Behind Enemy Lines: Five Questions for ColtsAuthority

We asked Greg Cowan over at ColtsAuthority.com (formerly 18to88.com) to answer some questions about this weekend’s matchup between the Colts and the Jets.  Here’s what Greg thought about his team and their chances this weekend.

Be sure to read my answers to his questions on ColtsAuthority.com!

TJB: With the news about Chuck Pagano’s health, how has the team responded to their coach’s fight with leukemia?

Greg: The response from the team has been genuine, touching, and somewhat inspiring. From their pregame interviews, to their actions during the game – Luck pounding the ChuckStrong banner after his touchdown and Robert Mathis holding up a sign that said ChuckStrong during the game’s final moments, to their emotional post-game comments, the team has really rallied around their head coach.

As a rule, I’m skeptical about the role emotions play in the outcome of games – I believe skill overrides everything else – but it’s hard to ignore just how invested the team became in winning for their coach.  That said, going forward, I have to wonder just how long they can ride this emotional wave before wearing themselves out. Maybe they can make it through the Jets game, maybe even longer, but I imagine that, some point soon, the Colts will be in for an emotional let down which will lead to a disappointing result.

TJB: What has it been like for Colts fans expectations transitioning  from Manning to Luck?

Greg: I wouldn’t say there was a real divide among fans, at least where Luck is concerned. There was a large segment of the fan base, myself included, that thought the team should keep Manning and the veterans and give it a go, but once the decision was made and Luck was drafted, the fan base has been completely supportive of their new QB.

As far as expectations are concerned, Colts owner Jim Irsay and new GM Ryan Grigson tried to temper expectations by talking about the need for a 4-year rebuild, but with every snap Andrew Luck takes, it becomes increasingly hard for Colts fans to be “patient.”  Luck is so far beyond any rookie I’ve ever seen, especially in his pocket awareness, his calmness, and his poise. When he took the field with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter needing a touchdown to beat Green Bay, there was no doubt in my mind that Luck would score, he’s become that good in end-of-half situations.

To make a long story longer: we’re spoiled, and Colts fans expect to be back in the hunt by next year.

TJB: Like the Jets, the Colts are dealing with injuries to key players. How has losing key players changed the Colts gameplan?

Greg: On offense, where rookie RB Vick Ballard is replacing Donald Brown, it’s hard to say what exactly will change, but if anything DOES change, I doubt it will be drastic. The Colts running game is more of a suggestion at this point, their offensive line, especially the interior, is just not good enough for the Colts to have a consistent, dominant running game.

Though it seems like attacking the Jets on the ground might be a good idea at this point – they are giving up 172yards per game on the ground – I expect them to let Luck through it around 45 times on Sunday. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Luck, through scrambling, was the Colts leading rusher against the Jets.

Defensively it’s a little trickier. Robert Mathis has been their best, most consistent defensive player this year, notching at least one sack in all 4 of their games so far, and without him, you have to imagine the Colts will be finding creative ways to get pressure on Mark Sanchez and/or Tim Tebow. I do expect them to use some creative blitzes on Sunday, but very selectively, as they are also dealing with some injuries in the secondary (most notably CB Vontae Davis).

With Mathis out, the OLBs will be Jerry Hughes and Dwight Freeney. Both have been bad-to-OK this year, but will obviously need to step up their game if the Colts defense is going to put up the kind of performance they did against the Packers in the 2nd half.

TJB: Who are a few players for good or bad that Jets fans might not know but should before Sunday?

Greg: I’m a pessimist by nature, so let’s start with the bad:

You know how Shonn Greene and the Jets running game has been struggling recently? Say hello to S Tom Zbikowski! Angles, as I like to call him (because he always takes a bad one) was brought in because of his knowledge of Pagano’s system and his physical play. He’s been abysmal against the run and invisible against the pass.

You know how the Jets defense has only racked up 5 sacks through 5 games? Say hello to the trio of C Samson Satele, RG Mike McGlynn and RT Winston Justice! 3/4ths of the Colts Offensive Line Voltron (LG Seth Olsen, who also forms Voltron’s left Leg, is on Designated to Return IR)! You might be asking: “Wait, doesn’t Voltron have 5 pieces? Who forms the head!”  Yes, and no one, that’s the problem.

The Colts OL has been pretty abysmal this year, though they did seem to turn a corner in the second half of the Packers game, and is the only thing holding the Colts offense back from “elite” status.

As far as the good, DE Cory Redding was brought over from Baltimore as a Pagano guy, and he’s been a vocal and emotional leader off the field, and a physical, tenacious leader on the field. With Robert Mathis out, look for Redding to be that QB-harassing spark the defense desperately needs.

It’s hard to pick an offensive guy for this spot, as you’ve heard of all the good ones, so I’ll go with Colts P Pat McAfee. The Colts have had special teams issues for the past 14 years, and McAfee is the only thing making the 2012 ST unit look respectable. His ability to force touch backs on kickoffs, and his high, deep, booming punts relieve a lot of pressure from the Colts undermanned coverage units.

TJB: What do you think the Colts gameplan will be to beat the Jets?

Greg: I think they’ll play patient on offense – don’t take too many risks unless it’s absolutely necessary. They don’t want to give a seemingly anemic offense any short fields or, even worse, defensive points.

On defense, they’ll do whatever they can to prevent the big play. Force Sanchez to be patient and lead long 10+ play drives of his own.

Those two things, plus preventing any big plays on special teams, are the formula the Colts will need to follow if they are going to walk out of Metlife Stadium with the win.