The End Of The Peyton Manning Colts

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They started angry. Disrespected. No one believed they had a chance to compete without Peyton Manning. 4-12, 2-14, etc. Many a radio and television personality go against the stream of public opinion, even advocate it while simultaneously agreeing with about 90% of their colleagues. Some would call this hypocrisy. Sometimes though, you just can’t fight it, and as the 2011 season got underway things started to look…strange.

The Colts have bad blood with the Texans for as long as the Texans have existed. As soon as the Texans got any sort of momentum, the Colts have proceeded to stomp out their playoff dreams. This did not sit well with the Texans, so hearing that Peyton Manning would be out for a good portion of the season was the old “Christmas came twice” idea, literally.
Looking back, even Peyton Manning would have had trouble with the new look 3-4 Texans defense. A brief list of defensive stars: JJ Watt, Brooks Reed, Brian Cushing, Demeco Ryans, Mario Williams, Jonathan Joseph. Not what a team who lost their coach/qb/coordinator/predictor of the future is ready to handle.

So how does Jim Caldwell counter this relentless pass rush? He puts in Dallas Clark, the only “tight end who is not a tight end and is really a slot receiver” to block Mario Williams. Wait, doesn’t Mario Williams play defensive line? No. Wade Philips saw to it that he assembled the wildest 3-4 defensive end/linebacking core in the AFC, and Mario Williams is the new centerpiece.

So Kerry Collins gets hurt, before which he is illustrating rather blatantly that he has to huddle every single play because he is looking more and more like a guy who should have stuck to recording music on his farm and not decided to attempt a savior role in the most complex NFL offense in the history of the game. But that’s OK, because Curtis Painter has been around and can attempt a paper tiger version of the offense. Hell even Reggie Wayne backed Painter because he’s had enough time to watch Peyton orchestrate like my main man MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas). As the announcers pointed out during the Browns game, Painter got a lot of mental reps watching Peyton Manning, but watching Picasso paint and painting like Picasso are two different things.

Here we stand at week 2, where Colt McCoy and his band of mediocre skill players, his mediocre offensive line (save for Joe Thomas), and his mediocre defense decided to put on a clinic on how to completely demoralize a team that was a field goal away from the AFC championship game and was what could be considered the second or third best team in the last ten years.

In his second year in the NFL, with his second head coach, in his second offensive system in two years, McCoy was privy to a revelation. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are old. So old that they only play 50% of snaps. Despite this, they are ferocious when they are on the field, so McCoy took his time, and when he didn’t want to get pancaked and knew Freeney and Mathis were coming, he handed off to Peyton Hillis, the greatest “throwback to 1950’s football” running back this game has ever seen.

This formula worked for a few reasons. The Colts defense is small, the secondary is awful, and the Colts were slowly realizing that life without Peyton was awful on all fronts. Even the people in the concessions handed out popcorn with the look of someone who just came back from the killing fields. When Adam Vinateri starts missing field goals, you might as well curl up into a ball to start protecting vital organs.

So it’s week 5, Joseph Addai has been replaced (due to injury) by the tandem of Delone Carter and Donald Brown, who are completely opposite types of running backs and both of whom should be kept, with Delone Carter getting the starting nod because of his “bowling ball full of steroids” frame and flashes of Darren Sproles lateral agility.

THE ROAD TO PERDITION

The Chiefs were without Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry for this game, which should help both sides of the football for the Colts. Trouble is, the Colts suck. I’ve been waiting to say it, but it must now be said. Reggie Wayne can’t be Reggie Wayne, Jacob Tamme hasn’t had anyone even attempt to find him, Pierre Garcon is up and down, and Painter is starting to have serious doubts about the possibility of even converting a 3rd and 7.

How long lord? 11 weeks to go. To review, the Colts put up a decent fight in both prime time games, got rolled on by the Chiefs, Browns, and Texans, and are now heading into a game against the Bengals.

