THE POLIAN CORNER

Week 10, Colts vs. Patriots

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Q: A 20-17 victory over the Houston Texans has the Colts unbeaten after eight games and leading the AFC South. Anything jump out at you from looking at the tape that you didn't see Sunday?**

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A: First of all, I think our special teams were just outstanding. They went a long way toward winning that game. You don't ever want to say, 'single-handedly' in football, but boy, they played a major role in it. (Rookie punter) Pat McAfee made an outstanding tackle on a play that was designed to replicate the Music City Miracle and then come back up the middle and get one-on-one with the returner and the kicker. Pat won that battle. (Linebacker) Cody Glenn had just an outstanding game covering, tackling, blocking the field goal, putting pressure – along with (safety) Melvin Bullitt and (cornerback) Jerraud Powers and (cornerback Jacob) Lacey – on the field goals. The pressure we exerted earlier in the game helped on the last kick, as it always does. Every play leads to the next play and the next play and the next play. It was a tremendous, tremendous job by the special teams. (Running back) Joseph Addai did a phenomenal job running the football – just a great job. He ran downhill. He ran hard. He finished every run. He almost created a miracle by gaining 13 yards in the four-minute situation when we were looking at 3rd-and-19. We would have converted it on that run alone had it not been for the penalty. He was terrific, and he blocked tremendously all day as well. Our defense against the run once again was great against a team that makes their living running the football. That's especially true with the tight end (Owen Daniels) out, because it essentially did away with their bootleg game, so we were able to really attack the run. We attacked it well, and we tackled well and we tackled their backs very well. They had no big runs. They nickeled and dimed, but they're 5-4 for a reason. The run defense was terrific. What can you say about Jerraud Powers? There's no rookie corner who has played better than Jerraud Powers. He has one interception, but he has played as well as any corner that we have had play here. He was outstanding again Sunday, including a pivotal, heads-up play that changed the game along with (Colts Head Coach) Jim (Caldwell)'s challenge of the play. Then, of course, the old standbys (defensive ends) Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. They're there every week, and they change the game every week. This was a great performance by all of those people and all of those units. And, of course, (tight end) Dallas Clark, it goes without saying. You take for granted Dallas' performance these days. I remind our listeners please don't take for granted that he'll make the Pro Bowl. He didn't make it last year, which shocked the living daylights out of all of us. Get on NFL.com. Get your vote registered, and let's get Dallas where he belongs – to the Pro Bowl. His performance is extraordinary every week. I can't say enough about our defense and our special teams and what a great job they did. And Joseph Addai and (quarterback) Peyton (Manning) and the receivers and what a great job they did. We did a heck of a job against a team that was determined to come in and beat us. We hung in and got the job done in great fashion, and I'm very proud of all of our guys.

Q: The crowd stayed in the game and seemed to make a difference. With New England coming in Sunday, do you need that again?
A: We do. We got the one false start early in the game and that helped. The crowd was into it. We need that with every game, not just this coming Sunday night – every game. While we're on the subject, it's important to remember there are 16 games in an NFL season. This game is going to be hyped beyond all recognition. The Greatest Rivalry in Football – all of that stuff. Remember two things: last week's game was more important because it was a division game. We did not win the division last year, and we went and played an 8-8 team in California. Your first objective is to win the division. Last week's game was more important than this week's game. Now, this week's game is important because it's an AFC game, but power ratings are not important, rankings are not important. We're not in the BCS. Nobody votes for who gets in the playoffs. The computer doesn't vote. Experts don't vote. Record is what determines what you get in the playoffs. Now, the AFC is important because it is one of the tiebreakers. What's important for our players and our coaches is to recognize that we're playing a good opponent. It's one of 16. There are plenty more to go. We have eight in the bank, and those eight will pay dividends as we come down the stretch. The only opponent we should care about is next week's opponent, but the outcome is one of 16. In the long run, our first objective is to win our division, and we took a big step in that direction Sunday.

Q: Houston is 5-4. Has that franchise turned a corner?
A: To paraphrase Denny Green, 'They are what we thought they were,' a darned good football team. Yes. They are a darned good football team. In many ways, if you matched them against us, they are as good or better than us in a lot of areas. They have talent. They go eight deep on the defensive line. They have an outstanding linebacker group – outstanding. They have a really good offensive line. They have two running backs who fit their style perfectly. They have along with (Colts wide receiver) Reggie Wayne and (New England wide receiver Randy) Moss probably one of the Top 3 do-it-all receivers in the AFC (wide receiver Andre Johnson). (Patriots wide receiver Wes) Welker is outstanding as well. When you have that kind of talent, and unfortunately they lost their tight end, Owen Daniels, who's a big part of their offense, but when you have that kind of talent on both sides of the ball – including along with Dwight Freeney the best pass rusher in the AFC (Mario Williams) – you're in high cotton. They are. They're a very, very good team.

