NFL Nation: Mike Hart
A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 15.
The Colts turned all of the pregame thinking about their ground game inside-out in their win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. They shut down the Jaguars' physical run attack. And they churned out over twice as many rushing yards.
Brown has struggled while Joseph Addai and Mike Hart have been missing because of injuries, often looking tentative. But he ran with authority against the Jaguars, who have a pretty physical front, and it’s a development that could pay big dividends going forward. I don’t know if any doubt had crept in for him, but he knows he can do it now.
“I think that would shoot a guy’s confidence through the roof,” said Dominic Rhodes, the recently re-signed veteran running back. “Because when you see that you can do it in this league, that turns a light on in your head.”
The Colts could well be without Addai and Hart again Sunday in Oakland, and the Raiders are a big, physical running team like the Jaguars. If Brown can provide a similar boost for a second game in a row, the Colts will stand a far better chance of winning.
The Colts have three other subs, who are not surprises: Kavell Conner starts for Clint Session at weakside linebacker, Jacob Lacey starts at left corner for Kelvin Hayden and Justin Tryon starts at left corner for Jerraud Powers, who went on IR this week.
For the Titans Dave Ball (concussion/ hip) is inactive and will be replaced at right end by Jacob Ford.
The whole list of inactives:
Titans: QB Rusty Smith, S Robert Johnson, T Troy Kropog, CB Ryan Mouton, LB David Thornton, DT Sen’Derrick Marks.
Colts: WR Austin Collie, CB Kelvin Hayden, RB Joseph Addai, RB Mike Hart, LB Clint Session, OG Jacques McClendon, DT Ricardo Mathews.
- Running back Joseph Addai
- Running back Mike Hart
- Guard Jaimie Thomas
- Defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews
- Linebacker Clint Session
- Linebacker Gary Brackett
- Cornerback Justin Tryon
- Safety Bob Sanders
New England Patriots
- Running back Fred Taylor
- Receiver Taylor Price
- Guard Stephen Neal
- Guard Rich Ohrnberger
- Tackle Mark LeVoir
- Defensive lineman Myron Pryor
- Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite
- Safety Jarrad Page
1. The Titans' second-half adjustment and the Texans out of the gate: In the Titans’ last two games, losses at San Diego and Miami, the Titans have been outscored 39-14 in the second half. They are getting outplayed and outcoached after intermission and need to do better adjusting. The Texans, meanwhile, have fared poorly from the start in two of their last three games. They trailed both Jacksonville and Indianapolis 17-3 at the half.
3. Bo Scaife, Titans tight end: His early fumble in the Titans’ end set up the Dolphins offense and got a bad day started. He also had a drop. Kerry Collins and Vince Young threw to him nine times and his six catches gained just 51 yards. It’s not his fault they are throwing short stuff to him, but he didn’t feel like a threat with the ball in his hands. Surely on some of these plays Jared Cook could offer a more dangerous change up, no?
1. Role playing tight ends: We’re heard a lot about the contributions they could make, but we’re finally seeing something out of Houston’s James Casey and Jacksonville’s Zach Miller. Casey’s caught five passes for 66 yards in the Texans’ last two games. And Miller had four catches for 79 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown in the win over the Texans.
2. The Colts’ health: I’m being a bit presumptuous here. But Joseph Addai said last week he was targeting the New England game. And in their weekly Tuesday announcement, the Colts ruled out only Bob Sanders. That means of a big group who didn’t play against the Bengals, there is a chance for guys like Austin Collie, Clint Session, Gary Brackett, Justin Tryon and Mike Hart to be back. The team hopes for many happy returns in New England.
3. Andre Johnson, Texans receiver: He’s topped 100 yards in three of his last four games. While his ankle may still qualify as an issue, he’s certainly found a way to play and play effectively with it. And the Texans and Matt Schaub need to keep feeding him. With Johnson and Arian Foster, the Texans have to find an offensive rhythm and score big knowing the defense won’t do a lot.
There was a bit of suspense about the lineup.
Donald Brown is sill starting at running back, where Joseph Addai and Mike Hart are out. Gijon Robinson starts at tight end with Brody Eldridge out. Tyjuan Hagler will play weakside linebacker for the injured Clint Session and Jacob Lacey will play right cornerback in place of the ailing Jerraud Powers.
