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Diner morning news: Colts win with defense

Bengals don’t resemble a playoff team, plus more thoughts. Michael Lombardi

Print This December 14, 2009, 11:00 AM EST

QUOTE: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checked by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” -- Theodore Roosevelt

If I had told you prior to any game the Colts played that Peyton Manning would throw three interceptions and have a quarterback rating below 70, that their longest pass play of the day would be 29 yards, that their offense would pick up just one first down in the third quarter and that they’d punt five times — what would you think? I suspect that many, including myself, would say, “There’s no way they won that game.” But all that happen Sunday against the Broncos, and they still won by 12 points.

Amazing right? Not when you consider the fact that, despite Manning’s off day, they still were 4 for 4 in the red area, were still very effective on third down and, most of all, were sensational on defense, especially in short yardage and in the red zone. The Colts proved to me they can win with defense.

In fact, their defense is better than I first thought. They’re much quicker, especially at home, and they are very effective tackling — an improvement from past seasons. In the past, their lack of size always affected their tackling ability. Even when they were in the right hole and had the play stopped, they were unable to get the running back to the ground until he had gained at least three yards. Before this season, the prevailing sense by teams about the Colts’ defense was to be patient, get positive yards and know that a three-yard run was a good play. Keep hammering away at those three-yard gains because before too long, a missed tackle would turn into a 30-yard gain. However, this Colts defense seems to win all the third-and-shorts and stops backs dead in the hole. They don’t allow many big plays, and if they do, they’re effective in the red area. Their red zone defense is successful because of their quickness and their ability to break on the ball — and, most important, their ability to tackle.

Playing the Colts in the red area this season reminds me of trying to defeat the famous Syracuse Orange college basketball 2-3 zone, especially when they have long-armed, explosively quick players on the court. Each player’s arm length made the zone appear as a 3-3 zone, cutting down all passing lanes with their quickness and making it hard for any team to get a clean, open look. The same concept applies to the Colts when they play red-zone defense. Because of their quickness, they appear to have an extra man on the field — in fact, if I were preparing to practice against the Colts’ red zone defense, I’d have the scout team play with 12 players. There are very few windows to throw the ball into, and unless you can win a one-on-one matchup on the outside, it’s hard to score points. This defense is underrated, and Colts head coach Jim Caldwell doesn’t get enough credit for bringing in defensive coordinator Larry Coyer to alter the scheme. As good as the Colts are on offense, their defense kept the winning streak alive Sunday.

RANDOM GAME THOUGHTS…

1. Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall was sensational, setting an NFL record for most catches in one game — 21. He was a one-man wrecking crew, and I know he’ll be sore today, but the Colts who tried tackling him might be a little sorer.

2. The Bengals looked nothing like a playoff team as their inability to effectively execute a passing game killed them. Carson Palmer was 15 of 25 for 95 yards, and that’s simply not good enough. If they can’t throw the ball in the playoffs, they’ll be one and done.

3. The Chargers have quietly kept winning, and coach Norv Turner’s team has overcome a host of injuries but still found ways to win. Their mental toughness is impressive. A contract extension is reported to be coming, which is a good thing for the Chargers.

4. The Patriots discovered a way to win another home game by running the ball for 185 yards, their second-best output of the season. I saw the postgame comments from Panthers corner Chris Gamble about Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss not running out routes when he’s doubled-team. That’s often the case when I watch him on film, but it’s nothing new -- he’s done it most of his career. It doesn’t make it right, it’s just not news.

5. Miami dominated its game against Jacksonville behind the throwing of Chad Henne and the running of Ricky Williams, who seems to have reverted to his fumbling days, putting the ball on the ground three times but losing only one. The Titans-Dolphins game next Sunday will be like a playoff game.

6. The pressure is really going to mount in Dallas this week because the December schedule doesn’t get any easier, with the Cowboys playing the undefeated Saints on Saturday night. Four straight runs in the red zone?

7. The Texans are in their December rally mood, putting up the second largest margin of victory on the Seahawks. Seattle is one of the worst road teams in the NFL this season, going 1-6. Sunday, the Seahawks were 1 for 14 on third down. Where was T.J. Houshmandzadeh?

8. I don’t think anyone on the Lions’ defense can tackle. They look bad and have very few players who can play in the NFL.

9. Matt Cassel threw four more interceptions, which might make it an interesting week in Kansas City. Do the Chiefs keep him as the starter, or does he sit?

10. Now we know why Rex Ryan rested quarterback Mark Sanchez this week, because he knew that all he had to do was run the ball against the Bucs and not make mistakes. That same recipe will be on display next Sunday at home against the Falcons. The Jets have the perfect schedule to win 10 games if they beat the Falcons. They have Indy and Cincinnati the final two weeks of the season, and those games might not mean anything to either team.

More to come later today in the Tavern.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

For more coverage on how the Colts keep getting it done every Sunday, check out this article from Bleacher Report.

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