Q: One of the impressive things Sunday was the punting of McAfee. There was not one punt-return yard for Houston . . .
A: We did a great job statistically and in terms of execution and scheme and all of that – we really did a terrific job against a very good special teams group coached by an outstanding special teams coach in Joe Marciano. This was a battle of two heavyweights. It ended in our favor, Thank Goodness – but you knew it was going to go 60 minutes. That's the way these games are.

Q: You would have loved to have gotten a bigger early lead . . .
A: We had a chance to do it, and we didn't. One of the disappointing things Sunday, and one of the things we need to improve upon, is our execution in the red zone. We did not do a good job and as a matter of fact, Joe made a phenomenal run of many phenomenal runs that he made all day to score a touchdown on the draw play. That was all Joe Addai. We have to do a much better job of protecting. We have to do a much better job of run-blocking. We have to do a much better job in the red zone. Had we been able to take advantage of the strategic advantage that we created for ourselves by going up-tempo and by turnovers created by the defense and field position created by the special teams, we would have perhaps made it a little bit different game. That didn't happen and we got into a grinder and came out on top. There are plenty of things we can improve upon.

Q: Is there any chance of the Colts pursuing former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson?
A: I wouldn't think that Larry Johnson would be high on our list at the moment. We expect that (running back) Donald (Brown) will be back in the not-to-distant future, so I think that's probably the way we would go.

Q: Can you walk through the situation that occurred on Caldwell's late first-half challenge?
A: The first thing that has to happen is you have to get the replay on television, because we are a captive of the television replay producer. If he doesn't put it up until after a commercial or in a situation where there is a long delay you would not get it. Once the coaches in the booth make a decision as to what they think ought to be done, they get it down to Jim instantaneously. What happened Sunday was Houston elected to run the clock down to the two-minute warning and in so doing, the producer was able to get a replay up. I'm not sure they recognized that it was a controversial play right off the bat. We did. Even in our own booth, we were saying, 'Give us a replay here,' because there's some question as to whether or not that was incomplete or whether it was a fumble or whether he was out of bounds. Once the replay came up, it was quite clear, if you knew the rule, it was worth a challenge. You can challenge as long as it's outside two minutes. Inside two minutes, it's a booth review, and it would have been up to the replay official in the booth to determine whether or not he felt it was reviewable. I suspect they would have. The ruling was correct. The officials on the field made the correct ruling. Kudos to Jim for challenging it.

Q: Was the clock handled correctly on the challenge?
A: I think they handled the clock correctly. We elected to let the clock run down, then at the two-minute warning make the challenge. Jim didn't not challenge until we hit the two-minute warning. At that point, we went ahead and challenged. They overruled. We got the ball on the 20 and were in good shape there. I think they handled the clock correctly. I didn't notice anything that was of any consequence there.

Q: The recent issues in the red zone – is it a question of execution or play calling?
A: It's principally execution and some of it is tactics. Lots of people are playing us pass first in the red zone, which is why the draw play worked for the touchdown Sunday. And then part of it is execution. We have to block better. We have to be able to be in the right formation and still have the ability to throw the ball and run the ball when necessary when people give it to you. When we do that, we have to execute it. So, it's a function of two things – No. 1, the way people have been playing us; and No. 2, our ability to execute when we get in those kinds of situations has not been the best. We have to get better at it. It's just a question of get the right block, make sure you execute the right technique, be in a position where you run the right route, all of those kinds of things. That's the critical part of it. We'll just keep working on it and we'll get better at it.

Q: Can you update the status of K-Adam Vinatieri?
A: He will be back probably around Thanksgiving, I would say. That's the timetable right now. With injuries, the doctors lay out a timetable. They lay out a prognosis based on the average. But Mother Nature has a way of deciding with each individual how far from the average they stray. That's a target. It's not a predetermined date certain. Keep that in mind. The target date is right around Thanksgiving.

Q: It has been said often this year, but McAfee's making a huge contribution . . .
A: I must give Ray Rychleski, our special team coach, credit for having worked out all of the punters and really being sold on Pat. He did a lot of research on it, because Pat did not punt last year, except from a side-saddle rugby situation. You had to go back several years to find some examples of him punting in a conventional style. Ray did the work and brought it to us. We made a wise choice there based on teamwork, everybody working together.

