Indianapolis Colts vice chairman Bill Polian has one fairly simple reason why the team’s usual efficient offense is struggling right now.
No Peyton Manning at quarterback.
With Manning sidelined indefinitely after undergoing his third neck surgery in 19 months on Sept. 8, Kerry Collins has been at the controls of the Colts offense since the beginning of the regular season. Although Collins has been force fed Indianapolis’ massive playbook in large doses, the results haven’t been pretty.
Heading into tonight’s nationally-televised home game with Pittsburgh, the Colts rank 29th in the league in scoring offense (13 points per game), 29th in total offense (260.5 yards per game), 23rd in rushing offense (86.5 ypg), and 27th in passing offense (174. ypg).
That’s unfamiliar territory for an offensive attack that has annually ranked among the NFL’s best in recent years.
“Peyton is used to operating this offense for 14 years. There’s nothing anybody can do against this offense that is going to phase Peyton. He’s seen it all before, though [Cleveland defensive coordinator] Dick Jauron had a terrific game plan [last week],” Polian explains.
“Kerry did improve [against Cleveland in running the offense] and he will get better in time.”
The longtime Colts executive thinks that anybody who expects the team’s offense to operate with the same speed, tempo and quality as in past years simply isn’t being realistic.
“For the foreseeable future, it’s not going to be the high-efficiency offense that we’ve been used to. Kerry can’t do that. Nobody can. You could probably bring back Johnny [Unitas] and you wouldn’t have that,” the team’s former general manager said.
“There was a situation [against the Browns] where we missed a big play because the receiver didn’t read the right hot route. Kerry did. He saw it coming. Peyton would have stopped calling signals, pointed, said that’s the guy you read off. That’s what 14 years does for you. That’s what all that gesticulating does for you that the talking heads want to make fun of.”
Polian knows that facing a defense like the Steelers isn’t easy under normal circumstances. But going up against a Dick LeBeau-coached unit with an offense that is still trying to find its bearings makes things that much tougher.
“Peyton is like a race car driver who’s been driving a car for 14 years. He knows every nuance, every little bump. You have to recognize that and say this is going to be a different looking team,” he said.
“[The Steelers] present a very difficult problem because they do so much blitzing and they do it in so many creative ways and they make you do it by finding the open game. In the past, we’ve always had pretty good luck against them, even in . But they present very difficult problems for our offense in A) knowing who to block and B) getting them blocked.”
Colts game plan
Finish. On both sides of the football.
The Colts left plays on the field offensively and defensively in last week's loss to the Browns. Indianapolis has to be able to punch the ball in for touchdowns instead of settling for field goals, as the team did in the Cleveland game. Convert on third downs.
Defensively, get off the field on third down. The Colts are allowing opposing teams to convert nearly 48 percent of their third down attempts. Put pressure on the quarterback. Force turnovers. Make plays on a consistent basis.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Colts DEs Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis — While the Colts have had success in pass rushing and sacking the Pittsburgh quarterback in the past, it's not been an easy chore. “Big Ben’s” ability to shrug off potential tacklers and to keep plays alive has been a torn in the Indianapolis' defensive side every time the two franchises have met in recent years.
Colts CB Jacob Lacey vs. Steelers WR Mike Wallace — Wallace as developed into one of the better big play receivers in the league. Lacey had a good rookie year as the nickel back in the Indianapolis secondary. But he's struggled since earning a starting job at cornerback.
Colts offensive line vs. Steelers front seven — Even when the Indianapolis offensive line had all its parts in past seasons, the Colts still had issues trying to pass protect against Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defensive scheme. Pass protection has been a problem for Indianapolis since the start of the regular season.
In four career starts against the Steelers, Colts QB Kerry Collins has a 3-1 record and has completed 87 of 138 passes for 958 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Collins has completed 63 percent of his career passes and has a 92.6 passer rating against Pittsburgh.
20th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 13-6. Pittsburgh has a 5-0 series lead in postseason games. Indianapolis has won three of the last 13 regular-season meetings with the Steelers. The Colts have a 4-4 regular-season home series record with Pittsburgh. Indianapolis has won the last two regular-season meetings (2005, 26-7, RCA Dome; 2008, 24-20, Heinz Field). Pittsburgh posted a 21-18 AFC Divisional playoff win at the RCA Dome on 1/15/06.
— Tom James