INDIANAPOLIS – After getting their first road win of the 2012 season last week, the Colts (4-3) return home this week looking to continue to stack wins together.
The Miami Dolphins (4-3) head to Lucas Oil Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff on Sunday in a matchup of two teams that find themselves on the right side of the AFC playoff picture with the halfway point of the regular season approaching.
Both teams have found success with rookie quarterbacks and first-year coaches and are looking forward to be playing games with some incentive down the stretch.
Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin went to Miami after five seasons as the Green Bay offensive coordinator, and he knows the feeling of being in the thick of things come the second half of the season.
"I told the players, 'There's nothing better in the National Football League than coming to work in November and December and having meaningful games.' It's a lot of fun. It gets your juices going, as it should," Philbin said.
Philbin brings in one of the stingiest defenses the Colts have seen this season, one led by a formidable front four.
Defensive end Cameron Wake is second in the AFC with 7.5 sacks and had 4.5 in the Dolphins week four loss to Arizona.
Wake has found himself in the offensive backfield all season long as he has a combined 48 sacks, hits and quarterback hurries.
As a whole, the Dolphins defense allows the fewest points in the AFC at 18.0 per game and leads the NFL with giving up conversions on just 26.4 percent of third downs.
"I think it's no secret that you go in there and you try to stop the run," Wake said. "Obviously if you try to make a team one-dimensional, it is going to play into your hand. I think we've had a pretty good amount of success doing that in the past few weeks and if we can keep that going I think, as a whole, that's going to help our team out."
Stopping the run is something the Dolphins have backed up with their play on the field with having not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 21 straight games.
Coming in with a two-game winning streak, the Colts have been able to establish a consistent and productive run game the last two weeks.
In the Colts' win over Cleveland, Indianapolis rushed for 148 yards on 37 attempts and then followed that up with a 34-carry, 171-yard performance against Tennessee.
The Dolphins come into Sunday's game third in the NFL in allowing 82.0 rushing yards per game and Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians knows what the importance of a strong rushing attack can do for an entire offense.
"It does wonders for everybody," Arians said. "The play-action passes which, we haven't got our chunks, but we're getting chunks in the running game. And we did get a couple off the play- action which keeps the quarterback a lot cleaner when you're not dropping back in that pocket and have the bullseye on your chest.
"It makes it a lot easier, especially when you're trying to throw it down the field. It's always a good feeling for the offensive line, and the team in general, when they can run the football. Stop the run and run the football, that's where we want to be."
Come Sunday night, the Colts are hoping to look at a 5-3 record while stacking their third straight win together.
On the other side of the field, the Dolphins are riding streaks of their own with three straight wins and back-to-back victories on the road.
No matter the outcome on Sunday, it will be a quick turnaround for the Colts as they travel to Jacksonville on Thursday for an 8:20 p.m. kickoff against the Jaguars.
For this weekend though, it is all about the Dolphins and trying to earn a victory to maintain a place in the top half of the AFC.
"That's the major thing right now is building some momentum, stacking some of these wins. It's been a while since we've done that around here," outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said.
"I think even it was maybe 2010. I think we were 6-6 at one point and that was with everybody, and then we happened to stack four in a row at the end to make it to the playoffs. No matter who's here, it's not easy and winning two back-to-back is not easy, and we did that. Hopefully, we can continue that this week."
