This week, in anticipation of Friday's game against the Indianapolis Colts, I tracked down Coltzilla.com's Brett Mock to ask him about this year's Colts team. Because of the length of Brett's answers, I've split the interview into two parts. Part 2 will run Friday.
Andy Tisdel: After looking through various Colts blogs, I got the impression that Peyton Manning’s neck injury is the only game in town for Colts fans. Based on what you’ve heard, how serious is it? Is he likely to miss any regular-season games?
Brett Mock: The Colts are notorious for being very quiet about specifics with regards to injuries. Frankly, there have been reports suggesting that the surgery took place in order to repair a bulging disc in his neck and there have been reports that the surgery was done to repair damage to a nerve that has not yet fully healed. While there is always an outside chance that somehow, some way, Manning may not take the field when the regular season begins in Houston, I find that highly improbable. The only thing that would stop him is an injury that makes him incapable in some way of throwing the football, taking a snap, or finding a receiver. Or as Tony Dungy put it, "unless he’s dead, he’ll be under center opening day."
As for all the rumors regarding Brett Favre, the possibility of bringing in a veteran quarterback to start the season, or the rumor that the Colts were legitimately interested in Terrelle Pryor, I don't put a whole lot of stock in it. There is always a chance the team will grab a low cost veteran free agent quarterback prior to the beginning of the season just in case something were to happen and Manning would lose feeling or control of his throwing arm due to complications to a regenerating nerve, but I think a move like that would be more precautionary, as are all of these rumors and comments by owner Jim Irsay. (Andy's note: On Wednesday, the Colts signed former Giants and Titans quarterback Kerry Collins to back up Manning.)
AT: As recently as 2009, the Colts went undefeated in games they tried to win right up until the Super Bowl. With a number of key players coming back from 2010 injuries, could that happen again? Is this the same kind of team as '09's Super Bowl squad?
BM: I really don't think fans will be able to get a good read on that until the season starts. 2010 was devastating to much of the fan base because not unlike your team, our team was talented enough that even with the backup's backup's backup playing, we returned to the playoffs and managed 10 wins. It wasn't as pretty as our regular seasons usually are, but it certainly is reason for pause for Colts fans who see a team that is loaded heading into the year and being overly confident. Unlike your team, we had too many injuries in too many key areas to overcome it all. (And congratulations to you all for doing so)
Now, if the team makes it to the playoffs and Dwight Freeney/Robert Mathis are both healthy, Manning shows no signs of his injuries, the offensive line has come together, and our other key players are healthy enough to be effective... sure, this team is good enough to get to the Super Bowl and win it. But again, after last year, there are a lot of ifs, so it will take awhile to get a better idea.
AT: What’s your take on Manning’s new mammoth contract? Is it too much money for a quarterback in his mid-thirties?
No way. While a lot of people will tell you that there isn't a player in the league who is unattainable or untradeable, I think Peyton Manning is about as close as a player ever gets to that. Jim Irsay didn't pull any punches in negotiations, he laid out a golden carpet for Manning to essentially name his price and what Manning settled on, while technically [making him] the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, is significantly less than what he could have taken.
Beyond that, I'm not one to get overly caught up in statistics games. I think statistics are useful, and a lot of times folks will break down quarterbacks in their mid-thirties and note a drop-off in production but ALL of those individual players and situations require context. Very few quarterbacks in the history of the league have the luxury of playing throughout the vast majority of their careers with the same owner, same front office, same coaching staff or at least a coaching staff committed to an offensive system that was really created specifically for that quarterback, and were surrounded by players who were all willing to put in extra time and effort during the off-season to be as precise in terms of timing as Manning and this offense is. Add to that the fact that Manning has been one of the least abused quarterbacks in the NFL throughout his career (sacks/hits) and there is even more reason to be confident that he'll continue to perform at an elite level.
None of this has happened by accident and it will take a lot for it to crumble down. Until shows signs of not being able to make the throws, I'm not worried about his age or his contract. Who else was the team going to sign?
AT: This isn’t a particularly topical question, but it’s something I’ve always wondered. TV commentators always mention that the Colts’ front seven are, by design, lighter and faster than most teams’ players. This means that they’re susceptible to getting run on. What are the advantages of this system?
BM: Ideally, a smaller and faster defensive front seven makes it difficult to get big plays. So long as the front seven tackles well and stays disciplined to their gaps, it shouldn't be overly susceptible to getting run on either. The problem for Indianapolis has been either one of discipline to appropriate gaps, an overall talent deficiency on the interior of the defensive line and at linebacker for much of the last five to six years, and/or an inability for one of the best safeties in the league to stay healthy. Now, the flip side of that is that in the Colts system players at some positions are far more interchangeable and one could argue it is at the positions I mentioned were weakest (except safety), so that only goes so far.
Ultimately, the biggest weakness is a lack of size on the interior of the defensive line. In 2011, there will be more size at that spot than there has been since Booger McFarland's career ended following the Colts Super Bowl win in 2006. Mookie Johnson, Fili Moala, and Drake Nevis at minimum will be primary rotational players and are all north of 300 pounds. If either Ollie Ogbu, Tommie Harris, or Ricardo Mathews also make it onto the roster, they'll likely join Eric Foster (undersized but able to play inside and outside on the line) to be a fourth player right around that 300 pound mark. Compare that to 2008 when first year player Keyunta Dawson (254) and rookie Eric Foster (285) started at defensive tackle.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2! Meanwhile, if you'd like to read more Indianapolis Colts news and commentary, check out Brett and his staff at Coltzilla.com.