We've run into a bit of bad luck heading into this weekend. We lost to an 0-5 Titans despite the return of starting CB Shawn Springs, who many (like myself) had predicted would upgrade the defense. The defense still gave up too many big pass plays against a rookie QB at home.
Then we lost backup CB Carlos Rogers to a fractured thumb. Now Mike Rumph and Kenny Wright are our starting cornerbacks against one of, if not the, best quarterbacks in the league in Peyton Manning. Also our starting defensive tackles (Joe Salave'a and Cornelius Griffin) are gametime decisions.
All of that, with a road game against a 5-0 Colts this weekend, spells trouble. But there is hope! The Indy Colts have one key weakness that happens to play directly towards our strength: they are the worst team in the league against the rush.
We're going to have to take some licks defensively. Peyton Manning will make some plays down the field and our non-existent cornerbacks are going to look helpless and flustered against Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. But we can win this game if we play them close (incidentally the Titans only lost to the Colts by 1 point) and control the clock with a strong, vicious, unrelenting running game.
To their enormous credit the Colts attempted to address their inadequate rush defense by acquiring Anthony "Booger" McFarland from the Tampa Bay Bucs for a 2nd round draft pick. I think this is definitely an improvement, but frankly this doesn't immediately turn one of the worst rushing defenses into one of the best.
So we should attack them with the run from the get go. If at all possible, though with so many injuries I doubt it, we activate TJ Duckett and send him at their line as well. We send Sellers at their line. We send Portis at them more than seven times a fricking half.
My biggest concern is that we will abandon the run too early, as we did against Tennessee. Even while leading 14-3 (largely thanks to three rushes in a row to cap the first scoring drive) we stopped running. This week I hope Saunders and the coaching staff have the courage to stick with it even if we go down early because over the course of a game a strong commitment to running will wear down the D-Line and plays right at Indy's weakness.
Sustaining long (both distance and time length) drives goes an enormous way towards keeping Peyton Manning and our woeful secondary off the field. Our rushing offense vs. their rushing defense is really the only obvious matchup advantage for the Skins. So we play to it.
On defense there aren't many answers. I would work on forcing fumbles in every practice; also focus as much as human possible on special teams. I don't see field position being an issue since the Colts will probably be capable of clawing their way out of anywhere, but a timely touchdown or turnover on special teams is exactly what will keep us in this kind of game. It also effectively takes the crowd out.
I cannot stress how important a win is. Heading into a bye week, 2-5 is miles away from 3-4, especially since we face a punishing Dallas defense (which already convincingly beat us this season) after the break. 2-6, which I view as the functional end of our playoff hopes, looms ever closer.
Also defeating a 5-0 Indy would give for this team exactly what a loss to 0-5 Tennessee took from us: Confidence. If this team cannot beat Tennessee at home then it isn't clear that we can beat anyone. Then again, if we sneak a win past an unbeaten Colts in their territory (with devastating injuries) then there isn't anyone in this league we can't beat.
PS: I should be doing some cross-blogging features with my SBN colleague Big Blue Shoe over at Stampede Blue. Stay tuned for that.