INDIANAPOLIS – There is not a week Colts Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf views tape of an opponent and fails to see something of concern.
What Maalouf saw on Monday when watching Miami’s game last week at the New York Jets was nearly historic.
In building a 20-0 halftime lead on the way to a 30-9 victory in an opposing venue, Miami blocked a punt for a touchdown, blocked a field goal and executed an onside kick. It marked the first time in the last 20 years an NFL team pulled such theatrics in a game.
Maalouf has prepared his charges all season for challenges that have included Chicago’s Devin Hester, Minnesota’s Percy Harvin and Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs.
In the last home game, the Colts’ special teams successfully defended Cribbs in a clutch situation. Ahead 17-13 in the final five minutes of the game, Indianapolis limited Cribbs to a four-yard punt return. A flag on Indianapolis negated the play, so punting again to the explosive returner was necessary.
Gunner Joe Lefeged was substituted out of action and in came in LaVon Brazill with fresher legs and lungs full of air. Much newer to this particular duty, Brazill bolted down the field and nailed Cribbs after a two-yard return.
Indianapolis eventually held Cleveland on downs to win the game. A key decision paid dividends and an under-appreciated play executed solidly helped ice a win.
Now the Colts must defend against Miami, who comes to town 4-3 and with solid specialty units across the board. Maalouf saw how last week’s special teams play helped paint the final score in Miami’s favor.
“It’s one thing that led to another, and it kept gaining momentum. When you watch the game in its entirety, you can see it change on special teams right away,” said Maalouf. “The first quarter alone, there were three big plays. It’s like a domino effect. You open up a can of worms if you are the other team.
“Last week was a good job by their coordinator, Darren Rizzi. He worked with them last year, and they were second in the league in all the categories. It’s a huge task ahead of us. Our guys have to protect and cover better than any week. They (Miami) have a complete unit. From every one of the six phases, they have done a nice job and have talent. They are one of the top teams. We have to stay after them.”
One particular concern is returner Marcus Thigpen. An Indiana University product, Thigpen played with Hamilton of the Canadian Football League from 2010-11 before signing with Miami as a free agent this year.
Thigpen has a 14.3 average on 14 punt returns, including a 72-yard scoring return in his league debut against Houston. Thigpen is second in the league in return average, and he holds a 28.6 average on 15 kickoff returns.
“This week is no different,” said Maalouf of facing talented units and performers. “Marcus Thigpen is second in the league in punt returns, eighth in kickoff returns. They do a really nice job with their schemes. Thigpen has grown accustomed to it. He’s an Indiana guy who we want to keep contained. We don’t want a homecoming for him in this important game.”
Miami is looking to sway the game with special teams, nothing that is unique to the Dolphins but something at which they are adept. Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians knows the Colts will be prepared.
“They did a great job (last week),” said Arians. “They obviously got the Jets at their own game and usually (you) don’t get Coach (Mike) Westhoff. They did a great job with the surprise onside, the blocked punt and the blocked field goal. Any time you get those points in the kicking game, it’s hard to lose a game.
“Every phase of what they have right now, I’m very impressed with. It’s a great challenge. There’s no doubt why they’ve won three in a row, and they’ve got to be feeling pretty good about having won two of them on the road. That’s a huge step for a young team. Marwan (Maalouf) will have our guys in tune.”
ARIANS FRIDAY – Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians reiterated that tight end Coby Fleener and cornerback Vontae Davis will be out for Sunday’s game. All other players are questionable or probable for the Miami game, and all practiced. “It looks like all hands will be on deck, other than those two guys,” said Arians. Joe Reitz will start at left guard for Jeff Linkenbach, who is overcoming a head injury. This will be the first start for Reitz this year. Arians said Cassius Vaughn will start for Davis.
Arians has spoken openly the last week or so about the Colts being “in the hunt.” Indianapolis is on a two-game winning streak to reach 4-3. It must keep pace with other AFC teams hovering between three and six wins. Last week’s 19-13 win at Tennessee allowed the Colts to have another important week in hosting Miami.
“Last week put us in the hunt, this week keeps us in the hunt,” said Arians. “It’s just the next game. It’s the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday process. December will take care of itself whenever it gets here. We’re one play at a time, one game at a time, one day at a time. Respecting that process will keep you there. We put ourselves in there. All we have to do is keep ourselves there by just following the process.”
Indianapolis is hosting the 4-3 Dolphins, another young team with a first-year head coach (Joe Philbin) that is following the process just like the Colts. Arians is challenging his team to keep on with its approach.
“This young bunch has a chance to do something very special,” said Arians. “I don’t even think they realize how special it is because they’ve never done it before. They haven’t played in an NFL playoff game. You have to challenge them with, ‘Are you afraid of being good? Are you ready to prepare and be good?’ That’s where we’re at this week.
