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1 Indianapolis COLTS

Sept. 06, 2010
Sept. 06, 2010

Table of Contents
Sept. 6, 2010

GOLF PLUS
LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
NFL PREVIEW
Departments

1 Indianapolis COLTS

The quiet professionals are back for another run at the AFC crown

IF THE Colts were a publicly traded company, they'd pace the S&P 500. For most of the last decade they have been the gold standard in the NFL, winning at least 12 games in each of the past seven seasons. But while Indianapolis's 31--17 loss to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV last February might be viewed as a sign that its bubble is about to burst—of the previous nine Super Bowl losers, six failed to reach the postseason the following year, and six finished under .500—nobody at training camp in Anderson, Ind., seemed to be panicking, a phenomenon that can be explained by the Colts' corporate culture. Asked to explain the team's low-key professionalism, second-year coach Jim Caldwell sounds like someone who's been studying the lingo of middle management: "We're pretty good at compartmentalizing." He'll be asking for TPS reports from his assistants next.

This is an article from the Sept. 6, 2010 issue

Everything starts at the top in Indy with team president Bill Polian, who built the Bills into a minidynasty as general manager in the early 1990s. Buffalo made it to each Super Bowl from '91 through '94 (losing all four), in part because Polian was able to keep the nucleus of his team—including stars such as quarterback Jim Kelly, wideout Andre Reed and defensive end Bruce Smith—intact, a benefit of building the team through the draft instead of with flashy acquisitions on the free-agent market.

Polian's approach has been much the same in Indianapolis, which is why the roster remains mostly untouched from a year ago. The Colts' biggest off-season move was re-signing eighth-year middle linebacker Gary Brackett, a fast and heady leader on the field, to a five-year, $33 million deal hours after he hit the free-agent market in March. They will likely lose Jeff Saturday for at least one game while the two-time All-Pro center rebounds from off-season knee surgery, but they get back All-Pro safety Bob Sanders and fourth-year wideout Anthony Gonzalez, who missed a combined 29 games a year ago, as well as the entire postseason. Both the offense and defense performed well in their absence—the Colts allowed the third-fewest yards per pass attempt (6.23) and threw for the second-most yards per game (282.2)—but they gain enviable flexibility and depth with their return.

Indy is now grappling with how best to reintegrate Gonzalez, a speedy and cerebral receiver, who had to watch from the bench as Pierre Gar√ßon and Austin Collie, both 24, combined for 1,441 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. With those three targets and a pair of All-Pros in wideout Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark, the Colts—whose 601 pass attempts ranked second in the league last year—will remain deadly through the air. "People say that [ball distribution] is a problem, but it's a good situation," says Gonzalez, who insists he is 100% after undergoing surgery last November to clear loose particles out of his right knee. "Now we have so many guys with experience starting in big games. There shouldn't be any wide eyes."

A year after naming quarterbacks coach Caldwell to replace the retiring Tony Dungy, Indy has tapped two more company men to succeed retiring offensive line coach Howard Mudd and offensive coordinator Tom Moore (who is stepping down to a less-time-consuming role as the team's senior offensive assistant). Offensive quality control guru Pete Metzelaars will coach the line, and eighth-year assistant Clyde Christensen will call the plays. "Howard allowed Pete to run a lot of the meetings the last few years, and Clyde organized a lot of our red zone and third-down packages," Caldwell says. "Systemwise, we haven't changed, so that adds a lot of continuity in itself."

The Colts' most glaring weakness remains their ground game. Last season they finished last in rushing (80.9 yards per game), but that's largely because they also had the second fewest attempts (22.9 per game). Nevertheless, Indy has set the audacious goal of improving last year's 3.5-yard rushing average by at least one yard per carry. A more selfish feature back would certainly chafe at the limited workload, but fifth-year vet Joseph Addai accepts his place in the Indianapolis org chart. "When you have a quarterback like Peyton Manning, you want him to throw the ball," says Addai. "You could argue that he's the best quarterback to ever play."

