Sunday, September 29, 2013

Colts Observations, Week 4 at Jaguars

Like clubbing a baby seal. Or jaguar. Sometimes, games in which your team destroys the opponent are fun to watch. This wasn't the case. Early in the fourth quarter, I really hoped the Colts would just end it:
While they couldn't take a knee to run out the rest of the clock for the entire game (I think the NFL needs to explore that as an option), the Colts chomped more than seven minutes of clock on the drive. The scoring drive before that, by the way, took more than eight minutes. Between those two drives, the Colts held the ball for the equivalent of more than a quarter in game time.

Ageless Reggie Wayne. Five catches, 100 yards, touchdown. Reggie Wayne again showed how much he loves playing Jacksonville. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a gorgeous diving catch by No. 87. We didn't see a replay because the announcers were too busy talking about a roughing the passer penalty against Jason Babin, but it was a tremendous catch. Vintage Reggie...he ages like a fine wine.

Maurice Jones-Who? The Jaguars running back who's usually great at churning up yards against the Colts managed just 23 yards on 13 carries. It stinks to see such a good player saddled with such a terrible team. I'll feel bad about it when he's not playing the Colts.

Bad, Bad Donald Brown? I thought we'd see a bit more Donald Brown with Ahmad Bradshaw out this week, but Brown played sparingly. When he did get in, he broke off a 50-yard run that set up a touchdown by Trent Richardson.

Richardson, week 2. With Bradshaw out, Richardson got the bulk of the carries. He still seemed a little hesitant and danced too much behind the line of scrimmage for a power back. Still, we saw some flashes, including a 12-yard run. He also fumbled on a play in which he didn't actually fumble due to something about a whistle blowing. Richardson carried 20 times for 60 yards (3.0 yards per carry). He needs to get that average up, and I think he will. He was also pretty good in blitz pickups.

Jaguars offense or Colts defense? I humbly submit to you the following:

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the drive chart for your Jacksonsville Jaguars. I thought they might be able to eke out a win or two at best this season, but after seeing them play in person, I'm not so sure. To make an obvious observation, the Jaguars are a terrible football team and I give credit to all Colts staff members and players who were able to say "we respect our opponent" with a straight face.

My notes on the Jags' third drive, which pretty much sums up the football team:

Jordan Todman for one yard. Gabbert to Shorts for a first down and a 15-yard catch. Went up and got it on a high throw. Personal foul by the Jags. Same yard marker, but a first down. Weird. Then, 12 men in the huddle on the Jags. First and 15. Jags fever, catch it. Denard Robinson gets the ball in the backfield, ruled fumble originally then ruled incomplete pass. Second and 15. Geez. Gabbert underneath to MJD for five yards. Third and 10. Pressure forces Gabbert out of the pocket, flag down for offensive holding. Declined. Fourth down, Jaguars will punt. Jaguars fever, catch it. False start against the Jags before the punt. Of course.

At one point, they had 67 yards of total offense.


Dominant defense. Even though Jacksonville is barely a professional football team in the sense of the words "professional" and "team," many of their offensive struggles can be attributed to a stellar Colts defense. There simply wasn't much there early in the game. Indy stuffed the run, put tight coverage on the Jags' receivers, and put pressure on Gabbert. It's hard to gauge just how good they actually were given the opponent...however, coupled with last week's defensive performance against the 49ers, I can definitively say the Colts' D is coming together.

The facemask that wasn't. Late in the game, Eric Walden was flagged for a facemask penalty in which his hand clearly got the crown of the runner's helmet instead of the facemask. I think we can live with the mistake.

A lot of penalties. The Colts were flagged seven times against Jacksonville. They haven't been penalized a ton this year, so that was weird. The Jaguars racked up nine penalties, including four on a single soul-crushing drive.

Fleener? Fleener. Coby Fleener had a fantastic game, catching five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. On the scoring play, Jacksonville didn't even bother to cover him. Normally, I'd say that was a mistake, but it's clear the Jags watched game film on Fleener and didn't feel he was a true threat in the passing game. One day, I'll say something nice about him and mean it.

Slow start. The Colts didn't exactly light it up on offense early in the game. In fact, they were pretty bad. Luck was under pressure, he and T.Y. Hilton clearly weren't working from the same playbook, throws were off-target, and the running game was MIA. The first three drives went: punt, interception, punt. The first drive should've ended in an interception, but the Jaguars were offsides, negating the turnover (of course). The good news is that the defense surrendered only a field goal after giving good field position to Jacksonville. Over the last two games, the Colts defense has only surrendered 10 points.