Pat Angerer stays at strongside linebacker, ahead of Philip Wheeler, and Kyle DeVan remains at left guard.
The inactives for Indy: CB Justin Tryon, S Bob Sanders, CB Jerraud Powers, RB Joseph Addai, RB Mike Hart, LB Clint Session, TE Brody Eldridge, DT Antonio Johnson.
The inactives for Philly: QB Mike Kafka, WR Chad Hall, RB Joique Bell, CB Ellis Hobbs, DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, T King Dunlap, G Reggie Wells, TE Clay Harbor.
The Titans in the fourth quarter of close games: They did well to pull away from Philadelphia with a 27-point fourth in what had been a close game. But against Pittsburgh, Denver and San Diego when they were in range, the Titans have not had the execution, ability or killer instinct to win.
Gary Kubiak’s play calling: I hear the explanations. Convert some third downs and stay on the field and they would have been balanced. But Kubiak outsmarted himself. The Texans ran all over the Colts the first time; the obligation is to make them show they can stop it before you turn to what you prepared for them stopping it. Also, you get into a lot more third-and-shorts if Arian Foster is running for 4 or 5 yards on first and second down.
Vincent Fuller, Titans defensive back: The team’s feisty full-time nickelback since 2007 was reduced to a role in the much less frequently used dime package. The Titans love Alterraun Verner, who’d been playing outside with Jason McCourty injured. With McCourty back, Verner started outside, and moved inside in the nickel, with McCourty taking his place.
David Garrard, Jaguars quarterback: The good is outweighing the bad to the tune of a 98.8 passer rating, the fourth best in the NFL. He put the Cowboys to shame on Sunday with a sterling performance. But here’s a helpful hint: Don’t say how the team you just beat up gave up -- it takes a little shine off of what you just did.
The Colts' backups: We’ve covered it extensively (here and here), but the performances of tight end Jacob Tamme, running back Mike Hart and cornerback Justin Tryon were key in the Colts’ win over Houston. They keep calling on the depth and it keeps giving the team what it needs.
A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 8.
But he gets a second moment here for his fine work as Joseph Addai's primary fill-in. While Houston's Arian Foster averaged 6.8 yards a carry, Hart was even better with a 7.0 average on his 12 runs. He might have gotten over 100 yards had an ankle injury not knocked him out of the game and he also had three catches for 19 yards.
Going into the game without Addai, one big concern was how Hart and Donald Brown would handle the running back pass-protection duties.
Hart said they fared reasonably well in that department.
“I think we did pretty well. I know for a fact I made one mistake,” he said. “Peyton [Manning] threw hot, I'm definitely going to get yelled at for that [Tuesday]. Besides that, Javarris [James] did a great job. Donald did a great job. I picked up the other blitzes beside one -- three maybe. The only one that matters is the one I missed.”
While he may take heat for that, he'll also get a pat on the back for a fine fill-in effort. An MRI on the ankle will help determine if he'll need to be filled in for next.
Next man up just goes and goes and goes: You’re as tired of reading that line as I am of writing it. But on this night the Colts went collectively deeper into their depth than usual. And guess what? The subs produced.
Jacob Tamme is not Dallas Clark, but six catches for 64 yards and a touchdown is a pretty good tight end contribution. (He’s the 27th player to catch his first-career touchdown from Peyton Manning.) Subbing for the injured Joseph Addai as the lead back, Mike Hart looked very good as he took 12 carries 84 yards before suffering an ankle injury late that prevented him from finishing the game. Justin Tryon filled in for Jerraud Powers at right cornerback, often across from Andre Johnson, and the Texans got Johnson the ball just seven times, for nothing longer than 28 yards.
The expectation is you produce when called upon, and if you’re the guy who doesn’t do it after so many have, then how much grief would you be in line for?
“You never want to be that guy, that guy who doesn’t perform, that guy who doesn’t step up when called upon,” Hart said. “I think management does a great job of bringing in players that can come in and do well when guys go down and that’s what I tried to do.”
Said Manning of Tamme: "It was nice to see a guy that had a calm, cool look to him the entire night. That is encouraging to see."
Houston’s play calling will be second-guessed -- a lot: In some ways this was similar to the Week 3 loss to Dallas.
In the first half of that game Arian Foster got only eight carries and Johnson got only two catches, while the Texans had 21 snaps of offense and 11:51 of possession.
In the first half of this game, Foster got only eight carries and Johnson got only two catches while the Texans had 24 snaps of offense and 11:12 of possession.
“Our plan was to be a balanced football team,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “We wanted to do some things early. A couple of runs were called early that ended up being passes... I don’t think we’d have had any problem being a balanced football team had we made a third down.”
The Texans were 0-for-6 on third downs in the first half: a third-and-10 sack, a third-and-6 incompletion, a third-and-2 incompletion (followed by a fourth-and-2 incompletion), a third-and-5 sack, a third-and-10 pass to Johnson for 9 yards and a third-and-4 incompletion.
Sure, the Texans would have been able to be balanced had they converted some of those. It's what Kubiak looked to for conversions that was questionable.
Foster finished the game with 15 carries for 102 yards and a score. That was good for a 6.8 average. On four of those third downs, giving it to him would have seemed to have been more prudent than throwing it. At least give him one of two chances when you needed only 2 yards.
“When we dialed up the run, we were good,” left tackle Duane Brown said. “When we dial up the pass, we’ve got to be good enough to hold up.”
Maybe Kelvin Hayden is re-emerging: A healthy Hayden was supposed to provide a big boost to the Colts' pass coverage this season, but through six games he’d not been nearly as good as I expected he’d be.
Against the Texans, with both Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey out, Hayden was working with the inexperienced Tryon on the other side and Deshea Townsend as the nickelback.
Hayden stepped in front of an ill-advised Schaub pass intended for Kevin Walter and waltzed to a 25-yard touchdown that gave the Colts what felt like an insurmountable 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“I think I started slower than I expected, I don’t have an answer for it. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. They say at corner you have to have a bad memory, so I don’t remember it.”
Hayden also had five tackles, including one for a loss.
Houston's Brian Cushing not making the impact we expected: He didn’t really explode until midway through his rookie year, but then he set a standard. It’s one he has not met in the three games he’s played since returning from his season-starting four-game suspension for a violation of the league’s policy against performance enhancers.
This was his first game in the middle, where he’s been shifted to replace DeMeco Ryans, who's out for the season with an Achilles injury. Press box statisticians credited Cushing with just five tackles and he also had a pass defensed. But a team with a struggling secondary and a less-than stellar pass rush needs more from Cushing.
“I think he did a pretty darn good job,” Kubiak said. “And I think we played hard. We’ve got to improve each week and he’s the best guy [in the middle] that gives us a chance to do that.”
The move to the middle took Cushing away from tight end coverage.
“He’s a great player, though, I think he’s just fine inside,” Tamme said.
Strongside linebacker Philip Wheeler will work to get it back: Wheeler was supposed to be the next emerging linebacker for the Colts, but he was replaced in the starting lineup against the Texans by rookie Pat Angerer, who started and played well for an injured Gary Brackett in the Week 6 win at Washington.
Evidently, coaches found that production too good to leave on the sideline.
“They didn’t really explain too much about it, they just made a decision, I guess,” Wheeler said. “I’m not happy with the decision, but I can’t do anything right now about it. I’ve just got to keep my head up and play ball when I get in the game. I’m not sure what’s the case with it. No hard feelings to Pat, when he’s out there I think he’s going to play well.”
Two injured Colts are also out of the starting lineup: Joseph Addai (shoulder/neck) will be replaced as the starting running back by Mike Hart and right cornerback Jerraud Powers (foot) will be replaced by Justin Tryon. Nickelback Jacob Lacey is also out.
Kyle DeVan will start instead of Jamey Richard at left guard for the second straight game.
The Colts also let running back Andre Brown go, adding cornerback Cornelius Brown, who is active.
The Texans have no surprises among their inactives. Antoine Caldwell starts at right guard for Mike Brisiel.
The complete inactive lists.
Colts: Receiver Austin Collie, safety Bob Sanders, Powers, Lacey, linebacker Kavell Conner, guard Jacques McClendon, defensive tackle Antonio Johnson.
