INDIANAPOLIS – Sunday’s game against the New York Jets in MetLife Stadium is the first road game for the Colts in a month.
Indianapolis opened the season at Chicago on September 9, dropping a 41-21 game in which it incurred uneven play, a first-half double-digit deficit and a minus-four turnover ratio.
It was a rough afternoon for a Colts team that had nine new starting faces on the offense, as well as four on defense. A quick lead dissolved into problems, and the club eventually fell by 20 points.
The last month has been a period of growth for the team. Indianapolis pulled off compelling comeback wins over Minnesota and Green Bay and was perched for another against Jacksonville until falling in the final seconds.
Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians has steered the club in the absence of Chuck Pagano, and he wants to see the team’s performance under road pressure be better the second time around. It was something he addressed as the week dawned.
“Oh, there’s no doubt (I’m anxious to see us play),” said Arians. “That was a big focus in our meeting, how we’re going to handle the road business trip – from the travel part of it, to the game part of it, to the crowd noise part of it. We didn’t handle it extremely well in the second half against Chicago. We had very few pre-snap penalties and did a pretty good job with our silent count and our snap count offensively. We’ll focus on it all week.”
A number of Colts were making first-ever career starts that day and while Arians knows the squad is young, he says experience has bolstered the team.
“Pretty soon we’re not going to be young anymore. T.Y. (Hilton) got 73 snaps (last week). I don’t consider Andrew (Luck) young anymore. When you play these guys long enough, going into this week the youth part of it can’t be used as an excuse anymore. They’ve been down that road.”
“I think hopefully (we have) a little more game experience, with this unit, with the offense,” said Luck. “We know it’s going to be a great environment to play in. We will try and draw back and maybe think about what went wrong on the road the last time in Chicago, maybe what went well and how do we correct those wrongs, and prepare for a fight with a good Jets team.”
“We have grown a lot the last few weeks. We are definitely a different team than we were in week one,” said Redding. “I believe the attitude and focus will be there. I believe the leadership will be there. I believe in our preparation for this game and knowing what is at stake. As long as everybody stays focused and does what they are supposed to do, we (will compete).”
Redding is one of the more vocal and inspirational Colts players. The challenge of the road means players must create energy from within.
“That’s when it has to come from within,” said Redding. “It has to come from our playmakers. It has to come off just being where you are supposed to be, just flying around on the field. That’s where energy is built. It’s not going to rely on the crowd because they’re booing you. That negative energy can also fuel you.”
There are different yardsticks by which teams are measured, and true competitors must find success away from home. That is something not lost on General Manager Ryan Grigson.
“I like going on the road. It’s a great measure of where you are,” said Grigson. “In the friendly confines of your own stadium, there’s a comfort level there. When you go in a hostile environment and you win a game, that’s a mark of a good, consistent football team that is dialed in the right way. The field is still the same size. The ball is the same size. Everything is the same, except you have people in different colors yelling at you the whole game.
“Good teams block that out. Even when things get ugly, they maintain their focus and they keep inching their way toward a win. That’s what we have to do. That’s what we’ve done from day one here – one play at a time and one day at a time. That’s how I’ve had to live my life since I took this job. That’s how our players have to keep approaching it. I think the coaches are doing a great job of maintaining that philosophy.”
Indianapolis rebounded to beat Green Bay last week after a demoralizing late loss to Jacksonville on September 23. Luck thinks it is a bit harder to put the memories of a great win behind than it is for a distasteful loss.
“I think (it’s) even more (difficult),” said Luck. “We can’t look in the rearview mirror. We can’t keep patting ourselves on the back for one win. We realize it was just one win in the grand scheme of things. Obviously, it meant a lot to a lot of people, especially Coach Pagano. It’s behind us. We’ve got to move on. I think we have. It’s to a tough Jets team and another week.”
Arians has battled against Rex Ryan and the Jets before. It is a talented coach and team Indianapolis will meet in New York.
“They’re powerful, they’re very physical and big up front, and (they have) an outstanding corps of linebackers,” said Arians. “That’s always been Rex’s motto, stop the run and make them one-dimensional, and then be exotic blitzers. We’re very similar defenses with very similar philosophies. They’ve got the talent to do it. Obviously, when you take a guy like Darrelle Revis out of the mix, it changes some things. They still have (Antonio) Cromartie, and the young guys that are back there are still pretty solid. To me, it’s the physicality of the front.”
Ryan will be dealing with a unique quarterback system of his own with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. As he looks at the Colts, he sees a talented field leader.
“Andrew Luck just seems to be one of those guys you can build a franchise around,” said Ryan. “When he came out, he’s recognized as the top quarterback prospect probably since Peyton (Manning). Obviously that’s a lot to carry with you, but this young man looks like he really handles it well.”