Indianapolis Colts Feeling Effects of Peyton Manning’s Absence


So it’s really going to be this way.

The Indianapolis Colts really are struggling this mightily without Peyton Manning at quarterback, as evidenced in Sunday’s 27-19 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the team’s home opener at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts, 0-2 for the first time since Manning’s rookie season, lost 34-7 to Houston in Week 1, but the Texans had a much better pass rush than the Browns, and the Colts defense played in a similarly sluggish fashion against Houston in last year’s season opener.

You’d figure the Week 2 matchup with Cleveland at home would be a better indicator of how the Colts can do without Manning. It was.

The defense played better than it did in Week 1, but it still suffered, surrendering 303 yards to the Browns. The biggest issue on defense Sunday was third-down defense. The Colts allowed Cleveland to convert eight of 16 third downs, including the dagger run by Peyton Hillis late in the fourth quarter. All in all, the defense showed that while it’s a better unit than its effort against Houston showed, it needs to stop teams on third down if it wants to give the Colts a chance to win this season.

The offense, meanwhile, continued to utterly miss its four-time MVP quarterback, especially in the red zone. Kerry Collins had some nice rhythm going on several drives, but any of those drives that ended in points were stopped short of the end zone — at least in meaningful game time. Adam Vinatieri converted all four of his field-goal attempts, including a 52-yarder to give Indy a 9-7 lead following a Cleveland touchdown. The Colts scored just one touchodwn in the red zone — a short pass to Dallas Clark in the fourth quarter when the game essentially was out of reach. Collins lost a fumble that led to a Browns score — he did that twice last week — and thre an interception.

One bright spot on offense was the running game. The Colts averaged 4.3 yards on the ground and even outrushed the Hillis-led Browns 109-106. Joseph Addai took 16 carries for 64 yards, and rookie Delone Carter (who’s going to be a player, by the way) amassed 46 yards on 11 attempts. Indy needs to run the ball more. The offensive line is somewhat bolstered by rookie Anthony Castonzo’s presence, and Addai is running as hard as I’ve ever seen him run. In addition, Carter has that element of power that Colts backs have lacked since Edgerrin James left in free agency.

Admittedly, though, an increased emphasis on the run can only take this team so far. While improved, the Colts’ running game still isn’t good enough to win games on its own. This offense is designed to pass the football. And that’s where it misses Manning most. The quick throws, the precision, the touchdowns in the red zone — all missing from the aerial attack right now and quite possibly for the foreseeable future.

I know a lot of pundits are ready to pencil in the Colts for the league’s worst record and the top overall pick in the NFL Draft — in which case the team would secure its long-term future by drafting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. I’m not quite ready to say this team will finish dead last in the NFL, especially with the way the Kansas City Chiefs are stinking up the joint (the Colts and the Chiefs play in Week 5, for what that may be worth). That said, the early signs say this Colts team won’t be making a run at the record for most consecutive playoff appearances, and they won’t if Sunday’s game was a sign of things to come the rest of the way.

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