The Indianapolis Colts took one step closer to the playoffs with a win in Oakland. The scoreboard does not accurately represent the difference between the talent level of the two teams who took the field on Sunday, as the Colts defense stifled Oakland’s offense and the Colts offense moved the ball easily for much of the game.
If not for a special teams touchdown to start the game, a play Colts fans are far too familiar with, the score would have gotten out of hand very early. Still, blow outs are not necessary to finish Indy’s task for a late-season push for the playoffs and leaves them still in the driver’s seat to put away a struggling Titans team at home to finish the job.
One of the biggest surprises for Indianapolis was the role veteran running back Dominic Rhodes played in the game. With Donald Brown coming off of his biggest single day performance against Jacksonville and Joseph Addai returning from injury, conventional wisdom would suggest that the other rushers in the Colts stable would take a backseat.
Instead, Rhodes looked like the 2006 version of himself for much of the game, running hard, downhill, behind his pads, and got the most of his opportunities. He led the team with 98 rushing yards on 17 carries, a 5.8 yard average.
The other runners also performed well, with Addai rushing for 45 yards on 12 carries, Brown rushing for 28 yards on 6 carries, and Peyton “Vick” Manning averaging a whopping 8.3 yards a carry on his three carries, with two of those kneel downs to end the game.
Altogether, the Colts offensive line and running backs ran for 191 yards, averaged 4.9 yards a run, and scored a touchdown. The Raiders running attack and their weapon Darren McFadden? The team ran for 80 yards on 20 carries, a 4 yard average, while McFadden was held to 45 yards on only 11 carries for a 4.1 yard average.
Much of the Colts improved run defense came from inspired defensive tackle play. Antonio “Mookie” Johnson destroyed McFadden on a pair of runs, and even beat him to the corner on a small screen pass to keep him from getting into the open field. The effort was easily Johnson’s most active game in a Colts uniform.
Second-year defensive tackle Fili Moala also wreaked havoc by getting penetration through the Raiders offensive line, disrupting running lanes, and hitting ball carriers before they could get anything going in the backfield. The young man is really starting to look like the player Colts fans hoped he would be when the Colts traded up to select him early in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Manning continued to show some inconsistency from time-to-time with his accuracy and decision-making. The two picks he threw were squarely on his shoulders, one an overthrow and another pass behind Pierre Garcon. If he can stop turning the ball over, the Colts will win games by two or three scores. If not, they will remain highly contested.
On more than one occasion Jacob Tamme made plays that inspire confidence in his future as a pass-catching tight end in Indianapolis. His moves after the catch are tricks right out of the “ol’ Dallas Clark play book.” There are times he looks so much like Dallas that I actually refer to him as Jacob Clark during the games.
Tyjuan Hagler continues to play really good football as the strong-side linebacker. Pass defense was never really Hagler’s strong suit in the past but he has knocked down passes and filled passing lanes regularly over the last three or four games, which has ended drives and given the Colts another possession. For a guy who had to wait for over half of the season to get his number called by a team he has played for a lot over the last five years, he has made a strong case to stick around in 2011.
It should be noted that the final score would have been different against any team that did not have Sebastian Janikowski kicking the football. He is a unique weapon that gives one the feeling that in order to keep the Raiders from a good chance at scoring, the defense has to hold Oakland in their own territory. Once the ball gets past midfield, he just might hit it! Nine of the Raiders’ 26 points came from field goals 45 yards out or more, including one from 59 yards.
In many ways the Colts are doing something similar to what they did in years like 2006. Units are starting to come together in the final hour; the defense seems to be stiffening up with the defensive tackles leading the way. The offensive line seems to be coming together, an effort aided by some intense moments after Kyle DeVan took a shot from an Oakland defender after the whistle. These guys have blocked for a running game that has put up 346 yards on 63 carries for an average of 5.5 yards over the last two games. The defense has held Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden to a combined 91 yards over that same span.
It is unclear whether the Colts have the horses to really get anything done if they make it into the playoffs. Conventional wisdom would suggest that if they are able to get into the playoffs at all it will be nothing short of a small miracle and a testament to the fight and desire that emanates from the organization. One thing is for sure though, the Colts are starting to form an identity, and it is a really competitive one that could surprise favored opponents in January.