Texans: Quarterback Matt Leinart, receiver Dorin Dickerson, cornerback Carl Paymah, linebacker Daryl Sharpton, guard Kasey Studdard, defensive end Jesse Nading, tight end Garrett Graham, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell.
Dallas Clark is out indefinitely with a hand/wrist injury. Joseph Addai is dealing with a shoulder issue. And now Adam Schefter reports receiver Austin Collie is going to miss a few weeks following hand surgery.
Indianapolis does great work playing backups when they are called on.
But being minus those three raises the DEFCON level for the Colts offense, no matter how good Peyton Manning is.
Jacob Tamme or Brody Eldridge will be the primary pass-catching threat at tight end. Donald Brown or Mike Hart would be filling in for Addai. And, if Anthony Gonzalez isn’t ready, Blair White could work as the third receiver.
Capable guys, but hardly an all-star cast.
Gary Kubiak’s got to be hoping his guys aren’t reading things like this while enjoying a week off, lest a bad defense start thinking the Colts' banged-up offense is something they should be able to handle.
After Indianapolis’ 19-9 win against previously undefeated Kansas City on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, it was more believable than usual.
With a third-string strong safety starting the game and a third-string running back finishing it, a field goal battle felt like it would ultimately hinge on which quarterback would make the bigger play.
It rates as no surprise that Peyton Manning outpointed Matt Cassel in that regard, but it was hardly a sharp afternoon for the four-time MVP.
As defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots from 2001-04, Romeo Crennel helped devise some quality game plans against Manning. In the same capacity for the Chiefs, he revisited some of those successful plans, tweaking them to his personnel and faring pretty well.
En route to 244 passing yards, Manning connected on only 59 percent of his passes with an interception and a sack. He didn’t connect on anything longer than 24 yards and wound up with a 65.0 passer rating. That’s a touch lower than the rating he put up in that throw-away regular-season finale in Buffalo last season. It was his worst in a game the Colts played to win since Nov. 30, 2008, in an ugly 10-6 win at Cleveland against a team coached by… Crennel.
Manning said it was all set up to test the offense’s patience.
Three places Manning usually thrives were cut down by Crennel and K.C., according to ESPN Stats & Information. Manning came into the game with a 112.3 rating out of the shotgun, 116.5 against five defensive backs or more and 113.9 on play-action. Against the Chiefs, those numbers were 59.4, 66.4 and 27.8, respectively.
“We’ve got some guys that can get open, that can get the job done even when Peyton is off,” receiver Reggie Wayne said, kind of repeating my premise about Manning being less than his usual self, not offering it himself. “I felt like he did pretty good with what they were giving us. He hung in there and did what he was supposed to do."
The Chiefs loaded up people in coverage, daring the Colts to run effectively. Joseph Addai got the ball a lot early on, but wound up with just 50 yards on 17 carries. When Addai suffered a shoulder injury that ended his day, Mike Hart took over and got 50 yards of his own on 11 carries.
A 3.1-yard ground average didn’t scare Kansas City and won’t frighten anyone else. Defenses will be thrilled to take it as a trade-off for limiting Manning if they can.
Ultimately, however, the Colts pulled ahead 12-9 in the field goal battle. In the fourth quarter, the Colts drove 12 plays and 71 yards to the game’s lone touchdown, on an 11-yard run by Hart with 4 minutes, 2 seconds remaining.
Afterward, the guys on offense were thankful for the defensive effort and efficiency.
Wayne said he didn’t think defenders liked an Indianapolis Star story this week. In the print version it was headlined: “What’s wrong with these guys?”
“They should have taken offense to it,” Wayne said. “It was tough. But they did a great job today. We laid it on them a little bit and the touchdown at the end was something that we really needed.”
That defense held the Chiefs to two conversions in 12 third- and fourth-down attempts and kept them out of the end zone.
“The offense had some situations there they couldn’t get things totally taken care of this week,” linebacker Clint Session said. “And we had their back. We took it personal, the way we were talked about.”
A few other things I think are worth contemplating:
Next man up: It’s a cliché that the Colts put into action as well as anyone in the league.