Vontae Davis. Davis emerged last year as the Colts' top cover corner, and he showed why this week. He made a beautiful interception on a good throw, broke up a third down pass (and a few others), and tipped a ball that led to an interception and a TD return by Darius Butler. The Colts secondary is as good as I've ever seen it (three picks in Sunday's game). Again, I have to temper my enthusiasm due to the competition, but they were all over the place.

Sacks machine. Robert Mathis, who's in his 11th season, showed this transition from defensive end to outside linebacker was no problem. He notched three sacks. Four games into the season, Mathis is credited with 7.5 sacks. The dude can ball, and it's been a pleasure to watch. He was all over Gabbert.

1-2-3-4 pressure! The Colts hit Gabbert nine times and sacked him four times (Cory Redding was credited with the other sack). They had him seeing pressure even when it wasn't coming. Lots of ice packs after this one, I bet.

Weird drive. This is the only way to describe the series of events leading to Adam Vinatieri's 46-yard field goal. Trent Richardson kept a rusher from getting to Luck, who evaded and lofted a ball to Reggie Wayne. No. 87 made an incredible catch, except it wasn't a catch because he lost control of the ball right in front of the Jaguars bench. Jacksonville challenged and won. Next play, Luck found the Ageless One for 31 yards and a first down. Four plays later, Luck hit Reggie in the back of the endzone with a laser beam for a touchdown...except it wasn't. Jeff Linkenbach was flagged for illegal use of hands. Stanley Havili was buried for a two-yard loss on a pass. Luck was sacked for a 10-yard loss, making it 3rd and 32. The Colts elected to kick a 51-yard field goal...except the Jaguars jumped offides, making it a 46-yard attempt. Vinny nailed it. Sheesh.

The negatives? The Colts weren't perfect, but no football team is. Still, they were out of sync early (especially Luck and Hilton). The Jags were able to get pressure on Luck (they had two sacks and, more alarmingly, 10 quarterback hits). Their first score, a 22-yard field goal, was a major letdown. On first and goal at the four, the Colts and the Vaunted Power Running Game that Led to the Trent Richardson Trade passed three times in a row. Obviously, not a ton to really complain about in a 37-3 romp, but I'm calling it as I see it.

Rush to judgment. Haggles about the running game aside, the Colts have rushed for 100+ yards in each game this year: 127 yards vs. Oakland, 133 yards vs. Miami, 184 yards vs. San Francisco, and 154 yards vs. Jacksonville. They've outrushed opponents 598 yards to 451 yards. Against the Jags, they held the ball for 36:38 while Jacksonville had it for 23:22.

Thank you, Seattle. Or, more properly, just the Texans bein' the Texans. The Seattle Seahawks rebounded from a 17-point deficit to beat the Houston Texans. Matt Schaub threw a late interception that the Seahawks returned for a touchdown. This sent the game into overtime, which the Texans lost because they're the Texans. Now, the Colts and Titans are atop the AFC South with Indy hosting Seattle next week.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Colts-Jaguars preview

The Colts and Jaguars square off Sunday in Jacksonville.

Indy destroyed San Francisco during a dominating 27-7 win that "woke up the monster." Now, the Colts head to sunny Florida to challenge a hapless Jacksonville squad headed straight to nowhere and considered the worst team in the NFL.

The numbers tell the story on offense. The Jaguars are dead last in total offense, 29th in passing offense, and 30th in rushing offense.

By contrast, the Colts are 12th overall in total offense, 27th in passing offense, and 4th in rushing offense.

On defense, the Jaguars are statistically better: 19th overall and 9th against the pass. But they're last in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up 167 yards per game. They've also scored only 28 points his season while giving up a whopping 92 points. Their 9.3 points per game is last among NFL teams.

Defensively, the Colts are 14th overall (by yardage), 11th against the pass, and 26th against the run. Indy averages 22.7 points per game--17th in the league.

The Colts' defensive numbers aren't overwhelmingly dominant, but the running defense vs. running game metric favors the Colts. Still, Jacksonville has given Indy fits, especially of late:

So recent history is on the Jags' side, although it's worth mentioning two of those wins came during the "Lost Year" in which Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky started at QB (Kerry Collins made a cameo that season, but not against the Jags).

The X-factor in this game is Maurice Jones-Drew. He's a certified Colts killer and has been since coming into the league. Check out his last few performances against Indy:

Jones-Drew gives Colts defenders fits; I don't expect that to change, especially if the Jaguars can get anything going with their passing game. They will start Blaine Gabbert after turning the offense over to Chad Henne. Gabbert has yet to show NFL-caliber quarterback play, but he is evasive and could be a handful if he ever learned to make an accurate throw.