“You can look at the Dolphins and see they’re drinking the potion down there. They believe it. Hopefully, our guys are drinking enough of it to beat them this week, especially if our crowd comes and treats it like a playoff game.”
COLTS FRIDAY NOTEBOOK (QUOTE-UNQUOTE): BRUCE ARIANS (On if there has been a burden lifted by winning on the road) “I don’t think there’s any doubt. You get that monkey off your back and you get that first one, the second one is a lot easier. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it next week. Now we’ve got to win at home again and protect Lucas Oil so there are no letdowns of any kind. I think we’re too young for that, and I think our guys will show up. The ones that were in the building today had a good look on their face. They were excited about being here, and I’m sure the veterans will show up Wednesday the same way.” (On his thoughts on Vick Ballard’s athleticism) “It was amazing. Every time I watch it, I get chills again. To have the presence to do the Fosbury Flop and turn the ball away, hide the ball and protect it and still get as high as he got and still get to the pylon was incredible. It was a great effort.” (On if running game opens the playbook) “Oh it does wonders for everybody. The play-action passes which, we haven’t got our chunks, but we’re getting chunks in the running game. We did get a couple off the play-action, which keeps the quarterback a lot cleaner when you’re not dropping back in that pocket and have the bullseye on your chest. It makes it a lot easier, especially when you’re trying to throw it down the field. It’s always a good feeling for the offensive line, and the team in general, when we can run the football. Stop the run and run the football, that’s where we want to be.” (On if ever been around a rookie class that has this many contributors this early) “Oh no. To have this many guys in major roles I think is incredible. It’s a testament to Ryan (Grigson) and the scouting staff for getting the right guys, and the coaches for picking those guys. It’s a credit to those guys for being in tune. The veterans have taken those young guys and have shown them how to do it in the locker room, on the field and off the field. And yeah, it’s a credit to all of them. But no, I’ve never been around this many rookies playing.” (On Chuck Pagano visiting Monday) “Chuck was in our staff meeting today. He had a great visit with the doctors. His counts were way up. He was feeling good, so he stopped in. He was able to sit in the office with the staff and listen to everyone’s comments about the game. I think it was great medicine for him. He’s doing extremely well. With his white count going up, he’s ready for his second round of chemo next week. They’ll hit him pretty good next week. Hopefully, (he’ll) be able to be around a little more.” (On where he got his aggressive coaching style) “(Laughs) I guess being a quarterback (growing up in college). I play golf the same way, no risk it, no biscuit. I’m never going to lay up. I hit a lot of balls in the water. I guess that’s just who I am and who I always have been, even when I was a head coach before (at Temple). We play to win, all out. I try to live every day that way.” (On if things happening to team give him a sense that strange things are going on) “I don’t buy into it. I think you have to win the games and sometimes a ball bounces (your way). We’ve obviously had some bounces against us. Any one that bounces for you, you take it with a smile and go on. But, no, I don’t think there’s any destiny involved with this club. We’re just trying to live day-to-day.” (On if concerned and will talk to team about dealing with success) “Totally. That’s the whole focus this week, ‘Don’t read about yourself. Don’t pat yourself on the back. Respect the process – of a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday and a Saturday, of how to prepare.’ That doesn’t change from week-to-week. As long as you respect the process, you don’t get caught into those peaks and valleys of, ‘I’m good, I’m bad, I’m good, I’m bad.’ Just keep (working). It’s Wednesday, this is what you do on Wednesday. It’s Thursday, this is what you do on Thursday. Don’t change that routine, because it’s been pretty good.” (On if he has preconceived notion of Donald Brown and if likes him) “I liked Donald coming out. I thought he was a hard downhill runner with great speed. He has shown flashes of that speed for us, and I love speed. He is more than a professional, he’s a top notch pro. He’s more than prepared every week. He prepares the young guys. He’s a great leader in his room. He’s an explosive player, and you can’t have enough of those.” (On if needs to pay special attention to Cameron Wake) “Oh yeah, seven-and-a-half sacks. They do such a great job, you’re not going to say, ‘Hey we’re going to chip him,’ because the back assignment is going to be rushing in the B-gap and the tackle’s one-on-one and they’re going to make sure. Coach (Kevin) Coyle came from Cincinnati’s defensive staff, which has been an outstanding one with Coach (Mike) Zimmer for a long time, one of the guys I respect the most in this business. He’s copied that defense, and they have an excellent blitz package. It’s going to be a real good challenge for us.” (On if not concerned with rushing numbers, just the ability to do it when needed) “(We want) positive yardage when you want to run the football. That helps your play-action game. We’ve been able to get into big packages, little packages and have some success the last couple weeks, which has given us some shots at chunks down the field. Until we start getting some more short fields, we’re going to have to get some chunks offensively, because we’re not going to be able to maintain an 80-yard drive against a high quality, number one, third-down defense in this ballgame. We’re