Against the Chiefs it was next man up after that, with Aaron Francisco at strong safety replacing Melvin Bullitt, who replaced Bob Sanders. The same thing happened at running back, with Hart replacing Addai when he was hurt with Donald Brown already out injured.
Francisco was with the Colts last season, but spent camp with Carolina, hadn’t played a game this year and was re-signed by Indianapolis on Tuesday.
“I kind of got myself to forget this defense after I went to Carolina and learned the system down there, but I guess after the first practice everything started coming back to me,” he said. “It’s not really a hard defense to learn. I feel like I did good. I know there will be a lot of things I’ve got to correct. I think I did enough to help us win, though.”
Hart is the smallest of the team’s top three backs. Addai was happy for him.
“Mike got a chance to do what he can do,” Addai said. “You always trust what he can do because he’s a solid player.”
Skidding sideways: Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop's game-opening onside kick took a strong left turn and didn’t travel 10 yards, resulting in a flag and a Colts’ possession starting at the Chiefs’ 37-yard line.
I asked several Colts about it. While the answers varied, none said what hundreds of guys on other teams would have taken from it: “They were afraid they wouldn't be able to hang with us and needed a jump-start right at the beginning.”
The resulting Colts' drive stalled at the Chiefs' 2, and Adam Vinatieri converted the first of his four successful field goals to provide a 3-0 lead.
It was the first onside kick the Colts have faced since the infamous Garrett Hartley kick that started the second half of Super Bowl XLIV and swung momentum heavily in favor of New Orleans.
“I was anticipating someone would do it,” Colts head coach Jim Caldwell said. “… If you show a weakness at any point in time, at some point and time it’s going to come back up. So you better work on it. So that was something we anticipated possibly seeing.”
A free three: As good as the Colts were defensively, they easily could have been 3 points better.
When Addai failed to convert a fourth-and-2 from the K.C. 39, the Chiefs got the ball back with 18 seconds left in the first half.
Kelvin Hayden hit Chris Chambers out of bounds after a 13-yard gain, giving away 15 yards with the unnecessary roughness and helping set up the first of Succop’s three field goals.
It’s an uncharacteristic sort of play for the Colts, who don’t generally give things up so easily.
Had things gone the other way, it would have been near the top of this column instead of at the bottom.
What it means: The Colts were willing to go ugly and did so well enough to hand Kansas City its first loss. That gets Indy to 3-2, same as Houston and Jacksonville -- as well as Tennessee if it wins in Dallas.
What I liked: The Colts played good defense, even with little noise from Dwight Freeney. The Chiefs weren’t particularly threatening, but the Colts gave them very little room to gain any sort of confidence in their ability to score. The Chiefs had to feel like a touchdown was a tall, tall order and ultimately they could not fill it.
What I didn’t like: The offensive effort was enough. But Peyton Manning was hardly at his most crisp and his receivers got hands on some balls they could not corral. A less-than-himself Manning was still better than Matt Cassel, who suffered from some bad drops as well.
Injury of note: With No. 2 running back Donald Brown already out, Joseph Addai left the game and didn’t return because of a shoulder injury. The Colts relied on him a great deal before he left. Third-stringer Mike Hart is a worker and his 11-yard touchdown run with 4:02 remaining was huge. But he’s not as versatile as Addai, who can run, catch and block on demand.
What’s next: The Colts head to Washington for "Sunday Night Football" and their second game against the NFC East.
To no one.
Mike Hart was the back, but he’d whirled and gone the other way.
No matter. Manning went ahead with the rest of the play and threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Austin Collie on the left side of the end zone. It gave the Colts a two-touchdown lead in a game they’d go on to win 20-3. The victory earned them the spot as the host of the AFC Championship Game.
Maybe Hart saw something that made him change course. Or maybe it was typical Colts, executing well even when something went wrong.
Manning didn’t really want to say.
“I really don’t think I need to reveal that, we might run that play again next week,” he said with the grin he’s always got ready for just such a sheepish answer.
And after a follow-up question, he merely talked about the result not the build-up:
“It really wasn’t something that went wrong. The pattern for Collie and the throw were really what we work on all season. I wouldn’t really call it a mix-up. I’d call it a good throw and catch."
