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No excuse for Colts’ offensive line play

Justin A. Cohn
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Associated Press

San Diego safety Eric Weddle made life rough for Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne on Sunday.

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Associated Press

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was intercepted four times on Sunday, with two run back for touchdowns.

INDIANAPOLIS – There they were, jumbled up and hidden in the postgame interviews.

Excuses.

In the wake of another loss to the San Diego Chargers, a frightful 36-14 showing Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, the team that never makes excuses was all too quick to point out how bruised and battered they are these days.

It’s funny how the Colts (6-5) didn’t want to talk about the effects of all the injuries until they lost three of four games.

“I feel like there are some areas we can improve on across the board,” said quarterback Peyton Manning after throwing four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

“Certainly, we hope to get some guys back. There is potential for that. But we all need to play better. I need to play better. It’s not one specific area. We all just need to step it up.”

Manning will take the brunt of the criticism for this loss, since it’s clear the Colts can only go as far as he leads them and because his woeful performances against the Chargers are habitual. In the last six games against San Diego, five of which were losses, Manning has thrown 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

It’s not entirely fair, though, considering 13 Colts are on season-ending injured reserve and another eight were out Sunday. He’s lost some of his most reliable offensive weapons, including tight end Dallas Clark, receiver Austin Collie and running back Joseph Addai.

Hence the excuses, after a rare game in which the Indianapolis defense was good but the offense was not.

“We’re hopeful we can get some guys back this week. The Dallas game (Sunday) has been somewhat of a marked date for a few guys, so hopefully we get some guys back,” Manning said. “If not, we have to just play better on offense. Our defense did a good job, though.”

It’s convenient to assume that the return of Addai will remedy the running game, which produced 24 yards against the Chargers, or that getting Collie back will cut down on the number of dropped passes, but the biggest problem has been the offensive line, which is the healthiest part of the roster.

“Oftentimes, and you (reporters) saw it from where you were sitting, it’s not always on the quarterback,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. “There are a lot of factors. You have to get open, pass-protect. (Manning) was hit and the ball was up in the air on one interception.

“It’s not all on him. He’s a guy that plays and plays well, but we’ve got to pass-protect and get a running game.”

It was interesting, by comparison, to see the Chargers have success running the ball with a fairly slow Mike Tolbert, who had 103 yards and a touchdown. Despite being a burly 5-foot-9 and 243 pounds, he trotted through gaping holes untouched because of his offensive line. The Colts, meanwhile, couldn’t open anything for Donald Brown.

Ironically, the offensive line was priority one in the offseason for the Colts, who let Ryan Lilja go, waived Tony Ugoh and now look appreciably worse.

Uncomfortable as it is to hear Manning and the Colts doling out excuses, it’s a signal that this is the most trouble this team has been in since missing the playoffs in 2001.

But no one should kid themselves. This is less about injuries than the offensive line built by president Bill Polian. It would be fun to hear Manning point out that fact.

Justin A. Cohn is a writer for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1997. He can be reached by e-mail jcohn@jg.net; phone, 461-8429; or fax 461-8648; or to discuss this column or others he has written recently, go to the “Sports” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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