Death March on South Street

On Sunday, November 28, 2010, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, I became a Real Football Fan.

A few weeks ago, my friends in Indy organized a mass ticket purchase for seven seats in the northeast corner of the stadium, near the giant sliding windows that frame the crowd’s view of downtown.  As you know if you read my second post on this blog, I am a diehard Colts fan.  But I had never been to a game, not even a college game.  (However, I was one of the dorks in the upper section of the stands, away from the student section, at my high school games.  Because I actually wanted to watch the game.  In retrospect, high school football sucks.  Ahh, the innocence of youth.)  Attending a game was the last step of my journey to the apex of fandom.  Consider yourself a Real Football Fan?  You think you know, but you have no idea.  This is the diary of a Real Football Fan.

I awoke that Sunday in the small home of my mother’s friend–she was dog-sitting–in a semi-panic, as my throat felt scratchy and on the brink of Sore.  How could I possibly yell for four quarters*?  I chugged water and orange juice and more water, and my mother provided me with a crucial cough drop.  Then I lazed on the couch for a few hours, considering eating though I wasn’t particularly hungry, and flipping through those god-awful NFL pregame shows (hey Fox guys:  you’re NOT THAT FUNNY) before I found ESPN2 for the final tour tennis match of the year, a well-played three-setter in which Roger Federer toppled Rafael Nadal.  This match coincided with a sterling NFC battle between Green Bay and Atlanta, but Fed/Nadal is Must See TV (you know, right up there with The Single Guy.)  Both players were undefeated through the final, and though Nadal struggled against Andy Murray the day before, he was primed to capture his first ever year-end title.  But Federer hit his cross-court backhand too well, which neutralized Nadal’s–well, this is a post for another time.

*Well, approximately two quarters, as I’m not going to be an ass and yell while Peyton is making his audibles.  You know, he’s not the only quarterback that occasionally changes the play, so why do fans at other stadiums, particularly those outdoors, yell their asses off the entire game?  Can’t they do their offenses a favor and shut the hell up for a few seconds?  They can cheer after the successful play, which would come as a result of a fully understood audible.

The match was over, and it was 3:00 at this point.  My friends had already found a spot near the stadium for tail-gating, the other football fan staple that I had yet to experience.  Time to deck myself in blue, right?  Uh, sure.  Too bad I own virtually no Colts gear.  (No, your purchasing power does not establish your level of team devotion!)  But if I wasn’t going to go Colts-ed out, I could at least dress well.  So I put together the gayest possible costume one could wear to a football game–a light green v-neck sweater over a brown button-down, well-fitting dark blue jeans, and black dress shoes, under my peacoat.  Let me tell you, it screamed “Go Horse.”  Armed with a plastic shopping bag full of Budweiser, I made my way to South and Pennsylvania for some beer pong and hot dogs.

Needless to say, I felt a little silly arriving to a sea of jerseys, blue body paint, Colts flags, blue nail polish, blue Solo cups, blue blue blue blue.  Even on a diet of a single grapefruit, I knew it was time to start drinking; I cracked open a Bud and mingled with the ladies that were already there.  I met one friend’s husband for the first time, and proceeded to destroy him in a transcendent stretch of beer pong play, the finest of my life.  This is a good sign, I thought–my throwing arm felt good, I was hitting the cups easily, taking what the defense gave me (I made a good 4 bounces)–I’ve got Peyton Power.  I cracked another Bud, because these losers were drinking all my beer pong beer*, and followed my already-drunk friend over to another squadron of tail-gaters who were watching the Eagles-Bears game.

*After writing this sentence, I thought to myself**, “You’re writing an awful lot about beer pong.”  But I’m not in a fraternity, and I don’t want to be, and I never play beer pong otherwise.  And it was Colts beer pong.  That’s, like, different.  So fuck off!

**How did the phrase “thought to myself” enter the collective lexicon?  How do you think to someone else?***

***This whole asterisk thing is really indulgent.

I can acknowledge that, until recently, I have historically had trouble associating with random hetero strangers.  But as my love for sports, specifically football, has grown, I have realized that all I need to do is go up and start rambling about whatever is happening on the TV, and someone else will shoot the shit with me.  “Oh, running on 3rd and 6?  With that offensive line?”  “I know.  Terrible!  You gotta pass there.”  &c, &c.  Such a strategy has helped to ease my inner tension around Dudes, but has also had the unfortunate side effect of confirming that your typical heterosexual male is thoroughly uninteresting in almost every way.  I feel I have chosen my male friends in the same way I’ve chosen my female friends–based upon shared personality quirks, specific interests, lifestyle similarities, and so on.  But I think all it takes for Dudes to be friends is, you know, “we both like video games, or whatever, ya know?”  “Dude, check it out.  That chick is so hot.”  “I know!  Dude!”

