1:00 PM ET, October 25, 2009
Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO
The Indianapolis Colts are 5-0 for the fifth time in the last seven seasons, but they realize a 6-0 mark is not a foregone conclusion.
Coming off a bye week, the Colts look to extend their franchise-record winning streak to 15 on Sunday, when they take on a St. Louis Rams team that has the NFL's longest current losing streak at 16.
Peyton Manning completed 36 of 44 passes for 309 yards with three touchdowns as the Colts defeated Tennessee 31-9 on Oct. 11. The Colts, who opened 5-0 in four of Tony Dungy's last six seasons, remain one of the NFL's four undefeated teams under first-year coach Jim Caldwell, who served as Dungy's associate head coach in 2008.
"We sort of planned it this way," Colts team president Bill Polian said. "Jim had a year to learn the job, be part of all the decision-making processes, so that part of it was sort of a dress rehearsal. But you never expect to go 5-0."
Although Manning is off to one of the best starts of his career -- completing a league-best 73.5 percent of his passes for the NFL's third-ranked offense -- he's not overlooking a winless Rams team that's giving up more than 28 points per game.
"I just don't think about a team's record when you play them," Manning told the Colts' official Web site. "It's what's going to happen on this Sunday in St. Louis. That's what we have to worry about."
The Rams' defense has plenty to worry about with Manning picking apart opponents with such efficiency. The three-time NFL MVP is on pace to break the league's completion percentage record of 70.55 set by Cincinnati's Ken Anderson in 1982.
In addition to joining Steve Young and Kurt Warner as the only quarterbacks in league history to begin a season with five consecutive 300-yard passing performances, Manning surpassed Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton for third all-time with 343 touchdown passes in the win over the Titans.
Reggie Wayne, who caught the three-yard TD pass from Manning that moved him past Tarkenton, has a touchdown reception in each of his last three games.
With wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez out with sprained ligaments in his right knee since Week 1, Manning has spread the ball to Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark, rookie Austin Collie and second-year wideout Pierre Garcon, who have combined for 98 receptions and 1,344 yards.
The Rams (0-6) have not enjoyed that type of production from their offense, averaging a league-worst 9.0 points.
St. Louis is hoping second-year receiver Donnie Avery returns after leaving last Sunday's 23-20 overtime loss to Jacksonville with a bruised hip. An MRI showed no stress fracture, but Avery missed practice Wednesday.
"I'm going to get over it, get out there and make plays," said Avery, who has caught 19 passes for a team-high 213 yards and two TDs. "The best receivers, you're always going to have obstacles,"
With Avery's status uncertain, and with Keenan Burton, rookie Danny Amendola and Tim Carter the other three receivers expected to dress Sunday, St. Louis acquired rookie wideout Brandon Gibson from Philadelphia on Tuesday for linebacker Will Witherspoon. Gibson -- a sixth-round draft choice from Washington State -- has no receptions.
"Coaches are still figuring out what guys can do and I think it'll work out eventually," said quarterback Marc Bulger, who returned last week after missing two games with a bruised shoulder. "It's just going to take some time and you just have to be patient."
Bulger and the Rams could find that even more difficult if Colts safety Bob Sanders makes his season debut. Sanders, the league's defensive player of the year in 2007, has increased his practice time over the past three weeks following offseason surgery on his right knee.
"I feel better than I've felt in a long time," he said Wednesday. "I feel excited about that and I'm ready to get in there."
The Colts could also benefit from the return of cornerback Kelvin Hayden, who's been sidelined three games with a left hamstring injury.
St. Louis may have an easier time moving the ball on the ground with Steven Jackson -- fourth in the league with 501 rushing yards -- facing a Colts rush defense that ranks in the middle of the pack with 103.2 yards per game allowed.
Indianapolis will be without kicker Adam Vinatieri for at least four weeks after he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last week. The Colts signed former Baltimore kicker Matt Stover as Vinatieri's replacement, but waived starting defensive tackle Ed Johnson to make room for him on the roster.
This is the Colts' second game visit to St. Louis since the Rams relocated from Los Angeles in 1995. In the teams' first matchup in the Gateway City, St. Louis won 42-17 on Dec. 30, 2001.
If Indianapolis wins Sunday, it will be a team-record eighth straight road victory.
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1. Indianapolis must protect Peyton Manning: The Rams are going to want to come at Manning from all directions as they try to force him into some bad decisions. The Colts' offensive line will need to be in top form to recognize and pick up the blitz. When Manning has time to read the coverage and go through his progressions, he can carve up the best secondaries with his precision passing.
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|Avg Points Allowed||12.8||30.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||IND|
|Rush Yds Allowed||IND|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Indianapolis leads 2-1|
|Oct 17, 2005||IND 45, STL 28|
|Dec 30, 2001||IND 17, @STL 42|