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Where’s the Beef?

If you’re a Colts’ fan, it’s been an age long question. The question is very simple, yet all Colts’ fans seem to have it. The question is where’s the beef?

Through the years, Colts’ fans have tossed and turned, often with sleepless nights (okay maybe not) wondering why we are so diminutive on both the offensive and defensive line. On the offensive line, the problem dates as far back as November 30, 2003, when in the closing seconds of a regular season game against the New England Patriots, Colts’ running back Edgerrin James was stonewalled trying to run on three out of four plays one yard short of the goal line, as the Colts fell to the Patriots 38-34 in a pivotal game that would later determine playoff home field advantage (and further cement the fact that Willie McGinest clearly faked that injury to stop the clock, ugh). On the defensive line, anyone remember the December 30, 2000, AFC Playoff Wild Card overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins in which Dolphins’ running back Lamar Smith ran over the Colts for 209 rushing yards and two touchdowns (sorry Colts’ fans, I never said this would be a fun article to read). Even last season, during their AFC Playoff Wild Card loss to the Jets, the Colts were dominated in time of possession by the Jets at 33:07 to 26:53, as they lost 17-16, and Colts’ fans went from saying, “We need to stop the run to…we can’t get off the field, we can’t get off the field!”

That’s not to say that there isn’t any method to the Colts’ madness. In theory, being small on both sides of the ball makes some sense. You have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game in Peyton Manning, and he’s continually been blessed with several high level offensive toys to play with, making the Colts consistently one of the NFL’s most productive offenses year in and out. Simply put, the Colts are built to score points and establish leads. Their offensive line is built to pass, featuring lineman with exceptional lateral quickness and overall speed, essentials in pass blocking that keep #18 upright. On defense, the Colts like quick, penetrating lineman, players that can effectively rush the passer and wreak havoc on an opponent’s passing attack, diminishing any chances of a comeback. You’ll never see the Colts with a Vince Wilfork or a Casey Hampton as a mainstay in the middle because that’s simply not what they do.

While this all seems fine and dandy, what happens when the Colts don’t get an early lead? When the offense sputters to get going? What you get is offenses pounding their running attack down the Colts’ throats and in the pass, dinking and dunking their way slowly down the field to eat clock and keep Peyton Manning on the sideline. Next thing you know, the Colts have fallen behind, and it’s they who are forced to play a one-sided game of chess, as defenses start strictly playing the pass and dare the Colts to consistently run the football to move the chains. Something that the Colts just haven’t been able to do in recent seasons and likely is an underlying cause for many of their heartbreaking playoff losses.

What’s been done? Well, offensively, the Colts have taken a positive first step in drafting two first day offensive lineman in the 2011 NFL Draft in Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana. Instead of getting lineman that simply specialize in pass or run blocking, it’s a wise investment in some that can do both. The talent level of the Colts’ offensive line has simply fallen off in recent years, having lost pro-bowl tackle Tarik Glenn to retirement and ┬ámissing on recent first day draft picks in offensive tackle Tony Ugoh and guard Mike Pollak.┬áDefensively, the Colts have actually gotten a little bigger on the line through the years which has helped, but they’ve really struggled to find a constant anchor in the middle, seeing players come and go like Larry Tripplett, Corey Simon, Anthony McFarland, and Daniel Muir. Recently re-signed 310 pound defensive tackle Antonio “Mookie” Johnson has given them a lift in the middle against the run when he’s been healthy, but he’s really the only defensive line player that could be labeled a run-stuffer. Still, even more has been done recently in the free agent acquisitions of defensive end Jamaal Anderson and tackle Tommie Harris, as both are heavier than the Colts’ normal defensive line standards and have proven fully capable of holding their own against the run. However, overall depth is still a concern.

What to do? If the Colts indeed have roughly 15 million in cap space, they still have some dollars to play with in free agency and can finally solve this unanswered question. Two targets stand out, each on their own respective side of the ball, in the Pro Bowl duo of offensive guard Brian Waters and defensive tackle Pat Williams. Offensively, at the age of 34 and weighing 320 pounds, five-time Pro Bowler Brian Waters would give the Colts another veteran anchor to their starting offensive line and help youngsters Castonzo and Ijalana in their learning process. Defensively, at the age of 38 and simply huge, three-time Pro Bowler Pat Williams could provide the Colts with another run stuffing defensive tackle to rotate with Antonio Johnson and provide extra depth. In the twilight of their careers, it seems feasible that both players would be willing to sacrifice some extra dollars for a great opportunity to win a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. Maybe then, and just then, Colts’ fans will finally be able to answer the age long question, and hopefully, sleep just a little bit better at night.

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