We've fully dealt with the Titans game. The hangover from the big win yesterday is wearing off (see, you can't avoid it. I'm going to sneak that Hangover link in there on you someway or another. There are some really good stats in there from the Colts' game this week).
Today's annoucement that the Colts clinch the #1 seed with a simple win over Denver means we can start to talk about what happens next.
We're finally going to start dealing with the thorny issues of rest vs. no rest and the quest for perfection. Most of what I've read on this issue has been patently insane, misinformed, and just plain wrong. There are several issues that are all getting wrapped up into one. Let's try to make some sense of this mess by looking at each one separately.
1. Should the Colts publicly embrace the pursuit of 16-0 by a decree from Caldwell to the media?
No. Are you insane? What possible good would that serve?
Look, we'll deal with how the Colts should handle the chance to go for 16-0 in a moment, but let's start with this awful notion that they should make some grand announcement that it's a goal. To do so would violate so many different bedrock beliefs of the team, it's laughable.
- We play one week at a time. Oh, but now we are publicly stating that we are trying to win the next four weeks in a row now. Why? I don't know. The media wants a story.
- We don't care about the media. Oh, I mean unless they really pay a lot of attention to us and call us mean names. Then we care.
- Never give your opponent any material. Oh, but since we are 12-0 we should piss off the Broncos by saying we are now going to beat the Bills in week 17. It always pays to disrespect your next opponent by talking about up coming games. That's exactly what helped us win 21 games in a row!
- Stay focused on your goals. Unless another interesting goal comes along before you've actually secured your original goals. It makes a ton of sense to stop thinking about getting the #1 and start thinking about 16-0 now!
- Keep outside distractions to a minimum. Nah, let's start talking about something that will just up the media frenzy to a whole new level. That would be so smart!
Right now, the media is ignoring the Colts (relatively speaking, of course) because they expect Indy to give up the ghost. GREAT! That's less insanity. The coaches are more sure the players are focused on them and them only.
Let's be clear: the Colts should say NOTHING about 16-0 until they have to. They have a game against an 8-4 team this week. Then they play on the road, on Thursday night against a 7-5 team. Then they play a 6-6 team. What kind of insane coach would talk about 16-0 now?
Until you are 15-0, you don't discuss 16-0.
2. Has resting players in the final week hurt the Colts in the playoffs before?
NO. NO. NO. A thousand times no.
The most common theme I've seen is, "The Colts have struggled in the playoffs. The Colts rest players. Therefore the Colts should not rest players".
There's just one problem: The Colts haven't rested players that many times.
I wrote on this last year, but let's cover it again:
1999 Colts play starters in an ultimately meaningless game in Buffalo (WHOOOOA KARMA ALERT!). Cornelius Bennett gets hurt. Colts lose their first playoff game.
2000 Colts can't rest. Colts lose in round one. The loss has NOTHING to do with resting players.
2002 Colts can't rest. Colts lose in round one. The loss has NOTHING to do with resting players.
2003 Colts can't rest. Colts blow out Denver in round 1.
2004 Colts REST STARTERS. Colts blow out Denver in round 1. Seeing as how the week 16 opponent was...Denver, I'd say rest was the right strategy there.
2005 Colts rest 10 starters verses the Chargers in week 14 and lose. They then barely play the starting offense at all for two weeks, and then Tony has his family tragedy. Then they have to play a really good Pittsburgh team and lose thanks to a miracle tackle and a shanked field goal. I can buy the idea that resting the offense for two weeks before a bye contributed to the slow start. Of course, that slow start might have had a little to do with the O-line not having any idea how to protect the QB, but whatever. I think this game has more to do with the off the field events, but for the sake of argument, I'll allow that two weeks off was way too much down time. File that away.
2006 Colts can't rest. Colts win Super Bowl. Note that two other times they couldn't rest and they didn't win the Super Bowl, so don't go all crazy about the one time they did. It's the team, not the circumstances.
