The preseason came to an (un)merciful, whimpering conclusion in Cincinnati last night, and it's finally time to assess what we've learned.
1. Peyton Manning is ready to play.
In some sense, almost nothing else on this team matters. We already saw last year that as long as Manning is healthy, he doesn't need an O-line or run game to win. He was sharp all preseason, and is clearly on a mission.
2. The offensive line will be a problem all year.
Charlie Johnson is the left tackle. I'm still not ok with that sentence. The line gave up 5 sacks of Manning in barely one full game of work. Tony Ugoh could have won the starting job back, but he was terrible. His play last night was rough to say the least, although there were problems all over the line, to be fair. This was the biggest offseason issue for the Colts this year. Lilja is back and apparently healthy, so that's a plus. Still, there is some question as to whether this is a Super Bowl quality O line.
3. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Worried that there would be too much change in Indy? If the preseason is any indication, there hasn't been. The 2009 preseason looked pretty much exactly like the last 5 before it. The Colts played one good game, one ok game, and two eye bleeders. This is encouraging to me because it says that Caldwell didn't feel it necessary to come out and "prove" himself in the preseason. He's comfortable enough to let the team go do what it always has done.
4. Addai is healthy/Brown is good
The best hope for the run game is that the backs are better than we had last year. Honestly though, it won't matter much if the line doesn't improve. Still, expect big plays in the passing game from the pair of them.
5. The Defense is not deep
The Colts have an excellent starting unit. Did you notice, however, how little competition there was for starting jobs? There is a big gap between the first and second units in Horsetown. The Colts D looked bad in the preseason because the 11 starters (or even 9 of them) never played together. The Colts have a few competent backups (Bullitt, perhaps Powers, Howard), but by and large this team depends on it's stars on defense. If the first unit stays healthy, it will be very good. If not, it will be a replay of last year.
6. Special teams will always be a problem in Indianapolis
We've talked about this at length, but the Colts don't value special teams play. They don't invest picks and players on special teams (and they shouldn't). People love to kill the coaching, but the Colts simply aren't deep enough to provide the kind of top level athletes that make for a great special teams unit. I expect the Colts to be about what they've always been on ST...weak. And you know what? It won't matter. Still, McAfee has been encouraging at times, so there's always some hope for improvement there.
7. Jim Sorgi is bullet-proof
As impressive as Curtis Painter was this preseason, he couldn't unseat Jim Sorgi, who though he played just a half of football, did enough to hang onto the #2 QB job. Sorgi managed to lead a TD drive (and a missed FG drive) in just a half. Painter never got going last night. Sorgi is better right now, and will be the #2. Let's pray it doesn't matter.
8. The TEs are in for a big year
Manning threw heavily to his TEs this preseason, and for all the talk about Collie and Garcon, it was the big guys that made most of the plays. Jacob Tamme led the club with 11 catches, followed by 9 for Dallas Clark. Petrowski, Robinson and Santi had 8 more between them. In comparison, The Colts top four WRs only had 19 catches all preseason. Especially with line troubles, expect the Colts to go two TEs a lot, and for Manning to throw a lot of short routes to releasing TEs out of the backfield to deal with the pressure.
All in all, I'm pleased with how things went this preseason. The Colts looked like the same disheveled mess they always do, though not nearly as awful as they did last August. No one new got hurt (other than Hayden who seems to be ok). AV is back, though Bob Sanders is not. As we all know from 2006, Bob can miss the whole year if he wants. Just so long as he shows up in January, he's worth it. Bullitt is a capable backup (one of the few we have).
2009 will come down to the same thing that 2007 and 2008 came down to: Injuries. If the defense stays healthy, it will be good. If it doesn't, it won't. Sometimes, things really aren't complicated.
Manning will be Manning. Freeney will be Freeney. Keep the other guys on the field, and this team will win its 12-14 games. In the end, the O-line will be the issue to watch all season.
It'll tell us how far this team can go.