DEFENSE STEPS UP IN RED ZONE

The Indianapolis defense again made key plays at key times. The Colts totaled five sacks and made three stands in the red zone.

INDIANAPOLIS -- An old hand was in familiar form while some new faces let their presence be felt as the Indianapolis Colts' defense bounced back with a strong performance against the Green Bay Packers on Friday in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Though the visitors rallied against the reserves from a 21-13 deficit to a 24-21 victory in the final four minutes, the Colts were pleased with their performance in the first half, when both teams featured their starters.

Though the Packers produced 12 first downs and 216 yards in the first half, the front-line defense stood firm in the red zone and kept constant pressure on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a big reason the Colts took a 14-10 lead into the locker room.

"That's what we have to do," said Head Coach Jim Caldwell. "Those were big. Those were huge. The style of defense that we play, I just think those are the things we have to get done. We have to stop them in the red zone. Sometimes we bend a little bit but don't break.

"I think they may have been one-of-four in the red zone, something like that at one point. Overall, I thought our defense did a nice job of coming up big and making them kick field goals. If you can keep them kicking field goals consistently you're going to have a chance to at least be in the game."

Dwight Freeney had two of the team's four first-half sacks, with Tommie Harris and Pat Angerer recording the others.

Freeney's first sack came on third-and-four at the Colts' six-yard line, stalling a second-quarter drive and forcing the Packers to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Mason Crosby.

Freeney's second sack came on Green Bay's next possession, an eight-yard loss that forced a three-and-out.

While Freeney was doing his usual disruptive thing, the Colts got solid performances from newcomers Tommie Harris and Ernie Sims, the latter making his first appearance of the preseason.

Harris came up with a big play for another red-zone stop, sacking Rodgers for a six-yard loss on third-and-seven at the Colts' 17-yard line. This time Crosby was wide right on a 41-yard field goal attempt and the Packers came up empty.

"We felt good about that," said Harris, the former Pro Bowl player with the Bears who signed with the Colts as a free agent. "We just wanted to come out and, since I'm new here, really get the timing of Freeney, of (Robert) Mathis, all these guys being able to work together in game-time situations. Everything was all right."

Harris flirted with a rare interception when he broke free into the backfield and tipped Aaron Rodgers' pass into the air.

"It's all practice and being able to work together," Harris said. "Last week (against Washington) I missed and Freeney played. In St. Louis I played and Freeney was out. So we really had the opportunity to come out and make things mesh."

Sims missed three weeks after an appendectomy but in his first game action came up with eight tackles in the first half, playing every defensive possession but the first.

"I got a lot of good work the first game back and it was good to get in the swing of things," Sims said. "It's going to be a good sore (Saturday) but we didn't play against a junior varsity team. We played against Aaron Rodgers and the Super Bowl champions. I'm real excited by how we came out in the first half. We did a really good job containing them playing our base defense, what we do best.

"I feel real good about it (the red zone stops). That's where the pressure is high. We've got to be able to knuckle down and make big stops and I was pretty happy and excited that we can make some big stops in the red zone and limit their points so we can give the offense a chance to put points on the board."

The reserves followed suit in the third quarter. After quarterback Curtis Painter fumbled while being sacked by Vic So'oto on the Colts' first possession of the second half, Green Bay was set up nicely at the Indianapolis 20-yard line.

But the defense held firm and protected the lead as the Packers were again forced to settle for a field goal, this time a 32-yarder by Crosby that cut the Indianapolis advantage to 14-13.

Caldwell also was pleased with the run defense. After surrendering 383 yards on the ground in the first two preseason games, the Colts limited Green Bay to 45 yards and a 2.4 per-carry average.

"That's a team that does a little bit of everything well, obviously, and we also did a fairly decent job of rushing the passer," he said. "We had five sacks and our first unit did a nice job pressuring the quarterback."

The only downside for the first unit was the loss of defensive end Robert Mathis to a hamstring injury. He left in the first quarter and did not return.

"We'll find out in the next 24 hours or so, at least have an idea," said Caldwell, "but he did obviously feel something so we took him out."

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