Sunday's loss by the Indianapolis Colts was a stunner. Bye teams rarely lose, but the Colts were done in by their mistakes and a courageous San Diego Chargers team that never gave up.
But looking at the Colts' future, there are plenty of reasons to believe they'll return to the same place next year.
As long as the Colts have Peyton Manning, they will be an excellent team. That was evident again Sunday, watching Manning operate the offense. He has incredible pocket presence, meaning he hangs onto the ball until the last minute and reads the defense almost perfectly every time.
|Assistant Jim Caldwell may top the Colts' list if Tony Dungy decides to step down. (US Presswire)|
But the one loss they could not overcome was defensive end Dwight Freeney. Safety Bob Sanders was the Defensive Player of the Year, but Freeney is the Colts' defensive MVP. He can single-handedly change an offense because of his pass-rush ability, especially in the noisy RCA Dome. He's such a threat to disrupt a play, teams have to commit two men to him each down. In Sanders' case, you can take him out of some plays with your offensive formation.
What struck me Sunday was the lack of pass rush on the Chargers quarterbacks. The Colts do not like to blitz, so they must get pressure from their four-man rush, and Freeney is the key for that. Their secondary, like all, will not hold up without a pass rush.
Lost is the fact this team won 13 games despite all the changes in the offseason and regular season.
First, just dealing with the distractions of winning the Super Bowl is an ordeal in itself. As always, Tony Dungy handled this situation perfectly, having the team keep things in perspective. When I asked him in the spring how he would handle it, he said you preach to the team each season is a new season and everything starts all over again. I think he got that message across clearly as the Colts opened the season as sharply as they finished last.
In free agency they lost cornerbacks Jason David and Nick Harper, linebacker Cato June, running back Dominic Rhodes and wide receiver Brandon Stokley. They also lost defensive tackle Anthony McFarland (injury) and left tackle Tarik Glenn (retirement). Star wide receiver Marvin Harrison was out for most of the season and a good part of Sunday's playoff loss.
I think it is truly remarkable what the Colts accomplished and that's a credit to their front office, led by Bill and Chris Polian as well as Dungy and his staff.
As the Colts head into their offseason, they have fewer on-the-field questions than in the past. The big issue is whether Harrison can return. If he can, there will be questions about his speed and durability. The Colts planned for his eventual departure with the drafting of Anthony Gonzalez, who is good, but if the Colts could get another speed receiver I think that would help them if Harrison cannot return.
Tight end Dallas Clark is a free agent, but the Colts will franchise him and he will be back next year.
In the offensive line they drafted Tony Ugoh with the idea Glenn would be a free agent in 2008, and they would probably not re-sign him. Glenn's retirement forced Ugoh to play a year early and did better than I thought the rookie would do. He is ahead of the curve going into '08, when he was been slated to start.