In what I hope will soon be the conventional wisdom of the league (with credit to me, of course), this is the season where mediocrity has become the new parity.
OK, so I'm not the only one who's noticed.
As the Pats and the Colts come back to the rest of the AFC pack, it looks to this fan like the AFC title is truly up for grabs. On a good day, anyone on this side of the aisle can beat anyone else. Most of the time, no team really looks competent in winning, either. A lot of football played this year has been pretty disorganized, error-filled stuff. I really miss the artistry our guys put out last year--that was some beautiful ball, no matter how you felt about the laundry that was pulling it off.
To date, the Titans have been the lone exception. They're whole, and they're the only team who, so far, has been playing with any kind of consistency or conviction from week to week. The loss of Vince Young has been a clear case of addition by subtraction--as was the jettisoning of Pacman (as Dallas duly discovered). I don't usually see the Monday night game--it's past my bedtime and on cable (which requires me to visit a bar and at least nominally patronize it). But I will be making an effort tonight.
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With Indy's returning starters, I think the Colts are better than they've shown. I'm looking for some of the old Peyton tonight. I'll also be looking to judge their cohesion: my favorite match-up of the year comes next week at Oilcan Stadium in the Hoosier state. Our roster is in tatters right now. I'll be watching two things tonight: How healthy is the Colts' receiving corps, and can the defense stop the run?
Some in the press have claimed that the Great (and he does deserve that moniker) Marvin Harrison has lost a step. Colts fans beg to differ (as you might expect). Nevertheless, while there have been flashes of Peyton's signature productivity, on the whole this has to be considered a down year for the Colts' normally high-flying offense. I have to believe that the return of Joseph Addai will help, as he is a true elite threat. The Titans have one of the best defenses in the league right now (at least by the numbers). Football Outsiders has Tennessee's D ranked second overall, after only Baltimore (a team, incidentally, which the Colts schooled). In contrast, the Colts' O has drifted back to 12th.
Our Defense is ranked 21st, so this isn't a great head-to-head comparison for us. But it will help us understand how much progress Indy is making toward becoming its old, healthy self that we love to hate.
On the Defensive side of the ball, even with the temporary absence of Bob Sanders, the Colts pass defense is a respectable #12. Against the run, however, they fall to 21st. Tennessee has the 5th-ranked running attack in the league (again, according to the statistical geeks at FO). In fact, Tennessee's offensive rankings (21 pass, 5 run) are very similar to those of the Patriots (23 pass, 7 run). It will be interesting to see how the Colts handle that attack. Not probative, mind you, but interesting.
With our win over the Rams still warming the heart, tonight is a good time to sit back and guage the competition. At 3-3, the Colts are, I think, underperforming. At 5-2, against a weaker schedule, you might say that we're outstripping expectations given our depleted roster. Next week will be a good test for us--and for Indy. Since we've both drifted back to the pack, who is getting on track and who is still foundering?
The Titans should be an excellent foil, as we prepare for our own visit to Indy's Oilcan Field.