POS. LT

HEIGHT 6'5"

WEIGHT 332

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

 

DYLAN GANDY (R) (NEW ACQUISITION )

POS. LG

HEIGHT 6'3"

WEIGHT 302

GMS. 12

STARTS 12

 

JEFF SATURDAY

POS. C

HEIGHT 6'2"

WEIGHT 295

GMS. 14

STARTS 14

 

JAKE SCOTT

POS. RG

HEIGHT 6'5"

WEIGHT 280

GMS. 12

STARTS 9

 

RYAN DIEM

POS. RT

HEIGHT 6'6"

WEIGHT 320

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

 

REGGIE WAYNE

POS. WR

PVR 17

REC. 77

YARDS 1,210

TDs 12

 

DEFENSE

 

CATO JUNE

POS. OLB

TACKLES 104

SACKS 0

INT.2

 

DWIGHT FREENEY

POS. RE

TACKLES 36

SACKS 16

 

MONTAE REAGOR

POS. LT

TACKLES 43

SACKS 5

 

GARY BRACKETT

POS. MLB

TACKLES 21

SACKS 0

INT. 2

 

LARRY TRIPPLETT

POS. LT

TACKLES 29

SACKS 0

 

RAHEEM BROCK

POS. LE

TACKLES 47

SACKS 6 1/2

 

DAVID THORNTON

POS. OLB

TACKLES 85

SACKS 0

INT. 1

 

DONALD STRICKLAND

POS. CB

TACKLES 20

INT. 0

 

MIKE DOSS

POS. SS

TACKLES 48

SACKS 1

INT. 2

 

BOB SANDERS

POS. FS

TACKLES 29

SACKS 0

INT. 0

 

NICK HARPER

POS. CB

TACKLES 77

INT. 3

 

HUNTER SMITH

POS. P

PUNTS 54

AVG. 45.2

 

2004 RECORD: 12-4

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):

OFFENSE 15/1/2

DEFENSE 24/28/29

COACH: Tony Dungy; fourth season with Indianapolis (88-56 in NFL)

 

(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

 

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

11 at Baltimore

18 JACKSONVILLE

25 CLEVELAND

 

OCTOBER

2 at Tennessee

9 at San Francisco

17 ST. LOUIS (M)

23 at Houston

30 Open date

 

NOVEMBER

7 at New England (M)

13 HOUSTON

20 at Cincinnati

28 PITTSBURGH (M)

 

DECEMBER

4 TENNESSEE

11 at Jacksonville

18 SAN DIEGO

24 at Seattle (S)

 

JANUARY

1 ARIZONA

(M) MONDAY

(S) SATURDAY

 

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T13 Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .504 Games against playoff teams: 4

PHOTOAL TIELMANS  WHAT A RUSH - Freeney led the NFL last year with 16 sacks, including nine in December PHOTOJIM REDMAN/CON SMI STOKLEY PHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)