1. Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning rookie year. Who’s been more impressive?
With all due respects to Manning, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Luck is having a better rookie season. Interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has given Luck the entire playbook and made him use it. There hasn’t been any easing into the NFL for the first overall pick in the draft. Also, Arians’ aggressive approach has had Luck throwing the ball down field. He’s averaging 12.6 yards per completion, one of the top averages in the NFL. Luck is surrounded by good, young talent. Manning had veterans to lean on - WR Marvin Harrison, TEs Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard, OTs Tarik Glenn and Adam Meadows. Luck has made the young players around him better.
2. How have the Colts been able to take on the identity and attitude of head coach Chuck Pagano and turn that into wins? Is it similar to how the Lions rallied around the Mike Utley incident in 1991 to get to the NFC Championship Game?
I don’t know how the Lions rallied around Utley, but there is no question the Colts have rallied around their ailing head coach. It’s testament to the immediate impact Pagano had with the players and coaching staff. He put a solid, no-nonsense foundation in place. It was all about accountability and ‘team.’ The players bought in from the outset. Pagano has kept in contact with his coaching staff and the players. He’s visited the team complex on a few occasions and has attended the past two home games.
It’s gotten to the point the players and coaches don’t want to let Pagano down. Their aim is to extend the season so Pagano might return and coach in the playoffs. Before that, interim coach Bruce Arians hopes Pagano is able to return to the sideline for the Dec. 30 regular-season home finale against Houston.
3. How have Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis adjusted to the 3-4 defense?
The transition itself was pretty smooth. Mathis was well suited to play standing up and hasn’t really had any issues. He leads the team with 7 sacks despite missing four games. While he’ll play standing up, Mathis also will be in his normal three-point stance in passing situations. Similar with Freeney, although he probably has played more with his hand on the ground than as a stand-up outside linebacker. Freeney’s issue has been a high ankle sprain he suffered in the season opener. It limited his effectiveness early. He hasn’t been much of a factor against the run (just six tackles) and has only two sacks.
4. The Colts are 6-1 in one-possession games. How has such a young team been able to win so many close games?
They’ve followed their leader. Luck simply has made the necessary plays when a game has been on the line. He already has directed four comebacks in the fourth quarter or overtime. Even when he might have struggled early in a game, Luck has completed the key third-down pass to keep drives alive. And on a few occasions, a suspect defense has stepped up and made critical stops.
5. The Colts see Texans receiver Andre Johnson twice every year, does that help them prepare for
I’m not sure anything can prepare them for Calvin Johnson. While they’ve seen Andre Johnson in the past, this group in the secondary largely is new. Among the regulars, only safety Antoine Bethea has experience facing Andre Johnson. The trouble on Sunday is going to be one starter, Jerraud Powers, is on the injured reserve list with a toe injury. The other, Vontae Davis, has missed the past four games with a sprained left knee. That has forced backups to be starters. This isn’t a good match-up for the Colts.