Peter Schoenke is the president and co-founder of RotoWire.com. He's been elected to the hall of fame for both the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and Fantasy Sports Writers Association and also won the Best Fantasy Baseball Article on the Internet in 2005 from the FSWA. He roots for for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings and T-Wolves.
The Colts won Super Bowl XLI in surprising fashion as their defense, muchmaligned
in the regular season, stepped up in the postseason, giving room for Peyton Manning to finally win a championship. While every starter returns on
offense, the quantity of losses on defense looms large as the team tries to repeat.
The offense returns its key components and even has a new weapon for Manning this
season. First-round draft pick Anthony Gonzalez could give the unit the kind of slot option
in three-receiver sets that Brandon Stokley provided when Manning threw his record 49
touchdown passes in 2004. Stokley was hurt most of last season and released in the offseason.
Not that the passing game was hurting, as Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison
quietly finished in the top three of
all wide receivers in fantasy points.
Manning once again was the top fantasy
quarterback with a league-leading
31 touchdown passes, 4,397 yards and
an uncharacteristic four rushing touchdowns.
The offensive line should be
improved as well with Rick DeMulling
returning after a year in Detroit to add
depth and the Colts using a secondround
pick on guard Tony Ugoh.
The only change on offense will be at
running back where Joesph Addai will
take over the every-down role after the
departure of Dominic Rhodes. While the
Colts have said they'd like to keep a two-back
system, there's no other back on the
roster with a carry in an NFL game. The
team will likely sign a veteran backup this
summer. However, unless the player is a
big name, it's hard to see any other back on the roster getting consistent touches, which could
mean Addai will get the sort of heavy workload Edgerrin James once saw in the Indy offense.
The defense, however, sustained major losses in free agency with the departure of four
starters and the Colts didn't sign any free agents to replace them given a tight salary cap.
Head coach Tony Dungy will thus have little margin for error in working his magic to turn
low-round draft picks into impact players. Along with the turnover, the Colts also made no
major moves to improve the defense against the run, which was dead last in the NFL last
season. Cato June's departure means an inexperienced player has to start in the linebacking
corps and there's little veteran depth. Freddy Keiaho showed promise in his rookie season,
but he'll be taking a big leap to replace June at weakside linebacker, perhaps the most
important position in Dungy's Cover-2 defense.
The secondary lost three starters in free agency (Nick Harper, Jason David and Mike
Doss), but that will be offset by Antoine Bethea and Marlin Jackson, who both played well
when pressed into duty last season. However, depth will remain an issue with every backup
having two or less years of experience.
1. WILL THE COLTS PASS MORE TO COUNTER LOSSES ON D?
With free agency ravaging the Indianapolis defense, GM Bill Polian's answer was to
take a wide receiver in the first round. That move could signal a shift in offensive philosophy
back to 2004 when Peyton Manning broke the NFL record with 49 touchdown
passes. The Colts utilized a three-receiver set that season with Brandon Stokley catching
10 touchdowns from the slot position. Anthony Gonzalez has the speed (4.4 in 40-yard
dash) to excel right away down the middle of the field. The draft pick is reminiscent of
when the Colts faced needs on defense but took Dallas Clark in the first round in 2003
and similarly took Reggie Wayne in 2001.
2. CAN Joseph Addai CARRY THE LOAD?
With the departure of Dominic Rhodes, Addai will be the every-down back for the
Colts. He could be set for a huge workload with no clear backup on the roster. DeDe
Dorsey has never had a carry in an NFL game, and he's the most experienced backup.
Addai could approach the 435-plus touches Edgerrin James received out of the Indy
backfield in each of his first two seasons. With the lack of depth on the roster, the Colts
will likely sign a veteran running back this summer. While Tony Dungy has said he'd
like to keep the two-back system of last season, it's hard to envision any mid-summer
signing winning the time-sharing role that Rhodes had last year.
3. WILL THE RUN DEFENSE LIMIT OFFENSIVE SNAPS?
The Colts had the worst regular season rushing defense of any Super Bowl winner,
giving up a league-worst 173 yards per game. Injuries played a part as the run defense
improved significantly in the playoffs (83 yards per game) once Bob Sanders and several
secondary members returned to action. But the Colts still allowed over 100 yards
rushing in every regular season game, even when fully healthy. Opposing defenses
limited the number of opportunities for the Colts to score as a result. The Indy offense
had the fewest possessions in the NFL last season and almost 10 percent less than the
previous season. Dwight Freeney also saw fewer sack opportunities when opposing
offenses threw fewer passes.
With Corey Simon lost to an undisclosed off-field illness and contract dispute,
Indianapolis remains vulnerable on the defensive line. Sanders plays a key role as a
strong safety in Dungy's Cover-2 scheme, but he's been injury prone during his career.
Key losses at linebacker could also hurt the rush defense. Indianapolis will need to
get production right away from first-year starters Freddy Keiaho at linebacker, Kelvin
Hayden at cornerback and Antoine Bethea at safety.