AFC South: Reality Check
Other 3-0 teams: Giants | Vikings | Saints | Jets | Ravens | Colts | Broncos
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Are the Colts for real? The NFL Blog Network breaks down each of the seven teams that started the season 3-0.
What they’ve accomplished: The Colts ' road to 3-0 has featured three distinctly different styles of wins.
They held on in a nail-biter against Jacksonville, scoring only 14 points but getting a good defensive effort and preventing the Jaguars from driving to a field goal at the end that could have won it.
In front of a "Monday Night Football" audience they saw the Dolphins execute the keep-away formula with great success. But even with less than 15 minutes of possession, Peyton Manning was able to engineer enough offense to win.
In Arizona in Week 3, the Colts got a well-rounded effort, making the Cardinals pay for mistakes on both sides of the ball and coasting to their most comfortable victory.
|Christian Petersen/Getty Images|
|Peyton Manning’s consistency at quarterback is a big reason the Colts are 3-0.|
Manning has been incredibly precise, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and getting the lion’s share of the balls to Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, while finding some big plays to Pierre Garcon after losing Anthony Gonzalez to injury early in the opener.
They won all three despite continuing difficulties running (86 yards a game, 3.5 a carry) and stopping the run (125.7 yards a game, 4.3 a carry).
Not only have things gone well for the Colts, but they’ve seen things go badly for their three division rivals, meaning they’ve already built a significant lead on the 1-2 Texans and Jaguars and the 0-3 Titans.
The Colts are at 3-0 for the fifth time in the last seven years. Running out to a lead in the AFC South is a way of life for the Colts since realignment. It’s a tiring way of life for the rest of the division. Indianapolis is the rabbit, everyone else a greyhound.
“It is remarkable they’ve been able to do it,” Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. “You know, they really could have been 0-2. We had a shot and ended up losing 14-12. Miami certainly had a shot and the Colts end up pulling that one out. So, got to give them credit, they’re making the division chase them again and that’s something they’ve been able to do over the last seven or eight years.”
What’s ahead: Indianapolis has its toughest work ahead. It has two games against Tennessee, which will be desperate to make up ground and knows how to play the Colts close, and two against Houston, a team determined to close the gap. The Colts also get San Francisco, New England, Baltimore, Denver and the Jets.
The Titans, 49ers, Ravens, Broncos and Jets are all equipped to play the sort of game the Dolphins did against Indianapolis, running the ball and doing everything possible to minimize Manning’s time on the field. Third-down defense is one area that will have to improve to prevent such blueprints from working. So far, the Colts are allowing offenses to convert half their chances. One other issue that hasn’t been big yet but could be is left tackle, where Charlie Johnson hasn’t proved to bee a 16-game-caliber guy yet.
But even as things get more difficult, this team looks capable of weathering the stretches of games it labels “storms.”
“I do think one thing, we have a mentally tough team,” Manning said. “We don’t really get distracted very easily. We’re prepared for what we call storms. You might have some storms, which are things that just kind of go bad. We handle those. We overcome those. We put the previous series behind us, either offensively or defensively.
"Whether it’s a touchdown or it’s a fumble or an interception, it’s over with right away, and we move on to the next series. I think that’s something you have to do in close games, and you truly concentrate on the series or the play at hand. Hopefully, you can execute it when it comes down to it.”
Realistic outcome: The Colts have won 12 or more games in a record six consecutive seasons, and there is no reason to conclude that barring major injuries they won’t extend the string.
While mainstay players like Manning, Wayne, Clark, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Lilja, Dwight Freeney (currently hurt), Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea continue to play well, young contributors like Garcon, Austin Collie, Donald Brown and Tyjuan Hagler are improving and adding more.
An AFC South title certainly looks like a realistic outcome for the Colts. Whether they can get a Lombardi Trophy to pair with the one they brought home from 2006 is another question.
They’ve misfired in the playoffs more often than not. But in a year when pundits went heavily with New England and Pittsburgh as the AFC favorites, Indianapolis could just as easily advance to represent the conference in Miami on Feb. 7.