A look at the Colts from the Titans’ perspective

Total Titans finishes its look at the Titans’ 2007 AFC South rivals with a look at the Indianapolis Colts. Please also take a look at our previews of the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars if you haven’t already. The Colts are the reigning kings of the division, having finished in first place each of the last 5 years, but repeating will likely be their toughest task since they dethroned the Titans in 2003.
Schedule: Titans v. Colts, Week 8, Oct. 27 (Monday Night Football), Titans @ Colts, Week 17, Dec. 28
2007 Results: Colts, 13-3, 1st in AFC South, lost conference semifinal
Sept. 16, Week 2: Colts 22 @Titans 20
Dec. 30, Week 17: Titans 16 @Colts 10
Key Additions: RB Dominick Rhodes (OAK)
Key Losses: LB Rocky Boiman (PHI), G Jake Scott (TEN), TE Ben Utecht (CIN)
And, that’s it. The Colts reverse their seemingly-normal trend, and lose only three players who started more than 2 games off last year’s team. So, what might this team for the 2008 version of the Colts?
The key question for the Colts, and the reason I waited so long to write this preview, is injuries. Both Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis suffered season-ending injuries last year, and the pass rush, a key component of the Colts’ defense in particular, suffered. The offense wasn’t immune, either, as old reliable Marvin Harrison started only 5 games.
The Colts have been far from immune from the injury bug so far in 2008 as well. While Freeney and Harrison both seem to be back, DBs T.J. Rushing and Michael Coe have been placed on injured reserve, and guard Ryan Lilja and linebacker Tyjuan Hagler begin the year on the PUP list. While Peyton Manning seems to have recovered from his bursa sac injury and is scheduled to start Sunday night against the Bears, the Colts will begin the year with a makeshift offensive line thanks to injuries to Lilja and starting C Jeff Saturday. This would be good news for the Titans’ defensive line, but the Colts will have 6 games to heal themselves before having to face Albert Haynesworth et al and so Saturday should be back and Lilja may be as well. Oh, yeah, and Bob Sanders is healthy, too.
Offense
The Colts had their normal excellent offense last year, though it wasn’t quite as otherworldly has it had been in years past, but had two main problems. First, overuse of Joseph Addai-he visibly tired at the end of last year and wasn’t nearly as productive as he was earlier in the year. The return of Rhodes should help solve this issue. Rookie Mike Hart is third on the running back depth chart, having beaten out Kenton Keith.
Second, depth at WR was a problem. As noted above, Marvin Harrison is back and seems to be at or near full strength, though at age 36 decline is likely soon in the offing. Anthony Gonzalez is now a second-year player who should start in the slot and should be better-positioned to step in should Harrison decline or be injured again. Also on the WR depth charter are new kick returner and ex-Titan Courtney Roby, a hometown hero from his days at nearby Indiana University, and new punt returner (with the injury to Rushing), Pierre Garcon, formerly of the most successful college program in mine or your lifetime, the Mount Union Purple Raiders. The top three of Wayne, Harrison, and Gonzalez may be the best in football, and Colts fans, at least, like their depth. Harrison’s return to health should also allow Dallas Clark to actually be a tight end again, rather than a mediocre slot receiver.
On the offensive line, the Colts return 4 of their 5 starters, losing only Scott to the Titans, and had the starter already on the roster in Charlie Johnson. Of course, with the injuries discussed above, there will be more shuffling early, but they should be able to recover without too much difficulty.
Defense:
Despite what you may have thought, the Colts last year actually had a pretty good defense. While they may not reach that level again this year, they shouldn’t be nearly as bad as they were during, say, the 2006 regular season. As noted above, Freeney and Mathis are healthy, as is LB Freddy Keiaho. MLB Gary Brackett, who had a terrific year last year, is back, as is the entire starting secondary-Jackson, Hayden, and Bethea may not be great, but they’re not chopped liver either.
Special Teams:
Rushing’s injury gives this unit a hit-Garcon may be ok as a punt returner. Roby did return some kickoffs for the Titans, and it’s difficult to see him suddenly becoming great at that, preseason success notwithstanding. Vinatieri may be “clutch”, but he can’t kick very far at this point. Hunter Smith should be ok, when he’s called upon, which probably won’t be that often. They’re apparently hoping the improved DT depth will allow Darrell Reid, best known to Titan fans for his big hit on Chris Henry in Week 17 last year, to be their special teams dynamo. We’ll see-history suggests both return and coverage units will likely be mediocre at best again, and I see no reason to think that won’t be the case again.
Overall Outlook:
The Colts are more vulnerable to injury than most teams, thanks to the way their roster is constructed. If it looked like Jim Sorgi would be starting a few games, or Marvin Harrison were done, or Freeney wouldn’t be back, this would be a different outlook. As is, though, none of those is true, and the Colts should again be kings of the South and challenge for the #1 overall seed in the AFC. Want a proposed record? I’ll say 12-4.
Ok, what’s your take on the Colts? As formidable as I think they are? Do you see the Titans or Jags dethroning them in 2008?

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