 Q: Has there been any thought to the situation involving S-Bob Sanders?
A: This is simply bad luck. He is no different a player – and I think everybody saw that in the couple of games he played this year – than when he was Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL (in 2007). He's just had a lot of tough luck with injury. We have invested a lot of money in him and I see no reason why we would – assuming this next procedure goes as expected and there are no complications, and the knee continues to improve as it has – I wouldn't see why we would not bring him back. That, to me, just seems to be foolish. Luck plays a role in this business. There's no two ways about that. There's no reason to believe Bob won't be the same player he was after these injuries, as long as he continues with rehab and works out religiously, and as I told him, with a good offseason program that's injury-free and rehab-free, if he can get back with a real good feeling about his ability to lay it on the line, he'll be an even better player than he was before he was injured. I think, barring unforeseen circumstance, Bob Sanders figures prominently in our plans.

Q: Can you comment on the play of CB-Tim Jennings? He seems to get targeted often . . .
A: I don't think that people target him, necessarily. Lots of times, they will go to the receiver that they have the most faith in. It's a little bit overrated with the way coverages are these days that people target individuals. That's a vestige of the days when most teams just played man-to-man and you could rely on the kinds of coverages you were going to get. Secondly, (cornerback) Kelvin Hayden will be back probably right around Thanksgiving, I would guess, so we have some help coming with respect to depth and a guy who has been a very good player for us. Right now, our depth is a bit depleted because of the injuries, particularly at corner, but I don't think Tim's doing a bad job. He had a tough break Sunday – had good coverage on a receiver on a third-down play on the last drive and unfortunately tripped as he was driving on the ball. They got a completion that looked ugly, but he was in good position. He just happened to trip. It's one of those things. He does a great job on special teams for us. He's a very good tackler. We dropped two interceptions Sunday. His was one, but he was in great position to make the play. I don't point fingers, nor do I think we have any terrible weak spots on our team. We would like to have 22 All-Pros out there. It's not possible to do that, so as long as the players you have playing – particularly when they're backups such as Tim is and a valuable one – play to an acceptable level, that's what you want. Tim does a great job on special teams and he does a fine job at corner, so we feel good there, and Kelvin will be back right around Thanksgiving, I would think.

Q: There was a play Sunday when penalties offset after the Texans were offsides and Colts were called for holding. In this case, Colts center Jeff Saturday held the player who was offsides to prevent him from hitting the quarterback. Why would the penalties offset?
A: There is a portion of the rule that unfortunately did not apply Sunday. If a defensive lineman goes offside and is so egregiously offside that he can't be blocked and he's coming unabated to the quarterback, the referee is instructed to blow his whistle and kill the play so that the quarterback does not take a shot from an unblocked player going a 100 miles per hour. That would typically be the case, but it almost always applies to defensive ends. It's harder inside, No. 1 because the space is more constricted, but secondly, because those players are closer to the ball, and typically they're beating the snap a lot more closely to the actual snap than the defensive ends do. The defensive ends are easier to spot. The guys inside go just a split-second before the ball is snapped. Now, was he offside? Without question. No two ways about it. But the referee and the umpire could not get him as unabated to the quarterback quickly enough to kill the play. Therefore, Jeff recognizing that, knew that he had no choice but to tackle him so that Peyton would not get hit. Jeff did the right thing. He tackled him. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Peyton made a great play to Austin Collie and we had a big gain. We were down to the 2- or 3-yard line and it gets called back on offsetting penalties. It's unjust, but as President Kennedy said, 'Life is unfair.' That's one of the situations where life is unfair. You just have to shrug and come back to it, get another down and go ahead and move the football again. There isn't anything you can do about it. There are not many good penalties. That is one of the few good penalties you take. We are a team that teaches penalty avoidance. We make effort every single day the team is here – every single day we work with the players, including the offseason – to teach penalty avoidance. That is one penalty we do teach: 'If a guy is running free to the quarterback, tackle him. Don't worry about the penalty. We'll get the yardage back.'

Q: The Colts seemed to be playing offense in the first quarter in the sun near the end zone. Was there any thought given to kicking and choosing direction if and when the Colts won the toss?
A: We gave it some consideration. We talked about it. First of all, with a 1 o'clock game in Eastern Standard Time, that will be the case. In Eastern Daylight Time, then it's a totally different story altogether. We had no issues with it Sunday. Part of the reason is the players get used to it. They can basically recognize that this is going to be a problem. They learn to work through it. It's not a surprise to them. That can work in your favor in that situation. Our philosophy ever since we've been here and had Peyton and this high-powered offense is that, unlike college football, we take the ball. I'm quoting [former Green Bay/Seattle Head Coach] Mike Holmgren now: 'Professional football is about possessions. The number of possessions that you have equates directly to the number of points you score if you have a high-powered offense.' We are always going to want the football no matter what the other consequences are. In college, most teams defer because they would rather play defense first. In our case, no. We want the football, and we want more possessions. Teams that recognize that they probably can't score with us – and Houston is not one of them, but we have played teams that feel that way – will always try to shorten the game by running the ball, running the ball, running the ball, running the clock, staying in the huddle a long time. What they're trying to do is limit our possessions. Consequently, we say, 'Whenever we can get the ball, we're going to take it.'

