1 Indianapolis Colts
Team Page | Schedule | Depth chart | 2000 Stats
Scoring won't be a problem, but the defense needs to make its points
By Paul Zimmerman
The axiom that you get to the Super Bowl with defense took a hit two years ago when the Rams won it all with a better than average D and an attack that dazzled the world. But then the offense-challenged Ravens restored order last season. So where are we now?
"We're in the free-agency era," Colts president Bill Polian says. "Nowadays it's almost impossible to be great on both sides of the ball. Is anybody complete? Name me a complete team."
Well, it's not Indianapolis, not yet anyway, but the Colts are working on it. The offense? It's a thing of beauty, which was what Polian set out to create when he took over three years ago. His first draft choice was quarterback Peyton Manning, who has been to two Pro Bowls. His next first-rounder, running back Edgerrin James, is another Pro Bowler who has led the league in rushing in each of his two seasons. Already in place were gifted wideout Marvin Harrison and tight end Ken Dilger. The Colts have kept their fine line intact, and they recently locked up their talented motion tight end, Marcus Pollard, to a long-term deal.
Oh, this is a Pro Bowl-caliber attack, just as it was last year and the year before. So how come Indy never gets anywhere in the playoffs?
Also, at home during the regular season last year Indianapolis blew a 17-point halftime lead to the Raiders, who scored 31 unanswered points, and the Colts couldn't hold a late lead against Miami, which was going with reserves at quarterback and running back.
"If we could only have finished those games...," Polian says wistfully.
The solution, of course, was to draft big guys, run-stoppers, in April, but eight defensive linemen had fallen before Indy's turn came up at No. 22, so rather than "picking a slug," as Polian says, the Colts traded down to the 30th selection and grabbed wideout Reggie Wayne, a 6-foot, 197-pound burner out of Miami who, if nothing else, is drawing raves from the franchise quarterback. "Only four years of major-college football, and he knows exactly what you're talking about," Manning says. "I'll tell him, 'Fade route but be alive for the underneath,' and I don't have to explain anything else."
O.K., Indianapolis will score a lot of points, but, again, how will it stop opponents? "Youth, enthusiasm, new faces, athleticism," says Chad Bratzke, the right end and the Colts' sack leader last season, with 7 1/2. "We've got some guys who were in the learning phase last season. O.K., it's a year later. It's time to produce.
"The talent is here. Josh Williams is a young tackle with incredible explosion off the line. He's in his second year. So's our middle linebacker, Rob Morris, who's athletic and smart. He can really run. Marcus Washington, our strongside backer, is another guy in his second year, a great athlete, but he's learning a new position. Mike Peterson's a terrific weakside linebacker, but he's only in his third year. Our free safety, Idrees Bashir, is a rookie. He flies all over the field, making plays. We've got the pieces to the puzzle. We just have to put them together."
Even fourth-year coach Jim Mora, whose history as an assistant was on the defensive side, isn't sure what to make of things. "I wish I could tell you how good this unit could be," he says, "but, frankly, I don't know. I probably won't know till halfway through the season. Last year teams wore us down. They pounded us. In the playoff game Miami just overpowered our defensive front. They kept mashing us.
"We finished 25th against the run. We haven't been very good at stopping it since I've been here. We've got to be stronger; we've got to play with more power. We picked up Christian Peter from the Giants. He'll help, and so will the fact that we'll be rotating more people up front."
A key man is Morris, the middle linebacker who was drafted in the first round last year for his run-stopping ability but was hurt most of the season and appeared in only seven games. "I didn't have an Edgerrin James kind of rookie year," Morris says. "I didn't have a fairy-tale start. Hopefully, there will be some kind of fairy tale in the middle and the end."
Issue date: September 3, 2001