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Pre-Season Power Rankings: Part 1

August 13, 2012 Leave a comment

With the first week of pre-season in the books, it’s time for the first Power Rankings of the year. Here’s the bottom half of the league as I see it currently, though these rankings are sure to change as August rolls into September. At this point of the league year it’s tough to find much separation between the 20-25 middle-road teams. Other than the truly elite and truly awful teams, pre-season rankings really amount to how much the author likes each team’s young players, coach and QB. With that said, here is the bottom half of the league from my point of view:

17. Kansas City Chiefs
– Put a top QB on the Chiefs and they are arguably an elite team. Their defense was fairly stout down the stretch last season and responded well to new coach Romeo Crennel. There is a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, assuming Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry can return to form after missing last year with injuries. Unlike AFC West rivals Oakland and San Diego, Kansas City seems more likely to exceed expectations than to disappoint. If Brian Daboll can get a good season from Cassel (questionable given the track records of both Daboll and Cassel), the Chiefs could see double-digit wins and a division championship. Even if Cassel struggles, they might be able to squeak out 9 or 10 wins if their running game can perform to 2010 levels.

18. Tennessee Titans
– The Titans, like the Bills, Chiefs and a few other teams, have a lot of nice pieces but it’s hard to project them to have a ton of success – though history tells us that one or more of the middle tier teams will put it all together and make a good run. Like those other teams, I can’t put them any higher than the middle of the pack due to their QB situation. Jake Locker is the future and probably a better bet than Matt Hasselbeck to lead the team to postseason glory but can he perform at the NFL level? The talent surrounding him is intriguing though it’s easy to be down on both Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt. Their defense has a good amount of talent despite not having many household names and the Titans could be well-balanced enough to make a run at their division if Locker can step up.

19. Buffalo Bills
– Their front 7 is certainly talented, despite the horrendous contract given to Mark Anderson. The rest of the team is still lacking high-end talent and they are still led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey. I don’t think 2012 will be the breakout year that Bills fans are hoping for, though 2nd place in the AFC East and an outside shot at the playoffs could be a possibility.

20. San Diego Chargers – With just about any other coach, the Chargers would have been higher up in my rankings. I just cannot take a Norv Turner coached team seriously. Especially a Norv Turner coached team with its worst talent level in a number of years. The Chargers are razor thin at a number of positions on both sides of the ball and are relying heavily on Ryan Mathews and Antonio Gates to stay healthy. The defense will need the plethora of recent high draft picks (Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes, Corey Luiget, Marcus Gilchrist et al) to step up for the Chargers to make a strong playoff run.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs should be better in 2012 if only because their coaching situation looks to be more stable (if not dramatically improved). It’s no secret that Raheem Morris was in over his head last year and that contributed to the team’s under-performance. They have a ton of young talent – on paper – and signing Vincent Jackson will help their offense quite a bit. Certainly, their skill positions look promising and the OL is solid enough to win. The real questions in Tampa Bay are: can Josh Freeman ever take the next step in his development and can Greg Schiano get his young talent to fulfill their promise?

22. Carolina Panthers – The Panthers offense again be a strong unit, though it’s likely the league will be better prepared for Cam Newton and the Carolina rushing attack. The OL has some question marks and the depth at WR can’t sustain a loss of Steve Smith (nor a decline in his production). That said, they should score a lot of points and be near the top of the league in yards. However, the defense – bad last year – hasn’t been improved enough to make the Panthers legitimate contenders. Adding Luke Kuechly is a nice start to rebuilding the team’s front 7 but there are still too many holes on D. The interior DL and CB spots are thin at best and the team will have to win a lot of shootouts to avoid a losing record.

23. Oakland Raiders – Carson Palmer is the epitome of a league-average QB. The Raiders are the epitome of a league average team talent-wise. Why are they so low in my power rankings? Simply put, I don’t see a lot of places for the Raiders to get unexpected production and chances are good that either Palmer implodes or Darren McFadden gets derailed by his seemingly yearly injury. They’re an 8-8 team (maybe 9-7 given their division) if everything goes right, but the guys they are relying upon have such troubling track records that it’s more likely than not that they underachieve relative to their talent level.