The Bengals are starting to turn into a serious contender at this point in the season. The running game and the new offense coupled with a very aggressive and well coached defense would have put the Bengals into a bye week if they didn’t play in the same division as the Steelers and the Ravens. None of this is good for the Colts, who proceeded to keep the game close until about 5 minutes to go, when a missed field goal, an interception, and a fumble all sealed the fate for the rest of the year.

So the Colts didn’t win that game. And so they limped into the Superdome, for another shot at Sunday Night Football.

LIFELINE

Although Aaron Rodgers and his band of receivers put up points and numbers at will, the fact that Drew Brees throws to sequoias at receiver and tight end, has a rookie running back who won the Heisman, and the most complete running back in football is something straight out of Madden. The Colts had no chance. Everything was scripted to perfection. Colts play zone? Find the soft spot. Colts blitz up the middle? Check it down to the hot route.

What started to look life an offense that could have mustered a competitive game started to fall apart. Painter missed throws, threw interceptions, and everything began to look disengaged on all fronts. This was essentially the beginning of the end.

They go to Tennessee, where the blandest team in the NFL decided to play out of their mind for the first quarter on special teams and block a punt in the end zone for a touchdown. That was pretty much the most exciting part of the game for Colts fans, as Donald Brown got ripped by Caldwell, Pierre Garcon looks like he doesn’t care anymore, and Dallas Clark decided to start catching passes.

So how can the strange get weird? A nice sideline throw by Painter getting tipped by the corner back, and the Cover 2 safety catching the tip for an interception. Again, general ugliness. I started sewing myself a Luck jersey at this point, and would variously look up to find the score slipping away. Donald Brown had a touchdown, but Donald Brown’s touchdowns are like noticing a ruby necklace on a leper.

DREAM THEATER

In review, the Colts are 0-8. Peyton Manning is explaining to Curtis Painter how the goal of the defense is to sack him, and that he should attempt to throw the ball down the field towards the end zone, upon which he will be awarded 6 points. The winner…most points.

The “Suck for Luck” campaign begins somewhere around here, and the true clowns in the audience are starting to show up in Luck jerseys. So here it is, Atlanta, namely Roddy White and Julio Jones, who are proceeding to put on a show of complete dominance against the Colts defensive backs. DB’s are being shuffled in at breakneck speed, and Curtis Painter is throwing interceptions number 15, 16, 17, etc.

Matt Ryan is too good to not take advantage of the now scripted Freeney/Mathis substitutions, and is gashing the Colts up the middle with Michael Turner and Jaquizz Rodgers while Pat Angerer attempts a halfhearted tackle against the much larger Tony Gonzalez. Things are beginning to get sad.

There would be a chance for redemption the next week, as the Jaguars, helmed by another long haired blond excuse for a quarterback is somehow making Curtis Painter look poised and in control of his offense. Think about this, if the Jaguars didn’t have Maurice Jones Drew, they would be the ones getting Andrew Luck, and it wouldn’t even be close. They would score somewhere around 160 points on the season and their owner would have personally paid for a trip to expedite Blaine Gabbert as soon as possible.

As a side note, many experts had Gabbert over Newton in last years draft. Experts.

So what prevented a Colts victory? The JETS. Well, the fact that the Jets undervalued Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery to the point that they let them walk and single-handedly rescue the Jaguars from both the Colts and the Ravens. But the Jets didn’t need them. Eric Smith did in fact have a…um….”competent” season for a starter. No, no he did not. He was awful.

Despite only allowing one touchdown through 3 quarters, the MJD factor reared it’s head, pitting a small man in Drew against an even smaller man, Angerer, and the Pro Bowler won. Easily. It might have been the most deflating loss of the season, simply for the fact that they could, and should have beaten the worst rookie QB in the league, and that’s being nice.

The matchup was the Patriots, and looking at the matchups, it wouldn’t even be close. Any chance Indy had on defense was thrown out because Pat Angerer was out, Mathis and Freeney are so one dimensional all it took was a few step ups into the pocket from Tom Brady to pick apart the zone (zone with an undersized defense against Tom Brady? Really?).

The Indy offensive line at this point was Jeff Saturday and a bunch of Wayne Hunter impersonators, so the Patriots simply laid back in off coverage with a 5 man defensive front and waited for Dan Orlovsky (who looked more Manning than Painter) to try and air it out deep.

