The Colts won't be a horrible football team all season. The Peyton Manning hangover is over. They came to play Sunday night for the first time this season and damn near pulled off a major upset of the Steelers. They'll still be lucky to win five games, but all the talk about one or two wins and getting Andrew Luck should be put to rest.
Guys like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have too much pride. The Colts, led by their defense, brought a physical game to the Steelers. Indianapolis is going to get a victory soon and win some games in the AFC South. Will the quarterback play be horrid all year? Probably. And that will kill them in the end. But heck, by Curtis Painter's normal standards, Curtis Painter was a Hall of Famer on Sunday night. I fully expect the Colts to give him more first-team snaps, and he could exceed what little Kerry Collins has been able to muster thus far.
The Colts will remain a flawed team jostling for draft position, but I don't expect to see the woefully uncompetitive spells we saw from them in the first two weeks in all aspects of play.
Old defense? What about the sloppy offense? All the preseason talk about the Steelers focused on how old the defense was. Everyone, myself included, seemed to think the offense would be a juggernaut. Well, through three weeks, there are plenty of problems on offense. The already shaky offensive line is in shambles due to injury and you wonder how long before an old friend like Flozell Adams or Max Starks gets a call.
The always-physical Steelers couldn't even run the ball with the lead against a reeling Colts team. Yes, Pittsburgh faced quality run defenses in the Ravens and Seahawks, but averaging 3.3 yards per carry ain't Steelers football. They rank seventh-worst in the league in first-down rushing and only three teams have more negative rushes than Pittsburgh.
I believe the Steelers are an elite team and will be in contention in the end, but they aren't yet close to the team I thought they would be. Still plenty of time, but Roethlisberger has to protect the football more and the run attack must be more physical.
AP, ASAP: Speaking of running the football, things have gotten mind-boggling in Minnesota and you have to wonder if new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is going to become the focal point of fan angst there. Consider the Vikings' halftime leads this season:
17-7 at San Diego
17-0 vs. Tampa Bay
20-0 vs. Detroit
Look at their first-half rushing this season: 53 carries for 386 yards (7.3 yards per carry) with three touchdowns and 13 carries of 10 yards or more. Pretty staggering. But they have just 29 total rushes in the second half of these games, and that's where things get troubling.
Sure, the Vikings are averaging just 3.1 yards per carry in the second half, but with a limited, pop-gun aerial attack and Adrian Peterson longing for more work, it's hard to figure why they rushed the ball 24 more times in the first half than the second half. And then, with the game on the line, the Vikings call a play for Toby Gerhart on a crucial fourth-and-1 rather than put it in Peterson's hands, after he waved the field-goal unit off the field in the first place.
Something is going to have to change there, quickly. You also can't help but wonder how soon Christian Ponder gets his shot under center.
Red-zone woes: To look at the standings, you wouldn't think the 2-1 Texans and 0-3 Dolphins have anything in common. The Texans are a play or two away from being undefeated and the Dolphins can't buy a win. Houston has a coach, Gary Kubiak, who is perennially on the hot seat and finally might be getting off it; Miami has a coach, Tony Sparano, who is going to start hearing an awful lot about Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher and every other big name out there.
But to watch the two teams play, you see a few similarities that became even more glaring following their losses Sunday. Both Houston and Miami expected to have quality defenses, and that remains to be seen. And on offense, both are dogged by red-zone inefficiency. It was ugly to watch in Week 3, for both teams.
The Texans had the Saints on the ropes, but had to settle for four field goals of 36 yards or fewer. Miami dictated the game to the Browns, and Chad Henne continues to show great strides of progress, but they could not get anything done in the red zone. The Dolphins ended up watching Colt McCoy complete a last-minute touchdown to hand them another crushing defeat.
Houston, for the season, is 1-for-11 on third downs in the red zone. Yikes. Miami is slightly better, but 2-for-9 is not good enough. Henne has completed just 38 percent of his passes in the red zone, with a 66 passer rating (29th in the NFL). Matt Schaub is completing fewer than half of his red-zone attempts, with a 76 rating (26th).
Houston has had 16 drives inside the red zone, tied with the Patriots for the NFL lead. The Texans have run a whopping 50 plays inside the opposing 20-yard line (nine more than any other club), and they have just five touchdowns to show for it. With the Titans finding ways to win, the Texans can't afford to be giving away any games, and their red-zone failures on Sunday could end up looming large come January.
A few more quick-hitters ...
» Few people saw Torrey Smith's monster game coming for the Ravens. He's struggled in practice, dropped a lot of balls and looked lost, to the point where some in the organization wondered when the second-round pick from Maryland would gain the confidence of quarterback Joe Flacco. But Sunday, with Lee Evans and David Reed out, the Ravens had to dress three rookie receivers and Smith was the only vertical threat they had, thrusting him into the starting lineup. Sometimes the best plans are born of desperation, because even when Evans comes back I dare say Flacco won't hesitate to fling it deep to Smith now.
» Somewhere around the holiday season last year, Dan Carpenter of the Dolphins went from being about as clutch as any kicker in the league to a guy who is a relative coin flip now on many attempts. Something is awry there. This dude was a special teams player of the week candidate every seven days and now he's shaky. One more thing for Tony Sparano to worry about.
» I'm not ready to call it The Year of The Resurgent QB just yet, but think about Matthew Stafford (injury), Tony Romo (injury), Eli Manning (turnovers; poor season), Ryan Fitzpatrick (four wins in 2010), Matt Hasselbeck (out in Seattle), Jason Campbell (lost job to Bruce Gradkowski at times last year) and Kevin Kolb (lost job to Michael Vick, traded) all ranked in the top 10 in passer rating. Plus, Alex Smith and Rex Grossman are playing winning football thus far as well.