October 3, 2011

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Colts Appear Lost Without Peyton Manning

By: Anson Whaley

Football is often described as the most team-oriented of the major sports. With a total of 22 athletes on the field at the same time, players need to rely on others to do their job more than in any other game. But there are a few players in the NFL that help determine the success of their team a great deal.

One is Peyton Manning.

At 35, Manning is still one of the top quarterbacks in the game. When it was known that he would be out for a while with his neck injury, the Colts went out and brought in veteran Kerry Collins. While Collins has been a serviceable quarterback throughout his career, it’s clear his better days are behind him. Through three games, he’s thrown for only two touchdowns and has completed less than 50% of his passes. And with Collins now out with concussion-like symptoms, the Colts are turning to young backup, Curtis Painter. Both may be capable to a degree, but neither is as qualified as Manning, obviously.

As the Indianapolis Colts sit 0-3 heading into tonight’s Monday night matchup, there’s no question about his importance to the team. With Manning last year, the team was 10-6 and in the playoffs. It’s still early, but at first glance, the playoffs are looking out of reach for this team.

If you need to know just how important Manning is, another indicator besides the record is in the rest of the Indianapolis roster. It doesn’t take long to see there’s clearly talent on the team. There’s Joseph Addai in the backfield, the future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne at wideout, and defensive playmakers Dwight Freeney, Pat Angerer, Robert Mathis, and Antoine Bethea. The point is that even with considerable talent, the Colts are still failing. Miserably. Yes, the Colts are a year older, but this team is largely the same as it was in 2010 … and that team was 10-6 and reached the postseason. Some dropoff can be expected if an already veteran team gets a year older, but the change in the 2011 version of the Colts is night and day from the 2010 squad.

Manning isn’t simply a good player, he’s a leader. Sure, he can still provide guidance from the sidelines and during practices, but his impact is obviously going to be limited. It’s not the same with him out of the huddle and maybe more importantly, Manning also has to be careful to not encroach into the territory too much since the players need to rely on their current quarterbacks, Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter for leadership. There’s no question that neither has the talent of Manning, but they still need to be able to instill their own types of leadership while on the field – especially because it’s looking more and more like he could be out the entire season.

So the question becomes, “Is the season lost for the Colts?” There’s talk that Manning could potentially be back in December. It’s pretty clear that there would be a certain amount of rust to shake off, but I believe that Manning could be pretty effective with little game action. He’s been playing football long enough that with a bit of practice time, he should ready to go fairly quickly. A December return could give Manning that needed preparation time to get ready for, you guessed it, the playoffs.

The only problem is that the Colts actually need to be in striking distance. Since it’s not known when in December Manning might be ready, let’s assume he gets back by the middle of the month in time for the Colts’ December 18th matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Indianapolis has ten games up to that point and, realistically, probably need to win six of them at the very least. That would put them at 6-7 and with wins in their final three games, would give the Colts a 9-7 record. Of course, with what we’ve seen so far, winning six out of ten is going to be easier said than done – especially considering Indianapolis has some stiff competition over that span with road games against New Orleans, New England, and Baltimore, and a home contest against the Falcons.

And even if Indy is somehow able to win six games, that still means Manning needs to pitch a shutout and win the final three games of the season to get that 9-7 mark. In addition, that assumes that 9-7 is even good enough to get in the playoffs.

When you add it all up, the playoffs are looking like a long shot this season for Peyton and Indy.