So I’m with my friend, a married girl (and yes, at least one guy thought I was the husband, but it’s not like I’m asking this girl to have her arm around me, although at the same time I obviously didn’t mind, so I’m just rolling with it), and we chat up these guys about the game.  I start talking to one of them about how I’m from Chicago.  We talk about the Bears, Wrigley Field, blah blah, and then someone mentions something about Boystown.  Now, I lived in Boystown for the summer, and it can be an intense area.  Not my style.  I understand ethnic ghettos, but sexual ghettos?  Anyway, one of these guys said something about “we’re not homophobes, we don’t care,” and I don’t now remember the context, but I thought, “huh, that was unprovoked, but I approve.”  So I’m yammering on about how I used to live there, and had to throw in some comment about how I “swing that way, but it’s not my scene.”  And even though I’m drunk, a couple seconds after I blurt that out, I mentally freeze.

I hear sounds in my head straight out of a sitcom soundtrack–screeching tires, smashing metal, the round wobble of a settling hubcap.  Why did you just say that?  That kind of shit is really immaterial to the conversation here, even if we were discussing Gayworld USA.  Must this guy know I’m a homo?  Can’t you just continue talking shit about the Bears’ offensive line, rather than gauge some stranger’s acceptance of a football-loving queer?  Perhaps I was influenced by a Steelers fan I met at Mullen’s on Clark, the Colts bar in Chicago.  He picked me out as one of Them (also implicating my roommate Kyle at the time, but he gamely laughed it off), but then talked about his transformation from hater to, uh, tolerator, and how the move to Chicago helped him realize that, as Paul McCartney so eloquently put it, “people are the same wherever you go.”  It was a reassuring encounter, knowing that even if people recognized my orientation, they weren’t judging my worth as a person.  I guess I was just curious to see if this type of blindness would spill over to the real Midwest (where is that bitch now?).

All of this flashed through my mind in about seven seconds.  But wait a minute–why am I turning this most bland and meaningless encounter into some deep psychosexual sociology study?  I quickly downed the rest of my beer, let out a strong belch, spewed some more football Xs and Os bullshit, and ran off to find a hot dog.  At this point in the evening, the sun has gone down, the temperature has dropped a good six to eight degrees, and I really have to fucking pee.  My friends had informed me of a nearby Arby’s bathroom use policy (just buy some fries or something), but of course, we just made a beeline for the pisser.  I took care of business and waited outside for my lady friends, watching others with the same intentions stream inside.  I was just alcohol-fueled enough to start assaulting everyone with Colts spirit, and as passers-by approached the entrance, I looked them straight in the eye and gave them a firm but even-keeled “Go Colts.”

“Go Colts.”  [blank stare]
“Go Colts.”  [confused stare]
“Go Colts.”  [blank stare]
“Go Colts.”  [blank stare]
“Go Colts.”  “Go Colts!”  [Jesus.  It's about time.  Was that so hard?]
“Go Colts.”  [snarl of disgust]

What the hell?  We’re mere hours from gametime, against the freaking Chargers and pretty boy douchebag Philip Rivers, an A-1 asshole so assholish that I’m convinced half of San Diego hates him, and the indifference of my former neighbors disturbs me.  I must have another beer.  We storm back across the street, where I retrieve my gray Colts t-shirt from my southside friends (thanks friends) and I chug another Budweiser.  (Homeboy is not about to pay eight dollars for a Bud Light, I don’t care how awesome the Bud Light Zone is.)  I watch the waning moments of the Bears victory, and for the first time feel a genuine appreciation for a Bears victory.  This appreciation is mostly fueled by the sight of a Colts conqueror going down, but I can throw my current hometown team a bone.  The southsiders wisely had purchased a 36-pack of Boxer lager (better than PBR!) and I downed one or two more of those.  Finally, the time has come–it’s 7:45, and we’re ready to march over to “the Luke.”

