Defense Continues to Thrive in Pressure Situations
For the defense, the red zone is all about making plays.
When opposing offenses have been in striking distance, the Colts defense has been at its best this season. Through 12 games, the defense has given up only 147 points inside the 20, ninth-best in the league, and has caused opposing teams to turn the ball over six times in the red zone, the most in the NFL.
"It's all about heart down there and everybody just doing their job," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "We've done it week-in and week-out, and it was no different this week."
During Sunday's 27-17 victory over Tennessee, the Colts stopped the Titans twice in inside the red zone in the second half, forcing the Titans to turn the ball over on fourth down. In the first half, the Colts also forced their division rival to settle for a field goal after driving the ball all the way to Indianapolis' 2.
"Once you get in the red zone you want to eliminate touchdowns and hold them to field goal attempts," linebacker Gary Brackett said. "If they try (to go for it) on fourth down, you've got to come up with a big stop."
Late in the third quarter Sunday, the Colts made their first of two big plays on fourth down. After a pass interference call moved the ball into the red zone, the Colts stopped the Titans from scoring on seven consecutive plays, despite Tennessee moving the ball as close as inside the one-yard line.
On 4th-and-2, Titans quarterback Vince Young attempted a fade route to wide receiver Kenny Britt, but rookie defensive back Jerraud Powers was in perfect position to break up the potential score.
Tennessee threatened inside Indianapolis' red zone once again on its ensuing drive, but failed to convert a first down, leading to another turnover on downs and another big stop by the Colts defense.
"I think because we've been in that situation a few times now, we just play with a whole bunch of poise. Guys don't press," Brackett said. "There's really no arguing out there. Guys just kept making big plays. (Sunday), it was Jerraud and (defensive back) Jacob Lacey, and next week it will be someone else."
In addition to coming up in the red zone, the Colts also are playing their best on fourth downs. Opposing teams have gone for it 14 times against the Colts this year, but have converted only five attempts, giving Indianapolis the fifth-best percentage (30.8) in the league.
"Me, personally, I love it when teams go for it on fourth down," linebacker Clint Session said. "It takes away the field goal if you stop them … and we know we have confidence in our defense to stop them on fourth down."
Defensive tackle Dan Muir said fourth-down stops "rile us up."
"It makes you feel good inside because you know that's what you practice during the week," Muir said. "To come out and actually do it on Sunday is just a good feeling."
Last Sunday's stops were particularly uplifting. With a 14-point lead at halftime, the Colts were able to limit their opponent in the second half with critical defensive stands.
"Guys just have to want to dig deep and make a play," defensive tackle Antonio Johnson said. "When teams try to go for it on fourth down, we have to come together as a unit and get it done. Obviously, it was a turning point (Sunday)."
Quarterback Peyton Manning said he enjoyed watching the defense come up with stop-after-stop Sunday, a sight that he and everyone else looking on from the sidelines is getting used to.
"These guys have a lot of pride and had a couple of nice red-zone stands down there," he said. "The main thing was keeping them out of the end zone on the couple of chances (they had). When (Tennessee) had good field position down there they held them to zero points, and that was huge by our defense."
• Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said left tackle Tony Ugoh did an admirable job filling in for starter Charlie Johnson on Sunday. "He was solid. Oftentimes, when a guy gets demoted, he will take exception to it and lose his focus a little bit and not work nearly as hard, thinking that all may be lost. The right attitude is to still learn and develop even though you're not starting. Then you wait for your opportunity to play and play well. That's the attitude Tony took. He looked at this opportunity, he kept working, he didn't lose faith, and thus I think he was able to perform well in the game. We were certainly pleased with his effort. He played extremely hard and did a nice job."
• With the Titans keying in on wide receiver Reggie Wayne, second-year wide receiver Pierre Garcon emerged as Manning's main target Sunday. Garcon reeled in six catches for a career-high 136 yards. "If you only have one guy who can catch the ball and run after the catch, teams can limit you a little bit," Caldwell said. "We have several guys that have been able to step up through the weeks. Every week it's a different guy. One week it's been Pierre. It is Reggie the next. Then we have Austin (Collie) and Dallas Clark. We've had a number of guys to certainly perform well in that area."
• With a win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday, the Colts can clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
LACEY NOMINATED FOR WEEKLY ROOKIE HONOR
Colts rookie defensive back Jacob Lacey has been nominated for NFL Rookie-of-the-Week honors. Lacey is a finalist along with Denver running back Knowshon Moreno, Miami defensive back Vontae Davis, Oakland wide receiver Louis Murphy and Minnesota wide receiver Percy Harvin.
Lacey recorded four tackles, one pass defensed and his second career interception in the Colts 27-17 victory vs. Tennessee Sunday. Lacey, an undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma State, has 58 tackles on the season and leads the Colts with 10 passes defensed, while ranking tied for second with two interceptions.
Fans can vote for the award at NFL.com/rookies beginning Tuesday at 9 a.m. (ET) through noon (ET) on Friday.