Colts 27, Dolphins 23 – September 21, 2009
A back-and-forth affair in Miami ended with the Colts recording another fourth-quarter comeback. From the kickoff, the Dolphins' game plan relied on a ball-control offense in trying to limit the amount of possessions for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. The Colts wasted little time in getting on the board with Manning finding tight end Dallas Clark for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. The Dolphins responded with a 6:06 drive that ended with a Wildcat snap to running back Ronnie Brown and a 14-yard touchdown run. In the second quarter, each team hit a pair of field goals with the Colts Adam Vinatieri answering Miami's Dan Carpenter both times. The final field goal of the half came with the Colts starting the drive at their own 26-yard line with 35 seconds remaining. A 13-13 halftime score would carry over into the fourth quarter. The Dolphins re-took the lead early in the fourth quarter on a three-yard run by Brown. The Colts got the ball backed and moved quickly. With a six-play, 79-yard drive, the Colts tied the score at 20 thanks to a 15-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Donald Brown. Miami would add another field goal by Carpenter on the following possession, taking a 23-20 lead with 3:50 remaining. Settling for a field goal proved to be a critical mistake for the Dolphins. Manning and the offense moved even quicker on the game-winning drive. Passes to Reggie Wayne (15 yards), Dallas Clark (17 yards), an incompletion and then a touchdown to Pierre Garcon (48 yards) was all Manning needed to move the offense 80 yards in just 32 seconds. Leading 27-23 with 3:18 remaining, the Colts defense held strong with safety Antoine Bethea intercepting Miami quarterback Chad Pennington on the final play from scrimmage.
Dolphins running back Reggie Bush versus the Colts defense: With a rookie quarterback, the Dolphins have leaned on Bush in both the rushing and receiving department. The task of defending Bush marks the second straight week the Colts have had the challenge of defending a speedy back that excels in the passing game as well. Even with missing cornerback Vontae Davis, the Colts' defense is about as healthy as its been since training camp with defensive end Fili Moala and outside linebacker Robert Mathis expected to be back in the fold.
Colts rushing attack versus the Dolphins front seven: Starting with continuity up front, the Colts' running game has taken off the last two weeks. After a 148-yard effort against the Browns, the Colts followed that up with a 171-yard performance last Sunday. Now comes the best rushing defense the Colts have faced all year as the Dolphins are third in the league by allowing 82.0 yards per game. The Colts have benefited from a trio of healthy backs in Vick Ballard, Donald Brown and Delone Carter.
The Colts are looking for their fourth straight win against the Dolphins.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has highest winning percentage (.571) through Week 8 by a rookie quarterback who was chosen No. 1 overall in NFL history.
Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne leads the NFL with 108.1 receiving yards per game.
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis can tie a personal record with a sack in an eighth consecutive game played.
Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney has four sacks in his past three games against the Dolphins.
Colts cornerback Vontae Davis (2009-11) and center Samson Satele (2007-08) both used to play for the Dolphins.
The Dolphins have won five of their past six games in Indianapolis.
Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake has 7.5 sacks in the last four games.
Since 2006, Dolphins running back Reggie Bush leads all running backs with 355 receptions.
The Dolphins defense is the only team in the NFL to have allowed 14 points or fewer in their last three games (13, Cincinnati; 14, St. Louis; nine, New York Jets).
Dolphins running back Marcus Thigpen (Indiana) and tight end Anthony Fasano (Notre Dame) played college football in Indiana.
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on what Miami does well):
"Defensively, they're number one on third downs, number two in the red zone, number five in scoring defense. Those are great situational football statistics. I don't care about their overall rankings. The yards gained between the twenties don't matter. They're top notch third down, red zone and scoring defense in this league. They're very good against the run. They're going to present a great challenge, those two big guys (Randy Starks, Paul Soliai) in the middle and then blocking Cameron Wake off the edge, and the two young guys (Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon). Offensively, they've got a heck of an offensive line. You've got number one picks at center and left tackle (Mike Pouncey, Jake Long). A high number two pick at right tackle (Jonathan Martin) who is playing well. They've got a powerful offensive line and Reggie Bush is just like Chris Johnson, he can take it to the house at any point in time. He's never down. They're running the ball extremely well. Reggie is a home run hitter, and we can't allow home runs. We can give a single or two, but no home runs. The quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) is an outstanding young player. They're asking him to do things he did in college, so he fit right into their system. The other quarterback (Matt Moore) is a veteran who has always won whenever he's gotten the chance to play."
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on Donald Brown):
"I liked Donald coming out. I thought he was a hard downhill runner with great speed. He has shown flashes of that speed for us, and I love speed. He is more than a professional, he's a top notch pro. He's more than prepared every week. He prepares the young guys. He's a great leader in his room. He's an explosive player, and you can't have enough of those."
