INDIANAPOLIS — Dwayne Allen said his head coach, Chuck Pagano, has already laid out to the team what it must do in the final month of the season in order to accomplish its goal of making the playoffs.
"Coach has already said that there's zero margin for error," the tight end said. "That basically we have to run the table these last five games."
It's true — the only way for the Colts (5-6) to really ensure they make the playoffs via AFC South Division title is to win its final five games of the season, matchups against the New York Jets, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars.
But doing anything other than focusing on the Jets — tonight's opponent at MetLife Stadium — would be foolish, Allen said.
"We can become overwhelmed with the opponents up ahead, or you can just lock in on your opponent that you have this week," Allen said, echoing his head coach's message to the team. "We have a very talented New York Jets defense, but you find a way to win. You find a way to win, you focus on that game and you do everything you can in the week of preparation to find a way to win, and then you go out there and play."
While the Jets (3-8) have been about average as a whole defensively, their unit features multiple first-round picks, particularly along the defensive line — and it shows in the numbers. New York is 15th in the NFL in total yards allowed per game (348.7), but rank third in the league when it comes to stopping the run, as they allow just 85.9 rushing yards per game.
Allen will be a key piece to trying to combat that rush defense tonight, and he'll also try to find some openings within a secondary that includes the likes of Darrelle Revis and Buster Skrine.
"The secondary, which is really run by the guys up front — you know, they've got three or four No. 1 picks on that defensive line — that do a great job of stopping the run and rushing the passer," Allen said. "So it makes it really tough for offensive coordinators to pick and choose what they want to do against them."
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels found that out first-hand last week, as the Jets gave the AFC's top team everything it could handle in New England's 22-17 victory.
Pagano said the Jets' defensive front — which includes Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson at defensive end and Steve McLendon at defensive tackle, with Sheldon Richardson and Jordan Jenkins often playing on the line from the outside linebacker position — "is as good as we'll play against."
"They have speed at linebacker, veteran guys in the back end," Pagano said. "Very, very stingy. I think they only give up 85 yards a game on the ground. They get you into third-and-long situations and put a lot of pressure on you."
Allen, who has faced his share of nicks and bruises this season, is coming off a strong performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which he caught five passes for 49 yards from backup quarterback Scott Tolzien, who was playing in relief of Andrew Luck, who did not play due to a concussion.
With Luck back in the lineup tonight against the Jets, Allen — who has 24 receptions for 256 yards and two touchdowns on the season — hopes he can be a catalyst for a late-season run for the Colts.
"We all know what Dwayne is capable of, he knows what he is capable of," Pagano said. "It's like anybody else, it's consistency, it's stacking good game after good game. It would be great for him to continue along those lines."
But again, it's a "one-game-at-a-time" approach. It doesn't hurt that the team's next game is being played tonight on Monday Night Football.
"I always like to say it doesn't matter when or where, but there's always something special about playing on Monday night," Allen said. "It should be a lot of fun."