going to have to get some short fields and make sure that when we get them, we get touchdowns.” (On what to do to get more takeaways) “You talk about it and the more you talk about it, the less it happens. It’s going to happen. When it happens, they’re going to come in bunches. There’s going to be a sack-fumble, there’s going to be a tipped pass. They’re going to happen. You just have to be patient, keep playing hard. The harder you play, the better chance you’ve got one of them happening.” ANDREW LUCK (On Reggie Wayne being vocal last week) “I think he’s a great leader, especially by example – as a professional in this locker room, out on the field, in the meeting room, which I think makes it so much more effective when he does talk, at halftime or before the game, whenever. He did a great job I think of getting us prepared and making sure at halftime, that we knew we still had a chance to win the game, just took a little more focus.” (On handling success, handling compliments) “You realize, one, who cares if the playoffs started today...they don’t. It doesn’t matter what the record is now. It’s what it is after that last week (of the season). It’s a week-by-week thing. I know that’s very cliché. We’re not looking ahead to anything. It’s the Dolphins. It’s great that people say nice things about us. It’s great if people say bad things about us, whatever. It’s part of playing this game. We’re just worried about trying to win football games.” (On why he’s good in two-minute, no-huddle offense) “I’m not sure. I still think I’ve got a lot of work to do in those situations, some wasted plays. I guess I have been a little more efficient than in a regular-minute offense. That’s something we’ll have to improve on. I don’t know, maybe (I’m) focusing a little more, guys rising up to the pressure. Hopefully, we can transfer that over to a full 60 minutes. That’s what it’s going to take to start winning games like this against Miami.” (On team not having played full 60 minutes and having room to go) “It’s great to have a winning record. It’s much better where we are now than 3-4 or 2-5. We realize we have so much more to improve on in every game. We’re not overlooking any opponent by any means. We haven’t earned that right. I don’t think we’ll ever earn that right. It will be a tough one against the Dolphins this week. It was nice to get a win.” (On if fluency with Fleener translated to NFL) “I think it does take adjusting still, learning a new offense. It definitely doesn’t hurt anything. I think just having four years of reps with each other and him running routes, on his side just knowing how the ball comes out or how the ball comes out on the run maybe differently than the pocket. It definitely helps. I still think there is an adjustment period. It’s still a new offense. It’s a new league. Guys are bigger, faster, stronger, but I think we are both progressing, hopefully well.” (On the running game) “It means so much to the offense, but it means so much to the defense sitting on the sidelines. First downs, the clock is running, you get your rest. It’s opening up play-action, opening up the movement stuff. The last screen touchdown (at Tennessee) probably had a lot to do that we were running the ball effectively. It’s helpful on so many levels.” DONALD BROWN (On Miami defense) “(It’s a) very good defense, very good against the run. We have our work cut out for us. Our offensive line has been doing a good job. We just can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. As long as take care of the little things and have a great week of practice, we’ll be alright.” (On Miami defense) “Every team is going to be good up front. We just need to be consistent and stay confident in what we’re doing. Those runs will come. They’re big in the middle of the line. They have good corners and they thrive on turnovers. If you catch the ball and establish the running game and open up the play-action, I think we’ll be alright.” (On if comfortable sharing time with Vick Ballard) “Yeah, for sure. Even with Delone (Carter), any of the running backs we have, anybody is capable of stepping up there and making a difference. The more weapons we have, the more it helps the team and offense.” (On handling himself as a pro through frustrations and staying even-keeled) “You experience it a lot and you learn from the veterans that we have here. You can’t get too high. You can’t get too low. Just stay the course and things will take care of themselves. Just things you’ve experience. You go through things in high school. You go through things in college. It’s a credit to my parents, former coaches and things like that.” JERRAUD POWERS (On challenge from Dolphins) “First we have to stop Bush. Reggie Bush is having another great year. It always starts with the run. If we can stop him, they try to get the ball in a lot of different ways. He’s also a great receiving running back. (Ryan) Tannehill is having a good year as well. He has a couple of good targets with (Davone) Bess and (Brian) Hartline. He can make all the throws. The other quarterback (Matt Moore) can as well. It will be another good challenge.” (On Davone Bess) “I think Bess is (better) in the slot than anything. He’s a shifty guy, quick guy, knows how to get open. (He’s) been in the league a while, a savvy player. I remember facing him my rookie year (2009), and he’s definitely developed a way better game since then. He’s added to his game. I think he’s a (heck) of a receiver.” (On handling success, compliments) “Definitely as a veteran you want to address that, not to get into reading clippings and all that. The only thing our main focus should be is just winning football games. Miami is up next, and we have to get number five. That should be the only main focus. Chuck (Pagano) always said from day one, ‘If you can win games, all the accolades will come for everybody.’ That’s something we really don’t need to worry about, what people are saying about us, this or that and what’s in the paper. Just worry about Miami.” DWAYNE ALLEN (On handling success, compliments) “I’ve been fortunate enough last year at Clemson to be part of a young team that had a lot of success early and didn’t handle it well. Hopefully, some of my experience from last year in that type of situation with a young team will be able to help us out this year.” (On what to do with good start) “To take it one game at a time, as cliché as that sounds. We got to a point where we were 8-0 and in the top five in the country and we weren’t ready for that type of pressure.” (On being ready for role with Fleener out) “Definitely. Whenever I decided to leave (Clemson), it wasn’t to become a backup tight end in the National Football League. I felt that I had the talents to be a starter in this league and with Fleener going down and more targets going my way, I’m definitely more than prepared for it.” ANTHONY CASTONZO (On difference in running game and how gratifying) “When it’s working, we kind of keep dipping back to the well which is always nice. Our running backs have been finding the holes. When we open up a little hole, the running backs are finding it. It’s really a team effort.” (On if health of line has helped) “That’s been real helpful. We’ve got a little chemistry going on. We know what each other is doing, and we’ve been able to stay healthy. It’s really nice to be able to keep some momentum going.” (On how linemen feel when backs run well) “I think it kind of opens everything up because when you’re able to run the ball, it opens up all the other plays as well. We like to run it to run it but down the road, it will open up some other stuff as well.” (On if he likes playing for Bruce Arians as a coach and a person) “He’s (terrific). He’s a guy who’s going to be very honest with you. He’s not going to feed you anything that he truly does not believe.” (On if fluke at 4-3) “I don’t think it’s a fluke. I think at the beginning of the year we were confident we were going to be a winning football team. We just have proven it.” (On if team is still scratching the surface) “I think so, for sure. We really haven’t reached our potential. You watch the film, and you see so many guys who could be playing better. Once everybody puts their best game together, it’s going to be awesome.” DWIGHT FREENEY (On Robert Mathis returning) “It’s going to be great. Hopefully, we string some games together like we did back in the day together. It’s great to have my partner in crime back.” (On there being something to play for on Sunday) “Every week there’s something to play for. I don’t care if you’re 0-0. Obviously 4-3 and 4-3, it’s definitely a big game. Really, primarily, because it’s the next game but we are one of the top teams in the conference.” (On handling attention at 4-3) “We are not high on ourselves because we probably should be 7-0 and that’s just the mentality of football players or any sport in general. Regardless, people felt that we should have only won two games this year. We really didn’t care what people thought anyway. We just go out and perform and add it up in the end.” (On Bruce Arians) “Oh, yeah. We absolutely love him, man. I think if you’re a player in this league, you feel like you’re invincible in a way, ‘No one can stop us, no matter what it is.’ If it’s fourth-and-six, or fourth-and-inches, ‘Let’s go for it, we can get it.’ You have to have that mentality. Having a coach who calls gutsy calls and goes out and says, ‘Screw it, let’s go and do this thing. Who cares? If it’s not the right thing to call, let’s take chance.’ I think people respond to him (as a person and coach). He’s a real guy. When things are screwed up, he’s going to tell you. When things are great, he’s going to tell you. It is what it is. He’s going to tell you exactly what’s on his mind. It may not come out the best way (laughs), but we understand it and we love it.” (On what team has to do to play 60-minute game) “That just means on all cylinders, the three phases of the game, special teams, the offense and the defense. Sometimes the defense has been firing and the offense has been lagging. Sometimes the offense has been firing and the defense is lagging. It is what it is. It’s kind of like golf. When your driver is working, your putter is screwing up. Hopefully, we can put everything together this week.” JOE REITZ (On Bruce Arians) “I think it’s great. BA is not afraid to roll the dice. You go for it. You love that as a player because you know the coach has confidence in you. He’s got confidence in us to go out and make plays. He’ll give you the chance and give us opportunities and it’s up to us to make the best of them.” (On team not having played 60-minute game yet) “I think that’s something we continue to chase. We just watched the Tennessee game on tape and there are a million things we can get better at and techniques we need to clean up and things we can improve. We’re always a work in progress. We’re always trying to get better and move forward. We have to quickly, because Miami is a very good team coming in here Sunday.” (On if team still is just scratching the surface) “I think so. If you ask anybody in this room, everybody would say, ‘I could have played better at Tennessee.’ The challenge is to get better in practice and to make strides individually and as a team. If we do, we’ll get better as the season goes.” (On running ball, does it energize linemen) “I think it energizes the guys on the line. When you can run the ball, it gives you the chance to be the aggressor. It helps set up the pass and keeps the defense off balance. That’s what we want to do as an O-line every week. That is our challenge moving forward, to keep building that consistency.”