Colts Defense Controls the Line of Scrimmage Against the Eagles
INDIANAPOLIS – Head Coach Jim Caldwell wanted his team to control the line of scrimmage against the Philadelphia Eagles better than they did in their preseason debut.
Instead, they dominated it.
After allowing 198 rushing yards to the Vikings last Friday, the Colts turned in a much-improved defensive effort Thursday night in their 23-15 victory, holding the Eagles to just 23 rushing yards the entire game.
The Colts forced four fumbles and five three-and-outs against Philadelphia, displaying the type of defensive prowess Caldwell and the rest of the Colts coaching staff have been looking for.
"We came out and played a little better than we did a week before," Caldwell said. "Our defense played pretty solid. I think we'll take a look at the film, take a look at it closely, and we'll be pleased with a number of things we saw."
One of the things Caldwell will be pleased to see is the Colts not allowing a single first down off a rushing attempt. The Colts held the Eagles to just 1.4 yards per carry, with the Eagles not breaking a run longer than six yards the entire game.
Caldwell credited the team's improved run defense to starting defensive tackles Ed and Antonio Johnson, who were healthy and playing together for the first time this preseason.
"They did a nice job of plugging up the middle," he said.
The Colts coach also praised the team's linebacking unit, who ran to the ball better in their second preseason outing.
"We stressed it during the week, so it's good to see some results," Caldwell said.
Linebacker Clint Session, who finished with two tackles, said it felt good to turn in a good defensive performance, "preseason or not." The Eagles were 0-2 on fourth down and failed to score both times they made it into the Colts' red zone.
"I feel like we played better as a whole," Session said. "As a team, we showed a lot of progress. Things are getting better every week."
In addition to stymieing Philadelphia's running attack, the Colts' pass rushers also got to the quarterback, after failing to do so last week.
Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney sacked Eagles quarterback, and fellow Syracuse alumnus, Donovan McNabb with 5:09 left in the first quarter. Freeney's sack forced McNabb to fumble and fellow lineman Keyunta Dawson recovered the loose ball.
"I knew I had a rookie on me," Freeney said of Eagles left tackle King Dunlap. "I knew that much. Basically, I was just (trying) to…baptize him a little bit."
And the defense was not done there. The team registered three sacks on the night, including one from safety Melvin Bullitt early in the second quarter. Bullitt came on a blitz from the secondary, fought through an Eagles blocker, and sacked quarterback A.J. Feeley.
"It felt good getting a sack, that's my first one since I've been here," Bullitt said. "I liked it. (Now) I see why Robert (Mathis) and Freeney do it so much."
In the locker room after the game, there was a lot to smile about. But Freeney's biggest smile of the night came when asked about Bullitt's sack.
"I saw him out there getting the sack, now he knows how I feel," Freeney said. "I just hope he saves some for me."
• Defensive back T.J. Rushing returned a punt 45 yards in the third quarter to give the Colts their best field position of the game (a five-yard penalty brought the Colts to the Philadelphia 28-yard line). From there, Indianapolis was unable to score, but Rushing's return resonated loudly. The next time the Eagles punted, they kicked the ball far out of bounds, away from Rushing.
• Tight end Jacob Tamme caught five passes in the first half for 60 yards, but it was the one he almost caught that drew the most attention. On the team's first drive of the night, Tamme almost reeled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peyton Manning before having the ball stripped by a Philadelphia defender in the end zone.
• Manning was almost perfect in the two drives he led Thursday night (150.9 passer rating), completing 10-of-14 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was to wide receiver Reggie Wayne for 76 yards.