24. Indianapolis Colts
– The Colts could be downright awful in 2012. However, their first pre-season game showed enough to think that there is also a chance that Indianapolis could be respectable this year. Forget the Andrew Luck hype and the over-the-top gushing over his first preseason game against an inept St. Louis team. What piqued my interest was the way Chuck Pagano had his defense playing. While the Rams’ OL is putrid, the key players on the Colts’ D look to have adapted to the new 3-4 look and even Jerry Hughes showed some potential as a pure rush linebacker. The young talent on offense is there and a good QB – which Luck seems poised to be right from the start – can make up for a lot of shortcomings. Luck’s biggest challenge will be surviving with a very questionable OL in front of him.

25. Arizona Cardinals – The NFL is a passing league and it’s tough to think of a team with a worse QB situation. Neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb seem like good enough passers to keep the Cardinals offense moving and the team’s running game simply isn’t able to compensate for their lack of a quality signal caller. Their defense, both young and promising, should help them stay in games and could keep them from a truly terrible season. Outside of a soft 4 game stretch from weeks 4-7, the Cardinals have a tough schedule. It would be surprising if they won more than 7 games and they have the potential to end up drafting top 5 in 2013.

26. New York Jets
– The Jets seem like a team destined for collapse. Their defense has little depth outside of their DE spot and the offense is a mess. They fancy themselves a “ground and pound” offense but Shonn Greene is both mediocre and too soft for the style of offense Rex Ryan likes to employ. The QB situation has been much discussed, but neither Mark Sanchez nor Tim Tebow are good enough to win in the NFL without the defense carrying the team. If the Jets D stays healthy and Stephen Hill can hit the ground running, the Jets can probably hover around .500. But they are one or two injuries away from a 4-12 type of season.

27. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill looked good in his first pre-season action, but it’s hard to find a team with less talent on offense than Miami. Their WR’s, TE’s and RB’s are all in the bottom third of the league and probably in the bottom 5 at each position. Conversely, their defense is pretty solid and their schedule is somewhat favorable. 8-8 is probably their absolute upside if their defense can steal some games for them.

28. Cleveland Browns
– I’m a bit more bullish on Brandon Weeden than many (though his first pre-season game didn’t really do much to inspire) but I’m not at all sold on the rest of the Browns talent on offense. Trent Richardson should help but the rest of the talent on offense is below average. Greg Little was a drop machine last year and supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon is unlikely to make a big impact early on. The defense has lost Chris Gocong from an already-thin LB grouping and Joe Haden is facing a 4 game suspension. It looks like another tough year in Cleveland.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars
– Blaine Gabbert has a lot to prove this year after a horrific 2011 season. He has some decent pieces to work with on offense but a shaky OL which wasn’t improved enough in the offseason. The Jaguars D put up decent numbers last year but it is tough to see them repeating a top 10 year on that side of the ball given their tougher schedule and lack of top-end talent. 38th overall pick Andre Branch looks promising and the Jaguars have enough pieces to surprise some people if Gabbert can find his footing as a starting QB in the NFL. Mike Mularkey was a questionable choice as a coach and might not get too many years to turn around the franchise.

30. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III will give the Redskins something to watch every week, but the rest of the team needs more talent before the Redskins are ready to compete in the NFC East. They have enough decent players on both sides of the ball to think that they could exceed expectations with some luck. However, a rookie QB with a limited supporting cast can only do so much – especially against one of the league’s toughest schedules. The Redskins probably won’t play as poorly as their final record might suggest.

31. Minnesota Vikings
– Barring a phenomenal year from Christian Ponder, it is hard to see how the Vikings can win more than 6 games. While Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson are amongst the game’s best players, the supporting cast is decidedly sub-par. They are riddled with holes on both sides of the ball and unlike many other bad teams from 2011, Minnesota didn’t do much to improve their roster. Matt Kalil should help solidify their line but it’s unlikely that the rest of their draft picks will be enough to get Minnesota out of the division’s cellar.

32. St. Louis Rams – Jeff Fisher will get his guys to play hard and compete, but there is still a significant lack of talent on the roster. The OLB and S spots are in bad shape and the team’s OL is amongst the worst in the league. There are a number of promising young players, but the Rams will lose a lot of games in 2012. They look like a team which will start to build some momentum late in the year as young players start to develop and find their footing in Fisher’s scheme.

Mock Draft V. 4.0

March 25, 2012 Leave a comment

With the offseason in high gear, free agency and trades have significantly changed some teams’ draft needs. Here’s an updated look at how the 1st round of April’s draft could go:

1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck – QB – Stanford

A no-brainer at this point. Luck will be the face of the Colts for the foreseeable future.

2. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III – QB – Baylor

Another obvious selection, the Redskins gave up a small fortune to get the franchise QB they have lacked for a very long time.

3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil – OT – Southern California

As much of a sure thing as the first two picks are at this point, the Vikings’ 3rd overall pick is starting to feel like a lock as well. Kalil fills a huge hole and represents a top talent at a premium position. The only other consideration here (assuming Minnesota doesn’t trade down) is CB Morris Claiborne, but it’s tough to see the zone-defense Vikings passing up a LT for a CB. If they ran more man-to-man, it could be possible for Claiborne to go here but Kalil is better value for Minnesota.

4. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson – RB – Alabama

This is another pick which seemingly is locked in, though not to the same extent as the first three. The Browns desperately need playmakers on offense and Richardson is one of the best RB’s to come out of college in the last 5-10 years. That said, a WR like Justin Blackmon wouldn’t be a shock and they could even go with Claiborne if they feel they can address the offense later. Ryan Tannehill could draw some consideration here as well, though #4 seems mighty early for him.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne – CB – LSU

The Bucs have been aggressive in free agency, landing some high-priced and big-name players. However, they still have a big need at CB and it would be a real shock if they passed on Claiborne at this spot. Richardson is the only other obvious choice here if he makes it past Cleveland.

6. St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon – WR – Oklahoma State

Blackmon has been tied to the Rams forever and getting him at #6 seems to be a solid meeting of need and value. The Rams clearly need help at receiver and Blackmon is the best on the board. However, this is a spot where we might see our first big surprise – with the Rams passing up the WR to bolster either their offensive or defensive line.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Quinton Coples – DE – North Carolina

The Jaguars have three places to go at #7 – OL, WR or pass-rusher. Michael Floyd is the best WR on this board but his character might be too suspect for GM Gene Smith. Riley Reiff could be in play here, but Quinton Coples’ upside is tough to pass up. Yes, he’s inconsistent and has a high “bust factor” but the Jags pass rush was pitiful last year outside of recently re-signed Jeremy Mincey. If he can get and stay motivated, Coples has game-changing ability that Jacksonville’s D has missed for awhile.

8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill – QB – Texas A&M

They missed out on Manning. They missed out on (or passed on) Matt Flynn. The Dolphins have been searching for a franchise QB for a decade and cannot go another offseason without adding a top talent at the spot. Tannehill has a great upside, though he’s raw and (like the aforementioned Coples) comes with a big risk of busting. However, the drop between Tannehill and the remaining QB’s on the board is steep and other than possibly over-aged Brandon Weeden none look like potential franchise guys. Either David Garrard or Matt Moore can hold the fort for a year or two if Tannehill needs a lot of time to develop.

9. Carolina Panthers – Dontari Poe – DT – Memphis

Offensive tackle (Riley Reiff?) is a possibility here, but the Panthers have needed an impact DT for a long, long time. Poe might seem like a reach in the top 10, but don’t be surprised if he ends up going this early a month from now. He has good athleticism for his massive size and has versatility to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front – which should intrigue coach Ron Rivera. A different DT (Fletcher Cox?) or WR (Michael Floyd?) could work here as well. Carolina has a lot of options and should be able to land an impact player at a number of positions.

10. Buffalo Bills – Michael Floyd – WR – Notre Dame

The Bills have addressed their DL in a big way – adding Mark Anderson and Mario Williams. Despite re-signing Stevie Johnson, they still badly need an improvement in their WR corps. Floyd is a top talent, with the size and athleticism to give opposing defenses nightmares.

11. Kansas City Chiefs – David DeCastro – OG – Stanford

The Chiefs have options here – Riley Reiff and Luke Kuechly among them. If Dontari Poe is still here at #11, he’s a possibility as well. However, a run-oriented team like Kansas CIty would really benefit from an elite guard like DeCastro – possibly the best prospect at the position in over a decade. He would look pretty good opening holes for Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles and could help make the Chiefs’ running game the best in the league.

12. Seattle Seahawks – Luke Kuechly – ILB – Boston College

Even if David Hawthorne is re-signed, the Seahawks could use help at LB. If he’s not retained, the MLB spot is a huge weakness entering the draft. Pass-rusher (the LEO spot) is another big need but Kuechly has had a tremendous offseason and it’s going to be tough for Seattle to pass on him.

