Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Looking forward and back
As stated earlier, the best player the Colts had on defense against the Texans was OLB Clint Session (left). Not only did he get the winning Pick-6, but he played consistently well all game. He managed a QB hit and two pressures on nine blitzes, and had six tackles all told. He was pushed around a bit on the run at first, but seemed to get better in that regard as the game progressed. The other linebackers didn’t impress, although MLB Freddie Keiaho seemed to add some zip when he stepped in for Gary Brackett late in the game.
The starting corners – rookies Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey – looked awful in the first half, but tightened up to be closer to average later on. Lacey was literally overpowered by Texans WR Andre Johnson (who has a good 50 pounds of muscle on Lacey) on several plays. But strong safety Melvin Bullitt looked even worse, allowing both starting wideouts, Johnson and Kevin Walter, and tight end James Casey to get big catches in front of him. The bright spot in coverage was free safety Antoine Bethea. Not only didn’t he allow a catch, he had a crucial pick. The biggest problem for the secondary seemed to be how often and how deeply they fell for play-action fakes by Schaub. That is something I expect that will get better as they mature. At least I hope.
The Colts managed to take advantage of the Texans’ hapless LT Duane Brown (who received surprisingly little help from tight ends and backs) by moving Robert Mathis over to the right side. And Raheem Brock actually managed to get a rare sack against talented Texans RT Eric Winston, but for the most part, I’d say Winston won the battle. DT Eric Foster didn’t get a sack, but he was in Schaub’s face often enough. He really is a great contributor on third down. If you looked at Brock’s box-score stats – two tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery – you’d say he had a great day, but he didn’t. His pass-rush was intermittent and he was a speed bump against the run. Th fumble basically fell into his lap.
Actually none of the Colts stood out against the run as the Texans rushed for 122 yards and 5.08 yards a carry. Winston was hammering Brock all day, and the inside duo of C Chris Myers and RG Chris White neutralized DT Antonio Johnson. I was a little surprised by that because Mookie had looked very strong of late. But Myers is one of the NFL's most underappreciated players. When White missed a couple of series, his replacement Antoine Caldwell didn’t look nearly as good, and Mookie managed a bit more movement. Texans FB Vonta Leach was no slouch, either; clearing out linebackers and DBs on outside plays. Sigh, watching him makes me wish the Colts would reserve a roster spot on a real fullback.
There was a brief Fili Moala sighting, and he looked severely overmatched against Texans’ LG Kasey Studdard.
On offense, I expect everyone wants to talk about HB Joseph Addai and his record-shattering 69 yards on 15 carries. But as I mentioned before, the other Colts backs had higher per-carry averages – Addai’s was 4.60, Donald Brown’s was 5.40 and Chad Simpson’s was 10.00. The simple fact is that the Texans are very easy to run against, especially in a wide-open game like this. Brown certainly didn’t help his chances at more playing time by allowing a sack, but I think Addai would’ve been flattened on that play if he had been in there. No back should ever have to block Mario Williams at full speed. And don’t get too excited about Simpson. Although he did have a phenomenal 23-yard run for a score, his other run was an ugly 3-yard loss. He is what he is.
Reggie Wayne beat Dunta Robinson for a short touchdown early in the third quarter and received a well-deserved interference call, but was generally handled the rest of the game. The other Colts receivers, though, were phenomenal, catching 24 of 29 passes for 225 yards as QB Peyton Manning dinked-and-dunked the Texans' young, aggressive defense to death. He particularly targeted left corner Jacques Reeves and slot corner Glover Quinn. In fact, the only Texans who had any success in coverage (aside from Robinson), was do-it-all linebacker Brian Cushing. He not only had the pick, but played tight all day long. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention WR Pierre Garcon’s one-handed touchdown catch. He certainly is maturing quickly, as is WR Austin Collie who is making a lot of plays up the middle. But even the most dogmatic Colts homer has to be at least a little embarrassed at the gift 43-yard pass interference call Garcon received in the third quarter on the drive that ended in Wayne’s touchdown.