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on how much missed Robert Mathis):
"I think more than the play itself, the sacks, is the passion he brings to the game. Not to say the guys aren't giving everything they have, but he's got a special fervor, a special passion. He gave a great speech before the last home game, and I thought it was great the way he did it, the way he presented it, he challenged each guy. That heartbeat you can't replace."
Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers(on if surprised by the 4-3 start compared to outsiders):
"I can't speak on them but talking about our locker room, we've been saying from day one that we believe we have the talent to get the job done this year. We're in the mix of things. We had the T-shirts made that had us (number) 32 in the power ranking. I think Miami might have been 31. It's all about what the guys in the locker room believe. (If) you get a group of guys no matter what the talent level is and everybody believes in one another, you're going to go out there and play well enough to win games. Right now, we're in the thick of things fighting for the playoff picture. Miami is as well. This game is definitely going to mean something. It's an AFC game, so you want to win that. It definitely could mean something later on, also."
Colts running back Vick Ballard(on not getting too high or low):
"We got to put it behind us. B.A. (Bruce Arians) talks about not having a rearview mirror. Whenever you have a rearview mirror, you get to looking back at what you did and not what you have to do."
Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin(on if surprised by how team has played):
"Not really. You never really know until you get out there with these guys. Since the offseason program started on April 10, I think, as a staff, we've been pleased with the effort these guys have put forth into the 2012 season and they've prepared hard, and I think they're a hungry group. They're a bunch of guys that want to win. I don't know that I've really been surprised. I don't know that until you really go through a season with each other and go through the ups and downs and the peaks and valleys and find out a little bit more about one another, it's hard to really predict what your record's going to be. Obviously, with seven games in, it's still hard to predict where you're going to be after 16. But I wouldn't say that I'm overly surprised."
Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin(on the Colts and Andrew Luck in general):
"I like their team a lot. I think a real credit to Coach (Chuck) Pagano and Ryan Grigson their new GM and they've put together a good football team. And Coach (Bruce) Arians and the rest of the staff is doing an excellent job. I think they're probably, I'm guessing, a lot like us. They've got to be tough because they've games by what six, four, three and three? They've got to have some mental toughness. They've got to have some hungry guys there. They're playing well. They play fast. They've got young speed and skill on offense. I think they're doing a heck of a job. Andrew Luck, I think, is everything everybody thought he would be."
Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin(on how much the running game has helped the Colts' offense):
"I sat in the defensive meeting (Wednesday) and was watching those guys on tape. What's really impressive about the Colts offense is you can tell they've got some plays they believe in. They've got a philosophy (and) they stick with it. They run those plays and they're good at those plays and so they run it out of a lot of different groups and formations and personnel. Conceptually, it's not all that different but the way they get to it, they've got a lot of change ups and ways they can get to their base plays. They know those plays well. They execute them well, and I think their running game has looked good as of late."
Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake(on if surprised by success in NFL):
"I am probably the least surprised out of anybody who knows my story or knows me. I always thought that I was a great football player and a great athlete, but this game is not a 'tell me' game it is a 'show me' game. Nobody wants to hear about what you think you can do or how good you think you are. You have to able to strap your chin strap on and show it. That's kind of what I've done and how I've gone about my business here. I might believe in myself but until you put it on paper and sign your work out there on the field, it doesn't really count."
Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake(on why defense is good despite low expectations):
"I think the biggest expectations are the ones that come from inside the locker room. We have a high standard and I think if you look over the past few years, we've been pretty good, just speaking about the defense, in a couple of areas and we just want to make sure we improve. All the way back in April, I would say we've been pretty good here and pretty good there, but there's areas that we have to come in and we have to concentrate on. These areas are a priority and at the same time, you don't want to take away from the things that you have been doing well. But things like takeaways and fumbles that maybe in the past we haven't been in the top of the league at, you want to try your best to make sure you get there."