At this point, I’m indiscriminately bellowing “Go Colts!  Go Cooooooooolts!  Go Hoooooooorse!” to anyone who looks my way.  I am entirely consumed by the sight of the deep blue end zones, the players streaming onto the field.  Peyton seeing a hole in the defense and exploiting it for a touchdown.  Freeney and Mathis stuffing that piece of shit Rivers and his big dumb stupid cuts-his-own-hair dumbface.  I can’t wait to be surrounded by other rabid Horsies, ready at a moment’s notice to distribute high-fives and “Whoooo!”s.  Yes, I even looked forward to chanting [it's another Indianapolis Colts...] “FIRST DOWN!”  (It isn’t so cute when every freaking stadium does this.)  It’s game time, bitches!  But the stream of fans entering the stadium lacked any gusto, or at least any audible gusto.  Where is their passion?  Why isn’t everyone else as pumped as I am?

*     *     *

Since I’ve moved to Chicago, my passion for the Ponies has only grown.  Every game, quarter, play feels crucial.  Maybe I’ve adopted the sense of urgency that the players have; after all, sixteen games leave little room for error.  The scene at Mullen’s after last year’s Patriots classic…total madness.  And so when I’m outside the stadium, mere minutes from a clash with the team I’d argue Horse fans hate more than any other, and I can barely get a reciprocal “Go Colts”?  My first red flag.

We’re in uncharted waters as Colts fans, specifically as Manning-era Colts fans.  Not since Edgerrin James went down with knee injuries in 2001, two years before Peyton would win his first MVP, have we experienced so many losses in one season.  And by “so many losses” I mean…five.  Football normalcy for most teams is anarchy for Hoosiers; just ask Panthers or Lions fans how they would feel about only having five losses so far.  “6-5?  Check, please!”

But our troubles go beyond the simplistic idea of win-loss.  The Horses have played so poorly in recent games that their struggles have faded from the public consciousness.  Peyton’s four picks?  Whatever–he’s supposed to do that against the Chargers.  (By the way, thanks, San Diego, for stealing a win from us.  We know you’re just going to blow it in the playoffs.  Why bother with this charade?)  Two losses in a row?  I can’t really remember the last time that happened, unless you want to count the Super Bowl.  (And I don’t.)  After such an ugly loss, it’s easy to overlook the defense’s relative success against SD’s potent offense.  But a Colts fan’s entire perspective is so skewed right now.  What is really going wrong?

Gregg Easterbrook posits that the offense has become predictable.*  I say that’s a weak and somewhat disingenuous argument–the Indy offense runs on Peyton’s crafty, opportunistic play-calling.  Easterbrook himself acknowledges this (he calls it a “warning”) in a post before last year’s Super Bowl.  And his only shred of evidence for this is the Terry Porter pick, and I’ve offered my thoughts on that before.  I will say that I cringe when I see Peyton audible out of shotgun to go under center, only to see Donald Brown run right into Jeff Whozenbach.  But we know the running game sucks.  Let’s look a little bit deeper into (my best guesses at) the Xs and Os of our recent mediocrity.

*If you watch the video recap at the top of that Easterbrook article, you’ll see them break down the first Peyton pick, to Kevin Barnett.  On that play, Donald Brown is wide open for a massive gain.  But the o-line–I mean, forget the run.  Peyton barely has a pocket there, and no time to make even a slight read.  He looks for Wayne, the security blanket, and Barnett makes a nice read and slips into the zone.  I can’t help but feel that if Peyton has even a half-second extra there, he finds Brown for a 30-yard gain.

Whither the stretch play? The more I pondered what I consider to be the quintessential Colts offensive play–the stretch–the more I realized just how crucial left tackle is to our offense.  It’s been well documented that Tony Ugoh was a biff by Billy Polian, but I believe the stretch play, and everything it does for our offense, disappeared with the retirement of Tarik Glenn.

After Peyton had his two knee surgeries following the ’07 season, many speculated that the slow healing process hampered his speed in reaching the running back on the handoff.  This may have been true for a few games, but Peyton has looked mobile enough from the second half of that season on.  (And no one has confused Peyton with Steve Young recently.)  So where is the stretch play?

