INDIANAPOLIS – A capsule look at the Colts' opponent this week, the Atlanta Falcons of the NFC South.
Synopsis: The Atlanta Falcons, 4-3, will travel to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday in a week nine matchup with the Colts, 0-8.
This will mark the first of three consecutive games at home for Indianapolis, and the Colts are eager to return to the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium in front of some of the league's best fans.
"It's always nice to have your home crowd, especially when you're struggling offensively," said center Jeff Saturday. "We like to get our crowd involved, get them excited and you can play off that momentum and feed off of it. So it will be good to be back at Lucas Oil (Stadium), and I look forward to seeing some smiling faces and some good fans."
The Falcons will be well-rested and prepared to play following the team's bye week, which came on the heels of back-to-back victories over Carolina and Detroit.
With momentum on its side, Atlanta will look to spoil the return home for Indianapolis, as it tries to extend the current winning streak to three games.
"We needed to start a streak. We've kind of been on a yo-yo in terms of wins and losses," said Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith. "We wanted to start a streak, and we were able to get that accomplished by getting a victory on the road."
The Colts will have the difficult task of slowing down a high-powered Falcons offense. But with the crowd on their side, Robert Mathis believes the Colts will receive a huge boost come Sunday.
"Home is where the heart is," said Mathis. "Third downs, (you can) get the crowd going, and you can get the jump on the snap count. It's to our benefit a lot, so that's why I would prefer to play here over any place else."
Through the first half of the season, Indianapolis has had its share of struggles defensively, but the team has been working diligently to make the necessary corrections.
Stopping the run has been a concern for the Colts, as the team is allowing 144.0 yards per game. However against Tennessee, the Colts limited the Titans to 96 rushing yards on 31 carries, an average of 3.1 yards per attempt. The team also managed to limit Titans running back Chris Johnson to 34 yards on 14 carries, a 2.4 average.
"They completed a couple passes and got a couple field goals, but I don't think they had an effective day moving the ball up and down the field," said cornerback Jerraud Powers on the effort of the defense. "We did a good job controlling (Chris) Johnson. They schemed up a couple things and had some nice runs and had a nice throw here and there. It is the NFL, it is going to happen every now and then."
The Colts will need to be just as stout against the ground attack this week, as Atlanta boasts one of the top running backs in the NFL.
Falcons running back Michael Turner has rushed for 100 yards in four games this season, and is averaging 130 yards and one touchdown over the past two Atlanta victories.
Coupled with the rushing attack supplied by Turner, the Falcons also have wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones for quarterback Matt Ryan to use in attacking through the air.
Despite facing a talented opponent on both sides of the ball, Indianapolis will keep the same mindset as it looks to earn its first victory of the season.
Although he must watch from the sidelines, Gary Brackett echoes the need for the team to keep fighting.
"I know it's kind of repetitive that we're going to keep working hard, we're going to keep trying and make this thing work, but there's really no alternative," said Brackett. "No one's going to say, 'We're going to quit, we're going to give up, we're going to lay down, the season's over.' That's just not our makeup, and that's not how we think. So we're going to keep working hard, and guys are going to have to keep stepping up. Somehow, someway we're going to find a way to win."
*2011 Record: *4-3, Tied for second in NFC South.
*Head Coach: *Mike Smith, 4th season as Falcons and NFL Head Coach (37-18).
*Last game: *After starting off the season 2-3, the Atlanta Falcons were able to defeat the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions in consecutive weeks to move to 4-3 heading into a week eight bye.
In week seven the Falcons were able to travel to Ford Field and defeat the Lions, 23-16, in a heated contest.
Michael Turner helped set the tone for the Falcons offense, running for 122 yards on 27 carries. The Atlanta defense also limited a potent Detroit passing to 183 yards through the air, and in the process sacked Matthew Stafford three times.
*2011 NFL Rankings: *Offense – Overall, 17th (335.0); Rushing, 17th (112.7); Passing, 18th (222.3); Defense – Overall, 19th (364.0); Rushing, 7th (98.4); Passing, 23rd (265.6).
*2011 Leading Passer: *Matt Ryan (154-252 comp., 1,683 yards, 61.1 pct., 9 TDs, 8 INTs, 79.5 rating).
*2011 Leading Rusher: *Michael Turner (138 carries, 621 yards, 6 TDs).
*2011 Leading Receiver: *Roddy White (39 receptions, 425 yards, 3 TDs).
2011 Leading Sacker: John Abraham (3.0).
2011 Turnover Breakdown: 1 (Tied-14th).
First-round draft choice: Julio Jones, wide receiver. With the sixth overall selection in the 2011 NFL draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected Julio Jones out of the University of Alabama.
As a senior, Jones earned second-team All-American honors, and was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection. He was also a member of the watch lists for the Maxwell and Biletnikoff Awards.
*2010 Review: *Atlanta finished with the best record in the NFC (13-3) last season, and finished with an impressive 10-2 record against conference foes. The superb play throughout the season earned the Falcons nine Pro Bowl selections, and saw Atlanta take home its first division title since 2004. However, the Falcons were unable to survive the Divisional round of the playoffs, falling at home to the Green Bay Packers, 48-21.
Last time in Playoffs: L, 21-48 vs. Green Bay Packers (2010).
*Last time in Super Bowl: *1998.
*Super Bowl Championships: *None.
*2010 Pro Bowl Selections: *Matt Ryan QB, Michael Turner RB, Ovie Mughelli FB, Roddy White WR, Tony Gonzalez TE, Tyson Clabo OT, John Abraham DE, Brent Grimes CB, Eric Weems ST.
Quotable I: On forcing a turnover in 26 straight contests:
"I really think that it has a lot to do with the mindset of how we coach our guys to attack the football. We know that if we attack the football and we try to get as many people and as many pads as we can on a ball carrier that there's an opportunity that the ball's going to come out. It's something that, philosophically, our defensive staff from the very beginning states, 'This is how we're going to do things,' and the guys really buy into it."
--- Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith
Quotable II: On the team getting healthy over the bye week and the improved play of the defense:
"I think this is going to be a big (bye) week for us, in terms of getting some guys healthier. We've got some guys that have missed time, especially on our defensive line, that should get healthier. We feel that our guys have a much better understanding from day one to where we are right now in terms of what we're trying to do schematically."
--- Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith