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By Jason Cole, Yahoo Sports
October 26, 2006

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports
During the bye week before the Indianapolis Colts dismantled Washington, coach Tony Dungy sent a strong, two-pronged message to his defense.

First, he called the unit soft. Second, he had team president Bill Polian trade for Tampa Bay defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland.

While it's unclear if those two moves are going to be the secret to turning around Indianapolis' defense, it's clear that Dungy knows the time is now to get headed in the right direction.

Over the next eight weeks, the Colts face a serious test of top opponents. That starts with games at Denver on Sunday and the following week at New England. Later, the Colts face good defenses at Dallas and against Philadelphia. The final two games are at Jacksonville and at home on a Monday night against Cincinnati.

While the Colts enter that stretch at 6-0, they could well be fortunate to finish it at 11-5. Anything less than that record could be problematic because it could mean that the Colts will have to go on the road in the playoffs, possibly even in the first round.

"We all talk about not looking ahead, but that's brutal," said an executive from another NFL team. "I think Tony knew what he was saying and saved it for the right moment. He wanted to challenge his guys at the right time and get them working hard.

"What was really smart is that he did it before the Washington game. If he had waited until this week, it would have just gotten lost in all the talk about Denver and [the Broncos'] defense. It would have looked like an obvious ploy."

Instead, Dungy put his defense on notice before the Washington game and seemingly helped the Colts snap out of a two-game malaise when they played to a mediocre level against the Jets and Tennessee.

Dungy needs to make that attitude and execution stick for the long term. Otherwise, the next two games at Denver and New England might not be the only times that the Colts have to play in those respective cities.

Speaking of the Indianapolis-Denver game, this contest offers an intriguing chance to examine if the Broncos have progressed enough on defense over the past two years after being dominated by Indianapolis in the playoffs after the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

In the two playoff games, the Colts combined to score 90 points and quarterback Peyton Manning had a total of nine touchdown passes and one interception.

After the first-round playoff loss to Indianapolis on Jan. 4, 2004, the Broncos traded for Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey. The next year, they got smoked again by Indy in the playoffs and used their first three picks in the 2005 draft on cornerbacks.

Overall, the Colts hold a 4-2 mark against Denver with Manning at quarterback. However, the two Denver victories came in games where Manning threw little, if at all. In one of the losses, he threw 23 passes. In the other (the '04 season finale in which Indy rested starters because a home playoff game had already been secured), he threw only two.

While it's easy to understand why running back Edgerrin James left Indianapolis for the Arizona Cardinals in free agency last offseason, all the worst things that people predicted for James are coming true.

Not only are the Cardinals again in a woeful state at 1-6, but James' production is simply terrible. Through seven games, he has 432 yards and is averaging a paltry 2.7 yards per carry.

It's even worse over the past four games. James has gotten 93 carries and compiled 211 yards in that span. That's a frighteningly bad average of 2.3 yards per carry.

It's also frightening to see how James is getting manhandled in the process.

In short, welcome to life with the Cardinals. So while James may have cashed in with a four-year, $30 million contract that included $10 million in a signing bonus, it's worth asking James one loaded question: Is it worth it?

"Everybody knows there's no blocking for him and it's only going to get worse," a scout from the NFC West said recently. "The worst part for (James) is that it's going to be a free-for-all."

But this doesn't even examine the bigger picture.

After last season, James had 9,226 rushing yards for his career with Indianapolis. That included four seasons of more than 1,500 yards rushing and had been compiled after missing the better part of one season with a knee injury.

James was also piling up yards while facing softer defenses that had to concentrate on the pass game of Manning and wide receiver Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison.

Thus, it's fair to say that not only did James give up playing for a Super Bowl contender, he also gave up a chance to accumulate a lot of yards. If James had simply stayed with the Colts for four years and averaged 1,200 yards a year, he would have been over 14,000 for his career.

And if the Colts are able to win a Super Bowl during that time, James might have been in line to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Instead, he'll languish in Arizona and many people will say that the early part of his career was merely a creation of Manning and company.

Let's hope the money was worth it.

OK, we promise this is the last note involving the Colts, but this is interesting. On Monday, Indianapolis president Bill Polian adamantly denied multiple reports that he was involved in an incident involving a Jets employee when the Colts played in New York in Week 4.

The NFL did investigate a complaint about Polian, who has a well-known temper, pushing a Jets employee. However, Polian vehemently denied follow-up reports that he apologized or that there was a conference call about the matter with the NFL.

"Everything you read is a lie," Polian said. "It's a complete fabrication. There was no meeting [conference call], there was no letter and there was no incident where I pushed anyone."


  • Don't look for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe to get his job back anytime soon. Said one long-time observer of Bill Parcells: "Bill isn't a wishy-washy type of guy on this stuff. He makes the decision and sticks with it. He knows that they're not going to be anything more than a mediocre team with Bledsoe in there. He's not going to waste his time with that unless [Tony] Romo just falls on his face."

  • Oakland wide receiver Jerry Porter got off quite nicely this week after being reinstated to the team. Porter lost only two weeks of pay after being suspended by the team. While the NFL Players' Association was ready to fight the suspension, the bigger issue was that Porter potentially could have lost $10 million in roster and signing bonus he received in his contract. When the Raiders gave Porter the money, there was a strong clause written into the contract stating that if he were suspended for conduct detrimental to the team he would have to pay back the entire amount. However, the team agreed not to go after the bonus money when Porter's suspension was reduced.

  • Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga was the original owner of Major League Baseball's Florida Marlins and remains a fan of the team. However, he's also a bit of a Detroit Tigers fan these days. Huizenga called Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski to congratulate him after Detroit made it to the World Series. He also passed on his congrats to Tigers manager Jim Leyland. Dombrowski and Leyland combined to lead the Marlins to a World Series title in 1997. Huizenga planned to attend Thursday's game in St. Louis.

  • The timing of San Diego Chargers defensive end/linebacker Shawne Merriman's appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances could hurt the team. Merriman is set to have the appeal heard on Nov. 7. He stands almost no chance of winning the appeal because his argument is expected to be that he was unaware the steroid-like substance was in a supplement he used. The policy specifically states that ignorance is not a valid excuse. If the arbitrator's decision on the appeal doesn't come out until after the Chargers play at Oakland on Nov. 12, Merriman could miss both of San Diego's games against division-leading Denver (Nov. 19 and Dec. 10).

  • A tip of the cap to Cincinnati Bengals rookie left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who helped contain Carolina defensive ends Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers as Cincy came up with a 17-14 victory on Sunday. The 6-foot-7, 339-pound Whitworth was a second-round pick from LSU this year, but wasn't considered a good enough athlete for left tackle. That evaluation actually may have helped him. "Actually, I was looking forward to playing over there against those guys because so many people said before the draft that I couldn't do it," Whitworth said.

  • Speaking of the Bengals' offensive line, Cincy coach Marvin Lewis had a funny way of complementing the work of Whitworth and company after the game against Carolina. "It's kind of good," Lewis said. "Fuzzy Thurston is not going to ride over the hill and come in and help us. Jerry Kramer and Anthony [Munoz] are not going to come back. So this is the way we're going to be."

  • San Diego defensive tackle Luis Castillo said he was looking forward to the game this week against St. Louis because the Rams like to throw so many deep passes. That means that Rams quarterback Marc Bulger has to hold the ball a little longer, giving the pass rush more time to get to him. "I like that a lot," Castillo said with a devilish grin. "I hate those teams that just have all these three-step drops and just dump the ball." When it was pointed out to Castillo that the Chargers' offense does a lot of that three-step, get-rid-of-the-ball-quick stuff, Castillo feigned ignorance. "I don't know what they do over there on our team," Castillo said.

  • Speaking of the Chargers' passing game, quarterback Philip Rivers said he hasn't been given a lot of freedom to change plays this season. That's not surprising given that this is his first year as starter. However, Rivers said he wouldn't really want to use that power if he had it. "Our coaches work all week to figure out the best play for us to be in whatever the situation is. Who am I to say I know better?"

  • When asked about the idea of having an offseason trading period that started in February rather than coinciding with the start of free agency in March, Polian wasn't overly excited. "If we do it, that's fine. If not, it's no big deal. It's pretty benign," Polian said.

  • File this under a prediction anyone could have made before the season: Cleveland quarterback Charlie Frye suffered a concussion last week. The Browns, who lost center LeCharles Bentley to a season-ending knee injury at the start of training camp, went through a myriad of offensive line changes prior to the season.

  • Memo to ESPN: Former NBA star and TNT analyst Charles Barkley is a better color analyst than either Tony Kornheiser or Joe Theismann. Barkley was personable, funny, wry and actually made a few decent points during his cameo appearance on Monday Night Football when Chicago played at Arizona.

  • A final observation: Arizona owner Bill Bidwill is one odd duck. Not only does he walk around by himself saying almost nothing to anyone, but when people say hello to him, he does little more than mumble back.

    Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

    Updated on Friday, Oct 27, 2006 8:10 pm, EDT

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