Back in the late '70s, the San Diego Chargers were jokingly referred to as 'San Iego' because, as their critics said, there was no 'D' in San Diego.
Of course the Air Coryell Chargers, as they came to be known in honor of their swashbuckling head coach Don Coryell, could put as many points on the board as anyone. The problem for the Chargers was stopping their opponents from doing the same.
Fastforward about 20 years and travel halfway across the country to Indianapolis. The 2001 Colts have an offense that is rivaled in explosiveness perhaps only by St. Louis. With its three-headed monster of quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Edgerrin James, Indianapolis will keep NFL scoreboard operators on their toes all over the NFL.
But like the Chargers of yesteryear, Indianapolis doesn't scare anyone with its defense. It's problems on that side of the ball are largely responsible for the Colts grand total of playoff wins with Manning at the helm — zero. That is true despite the 25-9 mark the Colts have posted since the start of the 1999 season (only Tennessee's 26-8 is better).
It's also true despite the gaudy offensive totals Indy has put up during that same time frame. Consider some of these numbers: Manning has thrown for the second highest total of yards and the Colts have scored the second most points in the league (St. Louis leads in both categories) in that time; James has topped the 100-yard mark in 21 of his 34 career games; 20 of Harrison's 22 career 100-yard games have come with Manning at the controls.
Still, this team can't seem to get over the hump. That's largely because of an extremely mediocre defense that lacked speed and toughness heading into the 2001 campaign. Because of that, there were quite a few raised eyebrows in April when the Colts decided to bolster an already potent stable of wideouts by taking Miami's Reggie Wayne with their first pick in the draft. Wayne is a marvelously talented player, but with Harrison, Jerome Pathon, Terrence Wilkins and tight ends Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard already on board to snare Manning's bullets, the Wayne pick seemed to defy logic.
But the Colts didn't limit their draft day focus to one round. They scooped up talented free safety Idrees Bashir in the second round and plugged him into the starting lineup immediately. Another defensive back, Cory Bird, was taken in the third round and he's currently backing up veteran Chad Cota at the other safety spot.
A pair of 2000 draft picks also figure prominently in the Colts new-look defense. First-rounder Rob Morris had his season cut short with a leg injury sustained against the Patriots in Week Eight. He's back and started for the first time at middle linebacker at the Meadowlands in the season-opening win over the Jets. Marcus Washington, a second-rounder, also earned his first career start in the opener and performed well.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio didn't stop there in overhauling his much-maligned unit. Up front, second-year man Josh Williams and third-year player Brad Scioli start at left tackle and end, respectively. Williams started seven games last season as a rookie but now is the full-time guy. Scioli had just two career starts heading into 2001. Cornerback David Macklin also will be a full-time starter after getting the nod twice in his rookie season last year.
That's a lot of new faces to blend in with veteran defensive linemen Chad Bratzke and Ellis Johnson, weakside linebacker Mike Peterson and Cota and Jeff Burris (left cornerback). The early results were encouraging despite allowing 24 points to the Jets. Ten of those points followed turnovers, and the Colts actually did a reasonable job containing Curtis Martin. The Bills don't possess the same firepower as the Jets, but still the Indy defense accorded itself well by limiting Buffalo to 13 points (seven came on an interception return).
Offensively, the Colts are every defensive coordinator's nightmare, and Romeo Crennel will certainly have his hands full. As if the numerous weapons the Colts possess weren't enough, Manning is ably protected by an experienced group that has been together for the most part since the quarterback's arrival in 1998.
Tackles Tarik Glenn and Adam Meadows, guards Steve McKinney and Larry Moore and center Jeff Saturday keep opposing defenses away from their meal ticket. In 50 games as the Colts starter, Manning has been sacked just 58 times — or once every 31 pass attempts. Compare that to the 144 times Drew Bledsoe's gone down in that same time period.
The toughest part about defending the Colts is not knowing where to start. With James perfectly complementing Manning's lethal passing attack, it amounts to pick your poison for opposing defenses. Unless the Patriots make sudden improvements, the Colts should have little trouble putting points on the board.