INDIANAPOLIS –Rarely does an NFL team attack each Sunday with every weapon at its disposal.
That will be the case this Sunday for the Colts in regard to linebacker Robert Mathis as they meet the New York Jets in MetLife Stadium.
Mathis injured a knee late in the Green Bay game last week. Today, the club said it will delve into its depth to replace the four-time Pro Bowler.
"It would have been great to have him up this week," said defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. "But the next guy's got to stand up and go out there and perform at a high level. Between Jerry Hughes and (Justin) Hickman, both of those guys will be taking reps at that position to go out there and play on Sunday."
Manusky is like 31 other coordinators who weekly must have to field the sturdiest unit possible. Sometimes a coach feels the pinch.
"I think every week (you feel it)," said Manusky. "We haven't had Robert (Mathis) and Dwight (Freeney) out there at the same time except for six plays in the first game, and of course we got them out there in this past game. It's always a pinch, and that's what the National Football League is. Those backup players have got to step up and they have to perform at a high level, and that's what we're looking for."
Freeney and Mathis teamed for two of the five sacks produced by the Colts in last week's 30-27 win. It marked the 33rd time they had done so in the same game, and the Colts were winners in 25 of those outings.
Freeney spoke with Mathis about the tough irony of the situation.
"I had a conversation about that with him this morning, 'What's going on? I get back, now you want to take some time off? You're taking time off? I'm back now, what are we doing, switching roles?' Hopefully, we can get back together soon," said Freeney. "Football is a violent game, and you hate to see a guy go down. That's part of the game."
Freeney is fighting through an ankle injury himself, and last week was his first extended action of the year. He says the ankle feels better now than it did last week. This week, he will spend little time helping coordinate Mathis' replacements.
"You definitely have to talk to them more, catch them up to speed. There's no way (one guy replaces Mathis). It's going to about take two or three guys to (replace him), (with) all the time that Robert's spent on that side," said Freeney. "We'll get something done. The big thing is communicating more with the other guy, whoever it is, on the opposite side.
"When Rob is out there, there is not much to be said. He knows what to do, where to be. You mesh together pretty well. Jerry's definitely ready. Hickman's really ready. We'll have a game plan. Jerry has been around, he understands what it takes."
Hughes is a third-year pro who played well in extended time in preseason for Mathis. Hickman will be seeing his first true action defensively.
"It is what it is. That's what Coach Pagano has been teaching since day one, so I just have to come ready on Sunday," said Hickman. "I can't fill his shoes. Obviously he's been doing it for over a decade. I've got to come in, do my assignments, play hard and try and make some plays. I'm ready to take advantage of the opportunity at hand."
Safety Jerraud Powers would like to see the defense with all hands available, but he does not feel the unit is overly depleted.
"We are fine. We got a couple guys banged up but if you look at any NFL team, you can say the same thing. Everybody has guys banged up. I think we'll be fine," said Powers. "I think we've got guys that have been here long enough that know what to do. Once they get their opportunity Sunday, we'll see what happens.
"You want Rob and Free on the field together at all times. I still think we'll do a good job. We've got a good game plan and the backups behind those guys, are surely not Freeney or Robert, but we've got some guys that can play. I'm excited to see them play."
The Colts knew what quarterback they would face last Sunday against Green Bay. Playing the Jets means the possibility of Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, which could mean two different offenses.
"I think you've got to prepare for it," said Manusky of the Wildcat. "Every team that goes in there has got to prepare for it because it's a part of the game now. That's what we've got to do.
"It's a little bit tougher. From a defensive standpoint, I told them all we have to prepare for two (quarterbacks). We've got to make sure we surround both of them. You've got a dual threat there with two situations."
Freeney is a destructive force who has sacked 51 different quarterbacks. He knows the unpredictability of the Wildcat is an issue.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge with (Tim) Tebow and everything he does. That's what they force you to do," said Freeney. "They kind of force you to prepare for the Wildcat and all that stuff that you can run. You can have a whole game of just Wildcat – passes, runs, trick plays.
"Then you have (Mark) Sanchez back there doing what they do, and that's just normal a pro-style offense. That takes a whole week to prepare for. That's kind of the challenge going into this week with the Jets. They give you two game plans (to defense)."