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49ers-Colts: Five questions with BigBlueShoe

This Sunday will see the 49ers square off in what I believe is their toughest match-up of the season.  The Colts have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, which is sure to give us an even better idea of where the 49ers really are as a team.  As we approach the game, we've had some great discussion in the Q&A FanPost.  However, as is often the case, I wanted to ask five more directed questions of BigBlueShoe from Stampede Blue.  He was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some of my questions.

NN: Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark continue to impress.  However, younger receivers Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon have started to impress.  Can you tell us a little more about the two youngsters?

SB: Sure. Pierre Garcon is a second year player who, as some know, played Division III college ball at Mount Union. He went there because he lacked the grades, and the pedigree, to go to the bigger college schools. Regardless, he dominated Div III football so much that the Colts used a 6th round pick on him in 2008. At roughly 6'1, 210 pounds, he is a big dude playing WR. He also has Marvin Harrison-like speed, as Peyton Manning described during Training Camp. Garcon likes getting physical after catching the ball, stiff-arming players and bowling over people rather than using his speed to shake them out of their shoes (like Marvin used to do). Pierre is also a little cocky. He's been flagged a bit too much for taunting, which is something Colts fans absolutely detest.

Austin Collie is pretty much a clone of Brandon Stokley. Stokley is, arguably, the best slot receiver ever to play football, and his best years were with the Colts. Collie is running the same patterns and doing the same things out of the slot that Stokley did. He's a very smart kid who does not play like a rookie. Very cerebral player who understands running in space and positioning himself on a route to make a big catch. It's been fun watching these young players grow and develop throughout the season. This area used to be a problem area for the Colts. In the past, it was Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley, and then... not much of anything. Now, with Pierre, Reggie, Austin, Anthony Gonzalez (who will return from injury soon), and the recently signed Hank Baskett, the Colts might have the deepest WR corps in football.

After the jump we run through four more questions about the Indianapolis Colts...

NN: Donald Brown seems to be making a bigger impact in the rushing attack than Joseph Addai.  Is he on his way to becoming the #1 guy, or is it likely to stick as a 2-person running back by committee?

SB: Looks are deceiving, and no. He isn't going to replace Addai. Donald Brown is an electric back with some serious speed. We haven't seen breakaway running like Brown's since the days of Marshall Faulk. As wonderful and awesome as Edgerrin James and Dominic Rhodes were, they never had great breakaway speed. Brown has that.

What Brown doesn't have is durability, nor does he have that sense to "feel" his way through traffic. Edge, Rhodes, and Addai are masters of that. This season, with an offensive line that has been very spotty in terms of run blocking, Addai has had to fight for more yards. He's done all the tough running. Addai ahs also been outstanding in pass block blitz pick-up and cathcing the ball out of the backfield. Brown still isn't there in those things yet.

What I do see is that the two work very well as a tandem, which is why Brown was drafted. We say this a lot at Stampede Blue, because the numbers and the stats seem to back it up: The days of the 25-30 carry a game running back are over. Emmitt smith wouldn't last 16 games in today's NFL. Safeties are too big, too fast, and hit to hard for one back to carry an offense's load anymore. Teams absolutely must have two quality backs who split carries. Otherwise, one of the backs will wear down (example: Michael Turner with the Falcons).

NN: Peyton Manning just keeps on kicking year after year.  Aside from a lack of mobility, is there really anything the 49ers can look to in trying to stop Manning?

SB: I don't understand this "lack of mobility" knock. When I think "lack of mobility," I think Bernie Kosar, Dan Marino, and Drew Bledsoe. Peyton isn't like that guys at all. He runs pretty well, and throws on the run much better thna he did five or six years ago. He's also nimble in thep ocket, able to slide away from pressure while still looking downfield. Manning, in many ways, kind of moves like Joe Montana did in the pocket. So, if Manning "lacks mobility," Montana must have as well.

As far as "stopping Manning," you can't. No defense can stop him. Defenses can, however, throw off the timing of the offense by getting consistent pressure up the middle. Outside pressure can be controlled because, again, Manning can move well in the pocket. If you get pressure up the middle, no quarterback can survive.

NN: According to Football Outsiders, you guys have the 23rd ranked rushing defense and 5th ranked passing defense.  Everyone knows about Dwight Freeney, so can you tell us about some of the more under-appreciated aspects of the Colts defense?

SB: FO's numbers really don't do the rush defense justice. The Colts run defense is very good, and the 23rd rank is skewed by that Miami Dolphins game, which was a fluke. As we saw this past weekend with the Saints, the Dolphins "Wild Cat" racks up a ton of rushing yards. The problem is that in today's NFL you MUST be able to throw the ball to win. Running the ball is now secondary to throwing it. A team like the Dolphins can rack up all the rushing yards they want. The reason they are 2-4 is because their passing game, and their pass defense, stink. 

In four games this year, the Colts have held opponents under 100 yards rushing. In three of those games, they held them under 70 yards rushing. Take away that fluke Miami game, and the Colts have a top ten run defense. In almost all their games this year, the Colts have been able to stop the run early, build a big lead, and then tee-off on the opponents' QB. This past Sunday, the Colts stoned the Rams rushing game in the first half. They came out of halftime with a 21-3 lead. Knowing the Rams were down three scores, Indy ran a vanilla Tampa-2 in the second half, preventing the rams from throwing long and making any big plays. The Rams responded to this by running the ball.

Again, down three scores, and the Rams... run? They racked up 80% of their 155 rushing yards in the third quarter. The result was an additional 3 points, and the Colts continuing to pad their lead.

So, I personally think the run defense for this team is under-appreciated. 

NN: Both are teams have new head coaches (new enough in the case of the 49ers).  What are Jim Caldwell's strengths and weaknesses as head coach?

SB: Well, for Caldwell right now it is difficult to say. The team is 6-0. So, it's hard to point out any coaching "weaknesses." I guess NFL  inexperience as an NFL head coach is probably his biggest "weakness," but I must say I am very impressed with how Caldwell has conducted himself. He does seem to get it. Also, many of his bigger decisions have turned out to be brilliant judgements. He benched starting left tackle Tony Ugoh for a utility player named Charlie Johnson. The results are Peyton Manning only being sacked twice in six games.

Caldwell also, essentially, fired former-defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and special teams coach Russ Purnell. He replaced them with Larry Coyer as the DC and Ray Rychleski on special teams, and both coaches have helped improve both those areas. The defense is giving up only 12.8 points per game, and special teams play is vastly improved.