**A Capsule Look at the Colts' Sunday Showdown Against the Jets
Indianapolis Colts (14-0) vs. New York Jets (7-7)
Thursday, December 27, 2009 (4:15 p.m. EST)
Lucas Oil Stadium (63,000 capacity) – Indianapolis, Ind.
Television/Radio: CBS Sports and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
The Indianapolis Colts conclude the home portion of their 2009 regular season and look to stay undefeated this Sunday when they host the New York Jets.
With their 35-31 victory at Jacksonville last week, the Colts became the third team in NFL history to start 14-0. Coupled with New Orleans' loss last Sunday, the Colts now stand as the league's lone undefeated team.
"Obviously, it's an honor for our team to have an opportunity to stand alone at this point," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "But the fact of the matter is that it is a real task to maintain this position, as well. I think our guys are certainly up to that challenge."
As he said last week, Caldwell reiterated this week the Colts would play their healthy players on game day, but just how much would "depend on the health of some guys."
"We won't change our approach. Every week we try to approach it the same way. This one is no different. Winning is extremely important. This is a competitive game with competitive people. We don't take the field with anything other than that in mind," he said.
With two regular-season games remaining on the schedule, Caldwell said it was important for the Colts to continue to improve headed into the postseason.
"We want to keep finding things that we can focus in on and improve," he said. "That's the key as a team. We've done that from week-to-week."
The Jets enter Sunday's game amidst an AFC playoff race and in need of a win. The Colts own a 40-25 all-time advantage over the Jets and have won the series' last two games, including a 31-28 victory at New York in 2006.
Quarterback Peyton Manning said the Colts would have their hands full Sunday playing against the Jets' defense, ranked best in the NFL.
"We are somewhat familiar with them, at least the veterans are, because it's a lot of the old Baltimore Ravens stuff," Manning said, in reference to Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan, Baltimore's former defensive coordinator.
"They give you the full gamut of defenses to prepare for," Manning said. "It's a mental challenge all week. That's what we have practice for. We need to have a good week. Hopefully, we can take that onto the field on Sunday."
Since beating the Jaguars on December 17, the Colts have had 10 days to rest, practice and prepare for the Jets this Sunday.
"The positive of a Thursday night game is you get a little reward on the back end," tight end Dallas Clark said. "We did a good job of taking advantage of the break and getting mentally and physically ready for the next two (games).
"Guys have done a good job of keeping the right mentality, keeping their focus on the right things and not the outside stuff, and going out and being a professional and playing to the best you can."
Defensive end Dwight Freeney said the players rarely struggle to stay focused because most of the team has been in this position before.
"It doesn't take much for us to be mentally sharp because it's what we do around here," he said. "We take every game seriously."
Even with the division title and number one AFC seed already in hand, Freeney said the players are still hungry to win every week.
"You don't want to lose a game," he said. "As a competitor, as an athlete, you want to go out every single game and win. That being said, we're going out there and playing hard every game no matter who is out there. Maybe the starters may not be out there the whole game, but that's no excuse. We still have to try to get it done, regardless."
Defensive captain and linebacker Gary Brackett said the team is spending a lot of time in practice hammering fundamentals.
"It's all about the basics," he said. "You want to go back doing the things you've been doing since camp, making sure guys are doing it well.
"This is my seventh year and I'm still learning the nuances of Cover 2," he said. "Every week, I'm in my notebook taking notes on our defenses, trying to maintain, get that edge and bring the young guys with me. That's our challenge as leaders, and that's what we do."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE JETS
The Jets, winners of three of their last four games, come to Indianapolis with the league's top rushing attack and the best defense in the NFL.
"When you look at them from a defensive standpoint, I just think they are outstanding," Caldwell said. "They rush the passer extremely well. They create problems for you with (Shaun) Ellis and (Calvin) Pace. Those guys are leading the way in terms of the sacks. They give you so many different looks. They make it rather difficult for you to handle everything they do, but they play a very, very sound scheme."
The Jets' defense is allowing the fewest total yards in the league (262.8) and also the fewest passing yards (159.8). And with the Colts possessing the NFL's top aerial attack (297.2), Sunday will be a showdown of the league's best.
"They are better than pretty good, they are excellent," Manning said. "They have the players to line up in the same defense every play and they'd be efficient, but combine excellent players with multiple, multiple looks and formations and a solid scheme, and you're putting a lot together."
Leading the Jets defense is third-year cornerback Darrelle Revis, who ranks first in the NFL in pass deflections (38) and tied for fifth in interceptions (six).
"He's phenomenal," Ryan said. "He literally has gotten the best of every single receiver he's gone up against this year. Now, he's got Reggie Wayne. The Colts know he's going to be matched on him, and he's going to. We'll see how it goes. Reggie is an unbelievable receiver, and Darrelle Revis is the best corner I've ever been around."
On offense, the Jets are built around running back Thomas Jones, who has rushed for 1,219 yards this season, fifth-most in the NFL.
"He's a very good down-hill runner," Caldwell said. "That's one thing he does extremely well. He's outstanding running between the tackles. He can get up a head of steam in a hurry."
In addition, the Colts also have to worry about rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and the Jets' array of talented receives.
