Two questions on Colts for Monday night

As the Colts brace for their second consecutive prime time game with a matchup against the Bucs in Tampa tonight, I have two big questions.

1) Can the offensive line keep QB Curtis Painter clean?

After Painter relieved Kerry Collins last week, he got drilled by Steelers LB James Harrison and lost a fumble that turned into a touchdown. The hit came quickly and was the fault of rookie left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Even so, Painter has to sense it and cover up.

He can’t be exposed to similar hits at the hands of Tampa Bay’s young rushers.

“I did apologize to Curtis, I felt terrible about it,” Castonzo said of the play against the Steelers. “It was eating me alive up until we got started on the Buccaneers stuff. But you’ve got to put that behind you. It was just a lapse in my technique. When you make mistakes against great players they can take advantage of it.”

The Colts can’t afford such mistakes, because their margin for error on offense with Painter at the controls is slim. Even with time, his accuracy is a big question. If he’s got time and a receiver open like he did last week with Pierre Garcon, he can’t miss.

2) Can a team whose two best players are defensive ends see them shape the game?

Robert Mathis was very good and Dwight Freeney was simply fantastic in the loss to Pittsburgh. Their pressure on Ben Roethlisberger kept the Colts in the game.

But no matter how well they play, it’s difficult for a pass rush to completely control a game unless some other units also play well. It seems a bit unreasonable to expect Mathis and Freeney to find a couple strip sacks a game.

If and when they arrive, and if the defense can’t turn them into touchdowns, will the offense be able to do more than find field goals?

It sure felt like the stars aligned for the Colts' defense a week ago. Can they consistently follow the same pattern?

“The Pittsburgh game seemed like the perfect storm in a way to me for Indy,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “They abused awful offensive tackles. They were at home. It was a prime time game. Obviously there are a lot of proud players still on that team who are used to winning.

“But still, that offense just can’t score enough points to really beat anyone. Pittsburgh played their safeties very deep quite a bit and tried stopping the run with just their front seven. It didn’t work great, but it did work in that it further ensured that Indy would not score a lot of points with 3-, 4- and 5-yard runs. But Indy’s DEs are still elite players. Too bad”