JETS GROUND GAME MORE OF THE SAME, BUILDING A HEAD OF STEAM, OFFENSIVE LINE CONTINUITY AND LOCKER ROOM QUOTES
A TOUGH TASKDuring the Colts' four-game winning streak to close out the regular season, they consistently stopped a trio of the NFL's elite running backs.
Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and Oakland's Darren McFadden all recorded at least 1,100-yard rushing seasons, but in the final four outings, the Colts defense allowed a mere 3.5 yards an attempt and only 79.8 yards a game.
Next up for the Colts run defense is the arguably the best running back tandem in the league with the New York Jets' Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson.
For the season, Tomlinson leads the Jets with 914 yards rushing and six touchdowns with Greene accounting for 766 yards and two scores.
"Those two guys are dangerous, and obviously LT is a veteran guy, great vision and can cut it back whenever, keep it out there," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "Greene is the same type of way but is more of a power combination, power/slash."
The Jets added Tomlinson during the offseason, and the 10-year veteran has continued to display the Pro Bowl form he had during his nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers.
"You can see Tomlinson is having an extraordinary year," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "He has got new life. He is a huge, huge threat catching the ball out of the backfield. He is just so multi-faceted, and you couple that with his experience, he is really a tough, tough guy to handle."
Last season against Indianapolis, Greene had 95 yards on 16 carries in the Jets' 29-15 win versus the Colts in Week 16. However, in the AFC Championship Game, Greene was held to 41 yards on 10 carries.
Caldwell said Greene falls in a similar mold to the other successful backs the Colts have faced recently, but brings a little more power with his running style.
"Obviously he is highly productive like a lot of backs we've seen, but he is more of a powerful, brutish runner," Caldwell said. "He is just as strong at the end of the game as he was at the beginning of the game and seems to be getting stronger."
Colts defensive captain Gary Brackett said he knows if Indianapolis is to advance to the AFC Divisional round, the defense must have another successful day stopping the run.
"That is what we pride ourselves on, flying around to the football," Brackett said. "I think it leaves a message. I think it started a few weeks ago, just saying to ourselves that we wanted to go out there and stop the run, and for the last three games we got that accomplished."
'A LITTLE MOMENTUM IS HELPFUL'While four consecutive victories heading into the playoffs certainly gives Indianapolis impetus, Caldwell said the team gained as much from it as the team heads into Saturday's AFC Wild Card game against the Jets. Because without it, well, they might not be here.
"I think a little momentum going in is helpful," Caldwell said. "I just think it depends on what your situation is. Our situation is that we had to win. It's a little different situation for teams that were already in place, already had everything locked up and had nothing to gain from it. You look at it totally different.
"Even going into the playoffs, those two or three games, depending on what you decided to do with your squad, serves a purpose for you at that particular point in time. For us, today and now, it is a good thing because without that momentum we probably wouldn't be where we are standing."
Said running back Dominic Rhodes: "When you get into the playoffs everybody is at zero wins, zero losses. When you're going into a situation when your momentum is pretty good, then things are usually happening for you that usually don't happen for the teams that are losing."
For rookie linebacker Pat Angerer, it's not about winning four games in a row, it's about how the Colts proceed from this point and take with them what they've learned during the streak.
"What we've done up until now really doesn't matter," Angerer said. "It's a new game. Every game is different. I think we can build on the fact we've been gap-controlled the past couple games, we've been able to play fast, we've been able to run the ball, and it's worked out for us."
'WE HAVE COMMITTED OURSELVES'Indianapolis' offensive line play has been one of the constants that led to the team's success during the past month. The play in both the passing and rushing offense is a credit to the five starting linemen up front: tackles Charlie Johnson and Ryan Diem, guards Kyle DeVan and Mike Pollak and center Jeff Saturday.
What factors have led to the line's effective play?
"I think there are a few things," center Jeff Saturday said. "One is we have had the same group going out there each and every week, which goes a long way to helping your run game. We have committed ourselves to running it more in December and you can see how that pays dividends. You start out the game, and they are not going to be six and seven yards a carry, but as you kind of move throughout the game and move forward you see how teams are wearing down and we are getting those bigger runs late."
Johnson added how important the continuity has been.
"It helps just knowing who you're going to be playing next to each play every game," Johnson said. "When you get that, you kind of know what the other person does, how he attacks certain things, how he moves. When you get that togetherness, and you get that cohesiveness week in and week out, that's when you start seeing the results."
In the past four games, the Colts have rushed for a total of 534 yards, averaging 133.5 yards per game, and 4.5 yards per carry. Their prolific protection carries over to the passing game as well. The line allowed only 16 sacks this season, tied for fewest in the league.
And their efforts do not go without praise.
The Colts ranked No. 1 in the NFL with a 90.7 rating according to the New York Life Protection Index by Stats, Inc., a measure of a team's ability in pass protection. That 90.7 rating was the highest since at least 1995. The Colts have ranked No. 1 according to the index eight times since 1998, and have not ranked outside the top five during that span.
LOCKER ROOM QUOTES"He is a vibrant guy, and that is just his personality. He is one of those guys that loves what he is doing. He has great passion. He comes to work every day with a smile on his face and you never see him in a situation where he is down about whether or not it is his opportunity to play or whatever it might be. He is an extremely versatile guy, so he is important to our team, and he does so many different things; plays special teams, plays on the defensive line, plays defensive end, obviously plays fullback for us some as well. He touches all phases of our operation, and I think everybody would probably have the exact same description of him just in terms of how passionate he is, how much he loves the game and then also how well he does his job. He is a guy that when you look at his size, you would be amazed that he could go in and play a three-technique inside and take care of his duties, but he certainly can."-*Caldwell on defensive tackle Eric Foster.
"Gary is one of those guys that have done it since he has been here. I played against him when he was on the scout team and I remember him running through making plays. I used to make fun of him because he would be three yards away from the running back and he would run by him and make all these loud noises like he was going to blow him up. But he is just one of those guys that plays tenacious defense, and I think he is very underrated in our league. He is a great middle 'backer. He sees the game very well and gets to plays that not a lot of 'mikes' are getting to. He has done a lot to help our defense and be that captain that you really want heading up your defensive unit."-Colts center Jeff Saturday on the respect Gary Brackett garners in the locker room.
"Whatever the situation you are in, you just have to deal with it. Last year, we had the luxury of being able to sit out those games, whereas this year we dug ourselves in a hole early on in the year and we had to get ourselves out. We couldn't take a loss in December or the season is done, so we are going to take it for what it's worth. We are going to take all the good and eliminate the bad and try to ride the wave."-Colts defensive end Robert Mathis on this December versus the last few years.
"There's a difference a year makes, and he is a more mature quarterback…He is more mature and more comfortable, and we have our work cut out for us."-Colts defensive end Robert Mathis on the differences he sees in Mark Sanchez from last year to this year.*