"(Braylon) Edwards has been outstanding, and Jerricho (Cotchery) has been outstanding as well," Caldwell said. "They have a number of different weapons, and they can mix it up on you. We're going to have a tough battle."
The Colts issued the game status/injury report for Sunday's game with the following players listed as probable: RBs-Joseph Addai (personal/knee), Donald Brown (chest), Mike Hart (ankle) and Chad Simpson (chest), DBs-Antoine Bethea (foot), Aaron Francisco (ankle), Tim Jennings (ankle) and Jacob Lacey (biceps), LB-Gary Brackett (foot), OTs-Ryan Diem (foot) and Tony Ugoh (knee), QB-Peyton Manning (glute), OG-Jamey Richard (shoulder) and WR-Reggie Wayne (foot).
Listed as questionable for Sunday's game are: DB-Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), DEs-Dwight Freeney (abdomen) and Robert Mathis (quad) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee), while OT-Charlie Johnson (foot) and LB-Clint Session (knee) are listed as doubtful.
Listed as out are: DE-Keyunta Dawson (knee), WR-Pierre Garcon (hand) and DB-Jerraud Powers (hamstring).
• "It was a tough decision. He has worked so hard. It was a difficult struggle for him. He had a lot of ups and downs in terms of his rehab. He was never able to get where he was comfortable and able to perform. We just felt the best thing to do was to put him on injured reserve at this point. He'll challenge the young guys to keep up with him in terms of drill work and hand/eye coordination. He loves the game. He loves to be around it and loves to talk about it. His presence for the young guys will help tremendously." – Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell on the decision to place wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez on Injured Reserve
• "The defense normally gets overlooked year-in and year-out. Being in Indianapolis, we have Peyton (Manning) and the guys on the offense. Defensively, we've played great. Maybe seven or eight of these games that we've won out of the 14 have come down to a defensive stop or defensively holding teams to under 20 points and not giving touchdowns up after turnovers, which is not really stated much. People really don't say much about it, just for the fact that we have a prolific offense. We're a team to be reckoned with defensively, too." – Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney on the team's defense this season
• "No, he's still the same guy that destroys everybody. He's phenomenal. I'm sure he'll be the Offensive Player-of-the-Year again and the Player-of-the-Year. Like I always tell people, I hate going against him. I don't like him when I play him, but I know one thing, I respect him more than any player in the National Football League, and just admire him. He's the best. He's going to go down as maybe the best quarterback of all-time. He's just an amazing guy. You meet him off the field and he's a terrific person. He's got everything." – Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan on if Peyton Manning is playing any differently this season
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1) COLTS O-LINE VS. JETS D-LINE
Sunday's most intriguing match-up to watch might be Indianapolis' offensive line versus New York's defensive front.
The Colts' line ranks first in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play, giving up one sack every 54.4 attempts, while the Jets' line has helped their team's defense become the best in the league.
"We have a pretty studious group," Caldwell said. "They give you so many looks. You can't prepare for everything. You can't look at everything they do in a two-hour practice. They (Jets) use different packages against different teams. We have to figure what they may use against us."
Caldwell said the Jets are best when they are switching up their packages and keeping opposing offenses off balance.
"Some of our practices are stretched a little because we have to go over a look a couple times to make sure everyone is on the same page," he said. "They give you a heavy dose of different personnel. They are very, very good at it."
2) RED ZONE PROWESS
The Colts have been at their best this season inside the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 33-of-50 (66 percent) possessions inside the 20, the second-best average in the league.
Headed into the New England game, the Colts ranked only 14th in the league in the category. But since then, Indianapolis has scored touchdowns on 17 of its last 21 red zone possessions (81 percent).
"The guys have a real good sense of how important it is to score when we're down there," Caldwell said. "We've been able to score more touchdowns than field goals which has been key to the number of our victories. It's a matter of emphasis."
In years past, Caldwell said the Colts' offense has struggled in the area, but after reconstructing the way they practice for red zone possessions, the Colts have experienced improvement.
"It's that old adage, 'You achieve what you emphasize,'" Caldwell said. "We've been emphasizing it. That helps. We have playmakers down in that area that do a great job. We have a lot of weapons. Peyton (Manning) throws the ball accurately in tight windows. We have guys that have come up with some big catches under difficult circumstances. They continue to do it week in and week out."
3) PROTECTING THE ROCK
Jim Caldwell knocked on the wooden podium in front of him before broaching the subject.
The Colts coach is happy his team has lost only three fumbles so far this season, the second-fewest of any NFL team, he just doesn't want to jinx it.
"We work at it," Caldwell said of ball protection. "Clyde (Christensen) does as fine a job with teaching drills and fundamentals for the receivers. Gene Huey is the same with the running backs. Any of the guys who handle the ball get a pretty good dose of fundamental football in terms of securing it. We also work on it during the course of practice.
"When a guy has the ball in his hands, we are always trying to strip it," Caldwell said. "Therefore, it requires that he also pays particular attention to how well he grips the ball. This can occur even when he's on his way back to the huddle. Sometimes guys will come up behind players and try to knock it out. I think that is a good practice that we've always done here. Therefore, we have not had very many fumbles. We hope that continues."