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Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Window of opportunity not one of Colts' issues

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

 
 AP Photo/Michael Conroy
 The connection between Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison hasn't been up to par this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Colts are as uniquely constructed a team as there is in the NFL -- they are more centered on their quarterback than anyone, they are more willing to roll players through their linebacking core, they are resigned to inconsistency on special teams because they don't spend money on veteran backups and they are least concerned with size on defense.

It's easy to watch their struggles this year and conclude that their window of opportunity is closing. The clock usually starts ticking on teams that piece together long stretches of success and the Colts have enjoyed six consecutive years of 10 wins or more and five years in a row with at least 12 wins.

The Peyton Manning-to-Marvin Harrison connection has looked terrible, and the 36-year old receiver, coming off knee issues, could be slowing down.

Beyond that, if the Colts have an age issue, it's that they are too young, not too old.

They have the third-youngest roster in the league, behind only Green Bay and Kansas City. A closer look shows:

This is not a team that is getting creaky. Still, it's been an awful season by the Colts' standards. They are 3-4, four-and-a-half games off the pace of the undefeated, division-leading Tennessee Titans.

Injuries have been a big factor.

The team planned on having a new right guard after it watched Jake Scott jump to the Titans as a free agent. But they've been without their veteran left guard (the injured Ryan Lilja) all season, too, have started three different rookies and appear to have demoted Tony Ugoh for a stretch after he was over a groin injury.

The Colts' blueprint calls for them to play from ahead, and the offense that's supposed to build those leads is built around timing. With a patchwork line, and Manning having missed all of training camp as he recovered from knee surgeries, that rhythm's not been the same.

On defense they got hit in the middle of their line, where they are without the two guys who were in the plan as the primary run-stoppers. Quinn Pitcock surprised them by retiring before camp and Ed Johnson got himself tossed off the team.

None of this amounts to Indianapolis' window closing.

It's too early to say they won't contend for a wild card slot this season.

Whether the Colts do or don't, I expect they'll address the interior defensive line, get healthy on the offensive line, see Manning work harder than ever in the offseason and enter 2009 as a young, talented team that could well line-up for a Super Bowl run.