13. Arizona Cardinals – Riley Reiff – OT – Iowa

The Cardinals need a LT badly – a shaky OL isn’t going to help whoever ends up at QB next year. Reiff is a potential top 10 talent who represents a huge upgrade for the Arizona line. A WR or potentially an edge rusher could be in play, but it’s very difficult to see Arizona passing up a top LT prospect like Reiff.

14. Dallas Cowboys – Melvin Ingram – OLB – South Carolina

Despite franchising Anthony Spencer, the Cowboys could use an upgrade opposite DeMarcus Ware. More to the point, they need a playmaker on defense who takes some attention away from Ware. Ingram isn’t the biggest or fastest guy, but he has a knack for coming through with big plays and should help bolster the Dallas front 7. If David DeCastro is available here, he would be a strong consideration for the Cowboys as well.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – Fletcher Cox – DT – Mississippi State

The Eagles’ biggest need – MLB – was addressed by acquiring DeMeco Ryans from Houston. They could take a WR to complement the recently re-signed DeSean Jackson, though there isn’t a great value on the board here. A defensive tackle is also near the top of Philly’s wish list and Fletcher Cox has huge upside. A strong, agile defender, Cox could prove to be the best interior pass rusher in the 2012 draft.

16. New York Jets – Nick Perry – DE – Southern California

Despite having salvaged Aaron Maybin and re-signing Bryan Thomas, the Jets are in need of a pass rusher and Nick Perry is a fantastic value at this spot. His size and explosiveness will make him a force in the AFC East for years to come.

17. Cincinnati Bengals – Cordy Glenn – OG – Georgia

The Bengals have a huge need at OG and Cordy Glenn is a true mauler with the athleticism to be a truly elite player. Solidifying the line will help let 2nd year QB Andy Dalton develop and should improve the Bengals running game which struggled at times last year.

18. San Diego Chargers – Courtney Upshaw – OLB – Alabama

Upshaw has seen his stock take a bit of a nose dive since the end of the college football season. Once projected as a top 10 pick, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if Upshaw drops to the 2nd half of the round. While there are some questions about his size, length and ability to play in space, his pass-rushing potential is still very appealing – especially to a team like San Diego which has lacked a top pass-rusher at the OLB spot for a few years. The Chargers also have a huge hole at WR and could go with Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle or possibly Stephen Hill to replace the departed Vincent Jackson.

 

19. Chicago Bears – Michael Brockers – DT – LSU

Having addressed their perpetual WR problem by acquiring Brandon Marshall, the Bears have a few options at #19. Having been spurned by free agent DE Jeremy Mincey, the Bears still need an upgrade opposite Julius Peppers so Whitney Merciclus could be in play. A selection at OT also wouldn’t come as a surprise with Jonathan Martin being an option. However, Amobi Okoye is still unsigned and Michael Brockers’ upside at this point is irresistible. The Bears won’t be able to pass up the raw but talented former LSU DT.

20. Tennessee Titans – Whitney Mercilus – DE – Illinois

It’s tough to gauge where the one-year wonder Mercilus will go but if he’s still on the board at #20, the Titans will take a long look at him. Tennessee has a big hole at DE and have been searching for a pass-rusher at that spot for awhile and Mercilus has some of the best pass rushing ability in the draft.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Kendall Wright – WR – Baylor

Having added a RB in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and bolstering the OL a few selections ago with Cordy Glenn, it’s time for the Bengals to add a dynamic threat to complement A.J. Green at WR. Wright took some flak for running poorly at the combine, but it’s clear that he plays a lot faster than his 4.6 time indicates. He had a great pro day last week and his athleticism and play-making ability will make the Bengals passing attack extremely difficult to contain.

22. Cleveland Browns – Dre Kirkpatrick – CB – Alabama

Dre Kirkpatrick started the 2011-12 offseason as a potential top 15 pick. However, his run in with the law and a mediocre combine (including reportedly lackluster interviews) have dropped him a little. The Browns need a WR to help Colt McCoy, but they can grab one pretty easily in the 2nd round – plus none of the remaining WR’s are great value here. Kirkpatrick is a good fit lining up opposite Joe Haden, and could potentially shift to safety where the Browns are thin.

