If it sounds like I'm saying the Colts would have lost with Edgerrin James as their tailback, well, congratulations. You're smarter than you look. And you're much smarter than James, who left the best system, coach and quarterback he'll ever have to get a few dollars richer in Arizona and fall out of the Super Bowl and Hall of Fame.
|So, what kind of success did Nathan Vasher and the Bears have in stopping Joseph Addai? This pretty much sums it up. (Getty Images)|
This game was nasty. Nasty-beautiful, but nasty nonetheless. It was not a game for James or a back of his ilk, a big bruiser who needs the ball 30 times to pound into a defense and make his mark over time. The Bears have a large, physical defensive front that would have swallowed up James and then helped him to his feet to ensure that he stayed fresh. Better for James to have the ball than Manning.
Addai could not be swallowed. He dipped and darted and whirled in and around the Chicago defense, driving them nuts with his gnat-like movements, running for 77 yards on 19 carries.
More importantly, Addai was the receiving outlet Manning needed most, catching 10 passes out of the backfield for 66 yards. On a wet, windy day in which throwing the ball downfield was impractical, Manning carved up the Bears with small strokes, using Addai as the edge to his scalpel. Addai had twice as many catches as Sunday's next most prolific Colts receiver, Marvin Harrison, who had five.
"Joseph Addai," Colts coach Tony Dungy said, "did a great job of going up against a tough defense."
And the Colts did a superb job using the strengths of their running backs against the Bears. With Manning and Pro Bowl receivers Reggie Wayne and Harrison stretching the defense by their reputation, Chicago dropped its safeties too deep, creating space in the middle that Addai and his backup, Dominic Rhodes, were able to exploit.
Addai averaged a solid 4.1 yard per carry but was most dangerous on swing passes. Rhodes caught just one pass for eight yards, but gained 113 yards on 21 carries.
"We've been watching them (drop the safeties on film)," Addai said. "When Peyton dropped back the linebackers would drop real fast into coverage, too. ... And we knew it was probably going to rain out there, and we knew we were going to have to take advantage of the short stuff."
That's not an advantage the Colts would have been able to exploit with James, who chose not to re-sign with the salary-cap constrained Colts after the 2005 season. Even before knowing it would be able to draft Addai, Indianapolis didn't fret over James' loss or panic and offer him more than he was worth at the risk of losing another valuable commodity, such as Wayne.
In recent years James' production as a receiver had been dissolving, from 61 catches in 2002 to declining totals of 51, 44 and finally 38 this season with the Cardinals. If he was the guy coming out of the Colts backfield on Sunday, Manning wouldn't have been able to get first downs on swing passes. He would have had to take more shots down the field, and with the weather as it was, that would have meant fewer completions, more interceptions and more chances for a Bears offense that got 112 rushing yards from Thomas Jones despite having the ball for less than 22 of the game's 60 minutes.
Manning is going into the Hall of Fame on a million-dollar arm, but Sunday was a day for nickels and dimes -- and Joseph Addai was the coin collector.