2007 Colts rest starters for three quarters. Colts lose to San Diego. Please, the next time anyone brings up 2007 in this discussion, you have my permission to smack them in the head and call them a moron. First, the 2007 Colts were WRACKED with injuries come the last game. They needed the rest. Robert Mathis managed to come back for the playoff game, but wasn't himself. The Colts offense? It started out on fire in this game. First drive: TD. The defense then picked off Rivers. The Colts were driving for a second score when Harrison fumbled. Now, you can say the Colts screwed up by bringing Marv back. I won't argue. He needed game reps and clearly wasn't ready to play and hurt the team that day. Resting the last week of the season didn't stop Indy from getting pressure on Rivers. Resting the last week of the season didn't make the defense fall apart to Billy Volek. It didn't make Tony Ugoh melt down in the fourth quarter against Merriman. It didn't make Dallas Clark drop the final pass which hit him in his heavily wrapped hand. People can say what they want about 2005, but there is NO EVIDENCE that rest had anything to do AT ALL with this loss.
If someone brings up 2007, ask them one simple question: "Exactly how were the Colts hurt by resting in that game? Did they start slow? Did they not have the lead in fourth quarter? What aspect of the game would have been different if they had played starters against the Titans two weeks earlier?"
2008 Colts rest some players for 3 quarters to a half. They then have to travel cross country and play 6 days later in San Diego where they ultimately lose in overtime because the defense just finally wears down. Again, Indy had the lead in the fourth quarter, but couldn't pick up two yards when they had to because Gijon Robinson forgot a snap count. This same Gijon Robinson did play plenty in the previous game. So again, tell me how playing everyone with a big lead over the Titans would have turned this game?
Most everyone bases the entire "rest hurts" argument on 2005 and 2007. 2005 is arguable. 2007 is utterly irrelevant. Oh, and there's 2004, but no one ever wants to bring that up.
3. So, should the Colts rest players?
Yes, they should rest players.
It's only a question of how much.
I think it was a mistake to shut things down so early in 2005. I don't think that's why they lost, but it didn't seem necessary. People forget that several defensive starters sat against the Chargers (Brackett for one, I think). That was basically three weeks off plus the bye week. A month without a game is just too long. Taking one week off is no big deal. Taking four...that could be another story.
The tough part of the equation is deciding what to do with the Jacksonville game. It's a short week. It's a meaningless game, but you can't shut it down. It would be a full month before the Colts play again. I think you have to judicious against the Jags, but play full tilt through the Jets game at least. There's rest and there's rust. I don't think rust sets in by taking part of one game off. It could if you don't play for a month. Indy needs to be playing starters at least three quarters through the 15th game. The 16th game...that's another story.
Week 17 is an outdoor game on January 2nd in Buffalo. That could be a dangerous environment to try and play. Cold, ice, wind, ect. The last time they tried that, it cost them a starting linebacker. I'm not willing to sacrifice Gary Brackett on the altar of momentum. Letting guys take some rest in that last game only seems sane. Dwight Freeney is banged up. Robert Mathis was in street clothes at the end of Sunday's game. Kelvin Hayden has been battling injuries all year. We can't win the Super Bowl if those guys aren't playing. Rest only makes sense.
Ah, but having said that...
4. What if the Colts are 15-0 in three weeks? Should they still rest players?
Here's why: a streak is not like other things in sports. When on a streak, you don't talk about it. You don't plan for it. You just ride it out. I'm on the record as saying the Colts need to play straight up through their 15th game no matter what. Obviously, you don't risk questionable players, but as much as possible, you keep your foot on the gas. And if everything goes just right and all it takes is one more win to go undefeated...
You have to go for it.
An undefeated Colts team would be known as the Greatest Team of All Time. I know the '72 Dolphins aren't, but the Colts aren't the '72 Dolphins. This is the team with a massive win streak. This is the team that has the most wins in a decade. This team has Peyton Manning at QB. This team would be utterly and forever immortalized as the greatest team of all time. Manning would cement his status as the greatest QB ever. The Colts as a franchise love history. They won't be able to turn their backs on it.
Given the choice between two more Super Bowls or one 19-0 perfect season...I'd take the one perfect season. It's that big a deal.
As foolish as it is for the Colts to address the issue now, it's just as foolish to turn your back on history. You can't live life terrified something will go wrong. If there is nothing to gain, you rest players against the Bills, but 16-0 doesn't qualify as "nothing". It is most definitely something.
The 2007 Pats helped everyone. There is no longer so much 'weight' to being 16-0 heading into the playoffs. No one will just assume you are going to win. I think they forever took the edge off for any team that comes after them.
If the Colts are 15-0...
If the Colts are healthy...
If there is no freak blizzard or -10 F temperature in Buffalo on January 2...
Then hell, yes. Let's go undefeated.
The Greatest Team Ever.
It has a nice ring to it.
Let's make history.