23. Detroit Lions – Janoris Jenkins – CB – North Alabama

A lot has been made of Janoris Jenkins’ off-field and character issues. However, someone will take a chance on him in the 1st and the Lions seem like a good fit for his skills. Detroit has a fair bit of talent on defense, but lack the DB’s necessary to contain the top NFC passing attacks. Jenkins talent has never been in question, if he had a clean character, he could potentially be a top 10 pick. Taking a gamble on him here makes a lot of sense for the Lions.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jonathan Martin – OT – Stanford

The Steelers could go in a number of directions at #24. They could use a ILB to replace James Farrior – Dont’a Hightower could be a fit. They could also add a DB, NT or OG. Even a RB isn’t totally out of the question, though probably unlikely until round 2 or 3. However, they will be very hard pressed to pass up Jonathan Martin at this spot. Some questions have come up about Martin since a lackluster pro day which could cause him to slide to this point of the 1st round. If he’s there in the final third of the round, Pittsburgh won’t let him get past them.

25. Denver Broncos – Devon Still – DT – Penn State

The Broncos have made the biggest news of the offseason, adding Peyton Manning and shipping out Tim Tebow. However, they lost Brodrick Bunkley to the Saints and really need to upgrade their interior DL. Devon Still has a nice combo of strength and athleticism for his size and could be a true impact player along Denver’s line.

26. Houston Texans – Rueben Randle – WR – LSU

WR is an obvious need for Texans with the team having few other glaring holes. Finding a quality #2 WR to take some pressure off Andre Johnson is a must for Houston. Randle fits the offensive scheme pretty well and possesses good size and pretty good speed. He would make the already dangerous Texans offense even more potent.

27. New England Patriots – Andre Branch – DE – Clemson

Even before losing Mark Anderson to AFC East rival Buffalo the Patriots needed to upgrade their edge-rusher situation. It looks likely that the Patriots will move back to more 3-4 looks in 2012 and Andre Branch would look very good lined up opposite Rob Ninkovich at OLB. He has the size and length that coach Belichick covets and gives the Pats the OLB/DE they have sorely missed since Willie McGinest left half a decade ago.

28. Green Bay Packers – Kendall Reyes – DT – Connecticut

The Packers struggled to replace Cullen Jenkins last year and Mike Neal is constantly hurt (and now suspended). Kendall Reyes is a late riser who has good feet and strength. He should turn out to be an excellent 5-technique in the NFL and will look great lined up next to B.J. Raji.

29. Baltimore Ravens – Mark Barron – SS – Alabama

Ed Reed can’t play forever and the Ravens’ other options at safety aren’t great. Barron is a tough player who fits what they do defensively and has the right attitude to succeed in Baltimore. Other options could include a ILB like Dont’a Hightower or OL help.

30. San Francisco 49ers – Coby Fleener – TE – Stanford

The 49ers have added some intriguing weapons for Alex Smtih – Randy Moss and Mario Manningham – but they are still lacking a reliable red-zone threat other than Vernon Davis. It’s possible Moss could recapture his 2007-2009 form, but San Francisco could stand to add some over-the-middle options to complement their outside threats. Fleener should be able to fit in quickly, having played under coach Harbaugh in college.

31. New England Patriots – Harrison Smith – SS – Notre Dame

The Patriots have done a nice job filling some holes in free agency but still have a glaring need at safety. Pat Chung is a solid starter but often banged up. Other internal options Sergio Brown and recently signed Steve Gregory are not guys you want starting on a potential playoff team. Harrison Smith has been climbing draft boards after showing off some good skills and interviewing well at the Combine. He’s the smart, tough type player Bill Belichick loves.

32. New York Giants – Dont’a Hightower – ILB – Alabama

The defending Super Bowl champs don’t have a ton of holes to fill, and usually just go with the best player available. Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower can fill one of the Giants’ few true needs – MLB – and also represents the best player on the board at this point. A hard nosed, down-hill linebacker, Hightower will solidify the middle of New York’s D.

 

The Worst Defense To Ever Win A Super Bowl: The 2006 Colts

January 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, there have been 41 Super Bowl champions. Of those, 40 allowed fewer points per drive than league average. The one exception: the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. They were bad nearly across the board, with only 2 exceptions: turnover % and QB Rating against. Make no mistake about it, despite toughening up a lot in the playoffs, the 2006 Colts defense was abysmal. Take a quick look at some stats:

 
The Colts allowed an astonishing 2.25 Adjusted Points Per Drive ([points per drive allowed]-[defensive points scored per drive]). That was 2nd worst in the league in 2006. To put that in perspective, from 2000-2010 there were 350 team years and only 45 allowed more than 2.2 APPD. Those teams accounted for 246 wins and 474 losses, a winning percentage of .342. Only 4 such teams posted winning records: 2000 St Louis Rams (10-6), 2000 Minnesota Vikings (11-5), 2008 Arizona Cardinals (9-7) and the 2006 Colts (12-4). The Rams lost in the first playoff game, the Vikings got blown out by the Giants in the NFC Championship and the Cardinals lost the Super Bowl. The Cardinals’ defense played pretty well in the playoffs, but the other two teams got exposed badly.