RT Ryan Diem allowed a sack to Texans rookie LDE Connor Barwin, but generally held his own against a variety of rushers. LT Charlie Johnson, facing Williams, had a rougher day. He didn’t allow a sack, but was beaten with a disturbing regularity. He was replaced for the final offensive series (and the game-ending kneel down) by much-maligned Tony Ugoh. Maybe it was too small a sampling to be statistically significant, but Ugoh looked a lot more solid than Johnson. Perhaps it was Johnson’s lingering injury or maybe Williams was tired by then, but Ugoh really looked like he had a much better handle on him, except for that one play where Simpson was tagged for a loss. On the next play, though, he obliterated both Williams and MLB DeMeco Ryans and sprung Simpson for at least the first half of his long touchdown run. Keep in mind that Ugoh's problems are all between his ears. Showing the ability to bounce back from a horrible play to an awesome one is a great, great sign. There could be some hope for this Ugoh kid yet.
The rest of the o-line did not impress me when it came to pass protection. There was pressure up the middle against Manning all day, even though the Texans barely blitzed. A lesser QB would have been sacked at least twice more than Manning was. RG Kyle DeVan, in particular, had a hard time handling DT Amobi Okoye.
It was a different story on running plays, though, as DeVan hammered his much-more-heralded opponent repeatedly. In fact, the Colts’ backs found plenty of nice holes between the tackles and just to the outside Diem (and don't think TE Dallas Clark helped). Less success was had on the other side, but to be fair it’s much harder to run against Williams and Cushing than it is Barwin and Antonio Smith.
Onto specials. P Pat McAfee remains a monster, having his best day as a kickoff man, with three of six kicks going for touchbacks and the Texans’ average start after his kicks at the 18.8-yard line. He also had two big punts for a 52.5 gross/48.5 net. Can't say enough good about this kid. But K Matt Stover’s perfect streak as a Colt is over after he somehow missed a 32-yard attempt at the start of the fourth quarter. Enjoy the golf course next year, Matt. Adam Vinatieri can't come back soon enough. The Colts’ return and coverage teams were ho-hum, with nobody meriting mention for either especially good or poor play.
One interesting note: LB Cody Glenn had his first scrimmage play, but it was as a halfback, not linebacker. On 1st-and-goal from the Texans’ one after a pass interference call in the fourth, the Colts came out with split backs, three tight ends (strong left) and no wide receivers. Both Glenn and Addai went out on patterns. Manning found Addai, but he was stopped by Cushing – there’s that name again! – at the line of scrimmage. Glenn arrived at Nebraska as a running back, so this could be something we’ll see again. Is he our fullback? his future there certainly looks better than it does at linebacker.
If you follow the Titans – and all Colts fans should – you’ll know that for the first half of the season they were awful except for HB Chris Johnson’s historic performance. But since Vince Young has taken over at QB, they’ve been resurgent, winning five straight after a 59-0 drubbing by the Patriots.
Stampede Blue reports that DE Dwight Freeney and CB Kelvin Hayden may be back for this game. That’s good because I really don’t like the idea of Brock going against either of the Titans’ Ts – Michael Roos or David Stewart – who are both Pro Bowl capable.
And the Colts’ young CBs could use some of Hayden’s veteran guidance, although the Titans’ receivers are nowhere near the equal of the Texans’. But keep an eye on rookie WR Kenny Britt and rookie TE Jared Cook, both of whom have come on lately. I’m reminded that in my final mock draft, I had the Colts selecting Britt, who has since emerged as the Titans’ best wide receiver and only legitimate deep threat.
But really, the big concern when you play Tennessee is always Johnson, who may be the best back in the NFL. Containing him will fall primarily to the linebackers, and I’m not really sure Wheeler is up to the job. Look for the safeties to record a lot of tackles.
