Leave it to Peyton Manning to choke away a lead with less than a minute to go in a playoff game. He has always been terrible at covering kickoffs.
The 2010 Indianapolis Colts continued their recent trend of overcoming scores of injuries, only to lose yet another lead in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. In 2010, they became the first team in playoff history to take the lead in a game with less than a minute to play, and still lose.
The Colts won Super Bowl XLI thanks to one of the great defensive turnarounds in history as the league's worst run defense (in fact, one of the very worst run defenses in history
) carried the team to Lombardi glory. Since the Colts defense has blown fourth quarter leads in four consecutive postseasons, leaving one of the elite franchises of the last decade still searching for a second title.
The 2010 storyline: Once again, the Colts made the playoffs, and once again they choked away a lead in the fourth quarter.
Indianapolis over-achieved in 2010, enduring league leading injury totals to post another 10 win season and a division title. It was poor comfort for the Colts who were coming off an AFC championship and were expected to be among the best teams in football.
To the uniformed, the Colts looked similar to the Super Bowl-champion Packers who also battled injuries to finish 10-6 in the regular season. A closer look at the Quality Stats, however, reveals that Indianapolis had serious problems on defense.
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 10-6 (27.2 PPG – 24.2 PPG)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 2-3 (24.6 – 23.2)
Last five seasons overall: 61-19 (.763)
Best Quality Stat in 2010: Scoreability 6th, Quarterback Rating 4th
Worst Quality Stat in 2010: Defensive Hog Index 29th, Defensive Passer Rating 27th
Defensive Passing YPA: 16th
Quarterback Rating: 4th
Defensive Quarterback Rating: 25th
Offensive Passer Rating: 9th
Relativity Index: 9th
Statistical curiosity of 2010
The 2009 Colts went 14-2 and were 7-0 in games decided by 5 points or less. The 2010 Colts went 10-6 and went 4-5 in games decided by 5 points or less, including the playoff loss to the New York Jets.
Best game of 2010
38-14 win vs. New York Giants (Week 2). Before injuries mounted, the Colts showed off why they were considered one of the favorites for 2010. The offense piled up a 24-0 lead by half time and the defense forced three Giants turnovers.
Worst game of 2010
36-14 loss vs. San Diego (Week 12). The punishing home loss set off major warning bells that something was seriously wrong in Indianapolis. In the middle of a horrid stretch of play in the middle the of the season, Peyton Manning threw four interceptions and watched two returned for touchdowns. With Indianapolis trailing just 19-14 in the third quarter, Manning threw his third pick of the game to Eric Weddle who returned it for a back-breaking score.
It was emblematic of the mid-season swoon for Manning, who struggled to adjust to losing Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, and Joseph Addai in Week 6 to injury. He started the year with 15 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, but from weeks 9-13 he couldn't stop throwing the ball to the other team, piling up 13 interceptions over just five games. He then righted the ship and threw just two more picks in his final five games (including the playoffs).
Passing offense. While Manning's struggles became a national story in the middle of the season, the only thing the Colts did with any success in 2010 was throw the ball. Early in the season they ran effectively, but as injuries slowed their top three running backs, they were forced to give 46 carries to undrafted rookie Javarris James who managed six touchdowns, but only 2.4 YPA.
Manning meanwhile just kept throwing and throwing. He led the league in completions (450) and attempts (679), and racked up a career-high in yards (4,700). The Indianapolis offense was radically out of balance, but with few healthy backs to turn to, the Colts relied on replacement wideout Blair White and Jacob Tamme for key snaps. The result was diminished efficiency for Manning, as evidenced by his mediocre 6.9 YPA, the lowest mark since his rookie year. But, still, Manning and the passing attack was the most dependable part of Indy's game week after week.
The implosion of the Indianapolis pass defense has been well documented
. Injuries ravaged the secondary, especially at the safety position. Oft-injured Bob Sanders played all of one series before being lost for the year. Reliable backup Melvin Bullitt went down early in the year, and third string Jamie Silva was lost before the season started. The result was that the Colts became one of the easiest teams in the league to pass on.
The Colts became a painfully one-dimensional team on defense, unable to stop both the run and the pass at the same time. This was on full display as they completely collapsed in the second half of the playoff loss to the Jets, allowing 17 points on just four second-half drives.
The Jets decided to go run heavy and shoved the Colts around for touchdown drives lasting 5:12 and 9:54. The Colts offense actually scored on all three second half possessions they had to take the lead with less than a minute to play, but the special teams allowed a 47-yard kick return and the defense followed by allowing three completed passes by Mark Sanchez to set up the game winning field goal for the Jets.
General off-season strategy/overview
The lockout has created incredible uncertainty for the Colts. The biggest order of business for Indianapolis has to be resigning Peyton Manning, but a variety of other players are either restricted or unrestricted free agents depending on whose lawyers do a better job convinzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Regardless of what veterans the Colts bring back, one thing is sure: they aren't going to be active in free agency. Indianapolis will focus on the NFL draft and hope that their 10-6 record will bring better talent. The 2011 draft marks the first time since 2003 that the Colts have had a pick inside the top 27. The Colts will seek to boost the defensive or offensive lines early, and hope to get a quality safety in the second or third rounds.
The good news for Indianapolis is that they probably won't lead the NFL in injuries in 2011. The bad news is that they've been among the most injured teams in football for four seasons running, begging the question: what's going on with the strength and conditioning department in Indianapolis? They were overhauled in 2009, but the results have been just as bad as before. Perhaps losing all the offseason workouts will work in Indianapolis's favor for once as it might give the team time to heal up.
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
The conventional wisdom says that Indy needs to improve the offensive line, but a look at the Quality Stats says that if the Colts don't draft heavy on the defensive side of the ball, they will be lucky to be in the middle of the pack in 2011.
The Colts are a team loaded with question marks: Will Addai be back? Will Dallas Clark be healthy? Will Austin Collie overcome concussions? Can the Colts replace Bob Sanders and potential free agent Melvin Bullitt?
Indy's seasons always seem to come down to health. If they can keep enough key players healthy on defense in 2011, they ought to improve on that side of the ball. If they can't, they'll have to rely on the rest of the AFC South to continue their middling play if they hope to snag a 10th consecutive playoff berth.
If ever a team needed a Naughty Nurse, it's the Colts.