Monday, November 20, 2006

Fran, Dan, and Peyton

Today’s loss to the Cowboys revealed that I was incorrect in thinking that the Colts had made progress in a certain area - that of Peyton Manning’s ability to bounce back from mistakes, his ability not to become rattled. Dropped passes and interceptions both contributed to his frustration and demonstrated that Peyton Manning is not just the guy we will hand the ball to when we need to win - today’s mistakes also demonstrated that he is the guy who will be holding the ball when we lose.

You can’t blame the rush defense and you can’t blame Bill Parcells for throwing in the red challenge flag. In fact, you have to sort of commend Bill Parcells for throwing in the red challenge flag. (I didn’t get to see the game, or much of it, at any rate, as I was at work. I also didn’t get to listen to much of it, either, since we were busier than we had expected to be and were somewhat grossly understaffed. I don’t know what the timing was on the tossing of the red flag - although it seems somewhat strange that the Colts were able to start and complete the play before anyone noticed that the red flag had gone out. Regardless, you can’t blame that red flag or the results of its tossing for the fact that the Colts lost this game.) If the red flag went in before the play that ended with a Ben Utecht touchdown started, then it’s a brilliant football move by a brilliant football mind. If not, it’s cheating; but I suspect that it was actually a brilliant football move by a brilliant football mind.

Nope - this one is on Manning. He was unable to do what he had done in each of the other games this season, which was to take the team on his shoulders and carry them to victory. The other part of why the Colts lost is the reason that Manning was unable to do today what he had been able to do in the previous nine games - and that other part is Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who did something no other team has tried to do to the Colts yet this year. He got his defense to come at Manning.

All of the other teams this year have been content just to hammer away at the Colts rush defense with their runningbacks - and just sort of hope that either the Colts would make mistakes, or that their team could score some points against the Colts rush defense. The only other team that really came at Manning was the Patriots, but apparently Manning has built a shell around his impression of the Patriots, and is no longer intimidated enough by them to get rattled.

Parcells got his defense to bring everything but the kitchen sink at Manning, and they had him shellshocked all day. The lesson, then, is this: the rush defense is a red herring. The only hope a team has to beat the Colts is to try to get to Manning, and to hope that he makes a couple of costly mistakes - a team that can do that can beat the Colts. It’s been a glaring weakness in a quarterback who is otherwise the most complete player in the league. It was a weakness I thought Manning had conquered, with his consistency and collectedness as the proof of it this season. I was wrong.

Now, about that rush defense - it gave up only 117 yards today, to the tune of 3.3 yards per carry. In the last two games, the Colts have given up only 228 yards on the ground, a 114 yards per game average. That’s currently about middle of the pack in the NFL this year.

I mentioned dropped passes earlier - Manning completed only 20 of his 39 passes today, or 51.3%. He’s only thrown a lower completion percentage in one other game this year, when he completed just 14 of 31 tosses against Jacksonville, for 45.2% - and that game was in the Hoosier Dome. This was only Manning’s third game with less than 60% of his passes complete. The third was a 20 for 36 (55.6%) effort at New England.

He had previously thrown only three picks all season - he threw two today, and one went back for a touchdown. Take out those 7 points, and the Colts are at least back in it. Then again, if you put back the 6 points Dallas failed to earn when Mike Vanderjagt missed two field goals, it’s still a close game. Manning also fumbled twice, and lost one of them.

Reggie Wayne was one of the few bright spots for the Colts - 7 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. He’ll be starting in the Pro Bowl, never mind just playing in it. One other (somewhat) bright spot is that the defense, overall, has only given up three touchdowns in the last two games. Unfortunately, the Colts defense is nowhere near good enough to mitigate the kinds of mistakes on offense that have been made in the last two games.

Manning IS good enough to mitigate the mistakes the rest of the team makes, most of the time. But is it asking too much to ask him to win the game every week? Yes, that is asking him too much - Joseph Addai and Butterfingers Rhodes should be able to carry the load some weeks, and the defense is good enough to force turnovers that lead to quick points, and Terrence Wilkins has proven to be a positively scary return man. There are other options, other ways to score points and create opportunities. But when those things don't work, or when they don't work well enough, then they just have to hand the ball to Manning and tell him he has to win the game for them.

And you don’t even have to tell him that. He’s the smartest guy in football - he knows the score, so to speak, long before we do. But he just hasn’t learned to play with the kind of fire that it takes to get that job done every week - he still can’t play under real pressure. And real pressure is the only kind of pressure they have in the playoffs. Not candy-ass pressure like Billy Joel or that dopey Queen/David Bowie song that Vanilla Ice stole from. No, we’re talking about South African diamond mine pressure here. And the Colts just don’t have an answer - you can’t play polite, tea party football and win a Super Bowl.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - Tony Dungy is never going to win a Super Bowl - and that is sad, because he is a great coach, and an even better person. I don’t like it much - but it’s the truth. Something else that’s sad, and this is not something I have ever said before - but I’m saying it now, and I’ll stand by it.

Peyton Manning is never going to win a Super Bowl, either.

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