On the Colts side, Reggie Wayne has been a perennial pain in the butt for the Jaguars. Jacksonville just seems to be one of those teams Wayne excels against no matter the personnel. Maybe it's the Florida connection; I can't say for sure.

Realistically, the Colts shouldn't have any trouble with Jacksonville; the Jaguars are a bad football team made worse by new ownership, a new GM, and a new head coach. It's not because the new leadership is incompetent or terrible at its job; it's the reality of transition in player personnel, philosophy, and game management. The Jags are where the Colts were a few short seasons ago--except their franchise quarterback is nowhere to be found.

Jacksonville has always given Indy problems--take last year's early loss at Big Oil, for example. I just don't see that happening again this week given last week's phenomenal performance and the sense that things are starting to "click" for the Colts. The Jaguars are in too much disarray right now, though I expect they'll win a game or two later this season.

I fully expect the Horseshoes to win this one and enter next week's tough home game against Seattle at 3-1.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ready for II Crimsonstreak?

We're off and running on the preorder campaign for II Crimsonstreak!

Candlemark & Gleam runs these through a Kickstarter campaign that provides a tiered structure for anyone interested in getting the book. The tiers range from the most basic (a paperback copy of the book and the digital version) to one that includes a hardcover edition and a bunch of goodies.

My favorite tier is probably the bundle, which gets you both I, Crimsonstreak and II Crimsonstreak.

Rewards include signed copies of the book, posters, and a magical cosmic headband.*

Get your copy at the Kickstarter page.

*magical cosmic headband does not actually grant magical cosmic powers

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Colts Observations, Week 3 at 49ers

Big lift. While the San Francisco 49ers struggled mightily against the Seahawks last week, no one thought they'd struggle at home against the Colts, who dropped a tough game to the Dolphins last week. The Colts were missing several starters (LaRon Landry, Samson Satele, Pat Angerer out this week; Donald Thomas, Vick Ballard, and Dwayne Allen out for the year) against a tough 49ers team and a mobile quarterback in Kaepernick, who's capable of giving the defense fits. Instead of backing down, the Colts out Harbaugh'd the Harbaugh team. Yes, that's a verb now.

Opening drive. The Colts put together a masterful opening drive aided early by two San Francisco penalties. This drive was mostly Andrew Luck throwing the ball. Heck, the very first play was a pass to Ahmad Bradshaw as the Colts worked to establish their passing game to set up their run. It ended with a short TD run by new acquisition Trent Richardson.

About Richardson... Not a great game; 13 carries for 35 yards and a paltry 2.7 yards per carry. Still, he had some good, tough runs and it was good to see the Colts weren't afraid to put him out there. He also dropped a couple passes. But in no way, shape, or form was he the big story. Not at all.

Bradshaw unbound. Ahmad Bradshaw was the workhorse for the Colts, carrying 19 times for 95 yards and hitting the magic 5.0 YPC mark. Bradshaw ran tough, breaking tackles and showing a great burst. On the decisive drive, he had carries of seven, 27, and eight yards. As the defense wore down, Bradshaw got stronger, and for the first time this season, we really saw the vaunted "power run" game we've heard so much about. After the defense forced a turnover late, Bradshaw plunged into the endzone for a well-deserved touchdown.

Dominant defense. Colts coach Chuck Pagano said he wanted to hang his hat on a dominant defense and a power running game. So far, the only thing the defense has done is make me hang my head. This week was a completely different story. The Colts contained Kaepernick, they hit Kaepernick, and they sacked him three times. Coverage on wide receivers was tight; the Niners QB seldom had anyone to throw to. Apart from an exhausting, nine-play, 91-yard drive that lasted more than 4:30 and resulted in a touchdown, this was as dominant of a defensive effort as you'll find.

You'll take Kaepernick over Luck, Phil? Still? Phil Simms stood by his statement that, if he were starting a franchise right now, he'd pick Kaepernick over Luck because he brings that extra dimension to the QB position while still having the ability to throw the ball accurately downfield. This would be the part where I'm a jerk by pointing out Luck outrushed Kaepernick and was much sharper in the passing game. Kaepernick completed less than 50% of his passes Sunday.

Efficient. Of course, as I taunt Phil Simms above, I have to point out that Luck didn't have the best game of his career. He was patient and efficient, taking off on a few scrambles to keep drives alive and getting the ball to receivers in critical situations. This was more of a ball control/field position type of game, and Luck managed it well.

Offensive line play. Aldon Smith wasn't a factor, although it's hard to say if his weekend legal trouble played a role at all. In two consecutive weeks, Indy held pass rushing maestros (Smith and Miami's Cameron Wake last week) without a sack. Overall, pass protection was solid this week, and it seemed like Luck wasn't running for his life every time he passed the ball. The o-line excelled in the running game, where they were road graders. Anthony Castonzo and Mike McGlynn in particular had good games.

