INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts went 3-1 in the season's first quarter, splitting games at home and winning twice on the road.
With a four-game sampling of action and with much more to come, here are observations at the season's quarter pole.
SOPHOMORE SLUMP – Sure there still is much of this season's story to be told, but the trumped up notion of a sophomore slump never really took root (not that it should have). Chuck Pagano's coaching staff is too talented and this team's mix of veteran leadership and youthful input provides the right balance to compete and do it well. A tough loss to Miami happened when points were left on the field, but a bounce back at San Francisco told a lot about this team as did a convincing win at Jacksonville.
Not since 1992 (six) has the team allowed fewer points in consecutive road games (10). Attention to details, following the weekly process and keeping keen focus seems to be the nature of this team. It can be a winning formula.
NEXT MAN UP – There are some on the outside who tire of the phrase, but this team uses the notion beyond a placebo level. It truly believes there is medicinal value. Dwayne Allen, Donald Thomas and Vick Ballard are taken off the board. Enter Hugh Thornton, Coby Fleener and Ahmad Bradshaw/Trent Richardson/Donald Brown.
Coaches prepare players to perform. Andrew Luck says newcomers aren't "babied," but they are expected to perform at or beyond the level of the player who had been in front of them. Thornton (a rookie) and Fleener have stepped up. Bradshaw did and hopefully does again, soon. Richardson is getting his "Colts legs," and Brown has added a 9.2 yards/per carry boost.
Mike McGlynn played well at center in Samson Satele's absence, and Jeff Linkenbach has been Jeff Linkenbach. Dominique Jones has filled in well.
Defensively, Delano Howell has brought a big stick in relief of LaRon Landry. Kelvin Sheppard has subbed for Pat Angerer twice, and Fili Moala has gotten back on the field when Ricky Jean Francois missed time.
With 12 games to go a number of players are banged up (Bradshaw, Bjoern Werner, Landry, Stanley Havili). Players are going to have to hold down the fort, perhaps even fortify it more.
NOT JUST PEP-SPEAK –** The power running game favored by Pep Hamilton and a promise from the outset of Chuck Pagano's tenure is in full bloom. With a 4.9 average and with a low attempt number of 26 in any of the games so far, it appears the new identity is here to stay. A fifth 100-yard game this Sunday ties an Indianapolis era record with five games to start the season. Never has the team held such a healthy yards/carry mark in four straight games.
TURNOVERS (AND AVOIDANCE) – Won't say anything here, except, "Keep it up." Two turnover-free games = two wins. Three plus-two margins = three wins. Now, I'm done?
NEW IDENTITY II –* The Colts defense has played very well in its last seven quarters, allowing no touchdowns and a 2.0 rushing average on 31 attempts. Indianapolis has had 11 three-and-outs that influence field position and time of possession (the first consecutive game stretch in Indy era with 36-plus minutes of possession – sometimes it is what you do with the ball rather than how long you possess it, but possessing it greatly reduces what an opponent does with it, too). Pagano promised defense would come when he came. Defense? *Playoffs?!? Yes, defense.
MEN IN CHARGE – Jim Irsay said after the San Francisco game that a new identity had arrived, claiming that what was witnessed in the 27-7 win would look at lot like the future. Ryan Grigson swung a trade for Trent Richardson (for next year's top pick), helping to solidify the new era and blueprint. Both are aggressive leaders who act far beyond dreams. Words and convictions are backed up by actions. The vision is clear. The approach is non-stop. Four games into the fray have yielded dividends. Four straight 3-1 quarters says a great deal for how the pursuit of victory is on-going.
FINAL OBSERVATION –** Nothing is guaranteed. Staying the course, or process, should be the mindset. It has worked to this point – big-time.