INDIANAPOLIS – The season's second half kicks off for Indianapolis this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium when the Atlanta Falcons visit.
For the Colts, this provides the first home game since October 9, and Indianapolis hopes to recapture past success on its home turf.
The Colts posted a 6-2 record at home in 2008, then went 7-1 in 2009 and 6-2 in 2010. The Colts have absorbed three close defeats at home this season, 27-19 to Cleveland on September 18, 23-20 to Pittsburgh on September 25 and 28-24 to Kansas City in its last appearance before their loyal and boisterous followers.
Head Coach Jim Caldwell joins his players in looking forward to returning home this Sunday, the first of three consecutive home dates.
"I think it's great for the guys," said Caldwell. "I know they certainly love playing at home, and I know that they're looking to get this thing turned around. There's no better place to do it than here. We've got a real challenge ahead of us. When your routine is one that you're very familiar with then that helps, but it doesn't guarantee anything."
Indianapolis has been nagged with bouts of uneven play this season, and Caldwell hopes the attention to detail can make a difference this Sunday.
"If we don't do the basic things well, then it's going to be a tough time," said Caldwell. "But if we do the basics well, and it's not anything that's magical, it's not anything that's out of the ordinary and it's not going to take anything superhuman, but playing at home does add a little bit more comfort to the situation."
The Colts have endured a series of setbacks this season, both physically and competitively. Injuries along the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary have caused the team to start multiple combinations on each unit. A total of 62 players have seen action for Indianapolis in the first eight games. The club has had to employ 37 different starters during that span.
Still, the club maintains a battling spirit that will show on Sunday, and Caldwell likes the confidence he sees roster-wide.
"I'm around these guys often enough to kind of see where they are, and have a sense of where they are," said Caldwell. "There's frustration, but the guys keep fighting and keep playing hard. I think you look at our defense, and our defense played pretty confidently during the course of this last ballgame. They hustled, they knocked them around and they (Tennessee) punted the ball, I think, eight times in the ballgame. There were some good things there. What we've got to do is just continue to build upon those good things, point those things out and then correct our problems and where our problems lie. I think that's how you continue to progress, and that builds confidence. Repetition of doing things well consistently will breed confidence, and I think we'll be able to develop that. We certainly have it going in certain areas. We're running the ball a little bit better all the time. Obviously, I think our defense really stepped up, and we're stopping the run a little bit better."
Indianapolis limited Tennessee to a 3.1 rushing average last Sunday, marking one of four times the team has held an opponent under a 4.0 average. Indianapolis kept Cleveland to a 3.1 average on 34 attempts. Pittsburgh had a 2.4 average on 28 attempts, while Cincinnati had a 3.0 average on 31 attempts, and Tennessee attempted 31 rushes last Sunday.
The Indianapolis rushing game has flourished in 2011. The club topped a 4.0 average in the first three outings, and it has done so in the last three. That is production the team wishes to continue.
Caldwell remains firm in his approach, and it is an approach he has forged over more than 30 years in football and under some very talented and successful leaders like Joe Paterno, Howard Schnellenberger, Rey Dempsey, Bill McCartney and Tony Dungy. Caldwell mirrors Dungy dramatically in a comportment style. Both men are quiet in nature, but have a backbone of steel. Caldwell acknowledges that style.
"I am who I am. I get upset, but I don't get upset necessarily in the way in which folks would think, the way in which they may get upset," said Caldwell. "I think, without question, they (the fans) are certainly entitled to their opinion in that regard. I've been coaching a long time. This game is how I make my living. This game means a lot to me, but I don't necessarily have to (get visibly upset). I think it was an old saying that says, 'Don't mistake activity for achievement,' a John Wooden statement. But yeah, we get upset, but we just don't (show it on the sidelines.)
"One of the things that we've found is that oftentimes when you get that rollercoaster ride, it's a trickle-down effect (beyond the coaching staff). That's the reason. My demeanor was the same when we were rolling well, when we were 8-0, 9-0 and 10-0, and obviously, it hasn't changed a whole lot during this stretch as well."
Losses on the field are, in a large majority of the cases, because of a failure to execute the most minor fundamentals. When critical analysis is distilled to the basics, these things are evident. Indianapolis made such mistakes on Sunday, and correcting those this Sunday can provide a distinctly different result on the scoreboard.
"I think for the most part you can look at reasons why you struggle," said Caldwell. "They really boil down to the same thing over and over again. It's basics, it's fundamentals, it's doing the things and making certain to do things and do them right in terms of execution, and don't do things that are going to hurt yourself. That happened to us, obviously, (Sunday). Penalties, turnovers and certainly blunders in the kicking game were things that made a difference in that ballgame."
Caldwell directs the team back into practice mode on Wednesday in preparing to meet Mike Smith's Falcons. He will stress once again perhaps the most important of all areas, winning the turnover battle.
"One of the things that I think you try to do is make certain that it's something that's measurable, so we keep track of those (turnovers) in practice to make certain that they don't happen," said Caldwell. "We stress them and emphasize them. It's an old adage, 'You achieve what you emphasize.' We talk about them and work on them, and we've got to continue to do so. We change things up in terms of our drill work. We have concentrated periods (in) takeaways. That's one of the areas in which, obviously, we can kind of even the score if we can get a few taken away as well. So we have not been as good as we'd like to have been in those particular areas. We continue to stress on it and continue to work on it. Like I said, we highlight certain periods to try to make certain that we get some of those things done. We tally them up at the end of practice, and we talk about them on a daily basis."