Reitz, the tight end. One thing easy to miss is how often the Colts trotted out Joe Reitz as a tight end. He reported eligible on multiple plays, including the key play resulting in Luck's masterful touchdown run (much more on that later).

Ageless Reggie Wayne update. The Ageless One caught 5 passes for 65 yards. The 49ers kept him quiet for the most part, although he erupted for receptions of 25 yards and 19 yards on a long drive resulting in a missed field goal.

DHB. I like to abbreviate Darrius Heyward-Bey's name because I can never remember if "Darrius" has two "r's." Anyway, Luck looked for him early and often. He's been a much more reliable target than I thought he'd be earlier in the season. So far, he's been a good addition.

Third and suck. The Colts struggled again in third and short situations. On one play, they decided it'd be a great idea to give it to Donald Brown, who got stuffed to force a punt. His strength isn't running up the middle; let Richardson or Bradshaw do that (although they got stuffed in similar situations, too).

GRIFF NATION. Griff Whalen was silent this week, although he checked in for a few offensive plays. He did have a special teams tackle, however.

The Slow Fade. After doinking a key field goal last week, Old Man Vinatieri missed a long FG. This didn't come back to bite the Colts, thankfully, but it was a six-point game when he missed. He had the distance, this one just sailed slowly to the left.

Bethea's great tackle. Antoine Bethea made one of the best open field tackles you'll ever see, stopping Kaepernick for a one-yard gain on a third-and-four play. Bethea made an aggressive move, unwilling to let the Niners QB fake him out of his shoes. He wrapped, tackled, and drove Kaepernick to the ground. My note during the game: "Gotta mention that GREAT OPEN FIELD TACKLE by Antoine Bethea." So I have.

Stiff arm of justice. On a 15-yard scramble, Andrew Luck delivered a stiff arm that made a 49ers defender look absolutely silly. Even though Luck's an athletic, strong quarterback, I bet it can't feel very good to get schooled by a QB like that.

Huge defensive stand. One unfortunate side effect of Vinatieri's missed FG was that the Colts surrendered excellent field position to San Francisco. The drive went like this: "Pass incomplete to Celek. Second and ten. Hunter gets four after a short screen pass. Colts swarming today. Kaepernick sacked. Redding, Mathis combine for sack. Punt." The Colts scored the decisive touchdown on the very next drive.

Delano who? Backup safety Delano Howell made some big hits. He finished with four tackles and two passes defensed, filling in admirably for the injured LaRon Landry. Seriously, where do the Colts find these guys?

The Tenth Drive. My notes read as follows: "Incomplete to Boldin. Nice play by Butler. Second down pass incomplete. Kaepernick sacked, fumbled, Indy recovers. What a miserable day for Colin Kaepernick." The Colts had pretty much salted the game away with the late touchdown by Luck, but they erased any hope of a 49ers comeback by forcing the fumble. Jerrell Freeman got the sack and strip; Kavell Conner recovered it. Three plays later, Bradshaw waltzed into the endzone for a 27-7 lead. The Colts added another late turnover on an interception by Cassius Vaughn.

It's the slow knife that cuts the deepest, they say. The Colts used more than seven minutes of clock on a drive covering 80 yards in 11 plays. This one included a third down conversion to Darrius Heyward-Bey, a third down conversion on a defensive penalty, and a 27-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw. This drive was about the Colts controlling the line of scrimmage and imposing their will on the 49ers. They made a statement with this one. Also worth noting was the time of possession: Colts 36:25, 49ers 23:35.

Division hunt. The Colts kept pace with the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans with the win. All three teams have 2-1 records. The Jacksonville Jaguars are 0-3 and will welcome the Colts next week. Indy enters a tough stretch, so they'd best not take the Jags lightly. Even though I'm sure they probably will know.

Now, let's go a little deeper. I don't always have time to do these little breakdowns, but I thought this was a good one, so I'm writing about it.

Okay, this is the run before the touchdown. Ahmad Bradshaw just ran for eight yards, and it's second and two. Here you can see the formation is a pure power run. Joe Reitz is at the tight end spot on the left; Dominique Jones is also in there. Stanley Havili is at fullback in a straight I-formation. This looks like run all the way on second and two. You see 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks on the edge there.

The give is to Bradshaw, and everyone knows it's going to him. Look at where the defenders are looking. They're all zeroed in on Bradshaw, and for good reason--he's killed them on this drive.

