INDIANAPOLIS – Yesterday in Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts were able to push their record to 7-4, a seven-game improvement from where it stood a year ago.
Something the Colts have benefited from in 2012 has been the ability to win games decided by close margins.
Indianapolis is 6-1 in games decided by one score. At home, the Colts beat Minnesota, Green Bay and Miami by three points, Cleveland by four points and Buffalo by seven points. Indianapolis also won an overtime affair at Tennessee, 19-13, by tying the game late, then winning the extra-session coin toss and marching for the deciding score.
Detroit was 7-4 this time last year on the way to a 10-6 record and a Wild Card playoff berth. The Lions were 3-2 in one-score games in 2011 at this point, but 2012 has held a different fate.
Detroit is in fourth-place in the NFC North, four games off the pace set by Chicago and two games below third-place Minnesota.
A distinct difference this year has been those one-score games. While the Lions have defeated St. Louis and Seattle by four points and Philadelphia (in overtime) by three, they have dropped twice as many to this point.
Detroit lost twice by overtime field goals, including last Thursday at home to Houston, 34-31. They suffered the same fate at Tennessee, 44-41. Detroit fell by four points at home to Green Bay, six points at Chicago, seven points to Minnesota and by eight points at San Francisco.
Those eyelash differences can distort the truth for outsiders, but Colts Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians does not see a 4-7 team waiting for the Colts on Sunday.
“No, not when you watch the tape. You see unbelievable, individual talent, especially in the defensive front, at wide receiver and at quarterback,” said Arians. “They have a solid offensive line. They’ve lost some really close games. I think that has been the difference for them. We’ve won a lot of close ones, they’ve lost a lot of close ones. Talent-wise, they’re extremely talented.”
The Colts will be facing an offense headlined by quarterback Matthew Stafford (296-of-488 passing for 3,429 yards and 14 touchdowns) and Calvin Johnson (73 receptions, 1,257 yards, four touchdowns).
A sturdy offensive line paves the way for an offense that averages 412.9 and 24.3 points a game. A defensive front that features tackles Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams and Nick Fairley will spell a big test for the Indianapolis line.
To this point, Arians thinks the ability to keep games close and making plays at the right time has made the difference for Indianapolis.
“I think (it’s) a little bit of both. I think in this one (Buffalo), we were able to have a good drive in the third quarter to get a lead and then defensively hold onto it,” said Arians. “Had it gotten tied, I don’t think there’s any doubt we’d go down and score and win it, if we had to.
“I think we’ve been able to play at the end of halves and end of games extremely well on offense. We’re the type of team (that) we’re going to be in a lot of close games. Fortunately, we’ve found ways to win them.”
While the Colts are 5-1 at home, three road losses have been decisive – 41-21 at Chicago, 35-9 at the New York Jets and 59-24 at New England.
The team’s -14 turnover margin largely comes with minus-four deficits in those three games. Arians wants such performances to end now that the team has had almost three-quarters of the season to grow.
“Now the big thing for us is to go on the road and protect the football and play good defense and bring those special teams on the road,” said Arians. “See if we can play our best football team on the road.”
The key to changing road outcomes is staying with the same message, but executing better. Arians will not change the season-long approach.
“Just stay within moment. Stay within the process. It’s worked this far,” said Arians. “Just because it’s December, the price of poker has gone up, but the process is still the same. Stay with it one play at a time, one day at a time and don’t get caught up in all that. (Keep) the team philosophy that if we keep winning, there will be enough credit to go around for everybody.”