Curtis Painter Gets His Shot with Indianapolis Colts against Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Last Thursday I called for and expected Curtis Painter to be the Indianapolis Colts’ starting quarterback for tonight’s prime-time affair with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) at Raymond James Stadium.

He indeed will get such an opportunity.

With previous starter Kerry Collins still experiencing concussion-like symptoms, Colts coach Jim Caldwell said Friday that Painter, a third-year player out of Purdue, would get the nod for the team’s lone appearance on ESPN’s Monday Night Football this season.

What to make of this decision? It could result in a very telling outing by the Colts one way or the other.

Having started 0-3 with quarterback Peyton Manning unavailable while recovering from neck surgery, the Colts have struggled mightily on offense; Indy is tied with the Seattle Seahawks for last in the league in total offense. The Colts have averaged 254 yards and 15.3 points in their first three games.

Collins, signed a little more than two weeks prior to the NFL’s opening weekend to hold down the fort while Manning sits out, has been largely ineffective at the helm of the Colts’ offense. The 38-year-old veteran has compiled a meager 32.7 completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 65.9. He has led just two offensive touchdown drives, both of which came at points when losses to the Houston Texans and the Cleveland Browns, respectively, were all but certain.

Collins’ suffering a possible concussion last week in a 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers opened the door for Painter, who has been much-maligned with the Colts ever since December 2009 when he faltered in relief of Manning during a Week 16 matchup against the New York Jets that ended the team’s run at perfection.

Much of Painter’s subsequent work similarly drew the ire of Colts fans; that work included an overthrow of a wide-open Pierre Garcon and a fumble recovered for a touchdown last week. However, Painter also showed some good against Pittsburgh; he and running back Joseph Addai led Indy’s offense on a game-tying touchdown drive with just two minutes to play. Painter completed two passes for nice chunks of yardage, and Addai capped the drive with a clutch run for the score, evading Steelers safety Troy Polamalu in the process.

The Colts need to see which Painter shows up more frequently in meaningful games, and that discovery will begin to happen tonight in his official debut as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Painter’s teammates can help him exhibit the good stuff and keep the Colts competitive against an upstart Buccaneers team by doing a few things:

  • Run the ball. The Colts have become much more effective on the ground thus far in 2011 (Manning just can’t catch a break this year, can he?). Joseph Addai has been Indy’s most productive offensive weapon, averaging 4.8 yards per carry on 13 carries per game. He needs more touches, especially to cause defensive backs to loosen up on receivers for Painter. Rookie back Delone Carter, who supplanted former first-round pick Donald Brown for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, has displayed toughness on the ground that could come in handy in short-yardage situations. Addai and Carter can run on the Buccaneers, who rank 21st in the league in rush defense by having allowed 114 yards on the ground to opponents thus far this year. Tampa Bay’s defensive line is talented but young, and its linebacking corps has been retooling in wake of losing veterans, especially Barrett Ruud.
  • Contain LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay running game. Just as the Colts have improved their run offense, they showed signs of improvement on the flip side last week against Pittsburgh. Indy’s stop unit smothered most of the Steelers’ attempts to run the ball. That was one spirited instance, however, and it will require more to establish a trend. Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount, who led all rookies in rushing in 2010, has averaged four yards per carry, just a tick more than Tampa Bay (23rd in the NFL in rush offense) has been averaging as a whole. If the Colts can get similar production to last week’s effort from defensive tackles Antonio Johnson and Drake Nevis and middle linebacker Pat Angerer, they might convince the football world that their run defense is for real.
  • Catch Josh Freeman inside and outside the pocket. The pressure the Colts’ defense applied on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sensational to say the least. However, too many times on third down and on the game’s final drive, Roethlisberger was able to escape the pocket and create plays to keep Pittsburgh’s offense on the field. Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman has drawn comparisons to Roethlisberger in how he makes plays. Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who appear to finally have help inside with Nevis, need to catch Freeman and bring him down whenever he escapes the pocket. Painter needs as many chances on offense as he can get. Getting the Bucs’ offense off the field will help in that regard.

Finally, Painter needs to score touchdowns. He and the offense can’t settle for field goals inside the 20s. Painter can prove he is the right man for the job if he finishes drives.

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