by Dallas Jackson - 10/14/2005
Life keeps getting better and better for Peyton Manning. Honestly. >From birth, his dad was a professional football player, his mom was a beautiful former Homecoming Queen. He grows up upper class; in the city where his dad is beloved. He plays, and excels, for his high school football team, leading to his choice of SEC university scholarships. He chooses to go to Tennessee, where he graduates in three years, and wins a Heisman Trophy. Of course, he marries his college sweetheart, and gets drafted first overall into the NFL. Then, he starts every game of his pro career and wins back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards. Now, this season, he has a legitimate defense to help his cause for a Super Bowl title. Not just any defense, a defense allowing a league low 5.8 points per game.
For all the people looking for reasons to write about Peyton's struggles, I can name at least 25 teams that would love to have a player struggle to a 94.1 QB rating.
However, this is not about Peyton Manning, we know he is good. This is about a resurgent, Tony Dungy-led defensive unit. This is about how scary it is to think that a team which allowed 21.2 points per game the first five weeks last year is actually having its 5.8 ppg this season inflated by two garbage time touchdowns. Week One, the Ravens score a TD with 24 seconds left in the game while trailing, 24-0. Two weeks ago, the Titans scored a meaningless TD with 5:13 left in a contest they trailed 31-3. Minus those scores and the Colts are allowing a nice and neat 3 points per game. Whoa.
This is a credit to Tony Dungy. Dungy is not only a class act among NFL head coaches he is also a scary judge of talent. Of his eleven defensive starters, two are un-drafted free agents, one is a seventh round pick, one a sixth and two more were taken in the fourth; I'd say he has a knack for this. We shouldn't be surprised as he did the exact same thing in Tampa Bay-- turning one of the worst defensive teams into a dominant unit. And unlike Jon Gruden, who won with Tony's team in Tampa, these guys are almost entirely Dungy's players. Only one starter - CB Nick Harper - remains from the Jim Mora days, and he was a rookie then. Only two other backups - Rob Morris and Montae Reagor - are on the defensive side of the ball from the last regime.
The formula is simple. By simple I mean that I couldn't do it, but I can point it out from thousands of miles away. Simple as in, get a great run stopper at D-tackle, the best pass rushing end in football, two good corners, a fear inducing safety, and a handful of athletic unheralded linebackers, that type of simple - so not simple at all.
I do not write this because I am afraid of being held accountable for allowing Indy to field the next "No Name Defense." I write this because I want to inform people that this defense, while not high in profile is very high in talent. I want to illustrate the similarities between this group and the group he built in Tampa.
Obviously, Freeny and Simon get the ink. The two first round picks are studs. These two are the Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp of the Colts, and it all starts up front with them. They pressure the quarterback, making the corners cover for less time. They stop the run, allowing the linebackers to drop into confusing schemes. Freeny, like Rice, is undersized for a defensive tackle. At 6 feet 1 inch and only 268 pounds (Rice was 6' 5'' and 268) he is too fast for a tackle to handle, and much too athletic to be slowed by a running back chip. He has 45 sacks in his three-plus seasons, and playing on the RCA Dome turf will allow him to use his speed to continue harassing quarterbacks. Simon, like Sapp, is a run-stuffer with attitude. The Philadelphia cast-off is constantly drawing double teams, which frees up the backers. He does not get the recognition he deserves off the field, but he does get the respect he commands on it. Coincidentally -- or maybe not -- Simon is 6' 2'' and 293 pounds and Sapp sizes up at 6' 2'' and 300 pounds. Tony has a plan.
I could go through the roster pointing out the Cato June to Derrick Brooks similarities and I could rattle off Bob Sanders to John Lynch facts, but I think I have planted that seed well enough. For money-making purposes, the question now turns to, how long will this last?
My answer: for the foreseeable future. Barring injury, the Colts have a favorable schedule, a weak division, and the best offense in football playing the role of "sleeping giant." While last year they were a better bet after five weeks (4-0-1 ATS in '04 versus 3-2 in '05) I see more buy signs this year than last. I expect them to be 7-0 after their bye heading into New England. New England's injury problems aside they are still a great team, and will be -- if nothing else -- a mental hurdle for Peyton and the Colts. Also providing playoff caliber tests will be Pittsburgh, San Diego and upstart Cincinnati. All of those games have potential to be defensive struggles now. However, the offensive explosion is always there, and more for Indianapolis than for, oh say, Baltimore, so be smart playing NFL totals.
The totals should drop to the low 40s like the rest of the league, but with the potent offense in limbo, they will most likely stay in the mid to upper 40s. There is no reason not to be thinking this Colts defense is on the same level of the Buccaneers defense of a few seasons ago. You should play accordingly. For me, I'll be assuming the Colts score 20- 30 points every contest. I will look at the opponent and judge if they can legitimately score more than 10, and adjust my play. The Colts offense hasn't changed -- it is the defense that is allowing them to play without the reckless abandon of the past. But they can still score at any time! Don't be a square and just jump on any line given, but don't cross out the double-digit lines that will start being commonplace with the Colt's. There is money to be made, smart money.
Damnit, I wish I was Peyton Manning.
Dallas Jackson can be contacted with question or comments, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views of Doc's football picks service.