Colts Red Zone Defense Shines in Victory over Denver
Many NFL games can sway one way or another for various reasons. A couple of missed passes or turnovers, or even a defensive stop can alter the outcome of a game.
It was the latter on Sunday that significantly contributed to the Colts' 27-13 victory at Denver. Trailing 13-0 with 5:47 remaining in the second quarter, Denver had a first down on the Colts' one-yard line as the Broncos looked to cut into their deficit.
Denver running back Laurence Maroney tried unsuccessfully to get in over the right tackle on first and second down.
Following an Indianapolis timeout, Denver tried to pass for the score on third down, but Kyle Orton's pass was incomplete, setting up a crucial fourth down.
The Broncos this time sent Maroney off the left side, where he initially was met by Gary Brackett at the two-yard line. Brackett then received help from Philip Wheeler and Robert Mathis to wrestle the running back to the ground.
"It was a tremendous play," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "He was running to our defensive right and I think for the most part their left tackle and tight end did a pretty good job on the combination block, and the first guy to get to him was Gary Brackett. Brackett came and put a lick on him. (Maroney) was certainly angling away from Gary just a little bit, but two other guys made an unbelievable effort on that play.
"From the backside, Philip Wheeler came from our side of the line of scrimmage down the line, and he had to lay out in order to get his hands on Maroney. Then, on their side of the line of scrimmage from behind the line, Robert Mathis came down the line of scrimmage and he did exactly the same thing. Both of those guys laid out and made contact with (Maroney) to help thwart his effort to get into the end zone."
But the ruling on the field was a touchdown, and Caldwell collected the necessary advice from his staff and players before challenging a call he could not see for himself on the field.
"From our vantage point over on the sideline, obviously you couldn't tell necessarily," Caldwell said. "Robert Mathis jumped up immediately and says, 'Hey, throw the flag. He didn't make it.' The coaches in the press box were obviously waiting for a review on the television, and I was waiting, to no avail, for one on the jumbo-tron. That certainly was not going to happen when you are away from home. Word came from upstairs to confirm exactly what Robert said, so the challenge was made and they were absolutely right."
Brackett also felt Maroney was short and credited his defensive teammates for their contribution in the stop.
"I felt like his knee was down prior, and I (knew) he reached the ball late to get to the goal line," Brackett said. "The referee's call was a little late, but it is always a good sign when the home team doesn't play the play that it is usually in your favor.
"The line did a great job of creating penetration, creating a new line of scrimmage and gave me an alley to run downhill. It became me versus the running back, and I was able to keep him out of the end zone."
The Colts defense is no stranger to red zone success.
In 2009, Indianapolis opponents scored touchdowns on only 25 of 51 red zone drives, and the Colts defense forced an NFL-best seven turnovers with four interceptions and three recovered fumbles. The Colts defense ranked eighth in the AFC and 13th in the NFL in touchdown percentage inside the red zone.
The Colts' red zone defense was critical on Sunday, stopping the Denver offense three times on fourth down and allowing only six points on two field goals.
The Colts defense ranks third-best in the NFL this season in red zone touchdown efficiency at 25 percent, holding opponents to two touchdowns in eight red zone attempts. Only Tennessee and Baltimore rank ahead of the Colts in that category.
"I think we are continuing to improve," Brackett said. "Obviously, holding (Denver) to 13 points, being in the red zone five times and limiting them to six points, I think that was huge. I think we definitely have to eliminate the big play, but other than that we played pretty stout."
FROM SUNDAY'S LOCKER ROOM
"We've done a lot of that with feedback. We are a no-huddle team so we don't really have that huddle so we can't get in there and have that discussion. So a lot of times in between plays if I can get (Austin) Collie as he's running from one side to another we encourage their input. You don't have to always accept it or take it, but you appreciate what they're saying. So, I just asked him if he liked this play and if he could get by him (the receiver). A lot of times they (receivers) will say, 'No, that's not going to be a good play, he's playing too far inside or too far outside,' so you like that input. Blair White actually said, 'He's really inside, the slant route is going to be really tough so maybe if you slant and up…' That's what you encourage from your receivers, and that comes from film study and knowing football and communicating, and those guys did a good job." -Peyton Manning on Austin Collie's input on the route he ran for a touchdown
"I think we did well as a unit down there. The defensive line did a good job, and the back seven hung in there, and that's one thing that we harp on. When they get in the Red Zone, you may bend, but don't break. We held them to field goals, and we did a great job. It means a lot. It gives our team a lot more intensity. Down there, they're about to score, and it's fourth-and-one, and we stop them and put our offense back on the field. It gives us confidence on the field, so we can get back out there and do our job." -Antoine Bethea on the Colts' goal-line defense
"There are some plays where you think there is no way he is going to be able to put it in there, and you guys have seen it. It's unbelievable. One thing I've learned is to never quit on a route. You may be covered, but he'll find somewhere to put it." -Blair White on Peyton Manning's accuracy
"That was huge, absolutely huge. Touchbacks are not that common in this league, they are hard to come by. Our defense certainly took advantage of it. We made them go the long haul and when they got into the Red Zone we were able to stall them out a bit. That makes a big difference when he's kicking it deep in the end zone and you can't return it. That certainly does pay dividends." –Head Coach Jim Caldwell on Pat McAfee's club-record six touchbacks