Unfamiliarity with Opponent Works Equally for Both Teams, Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – As Peyton Manning sees it, it works both ways.
Manning, the Colts' 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback, said on the one hand it is very much the case that because they haven't played in four years, the Colts' opponent this week will have an unfamiliarity with Indianapolis' schemes and approach.
On the other hand . . .
Well, on the other hand, Manning said it's equally true the Colts know comparatively little about the Washington Redskins, not having played them since October 2006.
"I've always said it's an equal thing," Manning said as the Colts (3-2) prepared to play the Redskins (3-2) of the NFC East in a nationally-televised Sunday Night Football game on NBC Sunday at 8:20 p.m.
Whoever holds the advantage, it's an imant game for each team.
And it's somewhat equally so.
The Colts, after a 34-24 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 1, won back-to-back games by double digits, beating the New York Giants, 38-14, at home and the Denver Broncos, 27-13, in Denver. They then lost at Jacksonville, 31-28, on a 59-yard, last-play field goal by Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee before winning at home last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, 19-9.
They enter Week 6 in a four-way tie for first place in the AFC South.
The Redskins also enter the game tied for first. They're in a three-way tie with Philadelphia and the Giants, and are a dramatic overtime loss from having sole possession of the division lead.
Washington, which finished 4-12 last season, beat Dallas, 13-7, at home in the opener and led the Texans, 27-10, in the third quarter before losing, 30-27, in Week 2. Washington then lost at St. Louis, 30-16, before winning at Philadelphia, 17-12, and beating Green Bay, 16-13, in overtime this past week.
Four of the Redskins' games – Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Green Bay – have been decided on the game's final play.
"I don't think I've ever been involved in five games or four games where it was determined by the last play," said Mike Shanahan, in his first season as the Redskins' head coach after spending 1995-2008 as the head coach of he Denver Broncos. "The one game that we probably should have had under control was the game that we were ahead. That was Houston, and obviously we didn't get that one done.
"I don't believe I can remember any scenario like that since I've started coaching."
While the Redskins rank 32nd in the NFL in total yards allowed at 410.2 a game, they allowed 526 in one game – the overtime loss to Houston – and rank ninth in the NFL having allowed 18.4 points per game.
"That's really the main thing," Manning said. "You kind of flip it on offense. You get an offense that moves up and down the field, but if you're not scoring points, it's really ineffective. That's really the ultimate goal, I would think, for most defenses – find a way to keep them out of the end zone.
"They have tightened up down in the red zone, and I really haven't seen a lot of big plays the last couple of weeks. They've had two good wins over Green Bay and Philly – two good offenses, two really good offenses."
Said Shanahan, "The first thing you're looking at is do you win football games? The next thing you're looking at is how many points do you give up? You can move the ball around a lot, but unless you're scoring points and winning football games, it really doesn't matter – the same thing defensively.
"The object is not to give up points. If you don't give up points, you bend and don't break, you've got good things going. That's been the ongoing saga for years with offenses and defenses. Is it total offense or is it points scored, total defense or points given up?"
The Colts, including the victory over the Giants, are 24-5 against the NFC since 2003, and have won 12 or more games an NFL record seven consecutive seasons during that span.
NFC and AFC teams play just once every four seasons, but Manning said that aspect of the match-up is somewhat negated by the presence with the Redskins of Shanahan, who coached against Indianapolis eight times from 2001-08.
"We talk about unfamiliar opponents, certainly Mike Shanahan coming from the AFC has more familiarity with us," Manning said. "We really don't know much about some of these players. We haven't played against a lot of these guys. They have a safety, (LaRon) Landry, who is just an outstanding player. We haven't played against him much at all.
"I think it works for both teams. There is always a little bit of an unknown. They have a new defense from the last time we played them, or even from last year in (defensive coordinator) Jim Haslett, who has been around for a long time. They present a lot of problems.
"Obviously, you do not know them as well as you know people in your division or those that you have played on a consistent basis over the years. That's what I think makes the game exciting. It gives us a chance to see a little different group of guys, a change in schematics and it gives us a real challenge in that regard."
Manning said far more than the recent history between the teams or lack thereof, what's important for the Colts is establishing a presence on the road this season.
The Colts went 20-4 on the road the past three regular seasons, and went 48-16 on the road from 2002-09. They are 1-2 on the road this season, with each loss coming in the AFC South.
"I think the main thing for us is it's a road game and we need to find a win on the road," Manning said. "We had a good win over Denver, but we've lost our other two; at Houston and at Jacksonville. We need to find a way to get a win on the road.
"That's what you have to do in this league if you want to truly be a good team. We're playing a team that's coming off two huge victories, and I've only played there once, but it's a ton of people, a loud place to play with just a great tradition. It's really going to be a tough challenge."