The line simply cannot block anyone.  Thus, the collapse of the running game.  Without an even decent running game, play-action becomes useless.  And at this point, we don’t even run enough to make play-action a valid option.  (Hell, we can barely pass protect–but I’ll get to that in a second.)  Against San Diego, the Colts ran the ball 13 times–and averaged less than TWO yards a carry!  What defense is going to respect a play fake when their front four (or three even) can stop our backs?

But back to the stretch play.  In the Colts O’s boffo-scoring halcyon days, this play nearly guaranteed success.  If Edgerrin James wasn’t picking up six to eight yards running through the zone blocks, Peyton was faking to him on the stretch, then settling into the pocket for a moment to find an open player, often for a large gain.  Following Glenn’s surprise retirement after the Super Bowl, the Colts have not found a left tackle capable of holding off an opposing defense’s best defensive end long enough to let a route develop downfield off play-action.

Bruce Paine of Cobra Brigade wrote up an excellent analysis of the stretch play all the way back in 2007.  If you’re into the deeper Xs and Os, I highly recommend checking it out.

Ironically, Stampede Blue argued last year that we have relied too much on the stretch play, which weakened our inside running game.  I guess we’ve come full circle.  The running game debate leads me to…

Offensive identity. Last year’s Super Bowl run showed that you can almost ignore the running game and still have success–well, with Peyton at quarterback.  But the manifold injuries this year have burdened Peyton to the extreme, and with no running game whatsoever to check back to, he’s throwing over 40 times a game to people like Jacob Tamme and Blair White.  They’ve filled in sufficiently, but we must establish some form of balance; defenses are virtually ignoring the run, letting their defensive tackles take care of anything inside, while the linebackers play pass.  So what do we do?

Run the draw out of shotgun, every single time we want to run.

All defenses are playing pass against us, all the time, as Jason Cole notes.  The running game is a joke.  So, as the West Coast offense would dictate, why don’t we pass to open up the run?  The recent Patriots game is a perfect example of this.  The first half, Peyton called runs for Donald Brown–and I still have no idea if he’s a decent runner or not–from under center, and if I recall correctly, he got 9 yards on 8 carries.  In the second half, we finally let him run out of the draw.  With linebackers watching Jacob Tamme* (sigh.  Dallas Clark, please come back) and the receivers in zone coverage, Brown carved through the holes that naturally opened from the pass rush.

*Tamme has certainly filled in very well in Clark’s absence, and he’s getting catches and yards.  But defenses are willing to let this happen.  No one is game-planning around Tamme the way the would Clark.  Bill Belichick has focused on eliminating Clark from the Colts’ offense as a distinct strategy; he didn’t need to do this in their most recent meeting.  This is one less wrinkle and thus one less opportunity for Peyton to expose a mismatch.

We don’t even bother with the I-formation anymore, and the Ace has gone by the wayside without Dallas Clark.  (Don’t get me started on Gijon Robinson.)  It’s time the offense owned up to the spread and forced the defense’s hand.

Offensive line. Stampede Blue breaks down four specific plays from the San Diego game that show how one small mistake in offensive line play can alter the play dramatically.  The Colts in recent years have focused on pass protection rather than run blocking.  This year’s line can do neither with any sustained success.  I thought this was the big off-season project, Mr. Polian?

Uh, injuries. Yes, I know, this has been beaten into the ground.  Everyone knows about the injuries.  But my guess is they affect our play, particularly on offense, in a greater sense than just “this guy is slower/smaller/stupider than our starter.”

A full set of healthy skill players plays into the single greatest strength of our team–Peyton’s mind.  With all starters on the field for our offense, Peyton can analyze the mismatch immediately and release the ball to the open player.  Also, it takes him about one series to assess the other team’s general defensive strategy; once he has processed that information, he can choose plays (or audible into better plays) based upon his shared recognition with his receivers (or running backs) of the holes that will naturally appear.  Peyton has with Wayne and Clark, and maybe even Addai, what he had with Marvin Harrison–an unspoken understanding of the right play at the right moment.

He spends hours in practice with his teammates perfecting hot routes and route options.  All that time with Collie and Clark is not time with Blair White or Jacob Tamme.  If these secondary players don’t read the field the way Peyton does, you see incompletions or interceptions.  To accommodate for this, Peyton has simplified the already-vanilla playbook.  (Burnett was all over Wayne’s typical crossing route on that first pick, because he knows Peyton is always going to look to Wayne, his last main reliable receiver.)  Such a pared-down offense may have inspired the claims of offensive predictability.

