**A Capsule Look at the Colts' Sunday Showdown Against the 49ers
Indianapolis Colts (6-0) vs. San Francisco 49ers (3-3)
Sunday, November 1, 2009 (1:00 p.m. EST)
Lucas Oil Stadium (63,000 capacity) – Indianapolis, Ind.
Television/Radio: FOX Sports and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
When Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell first saw his team's schedule for the 2009 season, he knew the first six games would present a difficult test.
"I knew it was going to be very tough," Caldwell said. "It was very unusual. We had to deal with different times zones, we had to deal with extensive travel and we even had to deal with a number of different weather conditions."
The Colts played four of their first six games on the road, including three on primetime television. They squared off against familiar division rivals. And they faced unfamiliar NFC foes. One game was decided by less than a field goal, another was decided by five touchdowns.
The one thing all six games did have in common: they resulted in a Colts victory.
"The guys did a nice job, we were well prepared and they adapted well," Caldwell said of the team's 6-0 start. "They adjust to situations extremely well. (Now) we are going to have to do the same thing here down the stretch."
The Colts now return home. This Sunday, they will host the San Francisco 49ers in the first game of a three-week homestand.
Caldwell said that while the team is happy to be back in Indianapolis for an extended stay, that does not mean they plan on relaxing and kicking their feet up anytime soon.
"Being home is not anything we can count on as being a huge plus for us," he said. "We won games away in adverse conditions, so teams could come here as well and have good fortunes. Our job is to make certain that doesn't happen."
Should the Colts win Sunday, it will extend their franchise-best regular-season winning streak to 16 games.
But they will have to beat an improved team in the 49ers, which started the season 3-1, but is currently amidst a two-game losing streak.
"The thing that we try and do and have always done is that old cliché, 'You really don't get out ahead of yourself in terms of your focus and in terms of your preparation,'" Caldwell said. "You are just looking at one game. That's it. We would like to just add them up at the end. I do believe you don't want to get to the point of looking out on the horizon and not focusing on what's right there in front of you. For us, it's the 49ers walking into our stadium on Sunday. We'd better be prepared to play."
The Colts lead the all-time series between the two teams, 23-18. The last time the Colts and 49ers met, Indianapolis prevailed, 28-3, on Oct. 9, 2005 in San Francisco.
When it comes to winning, quarterback Peyton Manning has an insatiable appetite.
Despite having the No. 1 passing offense and a perfect 6-0 record, Manning sees plenty room for improvement.
"We want to get better every week," Manning said. "I think it's important this week that we protect the ball and be able to stay on the field on third downs and protect the ball in the red zone and try to get touchdowns."
The Colts already are off to a good start in those areas. The team is converting 53.5 percent of its third downs, second-best in the NFL, and has committed just six turnovers, the second-lowest mark in the league.
Tight end Dallas Clark said the team is focused on the same thing it has been for the past few weeks: continuously getting better.
"We want to eliminate penalties and turnovers, take care of the ball and score in the red zone," Clark said, almost echoing Manning.
"Those are our similar team goals and we are just trying to execute more smoothly," he said.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE 49ERS
The 49ers lost last week, but the team might have gained an offensive identity.
After managing only 50 total yards in the first half against the Texans, 49ers Head Coach Mike Singletary made a switch at quarterback at halftime, benching starter Shaun Hill and inserting Alex Smith, the quarterback whom the 49ers selected first overall in the 2005 draft.
While Smith's NFL career has not yet taken off as planned, the second half last Sunday could not have gone much better for the Utah product.
Smith was 15-of-22 for 206 yards and threw three touchdown passes, all to tight end Vernon Davis. In addition to getting Davis involved, a fellow first-round pick, Smith also displayed some chemistry with rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who finished with five catches for 56 yards.
In all, it was a positive sign from an offense that has struggled at times this season.
"I think we're at a good place," Singletary said. "We're fighting and scratching and kicking, growing. We're having some growing pains, but we are very excited about where we are going."
After his strong showing, Singletary named Smith the team's starting quarterback against the Colts. It has been a while since Smith was the starter in San Francisco, but the quarterback has started against the Colts before.
As a rookie in 2005, Smith struggled against the Colts in his first career start. The quarterback finished 9-of-23 for 74 yards and four interceptions.
"We have seen him before," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "He does a good job managing the team. He likes to stand in the pocket, he has confidence in his abilities and he doesn't mind taking a hit to try and make plays for his team."
Safety Melvin Bullitt said after watching film of Smith, it is obvious the quarterback has some talent.
"He hasn't come along like he thought he would so far, but last week he kind of lit it up, so I'm sure he's building off that and hoping to come here and have a big game."
As the offense improves, Caldwell said the Colts are equally aware of the team's talented defense. San Francisco has the sixth-best rushing defense in the league (allowing 88.8 yard per game) and can put some pressure on the quarterback, according to Caldwell.