The Titans’ defense has been horrible at times this year, with injuries ravaging the cornerback crew. And the starting safeties – Michael Griffin and Chris Hope – have been healthy, but have played terribly, especially in coverage. If Johnson or Ugoh (whoever starts at LT) can keep resurgent RDE Kyle Vanden Bosch off Manning, the Colts have a serious chance to light up the scoreboard.
Trust me, it’ll be a barn burner.
Thomas was cut Tuesday, as was CB Anthony Madison. Thomas actually started on Sunday (and did the no better or worse than so-so job we’ve grown accustomed to) before being replaced by Mathis, but he knows his hold on a job is always temporary. Thomas knows the defense and works hard, but his career peaked at competent long ago. Don’t worry if you’re a big Thomas fan, though, the’s still on Bill Polian’s speed dial.
Madison had been around the league for a while and has earned a reputation as a cornerback who’s better off playing on special teams. But he didn’t do anything worth putting down in ink on specials for the Colts, so it’s not too surprising he’s an ex-Colt.
To replace them, HB Mike Hart and DE Ervin Baldwin have been activated from the practice squad. Hart we all know. He should get playing time on specials and the odd snap on offense. His performance will largely be determined by how well he has rehabbed his injury, and could be an audition for next season’s squad. Good luck.
Baldwin is a very interesting prospect. A stocky (6015, 270) pass-rushing specialist at Michigan State with 4.74 speed, Baldwin was drafted in the seventh round by the Bears. He didn’t make the team and they cut him from the practise squad when they traded for Gaines Adams. The Colts grabbed him, and now he’s getting a chance to replace Thomas. It should be interesting to see what he does; he certainly has upside. I’m going to keep a serious eye on him.
Added to the practice squad were: QB Shane Boyd, T Drew Radovich and G Keith Gray.
Boyd had a strong arm and wheels and when he came out of Kentucky in 2005, but the knock against him was a lack of experience and finesse. Since then, he’s been with the Titans, Steelers, Centurions (of NFL Europe), Cardinals, Texans, Alouettes (of the CFL) and something called the Redwoods (of something called the UFL). He actually scored the first-ever UFL touchdown, but was benched for fellow journeyman Mike McMahon later in their season. At all those stops, he’s done nothing to indicate he’s gotten any better than he was when he stepped of the Kentucky campus. In truth, I have no idea why the Colts signed him unless they needed a Vince Young-type to practice against. I mean, could you see gawky Jim Sorgi or thick-legged Curtis Painter running the scout team as Vince?
Big (6051, 305) Radovich was seen by some as a potential high draft pick in 2008 after starting for three years as a guard and tackle at Southern Cal, but poor workouts and hip problems led him to be undrafted. He signed with the Vikings, but didn’t make the team. With good coaching, he has potential. Most sources I’ve seen prefer him inside, but I like him at a RT. If you read ColtPlay, you know I have a bias against tall guards.
Gray, who blocked for Donald Brown at UConn, has potential too. Smallish (6016, 292), he played center at a very high level in college – showing technique and tenacity – but was undrafted. He signed with the Panthers, but was cut. I’d love to see him make it, as he’s a great guy and good technician, but he needs more strength. He's my favorite of this lot.
Also on Tuesday, the Bears signed former Colts star linebacker Cato June. I’m not sure how much he has left in the tank. He couldn’t win a starting spot with the Texans (actually, he was running third at weakside linebacker behind Zach Diles and Xavier Adibi) before he broke his arm in August. They put him on IR, then later reached an injury settlement with him, making him a free agent. Now that his arm has healed, he’s looking for playing time in Chicago. The Bears have had an enormous amount of injuries at linebacker this season, so June will get his share of snaps, but he looks like a stopgap solution at this point in his career.
I also read that the Colts worked out HB Dominic Rhodes this week. Please, let’s not go down that Rhodes again.
Posted by Jerry Langton at 10:26 PM