Younger and less inclined to keep all the state secrets, Hart said it was pretty simple.
“The safety [Ed Reed] came down and blitzed, so that’s my responsibility but the tackle ended up picking him up,” Hart said.
So Manning-to-Collie proved just that simple -- no believeable play-action needed, no back blitz pick-up necessary either.
FRANKLIN, Ind. -- Some observations and thoughts from Saturday afternoon's public minicamp practice at Franklin College's Faught Stadium:
Outreach: Bill Polian spoke to the crowd before things started and told those in attendance that owner Jim Irsay had charged the team to create more outreach and more interaction with fans, which was the impetus for a practice like this one.
Boomer: New special teams coach Ray Rychleski has a booming voice that carries. He's got some enthusiasm for sure and offered critiques and compliments with equal fervor. Rookie punter Pat McAfee bombed a couple, but was inconsistent.
Stumble: Tyjuan Hagler provided some comic relief, tripping over his own feet during a linebacker drill where players zigzagged in a back pedal before breaking on a ball.
Third wide: I tried to read into how the receivers deployed, but there is no telling at this stage how the candidates for the No. 3 job -- Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Roy Hall -- stack up. My eye -- which has no experience training receivers, just lots watching them -- puts them in that order right now.
It got even harder to gauge Garcon against Collie when Anthony Gonzalez dropped out, seemingly with a right thigh issue. Those two worked in three-wide with Reggie Wayne. That might tell us something about Hall, though.
Clyde Christensen is working as the offensive coordinator now, but is still with the receivers as their position coach. The Colts are creative in some of the drills they use when the wideouts work alone. I don't recall seeing other teams, for example, run short stuff where they cut behind a blocking bag that interrupts their view as they angle back to collect a pass. But it seems a smart way to recreate some real-world experience in this sort of mild setting. I saw Collie, Hall and Taj Smith drop short passes in that segment.
Details: While special teams work went on at one point, quarterbacks worked alone. Peyton Manning lined up in the spot where he imagined a defender would be on a specific play and looked to offer detailed commentary/advice/coaching to Curtis Painter before he took a few drops envisioning the full 11 that could be opposite him.
Protection: The first offensive line that worked in front of Manning in a team drill was, left to right: Tony Ugoh, Jamey Richard, Jeff Saturday, Dan Federkeil and Ryan Diem. (Charlie Johnson and Mike Pollak didn't work and Ryan Lilja didn't work that deep into the session.)
Scrambled backers: I tried to look at linebackers the same way, but it seemed like there was a lot of mix and match going on. One early group had Jordan Senn and Philip Wheeler bracketing Adam Seward. Of all the things not to read much into -- which is virtually everything here -- I'd rank this first.
Coming back: Watched Lilja, who's coming off a season lost to a knee injury, a little bit. He wore sleeves on both knees and seemed comfortable firing off the line and cutting down a blocking bag/tackling dummy as the O-line concentrated on some individual technique.
Off day: Among those who sat out at spots other than the O-line: Running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, defensive end Dwight Freeney, cornerback Marlin Jackson, safety Bob Sanders and linebacker Gary Brackett.
Catches: In work with just quarterbacks and wide receivers, Gonzalez ran on to a nice line drive post from Manning, stopping it with one hand and then catching up to it as he accelerated. In the same period, Austin went to the ground to collect a pass from Chris Crane.
The break-up: Third-round cornerback Jerraud Powers made what I thought was the standout defensive play of the afternoon. In the team period, matched up with Wayne and with Manning, Powers broke well on mid-range pass to the left side, got a hand in front of Wayne and broke it up.
John McClain ponders the finances of the NFL owners' meetings amid an economic downturn.
Alan Burge looks at his top two pictures in Texans' history.
Mario Williams shops Armani, says Clifford Pugh.
Clifton Dawson was let go as the Colts signed Adam Seward, says John Oehser. Indy now has Joseph Addai, Chad Simpson, Lance Ball and Mike Hart as its running backs.
Mike Chappell takes questions.
The Jaguars are taking a close look at Mark Sanchez. Vito Stellino says they don't want to repeat their mistake of 2004, when they passed on Ben Roethlisberger.
Who's the most indispensible Titan? Terry McCormick ponders.