"They have some guys who can rush the passer. They certainly are effective on the inside with (defensive end Justin) Smith. Both (linebackers Takeo) Spikes and (Patrick) Willis are guys that are equally effective, not only as pass rushers, but they also make a lot of plays running from sideline to sideline," he said.
With a strong secondary and special teams unit as well, Caldwell said the Colts could have their hands full this Sunday.
"They are a well-coached football team. We have to make certain we are prepared to play," he said.
The Colts issued the game status/injury report on Friday with WR-Anthony Gonzalez (knee), DB-Marlin Jackson (knee) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee) listed as out for Sunday's game vs. San Francisco. RB-Donald Brown (shoulder) is listed as doubtful, while DT-Eric Foster (shoulder), DE-Dwight Freeney (knee), TE-Jacob Tamme (hamstring) and WR-Reggie Wayne (groin) are listed as questionable. Foster, Freeney, Tamme and Wayne were listed as full participation for Friday's practice.
• "I remember watching Isaac all the way back in middle school. He knows how to get open, he knows what to expect, he knows how to read defenses and he knows how to do just about everything, because he's had a successful career."– Colts rookie defensive back Jerraud Powers on San Francisco's 16-year veteran wide receiver Isaac Bruce
• "Changing the culture is always a little bit more difficult than you think it would be. I think the most important thing in doing this is having a tremendous staff, and I feel very fortunate to have a great staff. And these players that are on this team are some of the finest that I have been around. So having said that, I'm very excited about the future of the organization. I'm very excited about 49er football." – 49ers Head Coach Mike Singletary on turning the 49ers around
• "I wouldn't really look at it that way. Is it that slow in sports around here? The World Series is tonight, isn't it? That's a pretty big game. Is it sweeps month?"– Colts quarterback Peyton Manning when asked if a 16-game regular-season winning streak counts as a perfect season
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1) WEAPONS OF CHOICE
The 49ers are as loaded at the skill positions as any team the Colts have faced this season.
In the backfield, they employ Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore, the NFC's 2006 rushing champion, who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry this season.
At tight end, they have the super-athletic Vernon Davis, who caught three touchdown passes last week and runs like a wide receiver, despite standing at 6'3" and 250 pounds.
And at wide receiver they have two players on the opposites of the career spectrum. On one side they have Isaac Bruce, a 16-year veteran and one of the most accomplished pass catchers in history.
On the other side, they have Michael Crabtree, a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner at Texas Tech, and a rookie with a wealth of promise.
Crabtree missed all of the preseason and the first five weeks of the regular season while negotiating a contract. But the rookie took a crash course in the team's offense during the bye week and had an impressive first game.
"He looks like he's in great shape," Colts rookie defensive back Jerraud Powers said. "I know he's been out for a while, but you can tell he kept his body in shape."
After watching tape of Crabtree against the Texans, Powers said he thought his fellow rookie made some impressive catches.
"He makes it look like he's still out in Texas Tech doing what he does," he said.
2) SAFETY FIRST
While his teammates steal the spotlight, safety Antoine Bethea is quietly having another Pro Bowl year.
After leading the Colts in tackles last season with 126, Bethea leads the team once again through six games with 50.
"From the moment he set foot on this location, he's a guy you could tell was very instinctive right at the onset," Caldwell said. "He has great work habits. He is a real sure tackler and he just continues to get better each and every year."
Bethea also leads the Colts in interceptions with two, but is a player for some reason whose accomplishments sometimes go unnoticed.
"Except for those people who play against us," Caldwell said. "They see him and see that he is an active player … He is one that you don't hear a whole lot of people mentioning his name week in and week out, but he certainly has been playing some outstanding football."
In addition to Bethea, Caldwell said third-year safety Melvin Bullitt continues to improve.
"Last year you look at his play, he stepped in and always seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time," the Colts coach said. "That has continued. He has played very well."
And now the Colts also have 2007 NFL Defensive Player-of-the-Year Bob Sanders back, giving them a wealth of depth at the safety position.
"It's not going to take him a long time to get up to speed," Caldwell said.
3) BACKFIELD SHUFFLE
With rookie running back Donald Brown missing practice this week and listed as doubtful for Sunday's game, Caldwell said Colts fans could expect to see plenty of No. 29 on Sunday.
"Joseph (Addai) would carry the load a little bit more," Caldwell said if Brown cannot play. "You certainly would see Chad (Simpson) as well. He is capable and showed some flashes in the last game."
Simpson has primarily served as the team's kick returner this season, but scored on a 31-yard rushing touchdown against the Rams last week.
Caldwell said the team would use their typical format in the backfield, letting Addai carry most of the load and the No. 2 back relieving him when necessary.
"We'll let Joe take as many as he wants," Caldwell said.