CBSSports.com National Columnist

Only bright spot for awful Colts is in vision for 2012

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Next time he's at a Stanford game, Indianapolis Colts vice president Bill Polian won't be there to visit his son. And I'm betting that wasn't the reason he was at the Stanford-Duke game last week. For one thing, Polian doesn't strike me as all that sentimental.

For another, his team is in serious contention for the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, which will be Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

The Colts are that bad this season, and Polian probably knew it before the season even began. Which is why he was at the Stanford game last Saturday -- the day before the Colts' opener at Houston. The Colts lost badly that day.

They lost badly Sunday too -- a 27-19 defeat at home to the Cleveland Browns.

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A quick word about the Browns ...

Count the number of football teams I mentioned before I got to them. There was Stanford. Indianapolis. Duke. Houston. That's four football teams who made it into this story before I got to the Browns, and there's a reason for that: The Browns aren't worth discussing. They're among the dreaded mediocrity of the NFL, neither good enough to get to the playoffs nor bad enough to challenge for the No. 1 overall draft pick. I suppose I could write this entire story about the team that won the game I just watched, but I'm guessing most of you don't care about that team. And I'm positive I don't.

But the Colts? They're fascinating, in a fender-bender kind of way.

Hey everybody, slow down and take a look at the poor saps in the breakdown lane -- it's the Indianapolis Colts!

Seriously, this team has fallen and it's not getting up, not until Peyton Manning returns or Andrew Luck signs. Which comes first? At this rate, I couldn't say. Manning's neck issue is so dire, he reportedly went to Europe recently for stem-cell treatment unavailable in the United States. It's time to stop wondering when Manning will return -- and time to start wondering if he will return. Ever.

Without him, the Colts won't win many games this season. Will they win any? Sure, probably, in that any-given-Sunday sense that even the worst NFL teams seem to find a way to win a game or two every season. On paper, though, Sunday's game was one of the Colts' three best chances this season to win -- along with visits to Lucas Oil Stadium by the Chiefs (Oct. 9) and Jaguars (Nov. 13) -- and this one wasn't all that close. It was 27-12 before the Colts drove the length of the field for a meaningless touchdown, their only TD of the game, with 24 seconds left.

Until that drive, the Browns had outgained the Colts 303-202. Colt McCoy isn't a great pro quarterback, but he's among the reasons the Browns are merely mediocre as opposed to the dreadful description deserved by the Colts. See, both teams have so-so running games, so-so receivers and so-so defenses. The Browns have a great return man in Josh Cribbs, who returned a kickoff 52 yards and a punt 43 on Sunday, and in McCoy they have a quarterback who is good when the play is falling apart around him. In fact, that's when McCoy is at his best -- which is lucky, seeing how often plays fall apart on the Browns. Get him outside the pocket, and McCoy has the wheels to run for yardage as well as the freelance ability to find an emergency outlet receiver.

CBSSports.com Grades
Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns
A-
A highly encouraging performance by the young defensive line and embattled pass offense highlighted a victory that can be placed in the must-win category for confidence purposes. The line dominated an albeit weak Indianapolis offensive line while QB Colt McCoy found a variety of receivers all over the field. The secondary showed depth and intensity.
By Marty Gitlin
RapidReports Correspondent
Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts
C
The Colts showed some improvement from the previous week's 34-7 loss to Houston, but not nearly enough. Too much inconsistency on both sides of the football. QB Kerry Collins started out strong, but struggled as the game progressed. The Colts defense, at least until late in the fourth quarter, played well enough to win.
By Tom James
RapidReports Correspondent

Colts quarterback Kerry Collins is the anti-McCoy, an immobile quarterback who is serviceable only when standing in the pocket, with time to scan the defense for an open receiver. Even then, though, Collins doesn't spend much time scanning. He almost never looked downfield Sunday, instead dumping the ball as quickly as possible to whoever was running the closest route, and he doesn't do that with exquisite accuracy, either.

The average Collins pass attempt was a short one, and still he completed just 19 of 38 passes. By the fourth quarter he was repeatedly ignoring his downfield targets to misfire on check-down routes. It makes you wonder just how bad his backup, Curtis Painter, must be if he can't play ahead of Collins.

In two weeks the Colts have scored two touchdowns -- and I'm telling you, that's why Bill Polian made that splashy appearance last week at the Stanford-Duke game. It turns out that Polian's son is an assistant coach for the Cardinal, but that's a coincidence if you ask me. Polian was getting an early peek at Luck because he knew what this season would look like. He had to know. Without Manning, there was nothing about this Colts team to inspire confidence.

And there is no confidence on the Colts' sideline, either. Early in the game, leading 3-0, Colts coach Jim Caldwell didn't even think about going for it on fourth-and-inches at the Browns 9. The officials had barely spotted the ball after a third-and-1 rush went nowhere before Adam Vinatieri was being ushered onto the field for the second of his four field goals. Caldwell isn't a very good head coach, but he's no dummy. A sure three points, for an offense as bad as this one, cannot be passed up.

The same goes for Andrew Luck, if the Colts lose enough to win his rights. It's too early to say the Colts are that bad -- the Chiefs have that special, 0-and-16 look to them -- but the Colts are on the short list of teams bad enough to win Andrew Luck.

If I'm Bill Polian, I'm moving in for a few months with my kid at Stanford. Nice weather out there, and the football's better than it is in Indianapolis.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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