*     *     *

Lucas Oil Stadium is a gorgeous monstrosity.  We walked and walked for what felt like ten minutes trying to find our seats–up stairs, ramps, more stairs, finally settling in our cozy corner.  On television the stadium appears cavernous, endless, stretching so far that the worst seats seem useless.  In person, a vast intimacy replaces the perceptions of enormity.  The crowd, a wide blanket of blue, swaddles the players on the field.

But the hundred yards of gridiron is still a hundred yards.  I’ve often rued the inability to see receiver routes develop on the horizontal television perspective.  Live, there is much more to see.  The snap of the ball, then the quarterback trots around, is there going to be a sack?, the deep ball finally lofting into the air toward a streaking runner.  The drop by said receiver.    The interior of the stadium may shrink when you’re inside, but it takes a well-trained eye to focus on the minor aspects of the game–blocking, penalties, missed receivers.  If it weren’t for the giddily toxic atmosphere, television viewing might always be the preferable option.  Too often, I forgot to check out the video screens for a replay, though some plays didn’t require a second look for me to call bullshit (I’m looking at you, Eric Weddle.  And I no longer think you’re sexy, douchebag).

Two San Diego fans sat directly behind our group.  In their defense, they were polite and not obnoxious.    Either way, I thought, it’ll be nice having two people to heckle when we run up the scoreboard, right?

Of course, that was not to be.  In fact, it was the worst home loss of the Peyton Manning era–a great first game to attend.  But being there in person…everything felt a little bit different.  My mere presence in the stadium left me lingering in a euphoric state.  Did that pick really happen?  Whatever–it was right in front of me!  I booed on defense, shut my ass up on offense, even started an impromptu “Let’s!  Go!  Colts!” chant at one point in the first half (or was it the second?).  Did all the dirty work of a fan.  But the game went by in a blur.  The play clock just dwindled.  You know when you watch a game at home, and there is a commercial after virtually every significant play?  Touchdown, field goal, kickoff, punt, interception, whatever?  In person, those breaks last approximately two seconds.  I spent what would at home be a Prilosec commercial just checking out the digs at the Luke.

The first drive of the night was an immediate touchdown.  Everything went downhill from there.  My buzz was wearing off.  I did end up spending eight dollars on a Bud Light.  We coughed up the ball at every opportunity–interceptions, fumbles, whatever.  A hideous display.  Even though we stormed out of the stadium with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter–and yes, I booed!–I wasn’t too disappointed.  Yet.

We weren’t alone in leaving the stadium prematurely.  The somber sea of blue streamed out of the stadium entrance, a death march on South Street.  I whined and bickered with a close friend in the parking lot about fan protocol:  do you boo at home?  I contended yes when warranted, but I was a cranky half-drunk at the time.  Regardless, we had to swallow the loss.  Yes, 6-5 sucks.  Yes, the division race remained uncomfortably tight.  Yes, there is a chance we could not make the playoffs (gulp).  All very difficult for a newly crowned Real Football Fan to handle.

But, hey, whatever–I was there.

Let It B-List

Can anyone explain to me what the hell this is?  Nice to know the Twin Peaks ladies are looking good.

Talk Talk (Box)

Auto-Tune, talk box, vocoder…it’s all the same, right?

Negatory.

I used to think they all had the same purpose.  Then I checked out the Wikipedia page for Zapp, and learned otherwise.   Why was I reading about Zapp?  Here’s why:

Can’t get enough.  This is not Auto-Tune.  Sigh of relief.  Enjoy the song.

Lil’ Peyton

Check out these highlights of Peyton Manning’s junior year of high school.  They are insane.  I don’t think his playbook has ever changed.  The other schools’ coaches must have felt so stupid after the games.  I’d love to see his senior year.  I bet he made kids cry.

Super Bowl 45.29

It wasn’t long ago that the Colts and Pats met in Indianapolis in a game billed as “Super Bowl XLI 1/2″, both teams undefeated and streaking toward the top seeds in the playoffs.  The game stayed tight until Brady and Moss busted it open, grabbing the lead late in the game to win 24-20.  The Pats marched on to an undefeated[ASTERISK] season and the Colts fell in desultory fashion to the Chargers in first round of the post-season.  Fast forward a couple years, add a new head coach, subtract Randy Moss, multiply by rookies and divide by injuries, and we have our new Colts/Pats throwdown.  Let’s call this year’s version Super Bowl 45.29.

