Scouts Inc.: Problem-solving Indy's offense

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
3:47
PM ET

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Ken Moll

The Indianapolis Colts arguably have had the NFL's most consistently explosive offense since Peyton Manning arrived in the league a decade ago. Since then, the Patriots and Rams also have turned some heads and set a few records on that side of the ball. But the Colts and their quarterback have been at it longer. For 10 years running, Manning has ranked among the league's top 10 in passing yards, including eight seasons in the top five.

So what has changed this season? The entire Colts offense is scuffling, including a normally respectable rushing attack that currently ranks dead last in the NFL (67.8 yards per game). The defense, though never exceptional, has collapsed. Indy's special teams, as usual, offer marginal support. It all adds up to more pressure on Manning and his weapons to make up the difference.

Still, we're totally unaccustomed to the performances we've seen from Manning, who currently ranks a middling 13th in passing yards (1,031) and downright mediocre 20th in passer rating (79.2). A 5-5 touchdown-interception ratio is Manning's worst since his rookie year in 1998. The Colts have no receiver ranked among the league's top 10, which hasn't happened since ... Manning's rookie year.

As is so often the case in the NFL, injuries are to blame. The Colts' two best (and most important) offensive linemen -- center Jeff Saturday and left tackle Tony Ugoh -- have missed games or played hurt through most of the early season. Guards Ryan Lilja and Mike Pollak also are banged up. Continuity is vital for any front five, but especially for a Colts unit that doesn't get a lot of extra protection help. Before the injuries, Ugoh could be counted on to handle an opponent's best pass rusher one-on-one and Saturday could be trusted to make correct line calls on last-second Manning audibles. Without those advantages, Manning has been forced to deliver too soon or under duress and has been hit more frequently.

And I don't believe Manning himself is 100 percent. The practice time and preseason reps he missed while recovering from a knee injury clearly have affected the timing and chemistry of a passing offense that relies very heavily on both. Manning never was the fleetest of foot, but his ability to slide and elude the rush to make a play downfield often was overlooked. He isn't moving as well in the pocket now, and the knee also has hindered Manning's ability to execute the stretch run, which plays a huge role in setting up Indy's play-action package.

Time may heal all wounds, but time is something the Colts don't have. Until Manning and his blockers get well, the team must tailor its game plans and schemes accordingly. The linemen need to tighten their splits. Coordinator Tom Moore may have to use more two-tight end sets, send fewer receivers out into patterns and frequently chip with a back or tight end. More short passes -- hitches, outs and option routes -- off three- and five-step drops also will help. The offense loses some big-play explosiveness under this scenario, but the Colts aren't exactly lighting up the league at the moment, now are they?

A quarterback as gifted and experienced as Manning always gives his club a chance to win, but without immediate and somewhat dramatic changes, the Colts may not be able to get out of the hole they've dug for themselves.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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