Run Defense Continues to Stymie Opponents
INDIANAPOLIS – While Peyton Manning's aerial show continues to rewrite history, the defense's work on the ground also has become something to notice.
Since struggling to contain the Miami Dolphins and their Wildcat formation in Week 2, the Colts have fortified their run defense, holding opponents to less than 100 rushing yards in three consecutive games.
Three weeks ago at Arizona, the Colts held the Cardinals to just 24 yards rushing. Against Seattle, the run defense yielded only 49 yards on the ground.
And on Sunday, against the Tennessee Titans and running back Chris Johnson, the NFL's leading rusher heading into the game, the Colts' defense surrendered only 90 rushing yards, and only 34 to Johnson.
Colts players said they ignored the reputation of not being able to stop the run, and said their hard work and subsequent performance this season is proving that label false.
"We never listened to that," safety Melvin Bullitt said. "It is about us as a unit, together. Stopping the run is as simple as doing our job. If everybody does their job, then we'll stop the run."
The Colts' front four has been particularly effective against the run, supplying pressure up the middle and successfully controlling the line of scrimmage.
"We've been able to fly around how we usually do and just play football," defensive tackle Ed Johnson said. "Like I said a week ago, the Miami game was a little different with the Wildcat, and it kind of slowed us down, but other than that, we've been able to settle down and just go out and play."
The Colts committed two uncharacteristic turnovers in the first quarter Sunday night, but the defense kept the Titans from reaching the end zone in both instances.
A muffed punt and an interception gave the Titans the ball twice inside Indianapolis territory, but both possessions failed to yield a first down, and the Titans settled for lengthy field goals in both cases.
"When we did make mistakes, we held them to three points," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said.
Tennessee never made it into the Colts' red zone Sunday night, instead only scoring on three field goals that were all more than 40 yards.
Middle linebacker Gary Brackett said settling for field goals can be "disheartening" to an offense used to scoring in bunches.
"We always want to hold them to field goal attempts in those situations, and that's what we've got to keep doing," he said.
Bullitt said the Colts defense is turning in big performances week after week despite injuries shelving some of their best players.
"It's just the 'Next Man Up' theory," he said. "I know you hear it all the time, but Coach Caldwell talks about it all the time, too … It doesn't matter who is in the game, guys are going to make plays, and they did that last night."
The Colts safety said his teammates are hungry to make plays and are feeding off one another's energy.
"Everybody wants to make plays and be that guy," Bullitt said. "We have 11 guys out there who want to make the play. Everybody wants their name called or to be the high tackler or get an interception or force a fumble. There is kind of a jealousy on defense, and that's the kind of mindset you have to have as a defensive player."
AS GOOD AS IT GETS
There is no bad time for a bye week, according to several Colts players, and the team is more than happy it comes after a 5-0 start.
Caldwell said there usually are two functions of a bye week. Teams either spend a concentrated amount of time improving in one or two areas, or they spend the week off getting healthy.
"We are looking at it both ways," Caldwell said. "We have a pretty good rhythm going, but it's not something we can take for granted. We need to get healthy as well, and hopefully after the bye week we can get some guys back that have been out for awhile."
From 2005 to 2007, the Colts started 5-0 three consecutive years, which gives some players perspective on where they stand at this point in the season.
"We've been here before, and I think what it takes is us to continue to get better and not letting up in practice. If we push each other, then on Sunday we can fly around and make some plays," Brackett said.
When asked what has been working so well for the Colts this season, Johnson said he could not really explain it, but said the Colts are enjoying their early success, nonetheless.
"Really, everything is going as good as it can go right now," he said.