The 2006 Colts allowed 36.9 Yards Per Drive, giving them a YPD+ of 79. In other words, they yielded roughly 21% more yards per drive than the 2006 league average of 30.5. Between 2000-2010, only 11 teams fared worse relative to league average. Those teams had an aggregate record of 70-106, with only 2 winning teams in the bunch – the 2004 Indianapolis Colts (YPD of 77) and the aforementioned 2000 Minnesota Vikings (73)

The 2006 Colts run defense? Staggeringly bad – they gave up 173 yards per game on the ground and an eye-popping 5.3 yards per attempt. The only other team to give up more than 170 rushing yards per game since 2000 was the 2008 Detroit Lions (172 YPG) – who went 0-16. 7 times that year the Colts gave up more than 180 yards on the ground, including 3 games over 200 and 375 yards to the Jaguars. Their incompetence against the run made them one of only 4 teams to face a higher percentage of run plays than league average. Teams ran on the Colts 54.2% of the time, compared to a league average of 45.2%.

Against the pass, the Colts actually fared better. They held opposing QB’s to a Rating of 80.4 compared to league average 78.5. However they were easily the worst pass defense in terms of completion % allowed, allowing QB’s to complete 64.1% of their passes. Only the 1993 Cowboys were over 60% (60.2% to be exact).

Another place the 2006 Colts failed was in stopping touchdowns. They allowed a TD 26% more frequently than the average team – letting their opponent into the endzone on an even 25% of all drives. Only two other Super Bowl winners were below average for their year: the 1998 Broncos (4% worse than average) and the 1976 Raiders (6% worse).

Lastly, the 2006 Colts forced their opponents to punt on only 32.6% of their drives. Only the 1971 Cowboys won the Super Bowl below 40%, checking in at 39.6%. The average for a Super Bowl winner is 48.8%. That the Colts managed to win 12 games while having a sieve for a defense is a testament to Peyton Manning and the rest of their offense.

All in all, it’s a grim picture. The Colts regular season defense in 2006 was the type of unit more often associated with a 4-12 team than a 12-4 team. Somehow though, they managed to pull themselves together and win the most important 4 games of their season. And while it would be easy to credit Peyton Manning, the defense deserves a lot of recognition:

The key here is obviously that the Colts figured out how to stop the run. The Chiefs came into the playoffs averaging about 134 yards per game and the Colts shut down Larry Johnson and company. Kansas City managed to put up only 44 yards on 17 carries.  Indianapolis’ performance against the Ravens wasn’t as impressive as the numbers might lead you to believe. Baltimore was 2nd worst in the league with a meager 3.4 yards per carry in the regular season. The Colts allowed Baltimore to run for better than 4 YPC (83 yards on 20 rushes) but combined with 4 takeaways, it was good enough to win. While the Colts were probably lucky to escape the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, the run defense held their ground: giving up a 35 yard run to Corey Dillon but holding the Pats to  a meager 2.5 yards per carry on their 23 other runs. The Colts defense managed to stuff Laurence Maroney and Dillon on a number of key third downs, preventing the Pats from running out the clock with what was once an 18 point lead. The Super Bowl saw the Colts run D revert to form a bit, giving up 111 yards on only 19 carries (5.8 YPC) but the 5 takeaways and a relentless running attack of their own (Indy managed 191 yards on 42 carries) earned them the Lombardi trophy.

What the Colts defense did in the 2006 playoffs is truly remarkable. They didn’t end the season on a particularly good note going 2-3 in December while allowing 363 yards per game in that stretch. The big difference between December and the playoffs? In those 5 regular season games, the Colts managed only a combined 5 takeaways. Once the playoffs started, it was a different story with Indianapolis getting 13 takeaways in 4 games. Furthermore, they forced 21 punts in those 4 playoff games. In the entire regular season, they only forced 47. Key 3rd down stops and takeaways are the two biggest elements of a great defense and in the 2006 playoffs, Indianapolis’ defense managed to get both – despite struggling mightily from September-December.

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