Four-Linebacker Formation Helps Hold Titans Under 100 Yards Rushing
INDIANAPOLIS – The look was brought about by circumstance.
And Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said on Tuesday if the circumstance should come about in the future, it's a look that could be seen again.
The Colts, playing one of the NFL's top running teams, on Monday against Tennessee played a defense at times that featured four linebackers – Tyjuan Hagler, Freddy Keiaho, Gary Brackett and Clint Session – rather than the usual complement of three in their 4-3 scheme.
The Colts, who entered the game ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing defense, were effective against the Titans' running game most of the night, limiting the NFL's fourth-ranked rushing team to 88 yards on 31 carries.
"They were such a heavy running team coming into it, especially certain down and distances," Dungy said Monday, a day after the Colts' 31-21 loss to the Titans at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
"They changed up and threw a little bit more in certain situations, but the four linebackers helped us get some bigger bodies in there, and overall, we did a decent job against the run. We may see it more."
The Titans a week before had rushed for a franchise-record 332 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs, but against the Colts Monday, while rookie Chris Johnson rushed for 77 yards on 19 carries, LenDale White managed just 13 yards on 10 carries.
The Colts after allowing 183, 179, 236 and 156 yards rushing in the first four games of the season, have held two of their last three opponents under 100 yards rushing.
Three weeks ago, they held Baltimore – then the NFL's fourth-ranked rushing offense – to 51 yards on 19 carries, and a week later, they held Green Bay to 116 yards on 35 carries.
During much of the last month, Dungy said the Colts have played a similar defensive scheme to the four-linebacker scheme at times, often playing safety Melvin Bullitt in a linebacker-type position near the line of scrimmage.
"It really wasn't that big of an adjustment for us," Dungy said. "We just got a bigger body in there when they were really heavy run tendencies."
RETURNS POSSIBLE: The Colts have been without safety Bob Sanders – the 2007 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year – for much of the season, and without running back Joseph Addai and cornerback Kelvin Hayden in recent weeks.
Dungy said that could change Sunday.
Sanders, who has been out since Week 2 with a knee injury, could return Sunday against the New England Patriots, Dungy said Tuesday. He also said Addai and Hayden could return.
Addai, like Sanders a Pro Bowl selection after last season, has been out the last two games with a hamstring injury and Hayden – who started 16 games last season – has been out three games with a knee injury.
Sanders and Addai missed just one game each last season.
"I think we have a chance to get Bob, Kelvin and Joseph back this week," Dungy said.
STEADY IMPROVEMENT: The Colts' offensive line, hampered by injuries early in the season, has improved in recent weeks, Dungy said.
Tony Ugoh, who started the first two games of the season before missing one with a groin injury and playing three games as a reserve, returned to the starting lineup on Monday.
With Ugoh's return, Charlie Johnson – who had been playing left tackle – moved to left guard, and the rest of the lineup was three-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, rookie second-round draft selection Mike Pollak at right guard and eight-year veteran Ryan Diem at right tackle.
On Monday, the Colts – who entered the game ranked last in the NFL in rushing offense outrushed the Titans, gaining 94 yards on 22 carries.
The line also did not allow a sack for the second consecutive game after allowing at least one in each of the first five games.
"I thought we did some good things," Dungy said. "We got Tony (Ugoh) back, and that was good to see. We protected. They didn't have probably their best rusher (two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch) in the lineup and that obviously helped us, but we protected well against a tough group.
"We did some good things, so I think we are making progress and our young guys are continuing to play better."