Back Home Again in Indiana, Colts Prepare for Three-Game Home Stand
INDIANAPOLIS – After a slew of nationally-televised road games to start the season, the Colts are finally back home again in Indiana.
On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers come to town in the Colts' first game of a three-week home stand.
Having played four of their first six games away from Indianapolis, the Colts were in unison this week, explaining there is just no place quite like home.
"It's always great to play at home for your fans," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "That in itself is a rare opportunity for us in the last couple of months."
When the Colts take on the 49ers Sunday, it will mark almost a month since the blue and white played inside Lucas Oil Stadium. Caldwell said the team's hectic start to the season, in which they started 6-0, is balanced out by the upcoming three-week stretch at home.
"I'm looking forward to it," safety Melvin Bullitt said. "We've been on the road so much, just for our fans to get a chance to see us and play at home … playing in front of our home crowd will definitely benefit us."
Indianapolis is one of nine NFL teams to have played four games already on the road this season, but is the only team with a 4-0 record away from home.
Caldwell said that while the team enjoys the comforts of playing at home – such as sleeping in their own bed and not having to travel – it does not make the preparation any easier for a tough opponent.
"The game is played on the field in between those white lines. Oftentimes, that doesn't give you that many advantages when you are at home," he said.
The Colts coach also pointed to his team's success on the road as an indication that winning at home is not always a certainty.
"We are mindful of the fact that teams can come in here and win if we're not prepared," Caldwell said.
Tight end Dallas Clark said the homestand would not alter the team's focus. The veteran said the Colts still have a lot of areas they can improve on and are hoping the extended period at home gives them an opportunity to do so.
But more than anything, Clark said, he and his teammates are just plain old happy to be home.
"Everyone is eager to back, play in front of our home fans and try and get a win," he said.
FORCEFUL FREENEY STRIKING FEAR
Much like the bar quarterback Peyton Manning has set on offense, defensive end Dwight Freeney has to do a lot in order to stand out from his own shadow.
In his eighth year, Freeney already is the Colts' career sacks leader (77.5). He is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and led the entire league in sacks with 16.0 in 2004.
But the powerful pass rusher is on a tear right now that even he hasn't seen before.
After sacking St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger last week, Freeney has now recorded a sack in each of his last seven games, dating back to 2008.
The NFL record for consecutive games with a sack is 10, but Freeney said he is not thinking too much about the streak.
"There is no pressure since I am not really worried about it," he said. "There is some difficulty, especially when teams are preparing for you … But I'm not really worried about all of that. I just go out there and play, and if it happens, that's great. But winning the game is the most important thing."
Through six games, Freeney ranks fifth in the NFL with seven sacks. All combined, Freeney's sacks have totaled minus 53 yards for opposing teams, the second-highest total by a pass rusher in the league.
"I don't know if you can really game plan against a guy like that," San Francisco Head Coach Mike Singletary said. "He's spinning and turning and flying and doing all kinds of stuff coming off the ball, and we're going to have our hands full trying to allow Alex (Smith) enough time to throw the ball instead of throwing on the run.
"I just think we have to do the best job we can," he said.
When asked about Freeney's play this season, Caldwell smiled and shrugged.
"He's always been pretty good," he said.
The Colts defensive end has five double-digit sack seasons in his eight-year career and is on pace to have his best year yet.
"I think he's gotten himself in a pretty good groove," Caldwell said. "He's been able to string quite a few of them together. He has always had a real business-like attitude and prepared extremely well. I just think right now he is having a good, solid stretch."
SANDERS RETURNS, LOOKS FOR CONTINUED IMPROVEMENT
Last week at St. Louis, Colts safety Bob Sanders made his triumphant return to the field, and Caldwell said Sanders came through the game "extremely well."
However, after watching film of the game, Sanders acknowledged that he missed some tackles, and vowed that he will continue to improve.
"I'm always real critical of myself … I left some plays out there that I should have made," Sanders said. "Tackling should not be an issue for me, whether I haven't played in a year or two years. It shouldn't be an issue. It's something that I've constantly worked on. I just have to make sure I get better."
After missing the preseason and the first five games of the regular season, Sanders pointed out now is not preseason, nor can he afford to treat it as such.
"I do not want to look at it that way, because in preseason you make a lot of mistakes, and you try to get ready for the regular season," Sanders said. "So I do not want to look at it as preseason because it (the regular season) is crucial."
Caldwell complimented Sanders, saying "he looked good" and "anticipated an even better showing from him."
"The fact of the matter is, he has not had a lot of reps," Caldwell said. "A guy that has been out there that has the instincts he has, you'll see those things come fairly quickly. It's not going to take him a long time to get up to speed."
The Colts issued Thursday's injury report with the following players listed as did not participate in practice: RB-Donald Brown (shoulder), DT-Eric Foster (shoulder), DE-Dwight Freeney (knee), WRs-Anthony Gonzalez (knee) and Reggie Wayne (groin), LB-Ramon Humber (illness), DBs-Marlin Jackson (knee) and Bob Sanders (not injury related-rested), TE-Jacob Tamme (hamstring) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee).