Sanders' absence could be devastating for Colts
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Right from the start of their game last week in Minnesota, the Indianapolis Colts conceded they needed to stack things up to have a chance to slow Adrian Peterson.
|Joe Robbins/Getty Images|
|The Colts will miss Bob Sanders' physical presence on the field.|
And so strong safety Bob Sanders crept forward, an eighth man in the box at the ready. It wasn't unusual. In Tony Dungy's Tampa Two, Sanders often looks like a fourth linebacker.
Even with Sanders, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Year, it was a struggle against Peterson. Then Sanders went down in the second half with an ankle injury.
The Colts still found a way to win.
But doing so in the next month got a lot harder when president Bill Polian revealed a high ankle sprain will hold Sanders out four to six weeks.
That's a disastrous development for a defense that's struggled to stop the run and that, when it's at its best, gains a good dose of its personality from Sanders.
Melvin Bullitt got a lot of work in training camp while Sanders was on PUP awaiting clearance to return from a shoulder injury. But Bullitt was dealing with a thumb injury. (I wrote about him in mid-July.)
A small defense will actually gain some height with Bullitt, but it loses a major physical presence who sets the tone. Dungy will surely talk of plugging the next man in and moving on, and he'll likely use these numbers to support his case: The Colts are 39-9 in the regular season when Sanders plays and 20-5 without him. Still, outside of Peyton Manning there is no player the team can less afford to lose.
While opponents worry about Dwight Freeney, Sanders is the player offensive coordinators game plan around.
An optimist might ask how much worse things can be for a team that's given up 181.5 rushing yards a game so far. But rebuilding the run defense was going to be a big project with Sanders. It's a massive undertaking without him and the offense isn't currently equipped to but up huge points to buy the defense elbow room.
At 0-2, Jacksonville is desperate to establish its identity as a running team.
The Jaguars, who've got serious offensive line issues of their own, could be heading for Lucas Oil Stadium at just the right time.
Meanwhile, things are getting worse, not better, for the Colts on offense too.
Left tackle Tony Ugoh went out of the Minnesota game early with a groin injury. If he doesn't play, the Colts could have an offensive line that includes just one starter from the group the team intended to field -- right tackle Ryan Diem. Tight end Dallas Clark (knee) could miss his second game in a row.
Win or lose, the Colts will have a chance to regroup after playing the Jaguars. They have a bye after the Jacksonville game, then play at Houston and against Baltimore.
It's a brutal four pack after that, and if the Colts aren't healthy they'll struggle at Green Bay, at Tennessee, against New England and at Pittsburgh.
I've been reluctant to forecast a slip for Indianapolis and it's incredibly early. But if Indy's injuries continue to be an issue and the Titans can keep things going, we may see the best shot in six years for a team to overtake Indy at the top of the AFC South.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen talks about the injury to Sanders.