INDIANAPOLIS – Chicago took 33 stabs at the Colts’ rush defense last Sunday, gaining 114 yards.
The 3.5 average is respectable by defensive standards, but bursts of 32 and 20 yards caught the wary of Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano.
Defending talented rushers is a tough thing to do, but it is critical to winning, and this week Pagano revisited those two particular plays in Chicago that caused concern.
“The two long runs, obviously,” said Pagano of what concerned him last week. “You never want to give up huge runs in the run game. (That’s) the thing that we got to get shored up and shored up quickly because once you open up a can of worms and show a weakness, teams are going to attack you until you put the fire out, so to speak.”
The Colts are in the middle of a three-game stretch before an early bye week where they will face prominent rushers. Indianapolis cannot even think of two Sundays from now when Maurice Jones-Drew visits because this week’s challenge is Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson.
Peterson has rushed for 6,836 yards since 2007, the NFL’s highest total and more than a few yards ahead of his nearest competitor, Jones-Drew (5,913). Peterson has 66 rushing scores during that time, also a league-best. Since 2007, he has topped the league by averaging 92.4 rushing yards per game, and his 189 rushes exceeding 10 yards is the league standard, well ahead of Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (148).
Last week with 84 yards on 17 attempts, Peterson set the Minnesota franchise rushing record, surpassing Robert Smith. He was able to do so even after having a severe knee injury on December 24 of last season.
Peterson is rounding into shape, and Pagano’s concern to limit the run is understandable as he makes his Colts home debut.
“He’s (Peterson) a future Hall-of-Famer. He’s unbelievable,” said Pagano. “For him to come back from the injury that he had in the time he has had to rehab that thing is super-human in its own right. The guy is a tremendous runner. He’s strong. He’s physical. He’s fast. If you don’t set the edge on him, if he gets outside and down the sideline, he’s gone.”
Colts Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky knows the weekly barrage of talented opposing backs is part of the hazards of competition.
“That’s the way this league is. It’s each week,” said Manusky. “You got to make sure you set your sights on stopping the run, that’s the most important thing. We’ve been stressing that since we got here, so that’s what we got to do on Sunday.”
As far as Peterson specifically, Manusky sees Sunday as a tall assignment, one that will test his unit.
“He’s a great running back. Over the years, a lot of yardage, a lot of carries,” said Manusky. “He’s still a physical runner, good sight lines, still has the speed to take it outside. He’s a talented guy coming off knee surgery. He actually had a good week last week. We just have to make sure to corral him.
“(We need to) get multiple hats on the guy. Don’t assume that he’s down, just continue to try to get hats on him.”
Manusky, like Pagano, grinds his teeth over two of 33 rushes last week by Chicago.
“It was 33 carries and there was one (run) broken off for 32 yards,” said Manusky. “We don’t want any long runs. That’s one thing we stress more than anything, no big plays. There were two big plays they had that we can’t have.”
“True, true. It’s almost collectively like everybody kind of messed up,” said Redding. “(We have) the makings of a good group. Everybody is like, ‘Okay, you know what? We messed up. We lost the game. Put it behind us. Shake it off. Let’s go back to the basics. Do what we’re supposed to do. Get our fundamentals right. Trust one another and continue to build on those things.’
“What we did great, that was awesome. We scored on defense. We were shutting them down. We did everything right. Then (there were) a few missed plays here and there. That’s what practice is all about. That’s what preparation is all about. That’s what trusting one another is all about. That’s what getting ready for next week is all about. We’ll learn from those mistakes and move forward.”
Some observers can discount a team that had a poor record like the Vikings did last year at 3-13. Redding is preparing for a stiff challenge.
“I see a bunch of pros who have a sense of competing about themselves and wanting to win, just like us,” said Redding. “Anybody who is in the NFL and puts that shirt on, there’s a sense of pride and a sense of manhood about themselves.
“They want to go out and compete, no matter what the stats were last year or the record was. That’s last year. They are a team that’s very dangerous, a lot of weapons across the board. You have to stop the run first and foremost with 28 (Adrian Peterson). You have to keep your eyes on 12, (Percy) Harvin. Take away what they do well, and try to make them one-dimensional. That’s the game plan.”
Redding believes a healthy Peterson is part of the mix on Sunday.
“He don’t look hurt to me. Those guys look fully healthy to me, 100 percent,” said Redding. “He’s putting a foot in the ground, making some tough cuts. He looks like he didn’t hurt anything. I’ve seen him make plays and cutting the way he is out there, he’s still dangerous. He’s still a threat in the backfield.”