Colts preview: Working hard to stay on top

Predictions of the Colts' inevitable demise have begun to surface. But the fact is they enter 2008 having won 10 or more games six consecutive years, tying them for the third longest streak of consistent winning in NFL history. Certainly there are questions and concerns, but a year ago they had the league's third highest scoring offense despite the fact one of its best wide receivers was ineffective or unavailable all year. And the defense that finished third in total yardage allowed and second in pass defense despite producing only 23 sacks.

In other words, there are still a lot of bullets in Tony Dungy's gun and as long as Peyton Manning and Bob Sanders are wielding those pistols around the Colts will be tough to beat. Not impossible, as was sometimes the case in the past, but very tough.

The return of backup running back Dominic Rhodes in free agency should provide Joseph Addai (1,072 yards, 12 TD) a break or two and that should help his production. So will another year of experience for young left tackle Tony Ugoh. The Colts' offensive line has been incredibly efficient for years, even when Ugoh had to step in unexpectedly last year for retiring Tarik Glenn and now they'll have to make another adjustment at right guard with the departure of Jake Scott. The hope is young Charlie Johnson (who started 10 games a year ago) will make as smooth a transition as Ugoh did.

Defensively, they're assuming defensive end Dwight Freeney's foot injury is healed and he'll get back to being the Pro Bowl pass rusher he's been in recent seasons despite a slow start during training camp. Freeney had only 3 ½ sacks in nine games last year. His absence impacted the play of fellow defensive end Robert Mathis and the entire pass rush because teams were able to double Mathis without worrying about Freeney's speed rushes.

Despite it all, the Colts' pass defense allowed only 8.9 yards per reception (second in the NFL) and had 22 interceptions to only 16 touchdowns allowed. Imagine what they'll do if they actually start to get to the quarterback again?

On the hot seat

Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez had a solid rookie season with 37 catches, 376 yards and 3 touchdowns but he dropped a lot of balls. That has to stop if he's to take over as the No. 2 target in Indianapolis' passing game.

Difference-maker

Bob Sanders is the smallest big-time defender in the league and the Colts' most valuable defensive player. When he's out of the lineup you can't even recognize Indianapolis' defense from the way it is when he's flying around making 132 tackles and forcing jarring turnovers from the safety position. He's coming back from off-season shoulder surgery, which is never good news for a contact hungry safety but he insists he'll be fine.

Hard road to hoe

Midway through the season the Colts travel to Green Bay, Tennessee and Pittsburgh with the only break in between (if you can call it that) a home game Nov. 2 against the defending AFC champion Patriots. That's three tough road games and a home game that may be even tougher between Oct. 19 and Nov. 9.

Colts will be better than you think if ...

Marvin Harrison can mount any kind of comeback to his old form. Harrison missed 11 games last year with a knee injury and caught only 20 passes in the five games he did play. He hasn't done much in camp to change the feeling that, at 36, his days as an impact player are numbered.

Colts will be worse than you think if ...

Jim Sorgi has to play much. That's no knock on Sorgi, it just means Peyton Manning's knee will be acting up and hence the Colts' offense will be slowing down.

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