IRVING, Texas - Only one team in NFL history, all 87 years of it if anyone is counting, has ever started back-to-back seasons by winning at least their first nine games. That team, the Indianapolis Colts, will put their perfect, spotless, undefeated, Nine-and-Oh record on the line here Sunday in what could be a defining game for these 2006 Cowboys against almost certainly the toughest team they will face this season. Not everybody runs up the win totals like those Colts, these days, after all.
Can you have a dynasty without winning a championship? The Colts may have done so over the last seven years, as they have the NFL's best record since 1999, going 86-35 - nine games up on New England, the three-time Super Bowl champs over that span. Indianapolis will bring that proud distinction to Texas Stadium for Sunday's 3:15 p.m. (CST) kickoff, one pushed back from its original noon start on CBS because of the NFL's new flex-scheduling.
And while the Colts have yet to lose, they've come close several of times, including a 17-16 squeaker Sunday against the Bills, and seem to be more vulnerable than they did a year ago when they rattled off 13 consecutive wins before eventually losing to San Diego. The 2006 worries stem from a more-leaky-than-usual run defense and inexperience in the backfield.
- Just how bad has the Colts' run defense been? The worst. Indianapolis is giving up an average of 159.3 yards per game on the ground, 32nd in the NFL this season.
- Despite the problems stopping the run, the Colts have held up very well in the secondary, a tough task since weakness in one area usually spills over. The Colts' defensive backs rank second in the NFL, giving up just more than 158 yards a game.
- Those 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterbacks with rocket arms don't grow on trees. In fact, Peyton Manning is really one of a kind. Manning has thrown for 2,527 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, good for a 104.5 rating, making him third, first and first in those categories, respectively.
- Reggie Wayne may have finally surpassed Marvin Harrison as the Colts' main weapon. While Harrison has 54 catches to Wayne's 48, the former Miami Hurricane has more yards (774 to 719), touchdowns (six to five) and a higher yards-per-catch average (16.1 to 13.3). Better cover them both, anyway.
Over the off-season the Colts parted ways with Edgerrin James, whom the Cowboys saw in Arizona over the weekend, and are platooning their running game between long-time reserve Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai. Indy ranks 18th in rushing offense, while Dallas is fourth against the run. If the Cowboys can stop the run out of their nickel and penny packages, when extra defensive backs are on the field, they will find it easier to keep Manning in check.
The Indianapolis run defense suffered a major blow when former Pro Bowl defensive tackle and run-stuffer extraordinaire Corey Simon was sidelined with an illness prior to the season. The Colts dealt for Tampa Bay tackle Anthony McFarland just before the trade deadline, though improvement up front has been less than rapid. With their two-pronged running attack, Dallas will need to gouge the Colts on the ground to milk the clock. Keeping Manning off the field will be the Cowboys' best defense and surest chance to win.
- Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks - Meeks began his NFL coaching career as a defensive assistant on the Cowboys staff in 1991.
- Colts linebacker Rocky Boiman - Signed with Dallas this past off-season hoping to fill a backup job in the linebacker corps and make plays on special teams. Boiman became a camp casualty in the final wave of cuts, however.
- Colts linebacker Keith O'Neil - Spent the 2003 and 2004 seasons with Dallas and was active in 31 games, registering 14 tackles in each season while working almost exclusively on special teams.
- Colts tight end Jerome Collins - The second-year veteran played in three games for the Rams in 2005 and spent a month on the Cowboys' practice squad this season from Sept. 4 to Oct. 4, when he signed with Indianapolis.
- Cowboys kicker Mike Vanderjagt - Played for Indianapolis from 1998-05, becoming the most accurate kicker in NFL history and the Colts' all-time leading scorer (995 points). Unfortunately, his stint may best be remembered for his shanked field goal try as time expired in Indianapolis' 21-18 playoff loss to Pittsburgh last season.
After the Cowboys game, the Colts will have only two games left with teams currently owning winning records, the Eagles and Jaguars . . . The Cowboys are 7-5 in regular season games against the Colts, though Indy has won the last three matchups, including a 20-3 home win on Nov. 17, 2003 . . . This is the first time the Colts have played at Texas Stadium since 1996, which means the first time Manning has played before the Cowboys faithful . . . Colts coach Tony Dungy has the highest winning percentage among active NFL coaches at .657 . . . Harrison had 14 catches for 138 yards and two scores in the 2002 game.