As long as Polian keeps talent in-house, with Manning under center, the Colts will be recession-proof.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH JIM CALDWELL

OFFENSE

2009 Rank: 9

QB PEYTON MANNING

G 16

ATT 571

COMP 393

PCT 68.8

YARDS 4,500

TD 33

INT 16

RATING 99.9

RB JOSEPH ADDAI

G 15

ATT 219

YARDS 828

AVG 3.8

REC 51

YARDS 336

AVG 6.6

TTD 13

WR REGGIE WAYNE

G 16

REC 100

YARDS 1,264

TTD 10

WR PIERRE GARÇON

G 14

REC 47

YARDS 765

TTD 4

WR AUSTIN COLLIE

G 16

REC 60

YARDS 676

TTD 7

TE DALLAS CLARK

G 16

REC 100

YARDS 1,106

TTD 10

LT CHARLIE JOHNSON

G 12

HT 6'4"

WT 305

LG MIKE POLLAK

G 14

HT 6'3"

WT 301

C JEFF SATURDAY

G 16

HT 6'2"

WT 295

RG KYLE DEVAN

G 15

HT 6'2"

WT 306

RT RYAN DIEM

G 15

HT 6'6"

WT 320

DEFENSE

2009 Rank: 18TH

DE ROBERT MATHIS

G 14

TACKLES 37

SACKS 9½

INT 0

DT ANTONIO JOHNSON

G 15

TACKLES 34

SACKS 1

INT 0

DT DANIEL MUIR

G 16

TACKLES 52

SACKS ½

INT 0

DE DWIGHT FREENEY

G 14

TACKLES 24

SACKS 13½

INT 0

LB CLINT SESSIONS

G 14

TACKLES 103

SACKS ½

INT 2

LB GARY BRACKETT

G 14

TACKLES 99

SACKS 1

INT 1

LB PHILIP WHEELER

G 16

TACKLES 61

SACKS 1

INT 0

CB KELVIN HAYDEN

G 9

TACKLES 50

SACKS 0

INT 1

FS ANTOINE BETHEA

G 16

TACKLES 95

SACKS 0

INT 4

SS BOB SANDERS

G 2

TACKLES 3

SACKS 0

INT 1

CB JERRAUD POWERS

G 12

TACKLES 65

SACKS 0

INT 1

SPECIAL TEAMS

P PAT MCAFEE

PUNTS 64

AVG 44.3

NET 37.8

K ADAM VINATIERI

FG 7--9

XP 17--18

POINTS 38

PR BRANDON JAMES (R)

RET 44

AVG 5.5

TD 0

KR SAM GIGUERE

RET 5

AVG 24.4

TD 0

New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 SCHEDULE

2009 Record: 14--2

September

12 at Houston

19 N.Y. Giants

26 at Denver

October

3 at Jacksonville

10 Kansas City

17 at Washington

24 BYE

31 Houston (M)

November

7 at Philadelphia

14 Cincinnati

21 at New England

28 San Diego

December

5 Dallas

9 at Tennessee (M)

19 Jacksonville

26 at Oakland

January

2 Tennessee

(M) Monday (T) Thursday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: 11

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .516

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 5

ANALYSIS

The Colts are set up for one of their patented runs to start the season: Indianapolis doesn't face a 2009 playoff team until Week 9. Then, however, it gets five of them in a row. The league just loves that marquee Pats-Colts game in November. This is the sixth straight year for such a midseason showdown; Indianapolis has won four of the previous five.

SPOTLIGHT

Bob Sanders, Strong safety

THE QUESTION that looms over Sanders is always the same. "Will he stay healthy?" wonders Colts president Bill Polian. "The odds tell you he's probably going to miss some time." Through six NFL seasons the closest the two-time All-Pro has come to playing a full schedule was in 2007, when he started 15 games, earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors and helped Indy win Super Bowl XLI. But the two years since have seen Sanders sidelined for 24 games with a litany of ailments, including a high ankle sprain and a knee that required off-season arthroscopic surgery in '08. He tried to play through both injuries but lasted just two games before returning to the injured list with a torn biceps tendon.

Sanders compensates for his lack of size (he's listed at 5'8" and 206 pounds) by playing the game with reckless abandon, leaving him more susceptible to getting hurt. The Colts have learned to make do without him so far. Fourth-year man Melvin Bullitt had a career-high 77 tackles in 2009 while playing alongside Antoine Bethea, who finished third on the team in that department (95). Bethea also picked off four passes and forced two fumbles, emerging as a defensive playmaker in his fourth season.

With Sanders back, the Colts can deploy all three safeties when they go into their nickel package. At which point a different question might be asked of Sanders: Can he keep up?

PHOTOAL TIELEMANSGOLDEN GUN By choosing to forgo free agents, Indy has kept its stars, including Manning.PHOTOANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES