The Colts miss Peyton Manning on defense even more than they do on offense. Some of Manning’s stats get overrated; the Colts scored 18 points or fewer in nine of their 10 playoff losses under Manning. But Manning has long protected a suspect defense by playing keep-away. The Colts led the NFL in third-down conversions for five years in a row from 2005-09. Last year, they slipped to No. 5 but still led the NFL in total first downs.

The Colts miss Peyton Manning on defense even more than they do on offense. Some of Manning’s stats get overrated; the Colts scored 18 points or fewer in nine of their 10 playoff losses under Manning. But Manning has long protected a suspect defense by playing keep-away. The Colts led the NFL in third-down conversions for five years in a row from 2005-09. Last year, they slipped to No. 5 but still led the NFL in total first downs.


Because Manning led the Colts on so many long drives, their defense was on the field less than other teams. Two years ago, I wrote a story about how the Colts averaged 9.5 possessions per game while the Bears averaged 14. Chicago’s defense basically played a game and a half for every game the Colts played. No more. Without Manning, the Colts are allowing 32.1 points a game, challenging the 1981 Baltimore Colts (33.3) for worst defense in NFL history.


Bears tough over the middle


Fox analyst Daryl “Moose” Johnston was incredulous that Tampa kept trying to throw over the middle into what he termed the strength of Chicago’s defense. Since when? The Cover-2 has long been softest over the middle, but Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and D.J. Moore combined for four interceptions in the middle of the field Sunday. Instead of playing behind receivers, the Bears stepped in front of them. And for the first time, they looked like the team that won the NFC North last year.


No worries over Packer defense


Green Bay’s defense gives up yards (No. 30 out of 32 teams) and points (No. 17) and is in the bottom seven in first downs and third-down conversions. But it shouldn’t last. The Packers lead the NFL in interceptions (13) and are tied for first in turnovers (16). Nothing comes easy against them. For instance, Charles Woodson had two more interceptions Sunday and when he was burned for a 24-yard touchdown, it was inches away from being a third interception. The Packers give you nothing. They make you beat them.


Rivers no longer elite


What happened to Philip Rivers? Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have been the NFL’s top four quarterbacks the last few years. Whenever critics wanted to make it a top five, they’d add Rivers. But the QB with three straight seasons of 4,000 yards and a 100-plus passer rating is now 20th at 82.3. Rivers played the worst end-of-game series I’ve seen. The Chargers, needing a touchdown to win, ran only five plays in the final 96 seconds because Rivers completed three passes in the middle of the field, two of them for 3 and 4 yards. On the final play, from the 49, he sailed a short pass way out of bounds.


Vikings go out with a whimper


The Vikings trailed Green Bay by six points with 2:36 left when coach Leslie Frazier ordered a punt on fourth-and-10 from Minnesota’s 36. The Packers, at that point, had 60 yards rushing on 19 carries, but ran out the clock by running 15, 20 and 13 yards for first downs. That looked like the team gave up on the coach after their coach gave up on them.


Contact Matt Trowbridge at 815-987-1383 or mtrowbridge@rrstar.com.