The highlight of the game was Pierre Garcon’s chuck of anger after a receiving touchdown at a sign with a bulls-eye intended for Rob Gronkowski. I watched it and mumbled to myself “screw your contract, this place is a lake of tears”.
After starting 0-12, things start to get comical.

The Colts had beaten the Ravens the last 10 times they played each other, so they were going to use this opportunity to promptly destroy any hope of even going on a 4 game winning streak, which was the largest streak possible at this point in the season.

It is common knowledge that any action, according to the laws of science, has an equal and opposite reaction, so if the play of the Patriots offense could be seen as “action”, the Baltimore defense is “reaction”. It demoralizes teams in the exact same way, keeping your offense off the field, getting blitzed on 3rd and long, and a complete lack of rhythm and timing.
Like the Saints blowout, this was one of the games you only pay attention to for moments at a time, because even I was starting to feel bad for guys like Mathis and Freeney, knowing that Ray Rice was going to negate every spin move by cutting back through the middle and gashing the middle linebacker for 8 yards at a time. It was completely relentless for the Ravens defense, as they pressed the receivers at the line, clogged the line of scrimmage and occasionally sent a corner blitz to keep Orlovsky on his toes. 0-13.

TURNING POINT

0-16? The blandest, most middle of the road team in the NFL! The Titans! I suppose after 0-13, you take what you can get.

So how did it happen? Orlovsky channeled his inner Peyton off the play action, and wings one to Wayne in the corner. The CORNER of the endzone, where hope was born. But QB’s are ok, Jacob Lacey, man of iron and steel, decided to put the team on his back and snag a pass right out of the hands of a Titans receiver and run that the whole way to the endzone. 1st of the season. Game 14. Too late? Not In Indy! Not long after that the floodgates opened. Angerer strip for a turnover. Donald Brown running like a wild man, and then ANGERER! Interception in the Tampa 2.

It feels like the Colts have been waiting the entire season to play like this. At home! “Give the people a show”, Caldwell mumbles to himself as a single tear of a thousand hours labor falls with the grace of a dove down his quiet cheek. Peyton is overjoyed.

OK, OK. Not to get too overjoyed, it’s going to be the dream killing Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. And what happens first play? Brian Cushing decides to hit Orlovsky hard enough that he is, to put it nicely, “parted from the ball”. 10-3 Texans. Reggie Wayne is getting pissed, as multiple passes tip off Wayne’s fingers, old man time is standing on the sideline, waiting, smiling at Wayne. But if 6 is ⅓ of 18, then Orlovsky will hit 1 of 3 passes to Wayne. But 12, Jacoby Jones gets an insane tip pass. Ah damn this logic!

This is the Orlovsky hour, and he never cared about rivalries, or the fact that his team has 1 victory in 14 games. And it’s Reggie Wayne with 13 seconds left for the win. And that’s all I care about. Two feel good wins at home for the Colts in a season of complete disaster. It was fate that they won at home, because it would have been laughed off as a joke if they didn’t do it at their own place. I, a Jet fan, actually felt good for the Colts.

They lost the last game of the season. Andrew Luck will have some work to do next year.

EPILOGUE

As I’m writing this, literally at 6:32 PM March 6, 2012, the fact that Peyton Manning is getting cut is becoming abundantly clear as Chris Mortensen preps the montage of Manning clips, and then delivers the notice that Peyton Manning will be released by the Colts. I always had a relatively emotionless relationship as someone watching Manning (which wasn’t all that often), appreciating the myriad of achievements but never really appreciating just how well versed he was in a system he created for himself after years of being mentored by the irreplaceable Tom Moore (to whom Dallas Clark owes his career).

Manning will not be duplicated. He might not have always executed up to his potential, but he certainly could have, and he almost always knew how to work over a defense with audibles at the line of scrimmage, “check with me” calls, and a slew of incomprehensible code words that may have just been psych out material. We will never know, but we will see if there’s one last go round for what Rex Ryan called “the hardest working quarterback he’s ever seen”.