Their records are very similar (Colts at 6-3, Pats at 7-2), but the team’s confidence and health could not be much different.  The Ponies are struggling to field a complete team, culling a wide receiver named Brandon James from the NFL’s cesspool of unemployed, and apparently calling Edgerrin James about a comeback:  “No?  You’re done?  Uhh…know anyone else who might wanna play?”  Half of our payroll is on injured reserve:  Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders, Anthony Gonzalez, Clark backup Tom Santi, Sanders backup Melvin Bullitt.  Joe Addai hasn’t played since the Washington game and the football gods rewarded Mike Hart for his fine play against Houston with an ankle injury.  We all remember the Austin Collie hit (OK, OK, sorry Austin, I won’t bring it up anymore).  Peyton hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since the Nixon era.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual in New England, as Krang Bill Belichick has fielded a bunch of rookies, nobodies, and pretty boys to create a team that again is bamboozling the competition.  They just stomped the previously-unstompable Steelers at PIT.  Brady has developed a fine rapport with two new tight ends.  Belichick cut Randy Moss, who has gone on a traveling circus show through the midwest, and the offense does not miss him much; the Pats lead the league in scoring.

Of course, we’re talking about the National Football League here.  Momentum lasts about as far as you can throw it (even from your knees!).  It’s easy to forget that the Cleveland Freaking Browns just stomped the Pats in embarrassing fashion a couple weeks ago.  The Colts even had a running game for a hot minute!  But with Peyton running cold, and his weapons nursing wounds on the sidelines (or at home), can we put up enough points to keep the game competitive?

Tough to say.  After spending most of his career scratching his head after another Pats loss, Peyton seems to have mastered the Pats defense.  (Make no mistake–the duel that pushes this rivalry into the all-time pantheon is Peyton vs. Bill, not Peyton vs. Tom.)  And regardless of the Colts’ O injuries, the Pats’ secondary struggles to stop anyone.  But this Colts O for once has problems beyond injuries, and it starts with Pierre Garcon. Yes–a starting wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts (in the National Football League) might be causing more consternation than the lost players.  Huh?

Let’s examine the evolution of defensive schemes against Indy this season as the offense has adjusted to the injuries.  The injury recoveries of this preseason brought hope bordering on demand for another Super Bowl season.  Peyton would have perhaps the finest, deepest receiving core of his career, while Bob Sanders would return to shore up the run defense.  Despite the blowout in Houston, Peyton had perhaps the best start of his career through the first 3 or 4 games.  But the first red flag arose when we learned that Dallas Clark, arguably the offense’s MVP after 18, lost the rest of his season to a wrist injury.

Dallas is a nearly impossible one-on-one matchup for defenses.  He can block, receive as a tight end in a 2WR set, or split out wide as “wide receiver” in the shotgun.  Defenses must decide–do you cover him with a linebacker, which is a speed mismatch, or go nickel and put a DB on him, which is a physicality mismatch?  Clark could exploit the middle of the field if the defense focused on the receivers, or open the run game as a blocker.  He drew particular focus from Belichick.  Defenses must plan for him the way offenses must plan for Dwight Freeney.  As the TE in a 3 WR set, he was almost guaranteed an opening somewhere on the field.

So when he went down, I looked next to the slot receiver–the next wild-card in the Indy O.  Peyton loved throwing to Brandon Stokely, and he quickly developed a connection with second-year player Austin Collie.  Both players have decent speed paired with route-running discipline that often exposed the nickel back.  Of course, Collie went down with the concussion in Philadelphia.  Anthony Gonzalez has barely been an option all year, and was officially placed on IR (again), temporarily leaving the Colts without an established player as the third receiver.  While Jacob Tamme has filled in well for Clark, the starting WRs, Reggie Wayne and Garcon, must pick up the slack, right?

Well, maybe, if Garcon could shape up.  Garcon simply cannot keep his hands on the ball these days.  Yes, there was the circus catch in Washington.  He had a huge game against the Jets in the playoffs last year.  But we’re definitely in the midst of a sophomore (junior?) slump–he just does not have the hands of a typical Colts receiver.  And when you don’t catch the ball, you do not gain Peyton’s favor, or trust.  Some have already speculated Peyton doesn’t want to throw the ball his way–and who can blame him?  Garcon’s struggles have allowed opposing defenses to retool their approach to our aerial attack.