Note the garbage at the line of scrimmage. The run is designed to go left, but Brooks comes free off the edge as Luck hands the ball off to Bradshaw. If he's able to get past Brooks, he might get the first down. Maybe.

It doesn't matter, though. Brooks drops him for a one-yard loss, making it third and three.

The Colts use a different personnel group for the third down play. Instead of Jones, T.Y. Hilton is split out to the left and it's a two wide receiver set. Reitz is again out there as tight end, but he's lined up on the other side. It's an offset I-formation with Havili lined up on the right side. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a running play designed to go that direction.

The 49ers think so, too. They fully expect Bradshaw to get the ball. The arrows show where the defenders are looking, and again, all eyes are on Bradshaw.

Except Luck pulled a fast one on the defense. Bradshaw never gets the ball because Luck has it. Still everyone is looking at Bradshaw, even Aldon Smith there on the weak side. You can see T.Y. Hilton with his man, but you can't get a good view.

Let's go up top. You can see the formation, offset I, strong side right, T.Y. Hilton split out left.

Again, all the defenders are looking at Bradshaw as Luck fakes the handoff. Hilton runs his man to the inside.

Everyone's committed to Bradshaw, and Hilton's man has been taken out of the play. Luck's coming around the left side with no one near him, as noted by the yellow box.

Luck sprints into the endzone. Touchdown. Ballgame.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Colts Observations, Week 2 vs. Dolphins

They had a chance. The Colts did not play well in this game at all. From the struggling defense to instances of poor protection, penalties, and poor decisions, the team didn't have it. Still, they had a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown late in the game.

But the thing is... You can't expect Andrew Luck to pull something out of his hat every week. You do that, you're going to lose some. I know every game can't be a blowout, but having a nail-biter every week puts undue pressure on everyone.

About that dominant defense... A big emphasis for the Colts this offseason was improving the defense. Yet, the defensive unit got gashed by Ryan Tannehill and couldn't get key stops. As it stands, no one has faith in the defense, especially after Miami surged ahead to a 14-3 lead. It's not just the big chunks, either. It's the little things like giving up a 21-yard pass to Charles Clay near the end of the second half. That play allowed Miami to get in position for a field goal just before halftime. And at the end of the game, the Colts allowed an 8-yard run that let Miami run out the clock.

Then again, the pass rush came around. Occasionally. The Colts sacked Ryan Tannehill five times and forced a fumble (more on that later). Jerrell Freeman and Robert Mathis had two sacks apiece while Bjoern Werner and Pat Angerer split one. At times, the Colts showed a great push and bothered Tannehill. Other times, you wondered why they even bothered to send blitzers because Tannehill had so much time. The Colts are going for a high-risk, high-reward defensive philosophy, and so far, it's not consistent enough.

Luck under pressure. For much of the game, the Colts did a decent job of protecting Luck and picking up blitzes. In the second half, that changed. Luck scrambled more often, got hit, and nearly threw a couple picks. He had Coby Fleener for a touchdown late in the game, but pressure caused the throw to be inaccurate. It was almost picked off...a theme of Luck's throws in the second half.

Fourth and ten. After three straight incompletions--a pass to Hilton that had no chance, a pass to Fleener that was almost picked, and a pass to Whalen that was broken up--the Colts faced fourth and ten. It's do or die time. Donald Brown misses a blitzing Philip Wheeler--seriously, Brown had himself a delicious FieldTurf sandwich--and Luck gets buried for a loss. The awesome quarterback can't make an awesome play if he doesn't have some awesome time to make an awesome throw.

Just Fleener bein' Fleener. Coby Fleener drops a pass on a play action play that looked like it couldn't been a big one.

Just Fleener bein' Fleener! I'm unusually hard on Coby Fleener, so I have to give him some props. He had a nice game, took advantage of some mismatches, and caught a touchdown pass. Actually, he caught two touchdown passes, but one of them didn't count. If this is the type of effort we'll see from Fleener, I'll happily take it.

Missed opportunities. Dominique Jones (who?) didn't "finish the catch" on a ball that would've put the Colts at the goaline. Luck tried to run a play, but Miami challenged it and the catch was correctly overturned. Two plays later, Fleener caught a 15-yard TD pass that was nullified by an illegal shift penalty. The drive ended with a 38-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri. Keep in mind that the Colts got the ball at the Miami 39 to start the drive.

More missed opportunities. The Colts challenged a first down run by Tannehill on a QB keeper; the defense nearly buried him. The Colts took over on their own 39 after challenging the call and proceeded to thrown an interception in the end zone.

The interception. If there's one play Luck would like to have back, it's this one. On first and ten, he threw up a prayer to the end zone intended for Reggie Wayne. #87 was well covered and had no chance at catching the ball. Brent Grimes intercepted it. Miami didn't score on its next possession, but the Dolphins picked up a pair of first downs and chewed more than four minutes of clock time. The Colts defense finally forced a stop, setting up the team's final, ill-fated possession.

Doink. Adam Vinatieri's 52-yard field goal looked good at first before fading late and bouncing off the upright. Hurting more than the missed FG was the fact that the Colts failed to convert in a third and short situation that would've kept the offense driving.

The Big Play. The Colts had a few of their own, but they spent most of the game giving them up to the Dolphins. Brian Hartline (24 yards), Charles Clay (67 yards), and Mike Wallace (34 yards) each had a catch that went for 20+ yards. While the Colts showed some flashes on defense, the big plays were crippling.

Red zone struggles. The Colts were 2-4 in the red zone and had to settle for field goals twice. They're usually pretty efficient in this area of the field, but they certainly struggled.

That weird fumble call. Well, the officials got this one right, but it sure as heck looked weird. The Colts defense was all over Tannehill, who appeared to get hit as he threw. Replays showed the ball was jostled from Tannehill's hand before he made a throwing motion, making it a fumble. The officials originally ruled it a fumble on the field, showing they've got fantastic vision.

Home loss. You always want to hold your homefield. The Colts face a stretch of tough games--they get to visit a very angry San Francisco 49ers team next week--and needed to beat the Dolphins to start the season strong. Faltering at home was the last thing they needed; they play three out of their next four on the road before hosting Peyton Manning and the Broncos. And that home game in that four game stretch? The Seattle Seahawks.

Injury report. Donald Thomas, a free agent acquisition signed to bolster the offensive line, suffered what could be a season-ending injury. Darrius Heyward-Bey suffered a shoulder injury that required an MRI.

Griff Nation. Since Griff Whalen filled in for DHB (and made a big catch), I propose the hashtag #griffnation. Just because.

Friday, September 13, 2013

II Crimsonstreak in Publishers Weekly

I got a pleasant surprise today when I learned Publishers Weekly reviewed II Crimsonstreak. We didn't get a review from them for I, Crimsonstreak, so I wasn't expecting it.

"...the story will nevertheless appeal to superhero fans with its absorbing worldbuilding and its warm, engaging protagonist."

Check out the blurb at the Publishers Weekly website.

The book is due out next month from Candlemark & Gleam.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Colts Observations, Week 1 vs. Raiders

"The Mayor" runs for office. The Colts signed Ahmad Bradshaw in the offseason to bolster the running game, but second-year 'back Vick Ballard emerged as the starter. He was effective, running 13 times for 63 yards--very close to the Colts' desired average of 5.0 yards per carry (Ballard was at 4.8 YPC). I loved Ballard last year, and the 2013-2014 campaign looks promising.

Little bit of Bradshaw. We really didn't see much from Ahmad Bradshaw. He had seven carries, got dropped for a loss on his first carry and also got stuffed on a third-and-short. His most memorable run was a 10-yarder in which he leveled a couple Raiders defenders before going down. I think the Colts are starting him off slowly, given that he's coming off an injury.

Spectacular start. Early on, this looked like a mismatch as Andrew Luck and the offense carved up the Raiders. Two drives produced back-to-back touchdowns, jolting the Colts off to a 14-0 lead. Luck's first touchdown pass to Ageless Reggie Wayne was a thing of beauty; his second TD pass involved a great move from Dwayne Allen. They were running the ball well, protecting Luck, and controlling the tempo. At first.

And then... The wheels fell off. On four straight drives, the Colts produced zero points, three punts, and a turnover on downs. All the while, the Raiders hit their stride, taking a shocking 17-14 lead. Luck was continually sacked (the Raiders dropped him four times), the Colts couldn't get anything going, and at one point faced a third and 31 thanks to a penalty and a sack. Not to the mention that the revamped defense struggled mightily.

The Big Miss. I can't understate how big Sebastian Janikowski's miss just before halftime was. Had he connected on that kick, the Raiders would've been able to kick a field goal at the end of the game. Instead, they needed a touchdown.

Take the free 20 yards, kid. I love Greg Toler. He's a guy who always seems to have his nose on the ball. After intercepting Terrelle Pryor, he decided to take the ball out of the endzone. The result? Vontae Davis got flagged for a low block, and the Colts were backed up at the 11. A touchback hurts no one.

He didn't have a carry, but he's still special. Donald Brown didn't run the ball or catch a pass, but he did make a nice tackle on special teams. When a guy like that--a former first-round pick--is willing to buy in for that, you've gotta like it.

Third drive's a charm. For the first two drives, the Raiders showed some flashes, but it was the third drive that signaled the Colts were in for a long afternoon. Pryor had runs of 9, 29, and 13 yards on the drive. The Raiders were so efficient--or the Colts defense so inept--that Oakland never even faced a third down on the scoring drive. At the end, after Darren McFadden squeezed his way into the endzone, it was apparent that we had a ballgame.

Not quite as #Boomstick as usual. The usually solid Pat McAfee had a pretty mediocre day by his standards. Three punts averaged 39 yards, including a 33-yard stinker that was his first boot of the day.

The end of the half was brutal. Just check out my notes on the Colts' and Raiders' final drives of the first half:

Fourth Colts drive

Reggie Wayne with a one-handed catch for two yards. Luck sacked on next play. Third and long forthcoming. Luck pass to right eludes leaping Darrius Heyward-Bey. First incompletion of the day for Luck. Back-to-back three and outs.

Fifth Raiders drive

Drive starts with poor tackling from Colts and a first down catch by tight end for 19 yards. Read option goes nowhere. Loss of three. Pryor misfires on second and long. Third and 13 now. Eight-yard pass brings out Janikowski for 48-yard attempt. Shanked it.

Sure they had four sacks, but they should've had five. In the Colts' first drive of the second half, Luck faced heavy pressure and should've been sacked. Instead, he somehow powered his way out of a sure tackle and got free for a 9-yard run that netted a first down. Think of the run as a preview of coming attractions.

Reggie Wayne. 8 catches, 96 yards, touchdown. That is all.

No Pryor restraint. The Indiana Hoosiers (basketball) had no idea Syracuse would use that 2-3 matchup zone last year. The Indiana Hoosiers (football) were surprised that Navy ran the option yesterday. The Indianapolis Colts appeared equally befuddled by Terrelle Pryor's ability to run. That's all the guy has. Seriously...did you see some of his attempts to throw downfield? The Colts seemed ill-prepared to face a running QB, something that doesn't bode well for future showdowns against Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Pryor ran 13 times for 112 yards.

Fourth and done. The Colts decided to go for a fourth and short just past midfield, a fantastic idea considering Ahmad Bradshaw got stuffed for no gain on third and short. The play call was some kind of rollout pass with Luck, but the Raiders were all over it and Luck got sacked for a 13-yard loss. The Raiders capitalized on the good field position by scoring a touchdown on the next drive. It was awesome.

Catching a break. Kind of. But not really. When Darren McFadden caught a long pass for a touchdown, Colts fans collectively slapped their foreheads. Then, they collectively screamed that McFadden didn't make the catch. A replay proved them right, but it didn't matter because the Colts defense failed to capitalize on the second chance and surrendered a touchdown later in the drive. Again, it was awesome.

"Pryor runs into old man, doesn’t get first down." My note on Terrelle Pryor's five-yard run on third and six, in which he ran over a game official while falling just short of the first down. The drive resulted in a Janikowski field goal.

Our quarterback can run, too! With the Colts trailing 17-14, Andrew Luck drove the team down the field. Facing third and 4 at the Raiders 19, he saw the middle of the field open up and sprinted 19 yards to the endzone. I breathed a sigh of relief.

He was BUTT OPEN. My brother often used this phrase to describe a receiver who was unbelievably uncovered. So, tight end Jerud Mastrud was butt open when he caught a 41-yard pass on the Raiders' final drive. Fortunately, Mastrud has cement in his feet and was tackled before he could go all the way.

Finally, some pressure. Robert Mathis finally got to Terrelle Pryor at a most opportune time, sacking him for a 16-yard loss and turning first and goal at the 8 to second and goal at the 24. Of all the good things Pryor did, it's mistakes like these that killed him. Similar situations included interceptions, some delay of game penalties and other instances of poor game management/awareness.

As it began, so it ended. Terrelle Pryor's first drive of the game ended with an interception. His last drive of the game ended with an interception. That's symmetry, baby.

Friday, September 6, 2013

And they're back!

New season, new round of Colts Observations.

But...there's nothing to observe yet. So perhaps this is more appropriate:

1. True tight ends? The Colts plan to capitalize on the talents of Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. The two tight end set is supposed to be a mainstay of the passing game, yet we haven't seen Allen and Fleener on the field together. Both ended up getting hurt. And Fleener...well...Fleener was Fleener in the preseason--flashes of brilliance punctuated by embarrassment and fragility. If these two can stay healthy, the Colts will indeed have a formidable, explosive tandem. If.