Q: Can you comment on coverage concepts – particularly late in the game, but throughout? And also, can you discuss the approach on the Texans' final drive?
A: Coverage is always a difficult and dicey proposition. It's always subject to second-guessing. Somebody completes a slant on 3rd-and-5, you say, 'Oooh, why didn't we press them?' Well, if you knew he was going to throw a slant, you probably would press them. Our coaches are bright guys. They're going by the tendency chart that they have based on the team's previous tendencies. They're going on personnel matchups. They're driven by what they feel the game situation is at that point in time, the perfect example being Sunday's last drive. In defense of the defensive guys, when we got the interception at the two-minute mark, if I had been a defensive player I would have said to myself, 'Hey, we won this game. We just took the ball away.' Well, it didn't work out that way. We couldn't close the game out on offense. That's a failing on our part. The defense had to go back out there. We played basically zone defense. We played not to give them the big play, not to give them an opportunity where they would have plenty of time to determine whether they wanted to try to win it with a touchdown or kick a field goal to go into overtime. We played somewhat conservatively. We didn't play not to lose or any of those other clichés, but we were playing not to give them a big, free play. We got great pressure. We ended up tackling them in bounds on all but one play, making the clock run and getting them down to one second. It was dicey that they would even get the last play off. The bottom line is they spiked it with only one second left. They had a tough field goal to kick, especially given the pressure we brought all day. They ended up missing it, but the worst that could have happened was we go to overtime. I thought that was great defensive work. It was great defensive signal-calling by (Colts defensive coordinator) Larry Coyer, and our guys executed very well. You can always say, 'Well, we should go play bump-and-run coverage in that situation,' but what if Johnson beats you down the field and you get a home run?' Then, you feel awful. It's a little like my mentor (Hall of Fame Head Coach) Marv Levy used to say on those kind of strategic plays and play-calling, 'If it didn't work, whatever you should have done was the other thing.' He'd just sort of shrug his shoulders and say, 'Hey, we'll do the best we can, based on what we know. If it works, great, and if it doesn't, that's OK, too. At least our guys know what they're doing and give it their best effort.'

Q: Was the pass by Reggie Wayne not too risky a move in that situation? And are the Colts doing that too often?
A: Gadget plays are always extraordinary, by nature. The reason you put them in is because they keep people off-balance. There was a coach named Howdy Myers at Hofstra University, who had a different gadget play each week. If you played him in the last third of the season, you had about eight gadget plays that you had to prepare for. And believe you me, you spent time preparing for them both in the film room and on the practice field. It causes people difficulty. You have to execute them. Reggie would be the first to tell you that he should have thrown that ball away, and I think that's what he was trying to do and he just didn't quite get it done. He had three choices – throw it if the receiver was uncovered, but he was not; run it, which he chose not to do; or throw it away. It should be a safe play, as was the pass with Joseph Addai (a week before). If it doesn't connect, then it's an incomplete pass, so there's no issue there. In this case, Reg should have thrown it away. It was a question of execution, not play call.

Q: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is coming off knee surgery. This is about the time last season Manning began hitting a stride after offseason knee surgery. Is Brady at about that point?
A: I think that's correct. Tom Brady, to be borrow a phrase from our buddy, (ESPN announcer) Mike Greenberg, is back and better than ever. He's throwing the ball with authority. He has confidence in his physical ability. He's not worried about the knee. He's delivering the ball on time. He's seeing the field as well as he always did. He's as good as he ever was, with a passer rating of 99.2. He's doing a fine job. (Running back Laurence) Maroney is rushing the ball at a 4.3-yard-per-carry clip. Our old friend, Fred Taylor, is rushing it at a 4.5-yards-per-carry clip.

Q: Is Taylor going to be back?
A: I don't know. Knowing Fred Taylor, my guess would be, 'Yes.'

Q: Defensively?
A: They're good. They're really very good. They have young players in the secondary, but the front is every bit as good as it used to be. Their nose tackle (Vince Wilfork) is having a great year. They felt good enough about their front to be able to trade (defensive end Richard) Seymour. Jerod Mayo is one of the emerging stars in this league. He is, if not already, very soon to replace Ray (Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens) as the bell weather linebacker, the poster boy linebacker, in this league, and deservedly so. They're every bit as good as they were. The time to get them was early. Buffalo did not. They had a chance to put them away and didn't. They have been playing pretty darned good football ever since. They lost in overtime to Denver, but they're a good football team and an odds-on favorite to with that division.

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