Here is a solid breakdown of the problem, particularly with the photos showing the coverage backed off Garcon.  Without Clark or Collie to counter, any defense would obviously shift to shut down Wayne and Garcon, forcing Tamme (or backup slotter Blair White, who of course is also injured) or the running game to move the chains.  But as you can see from the Bengals’ formation, they’re not overloading Garcon’s side of the field.  This implies that Garcon is, if not a weakness, just another option for Peyton.  If Wayne invites the double-teaming, but Garcon can’t exploit single coverage, that allows other linebackers/DBs to smother the TE/RB dumpoff.  No wonder Peyton doesn’t have anywhere to go with the ball.  He’s not used to dealing with someone who does not offer a net benefit on the field (except maybe that 6-pick day against San Diego…but we’ll blame that game on Vinatieri anyway).

On defense, the Colts also suffer a major TE mismatch.  Tom Brady is throwing to his TEs more than ever, and with the athleticism of Gronkowski and Hernandez, who blames him?  In the Colts version of the Tampa 2, the linebacking corps must cover the TEs down the field.  So it’s quite convenient that the Horses’ defensive play-caller, MLB Gary Brackett, as well as physical OLB Clint Session, are not likely to play.  The Patriots’ offense has basically been turned inside out–rather than streak down the sidelines and look for the big WR play, Brady can focus inside on the TE openings and short crossing patterns by Wes Welker.  Jerraud Powers, emerging as the Colts’ finest corner, will have his hands full stopping the Pats’ timing-based attack, while Antoine Bethea must keep an eye on Brandon Tate deep.  Add in our third-string strong safety (himself limited in practice today), a very Colts-like run defense (allowing a league-worst 5 yards a carry), and the weak O output against the Bengals, and the Colts may take a page out of the Pats’ book and videotape the sideline signals.

But as I noted earlier, anything can happen in the National Football League.  Would anyone really be surprised if the Colts wiped the Pats out?  (Well, probably.)  Still, the problems facing the Colts won’t detract from the excitement of the event.  Peyton surely has crafted a gameplan meant to exploit his strengths and minimize his (team’s) weaknesses.  The Pats, playing this regular season meeting at home for the first time in years, will bring their brand of measured intensity.  I often compare football to a big, physical chess match, and we’ve got two Bobby Fischers nervously fiddling with their bishops.

So who wins?  I was going to hold off on making a pick, because the head says Patriots, which is blasphemy in the Hoosier State.  So…

…aww, fuggit.

Colts 24, Pats 23

Dispatch from the Library

Hi everyone (anyone). It’s been a while.  Our internet at home is down–sigh. I’ve been spending more time at the library, using their free wireless (thanks library).  It’s a strange place.  I feel like an 8-year-old again–everything looks the same.  If there is anything from my childhood that has not changed, it is a library.  Still a bunch of books.  Old-looking books, the kind that never had dust jackets.  Those ugly oranges and teals.  I don’t care what anyone says–if it has one of orange or blue-greenish generic covers, it’s going to be a BORING BOOK.  Don’t fall for the librarian’s tricks!

I’m not exactly inspired to write much right now.  So I won’t.  Take that, English teachers of America.

Alan Parsons Project 2.0

I’m on a real Gayngs kick right now.  “The Last Prom on Earth” is just a fantastic song.  Here’s a YouTube rarity–a high-quality live performance clip.  The song is a cover of The Alan Parsons Project (should I capitalize the ‘t’ in ‘the’?) and it’s pretty sweet.  I was hoping “Prom” had a video, but alas.  Anyway, enjoy.

I’d Like to Buy a Tip from the Producers

Color me unimpressed.  I want someone to get a puzzle with NO letters.

Slooo-ooo-ooow Jamz

Before last night, the only thing I thought of when I heard the phrase “chopped and screwed” was friggin’ T-Pain.  (But this video is actually kinda cool, aside from those terrible computer-animated animals.)  But my friend Adam (hi Adam) pulled up some Sade songs that rock this technique, which is just to slow shit down and, well, screw around with it, I guess.  Anyway, we listened to “Cherish the Day” by Sade.  She’s apparently a slow/chop/screw favorite.  Here’s a bad-ass version of “Soldier of Love.”