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Week 15

You don't pull on Superman's Cape, you don't spit into the wind...and you don't mess around with Jim (the Patriots).

What in the world was DB Anthony Smith thinking when he ‘guaranteed' victory over the Patriots?  Did he think that they would run scared?  I'm surprised that he was only drummed for 2 TDs. 

The Patriots defense is starting to show signs of age but their offense is still lethal.  No one should be foolish enough to goad an undefeated team.  I like Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and I think he'll learn from this mistake and keep his troops more tight-lipped going forwards. 

The Pats downplayed the significance of Smith's guarantee but on the field jawing and bumping and burning of Smith for a pair of scores says otherwise.  As Tom Brady said, "Well done is always better than well said."

I Forgot to Mention:
I enjoyed seeing Ravens coach, Brian Billick blowing kisses at trash talking Rodney Harrison during the Patriots game. 

COLTS-RAVENS

I don't fault the Patriots coach Bill Belichick for keeping his regulars in the whole game and having them play hard for the full 60 minutes.  Some consider it running up the score but especially at the professional level it's incumbent on the opposition to stop them from scoring.  With the big scores come admiration, adulation and perhaps some over-rating.  They are an exceptional team.

I have to assume that the Ravens were flat after their hard fought loss to the Patriots a week earlier but the Colts looked inspired in taking a 44-7 lead against them just after halftime.  Through 3 quarters the Ravens had only scored on a Yamon Figurs 94 yards kick-off return.  Tony Dungy began to substitute his starters with more than 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter including QB Jim Sorgi for Peyton Manning.

Ravens coach Brian Billick used the opportunity of playing against the Colt reserves to let his offense regain some confidence as they mixed runs with passes resulting in an early 4th quarter score.  Dungy continued to substitute and I don't doubt that every active player on his roster saw action in the game.  Finally, Billick brought in his untested rookie QB, Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, to lead the Ravens to another late score that tallied the final at 44-20. 

Dungy and Billick both showed class and intelligence in their handling of this game.  The Colts were an explosion of aggressive ball hawking and lightning strikes but Dungy put the gun back in the holster after the outcome was no longer in doubt.  For a team that has endured several important injuries he added valuable minutes and experience to his reserves and he gave his starters needed rest and protection from potential injury.

Billick got as much as he could from a game that was out of reach.  His offense sustainied a drive for a score and then he got his young QB his first NFL minutes and his first score. 

Every team has injuries but the Colts have been particularly hard hit with 10 players out for the season and others like WR Marvin Harrison, T Tony Ugoh, WR Anthony Gonzalez, DT Raheem Brock, LB Freddie Keiaho, LB Tyjuan Hagler and S Tim Jennings have all missed multiple games.  The injury to WR Marvin Harrison has been well covered in the press but the Colts have been harder hit on defense where pro-bowler DE Dwight Freeney and starting LB Rob Morris are out for the season.

The Colts seemed to shrug off the loss of Harrison until his replacement, rookie WR Anthony Gonzalez, was also injured.  Manning's timing with the Colts reserve receivers like Craphonso Thorpe (I take every opportunity I can to say his name) was off and he made several errant throws against the Chargers resulting in 6 picks.     

The passing game relies on the mutual timing and placement between the quarterback and his receivers.  The growing pains that were caused by the injuries to the Colts receivers are now bearing fruit as evidenced by Anthony Gonzalez' break out performance against the Ravens with 6 catches for 134 yards and 2 TDs.  It can only help the Colts to have a superior player like Marvin Harrison back I nthe line-up but Gonzalez' progress allows that return to be as gradual as needed.

Against the Ravens the Colts had only 4 defensive starters from their 2007 Super Bowl winning team.  Some due to injuries and others to replacement, the Colts defense has become a flexible, effective unit whose ability to thrive despite adversity is a testament to Tony Dungy and his players ability to execute his plans.

Against the Patriots, T Jonathan Ogden, C Mike Flynn and the Ravens offensive line were consistently able to open gaps and seal off the Patriots linebacker pursuit resulting in a big game for Willis McGahee (138 yards on 30 carries).  Despite the Colts being without starting DT Raheem Brock and DE Dwight Freeney, the Ravens were unable to run effectively against them.

The Colts 4 man front consistently plugged gaps forcing McGahee to run laterally where, more often than not, Bob Sanders would cut him down for a short gain.  The Colt defenders rode rather than engaged their blockers and though they didn't get as much penetration, they sealed the middle of the field and by keeping the Ravens linemen busy they prevented McGahee from getting to the edges.  The result was 45 yards on 17 carries for McGahee limiting his impact on the game.    

The most persistent difference in this years Colt defense compared to last year is run support from their secondary.  S Bob Sanders deservedly gets a lot of the credit but the Colts will rotate players that are giving more dedicated run support in each game.  Sanders has 84 tackles, S Antoine Bethea has 64, CB Marlin Jackson has 76 and CB Kelvin Hayden has 73, truly prodigious and consistent numbers for a secondary.    

The Colts last defensive series with their regulars against the Ravens best illustrates the flexibility and effectiveness of this unit that reminds me of the once vaunted Miami ‘No-Name Defense'.

At 10:55 of the 3rd qtr, Ravens QB Kyle Boller hit WR Mark Clayton with a pass down the left sidelines that looked like a sure touchdown until Bob Sanders (he only seems to be two people) came flying out of nowhere to knock him out of bounds at the Colts 3 yards line.  On first and goal, Sanders then stuffed McGahee for a 2 yard loss.  On second and goal, little used reserve DT Quinn Pitcock sacked Boller for a 7 yard loss (Pitcock would have 2 sacks in the game).  On third and goal Boller hit McGahee in the flat but he was tackled for no gain by Marlin Jackson.  The Ravens went for it on 4th and goal only to have LB Gary Brackett intercept.

The Colts are playing crisp, disciplined defense and they're second only to the Steelers in total defense despite a host of injuries that would have stopped a lesser team.  Heading into the playoffs the Colts are very dangerous with battle tested reserves.  The Colts are already in the playoffs and should be the #2 AFC seed and there's a very strong possibility that the Colts will face the Patriots in New England for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. 

You don't pull on Superman's cape, don't spit into the wind and the Colts might be Slim!

Imagine having 2 games in one season between these superior teams.   Enjoy.

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