Colts Defense Steps Up Once Again When Called Upon
As it has done so many times this season, the Indianapolis Colts defense stepped up when its team needed it most Sunday.
Whether a big third- or fourth-down stop, a drive-killing sack or a critical fumble or interception, the Colts defense has done it all this season.
And on Sunday, they did a little bit of everything.
After allowing Houston to score touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game, the Colts clamped down on the Texans, keeping them out of the end zone until the game's final minute and giving the offense an opportunity to put points on the board.
The Colts defense has featured many starring roles this season. Against the Texans, two of those to shine were safety Antoine Bethea and linebacker Clint Session.
The two might not be household names just yet, but they are the leading tacklers on a defense that is allowing only 16.7 points per game and has played a vital role in the Colts' success this season.
Defensive end Robert Mathis described the pair as "two of the most underrated players on this team."
Midway through the third quarter, just three minutes after wide receiver Reggie Wayne's touchdown cut the Texans' lead to 20-14, Bethea came up with the first of three game-changing defensive plays.
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub had been near perfect in the first half – completing 14-of-17 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. But when the Texans' quarterback tried to go deep to Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson in the third quarter, the pass ended up falling into the hands of Bethea, who had dropped back into coverage and was in perfect position for the pick.
"I was just out there trying to make a play," Bethea said. "They say a free safety back there in the post has to be a center fielder. I saw the ball go up, tried to locate the ball and make a play on it."
The interception was the fourth of the season for Bethea, and marked the beginning of a staunch defensive effort in the second half. The Texans' next four drives went as follows: punt, punt, interception, fumble.
The second interception came at the hands of Session. And the fumble came by a Mathis one-hand strip-sack.
Less than 30 seconds after tight end Dallas Clark caught the go-ahead touchdown with 8:28 left in the game, Session got his hands on one of his own, literally.
On the Texans' second play of the next drive, Session faked a blitz, dropped back into coverage and intercepted Schaub's short pass attempt to tight end James Casey.
In stride, Session snagged the ball and sprinted 27 yards for the score, the first of his career.
"That's our job," Session said. "We have to execute."
Mathis, who forced his fifth fumble of the season on the Texans' next drive, said plays like the ones Bethea and Session made in the fourth quarter are a big reason for much of the team's success this season.
"They came through in the clutch for us and we were able to get the victory," he said.
The rest of the Colts defense did not miss many beats, either, Sunday.
After failing to do so in the first half, Caldwell said the Colts controlled the line-of-scrimmage much better in the second.
"We mixed it up a little bit," Caldwell said. "(Defensive coordinator) Larry (Coyer) did a good job, and the defensive guys up front did a good job of getting them headed in the right direction more so than anything else. It wasn't anything magical … but in the second half we really took care of the line-of-scrimmage."
The Texans gained 90 yards on the ground in the first half, which opened up several play-action opportunities to the team's passing game. But in the second half, the Colts limited Houston's running backs to just 32 yards.
"Once we restricted that, it made things a little more manageable," Caldwell said.
Safety Melvin Bullitt said while the team was happy to make plays late in the game to carry them to victory, they would not mind creating a few turnovers and stopping the opposition in the first half.
Five consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks are exciting, but once the Colts defense puts together a 60-minute effort, the results will improve according to Bullitt.
"We haven't really done that yet, but I feel like we are starting to get to where we are playing all four quarters," he said. "We had three solid quarters this week. Once we get to where we can have four quarters of full-team action, we're going to be a very tough team to beat."
The Colts on Tuesday also announced the team has waived sixth-year veteran defensive end Josh Thomas and fourth-year defensive back Anthony Madison.
Thomas appeared in two games with the Colts this season, recording five tackles, while Madison, who appeared in three games after signing as a free agent on November 11, had two special teams tackles.