It seems like a setup, doesn't it? The Colts are missing key players throughout their offense and on their defense. They are coming off an emotional, hard-fought, division victory. They had a short week of preparation. They have to travel to play the Eagles. The Colts are a taxed team in just about every way entering this big game at Lincoln Financial Field. But if you banking on any of the above mattering, well, you are just being a plain fool and you are ignoring history.
The suggestion here is to not take into account the injuries, or the short week, or the emotionally-draining win over Houston on Monday night. Indianapolis comes to town with Peyton Manning at quarterback, with a Super Bowl-winning coaching staff, with a bookend set of pass rushers as good as any in the NFL and with some backup players champing at the bit for an opportunity to show they are starting-quality players in this league.
No, folks, it won't be anything but very, very difficult for the Eagles to beat the Colts. The Eagles have to play with great emotion, discipline and focus. They have to execute all of the little things. They have to win in the red zone, at the line of scrimmage, and they certainly have to bring it in the fourth quarter.
We've talked all week about Manning, an incomparable quarterback who certainly has created his own legend. What Manning does, most of all, is raise the level of play of those around him. So while the Colts have injuries at tight end, at wide receiver and at running back, they still have a good offensive line, a first-round draft pick at running back in Donald Brown, and two outstanding starting receivers in Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon. Tight end Jacob Tammie only scored a touchdown and had 6 catches last week in the win over Houston. This Colts offense is extremely potent in many ways.
As for the defense, ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are dangerous with their speed off the edge. The entire defense is dangerous. If you don't respect the Colts after seeing them dismantle Houston quarterback Matt Schaub on Monday, you aren't watching very closely.
This game is about the Eagles. It is about establishing something going forward. It is about finding out whether the Eagles are playoff contenders as they head into the second half of the year. Michael Vick steps back into the role of starting quarterback, which brings all sorts of possibilities and excitement. Can he return to his pre-injury form? Is there going to be a "breaking-in" period for Vick after a month-long layoff? What becomes the offense's personality?
It really is important for the Eagles to play with confidence and precision right away. They have to take the next step after a 4-3 start to the season, one that could have been better had it not been for the fourth-quarter meltdown in Tennessee, or the poor play against the Redskins. But they are what they are, and that is a team in contention, along with most of the NFC.
To get to where the Eagles want to be, they have to beat the Colts. They have to defend their home turf. They have to play like they want it more than do the Colts.
That, above all else, is what I'm looking for. How desperate will the Eagles be in the game? How much concentration will they bring to the table on every play, thus eliminating the ticky-tack penalties that have been so costly this season? How will a defense with yet another change, Dimitri Patterson in for Ellis Hobbs at right cornerback, communicate with the crowd going crazy and with Manning doing his thing at the line of scrimmage?
What kind of team is this Eagles squad?
We're going to get a good sense against the Colts. Because if the Eagles play like they did in 2002 when the Colts came to town and a running back named James Mungro danced on them for 28 carries, 114 yards and 2 touchdowns in a Colts romp, well, it will be extremely disappointing.
Let's see where the Eagles are at the midway point in the season. They need to take their game, collectively, to the next level. This game is about the Eagles and how they elevate their play, not about the Colts and the injury list that has been the talk of the pre-game scene.