En Route to Another Unbeaten Start, Colts Have Played Together, Caldwell Says
INDIANAPOLIS – The record is not Jim Caldwell's big concern.
Caldwell, in his first season as the Colts' head coach, said while being unbeaten is nice, he thinks little about it. And while starting with five victories in five games for the fifth time in seven seasons is better than the alternative, he said what he likes about the start is how it has been attained.
Yes, he said, the Colts have been a good team this season.
And they have been successful.
But mostly, he said, they have avoided highs and lows and ups and downs, and that is what Caldwell said he likes best thus far.
"Consistency would probably be the biggest thing," Caldwell said Monday afternoon, a day after the AFC South-leading Colts (5-0) beat the defending division champion Tennessee Titans, 31-9 at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday night.
"I think overall we have been pretty consistent from start to finish. The consistency of play on the field has been good."
Caldwell, speaking at his weekly next-day press conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, said through five games the Colts – one of five unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL and, along with Denver, one of two remaining in the AFC – have been "a resilient team."
"Sometimes, they have difficult times in short spurts," Caldwell said. "But still, they've shown they don't get down. They play together. They believe in one another. They have great confidence in one another.
"They've played with a lot of poise."
The Colts, despite two first-half turnovers, never trailed the Titans (0-5) Sunday, taking an early lead on the first of three touchdown passes by quarterback Peyton Manning, then pulling away with a 39-yard touchdown pass by Manning to rookie Austin Collie shortly before halftime and a 6-yarder from Manning to Collie early in the third quarter.
Indianapolis outgained Tennessee, 367-245, and held its third consecutive opponent under 100 yards rushing.
"I think our team did indeed play well," Caldwell said. "It was a good, solid team effort."
With the victory, Indianapolis – the AFC South Champion from 2003-07 – not only moved five games ahead of the Titans, they also took a three-game lead on the two teams tied for second in the division, Jacksonville (2-3) and Houston (2-3).
The Colts have won a franchise-record 14 consecutive regular-season games, and their seven consecutive road victories tied a franchise record. They started 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006 and 7-0 in 2007.
"Once we got clicking in all three areas, I thought we functioned fairly well," Caldwell said, breaking down the Colts' performance in the areas:
• Offense. The Colts produced 367 yards total offense, with Manning completing 36 of 44 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. It was Manning's franchise-record fifth consecutive 300-yard game. "The offense took advantage of their opunities," Caldwell said. "We might not have had the numbers in terms of the run that we'd like to see, but we were efficient." The Colts rushed for 58 yards on 23 carries.
• Defense. The Colts allowed the Titans 245 total yards and held Chris Johnson – the NFL's leading rusher entering the game with 434 yards and a 6.3-yards-per-carry average – to 34 yards on nine carries. The Colts also forced two turnovers, each of which led to a touchdown, and defensive end Dwight Freeney registered his sixth sack of the season. "The defense did a nice job stopping the run," Caldwell said. "They were well-prepared and played with a lot of enthusiasm. They created some opportunities with a short field for the offense."
• Special teams. The Colts held the Titans to an average of 7.5 yards on two punt returns and an average of 18.3 yards on two kickoff returns. "I thought we did a nice job of covering," Caldwell said. "They had been a very good return team. I thought our effort was excellent and we did hold them at bay."
A turning point, Caldwell said, came in the first half when the Colts committed two turnovers, each of which gave the Titans possession inside the Colts 40. On each possession, the Colts held Tennessee without a first down and the Titans settled for field goals by Rob Bironas.
After the second field goal, the Colts led, 7-6, and when Manning passed 39 yards to Collie 17 seconds before halftime, the Colts led, 21-9.
"Our defense was strong and held them to three points on each of those turnovers, which I think was huge in that situation," Caldwell said.
Manning, whose first-quarter touchdown went to three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne, has completed 133 of 181 passes for 1,645 yards and 12 touchdowns with four interceptions. His passer rating of 114.1 leads the NFL, as do his yards and touchdowns.
"He's playing outstanding, obviously, and that's an understatement," Caldwell said. "He's doing things that he's done previously, but in terms of consecutively, week in and week and week out . . . he always has been excellent, no question about that, since he has arrived here.
"But he's at a little different level right now. Obviously, he works hard enough and prepares well enough to continue that kind of effort. We're certainly glad that we can take advantage of his excellence."
The Colts are off this week and will visit the St. Louis Rams (0-5) on Sunday, October 25, with Caldwell saying of the bye, "You'd certainly rather have it right in the middle" of the season.
"That would probably be the best-case scenario," he said. "That's not how it works. You have to play them as they fall. For us right now, because it's here, this is the time we have to take advantage of it. You go into bye weeks and you look at it a couple of different ways. Maybe if you weren't doing some things well it gives you an opportunity to spend a little more of a concentrated period on that area on which you were weak.
"Or, you can look it as a situation where you want to get healthy. We're looking at it both ways."