Manning's Balancing Act
Colts Passer Needs the Run
It can be maddening to watch the presnap aerobics of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning—arms pointing wildly, feet stomping repeatedly, other gesticulations and waggles only Sergio Garc�a could love. Indeed, during a recent three-game losing streak, Manning endured unusual criticism for his deliberate field generalship. But after Sunday's 20-3 win over the Cowboys—Indianapolis's second consecutive victory, following their 35-13 upset of the Eagles on Nov. 10—this much can be said: There's a method to Manning's madness. "Sometimes that [play] clock can get pretty low, but that's just me checking out of the play, taking what the defense gives me," said Manning, whose 6-4 team remained tied with the Titans atop the AFC South. "Today we made the right adjustments, which finally got our running game going."
Few teams rely as heavily as the Colts do on play-action and draw plays to set up their passing attack, which is why, with running back Edgerrin James hurting and Manning pressing, the offense had struggled. Already fighting to regain his All-Pro form after suffering a season-ending right ACL tear in October 2001, James was further hampered by hamstring and rib injuries during Indy's three-game slide. Manning threw a total of six interceptions in those games, helping to put his team in a big hole (20 points or more) early each time.
The offense performed poorly in the first half again on Sunday. James had 37 yards on 11 carries, and at halftime, with the score tied 3-3, Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore decided that Indy should abandon its two-tight-end sets in favor of more three-wideout alignments, giving James additional running room and providing more options in the passing game.
The adjustment paid off when James ran for 69 yards on 13 carries—none bigger than his four rushes midway through the second half. After a Dallas offsides penalty on an Indianapolis punt gave the Colts new life, James picked up six, five, 16 and four yards, setting up Mike Vanderjagt's 23-yard field goal with 13:06 to play. Touchdown passes of 31 yards and one yard from Manning to wideout Marvin Harrison provided the final margin.
"We stayed patient today, especially Edgerrin," said Manning, who completed 29 of 38 passes for 252 yards. "He showed how tough he is. We just have to get things started earlier, because it's asking a lot to dig out of holes every week."
Steelers Get Third Degree
One reason the Steelers (5-4-1) have already lost more games than they did all of last year is their woeful third-down defense. Going into last week's game at Tennessee, Pittsburgh's opponents had converted 46.6% of their third-down chances, including three plays in which the Falcons needed more than 20 yards in the Nov. 10 game. Despite making third-down defense a priority during their preparations last week, the Steelers allowed the Titans to convert 12 of 19 such opportunities in a 31-23 Tennessee win....
Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison has been to two Pro Bowls, but opposing quarterbacks are throwing more in his direction to avoid teammate Patrick Surtain. Against the Ravens, Madison allowed a 28-yard touchdown catch to wideout Travis Taylor, while Surtain tied a career high with his fifth interception of the season. Look for Surtain to make his first trip to Hawaii....
How did the Chargers beat the 49ers 20-17 in overtime after trailing 17-7 late in the fourth quarter? Although San Diego started four backups on the offensive line and quarterback Drew Brees attempted 50 passes, the Chargers did not allow a sack.