2005 preview: Colts

2005 preview: Colts
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo Sports
July 29, 2005

Charles Robinson
Yahoo Sports
AFC South predictions
   1. Indianapolis
   2. Jacksonville
   3. Houston
   4. Tennessee
Indianapolis Colts
Head coach: Tony Dungy, fourth season
2004 record:12-4
2004 rankings: Offense, 2nd (404.7 yards/game); Defense, 29th (370.6 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: 15th
From SportingNews.com: AFC South overview

A superb 2004 season ended predictably, as the Patriots once again bullied the Colts out of the playoffs. Though the second-round loss took some luster off their 12-4 campaign, the Colts still enjoyed one of the most impressive offensive runs in league history.

Quarterback Peyton Manning played flawless football down the stretch, smashing the season record for touchdown passes with 49 and engineering an eight-game winning streak that made Indianapolis look unstoppable. But the Colts fell apart in their statement game against the Patriots – an AFC divisional playoff defeat that had as much to do with offensive failure than defensive shortcomings.

OFFENSE

There aren't many superlatives that haven't been used to describe the combination of Manning, running back Edgerrin James and receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. And when No. 3 receiver Brandon Stokley is flourishing, Indianapolis becomes as close to unstoppable as any NFL team gets.

With tight end Dallas Clark coming into his own, there isn't a team in the league that has more impressive weapons at the skill positions. Manning is at the absolute peak of his game, the only exception being his troubles against New England. Eventually, he'll get over that hump, too.

The only major change is the departure of steady guards Rick DeMulling and Tupe Peko via free agency. Peko lost his spot to Jake Scott, while DeMulling will be replaced by Ryan Lilja. There shouldn't be any drop-off, especially with Manning's quick release rendering him nearly unsackable. Tight end Marcus Pollard is gone, too, but he was already being pushed out of the offense anyway.

DEFENSE

Dwight Freeney is one of the league's best defensive ends at rushing the passer, and despite criticisms, he is adequate against the run, too. But the front seven remains mostly an average group, and Rob Morris is still the middle linebacker, despite serious consideration given to upgrading that spot this offseason.

If the defense is going to get better, the improvement must occur in the secondary, where some quality young players are beginning to mature. The Colts need the secondary to stay healthy and for rookie Marlin Jackson to take over the starting cornerback spot opposite Nick Harper.

Jackson is athletic and tested after spending the last four seasons as the best player in Michigan's secondary, and he will eventually develop into a dependable No. 1 cornerback. For now, he'll allow Donald Strickland to provide depth at both safety and cornerback, along with cornerback Jason David. Safety Mike Doss is going to miss the first two games of the regular season for an offseason weapons charge.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punter Hunter Smith is on solid ground, but there is a battle brewing between kicker Mike Vanderjagt and rookie David Rayner. The Colts drafted Rayner specifically to battle for the starting job with Vanderjagt, whose mouth has gotten him into trouble far too often.

Returner Brad Pyatt's health has been inconsistent, and if he doesn't look reliable, the team could find another specialist in training camp.

PREDICTION

The Colts will finish 12-4 and first in the AFC South.

Charles Robinson is the senior investigative reporter for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Friday, Jul 29, 2005 12:57 pm, EDT

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