Defense Hoping to Build Off Last Week's Performance
INDIANAPOLIS – While the New York Jets possess the league's top-ranked defense, the Indianapolis Colts' own unit is playing some of its best football of the season headed into Sunday's game.
During their victory over Baltimore last week in the Divisional Round, the Colts held the Ravens to just three points, the fewest points the defense has given up all season and the fewest by a Colts team in a playoff game in almost 30 years.
Indianapolis boasted the NFL's top-scoring defense much of the regular-season, and finished the season ranked number eight, surrendering 19.2 points per game.
Although New York's defense is often in the spotlight, linebacker Gary Brackett said the Colts think they have a pretty good group of their own.
"I don't think you win 14-15 games in a season without having a good defense," he said. "Across the board, our guys have been competitive and we've been getting the job done. Looking at statistics, we are 14th, 15th overall, but I think anytime there is a play to be made our defense steps up and makes it."
Brackett and several teammates said there have been key factors leading to the defense's improvement this season. One has been the team's defensive line, which Brackett said has done a great job of creating one-on-one matchups.
Another, according to defensive end Dwight Freeney, is the unit's aggressive style of play.
"We are more of an attacking style of defense," Freeney said. "We go out there and attack pretty much every time we play, no matter what it is – run or pass. In times past, we would sit back. We wouldn't really dictate to anybody, they would dictate to us. Now, we can go out and dictate to them, and they have to adjust based on what we do."
The All-Pro lineman said it is a change the players have welcomed, and one that has helped them on the field.
So much, in fact, that it helped the Colts to a 14-2 regular-season record and an AFC Championship Game appearance Sunday.
"Our plan has gone just the way we have wanted it to," cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. "We just want to go out there and do what we do, continue to play fast as a defense and get off the field on third down."
Hayden said the team's defense needs to stop the Jets' rushing attack Sunday, an area in which New York also ranks atop the league.
"We need to get out there and play fast and get to the ball," he said. "They have two great running backs who are capable of breaking tackles. The key is to run to the ball and get there fast."
NEW YORK NOT THAT DIFFERENT
When asked the differences between the running games of Baltimore and the New York Jets, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said, well, there aren't many.
"There actually are probably more similarities than differences," he said. "I think they both are real power-oriented, down-hill running games. They both employ their tackles sometimes as their tight ends. They'll shift over and sometimes give you an unbalanced line. Those things are similar.
"Shonn Greene is maybe one of the most powerful runners that we've seen. He's a big, downhill back that can really do a tremendous job of carrying the load an entire game and gets stronger as the games goes on."
Brackett added one thing the Jets do more, and very well, is cutback, something Greene excels at.
The team's defensive captain also pointed out that the Colts have to go against one of the best offensive lines in the league, a big contributor to the team's top rushing game.
"They are not afraid to run the ball," Brackett said. "No matter what the score is, it seems like they are always running the ball. So it's definitely something we want to get stopped."
Not too long ago, the Colts were in the same position as they are now.
In 2006, the team faced the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, and like now, were just one victory away from reaching the Super Bowl.
The Colts would go on to win the game, and Super Bowl XLI, but the team got off to a slow start, trailing 21-6 at the half.
"We didn't start the way we wanted to," Hayden said. "But they say, 'It is not how you start, it is how you finish.'"
The Colts rallied to a 38-34 victory, winning the AFC Championship Game and moving on to an eventual Super Bowl championship.
When asked this week, several Colts said they still have lasting images from their conference round victory.
"The last drive," Hayden said. "The ball was in Tom Brady's hands, and we know what he can do with it. But we were able to get the stop."
Said Caldwell, "Probably the deep corner route on the left hand side to (former Colts tight end) Bryan Fletcher."
And like Hayden, Freeney said the image burned into his memory is of Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson's game-winning interception.
"Hopefully, that's what type of feeling we have at the end of this one," he said.
The Colts issued Thursday's injury report with the following players listed as full participation in practice: RB-Joseph Addai (shoulder), DEs-Ervin Baldwin (shin), Dwight Freeney (foot) and Robert Mathis (knee), LBs-Gary Brackett (calf) and Cody Glenn (back), DB-Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), TEs-Dallas Clark (illness) and Jacob Tamme (ankle), OTs-Ryan Diem (elbow), Charlie Johnson (foot) and Tony Ugoh (knee), DT-Antonio Johnson (shoulder), OG-Jamey Richard (shoulder), K-Adam Vinatieri (right hip) and WR-Reggie Wayne (knee).
DB-Antoine Bethea (back) was listed as limited participation, while DB-Jerraud Powers (foot) was listed as did not participate in practice.