2. Andrew Luck: regression or progression? The answer here will certainly be the latter. Luck will throw fewer interceptions and get hit fewer times this season. The Colts will utilize a rhythm passing attack that will get the ball out fast, capitalizing on Luck's quick release and decision-making ability. The game will slow down for him in year two.

3. What about the running game? Time and time again, the Colts said they'd utilize a power running game. They seem serious about this--fullback Stanley Havili is on the roster. They signed punishing running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who provides a great one-two combo with Vick Ballard. Donald Brown remains with the team as the explosive back with home-run capability. It really all comes down to winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and being patient enough to eke out three or four yards until the defense wears down.

4. Will the rebuilt offensive line perform? The Colts invested in free agents Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas to bring more experience and stability to the offensive line. Even then, there are so many questions. Will the health of the line hold up (Anthony Castonzo is already dinged up)? Did the team do the right thing by retaining Samson Satele and shipping off A.Q. Shipley? Will the line have enough cohesion to get the push in the running game and protect the Franchise? It seemed like Luck did a lot of running in the preseason and we haven't seen Bradshaw run a play yet, so this one's up in the air.

5. Where will the pass rush come from? I know, I know. Robert Mathis. Of course. But #98 needs complementary players. The team seems to be slowly integrating first-round pick Bjoern Werner ("I bring in da good stuff, coach!") into the mix. He showed some flashes in the preseason, but the jury's out. The Colts gave a hefty contract to Erik Walden, a move that garnered its share of criticism in the unproven free agent. The fact that Indy traded for Cam Johnson tells me they're not 100% sold on the outside linebackers just yet. This could end up being a dynamic, deep unit if everything works out.

6. Will Darrius Heyward-Bey really catch on? Reports from training camp told a terrifying tale: DHB keeps dropping passes. It was disheartening because that was the knock on him in Oakland (although the Raiders didn't have a QB capable of getting him the ball...). However, DHB seemed to shake it off in the preseason, becoming a reliable target for Luck. He's got good size and great speed, and his presence could really set things up nicely for the offense. He'll have a little extra incentive this week against his former team.

7. Is the secondary really as solid as it looks? I'll tell you what, I'm excited about the Colts secondary--something I don't know I've ever said in the history of my Colts fandom. The safeties are terrific--Antoine Bethea is solid and LaRon Landry looks like a stud. Vontae Davis is a fantastic corner and Greg Toler has a nose for turnovers--probably the best corner duo the Colts have had since "Big Play" Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose. They've even got depth in Cassius Vaughn, Darius Butler, Josh Gordy and Joe Lefeged. I think Landry is the key to the whole thing--if he can provide run support and adequate coverage in the secondary, this will be a top-tier unit.

8. What about the inside linebackers? I like the unit overall, but Kavell Conner is already hurt, Pat Angerer is a beast muzzled by injuries, and I don't know what we'll get out of Mario Harvey. Jerrell Freeman is the only proven commodity here, and he'll have to prove that last year wasn't a fluke (and I don't think it was). Indy looks a little thin here. Good thing they made that trade for Kelvin Sheppard.

9. Did they let go of the right guys? I thought Drake Nevis did enough in the preseason to warrant a roster spot, but I'm not calling the shots. Likewise, I loved Caesar Rayford. Regardless of what I thought, the Colts jettisoned both of them, cutting Nevis and trading Rayford. Nevis was immediately snapped up, and the Colts finagled a draft pick out of Rayford. His stock was never going to be higher, so I understand the move, but I did want to see what Rayford could do with significant playing time against topflight talent.

10. Will the Colts survive the brutal first half of the schedule? If the Colts want to get back to the playoffs, they'll have to make it through a tough schedule. The Raiders aren't supposed to be very good and neither are the Dolphins. Those are both winnable home games to start the season. After that, though, things get much tougher. They travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers and then swing out to Florida to play the Jags. Then, it's home against the Seattle Seahawks, another west coast trip to San Diego on Monday Night Football, and home on Sunday night against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, a game I'm already sick of hearing about. After the bye week, the Colts travel to Houston for another Sunday night game on which the entire season could hinge.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Making good progress

I am continuing to make good progress on my current work-in-progress.

Since Saturday, August 24, I've added approximately 17,800 words to the manuscript, which now stands at more than 70,000 words. I skipped a day of writing last Friday because I was sick and didn't write on Labor Day because I decided to take the day off. Other than that, I've written every day, with my low total coming in at 1,100 words and my highest coming in at 3,600 words.

For the most part, I've been able to write around 2,000 words a day. This is a big deal because my writing progress has been stagnant for about five weeks.

I want to get a first draft finished before I dive into promotion for II Crimsonstreak and work on revisions for III Crimsonstreak, which I hope to submit to my publisher by mid-October.