INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts have had chances this season to get their first victory, but the opportunities have not been realized successfully on game days.
As the Colts conclude regular season play by meeting each AFC South team for one last time, the club hopes to put together three segments of 60-minute football to earn its objective.
With a long-standing mantra of 'One Game at a Time,' Indianapolis hosts Tennessee on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Under center for the Colts for the third straight week will be quarterback Dan Orlovsky.
Orlovsky directed the Colts in a 31-24 loss to New England two weeks ago, a game where the team posted its best offensive production of the season. Last week at Baltimore, the team struggled against a talented Ravens defense, and it will face another stingy unit on Sunday in the Titans.
The club looks to establish an offensive rhythm that will keep the game in phase when it has the ball. In particular, Indianapolis hopes to have positive plays on first and second downs so third downs are not too difficult to convert, and it hopes to keep drives going so it can control the ball for more time than the 25:20 possession average it has accomplished this year.
Orlovsky is looking for what the offense was able to do two games ago.
"We did a really good job against New England of getting ourselves into good second-down and good third-down situations. We didn't do that against Baltimore," said Orlovsky. "We got off track far too often. The big thing is for us to be productive on first and second down so when we do get to third down (they are) more manageable third downs. You can kind of know what the defense is going to give you more than give them the opportunity to do a lot of different things. Give yourself a higher percentage to convert those third downs. I think giving ourselves better opportunities on first and second down to be successful, then executing on those downs will be a huge benefit for us."
There are a few things with an attack that qualify as 'friends' of any quarterback. One of those is a rushing game. Indianapolis has not been able to rush to the extent it has wished to at times because of scoreboards tilted against them. When opportunities have come, the club has had success, and it is on its first 4.0 seasonal average pace since 2006. Orlovsky would like to see a solid ground effort on Sunday.
"Any time you have a good running game it helps the quarterback out," said Orlovsky. "It kind of goes on the basis of what I've said previously about being successful on first and second down. If you can get some kind of running game going on first down, you become a dual-threat offensively. You don't become so one-dimensional. The same is true for second down. I think it's something we continue to get better at. I think the offensive line is doing a good job. The backs are running and seeing well. (I) still think you need to throw it to win consistently in this league. You look at the good teams, they are able to run the football."
Running backs Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Delone Carter all have played roles in the rushing attack. All have different skill sets and strengths.
"Joe (Addai) is more of a slash guy, a shifty guy," said Orlovsky. "He's been around the system a long time, so he understands it. I think Donald (Brown) probably gets better the more carries he gets. I think he's built to be a workhorse in a sense. He's a slash, put-your-foot-in-the-ground, get vertical guy. I think Delone (Carter) is a bigger back, but (he) can still do things out on the edge. I think all three of them are good backs. All three of them bring a little bit something different. Donald and Joe I think have a little bit of an advantage on Delone as far as they've been around the system (longer) mentally. They can understand things a little bit better in that aspect. All three of them are hard workers in their role."
Last Sunday at Baltimore was the fifth time this season an opponent has jumped to at least a 17-point lead before the Colts could get on the board. Having a quicker start this week is something that Orlovsky gives two thumbs up.
"Any time you can start fast is great," said Orlovsky. "Any time you start fast at home is better. Any time you can kind of force a team to be one-dimensional and have the two guys we do (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis) on the edge rushing helps. We'll definitely try and go out and play better early and hopefully do a good job of executing early on so we get ourselves into rhythm. We can get ourselves more plays and more plays called. I think it's a big week for us to just continue to focus on doing a good job on first and second down, either converting first downs or getting ourselves into manageable situations past that."
Orlovsky bore the brunt of a Baltimore attack last Sunday that kept Indianapolis off-stride offensively. He was sacked four times and the club never established a solid flow. Head Coach Jim Caldwell knows his quarterback will come back well this week, and it is incumbent on others to assist, too.
"He's got a lot of poise, (and he's a) tough guy, and I think he'll be fine," said Caldwell. "The big thing is that we have to make certain that we do our part helping him out, too. We've got to protect him. We have to give him the opportunity to do what he does best, just in terms of making certain that all phases are operating properly. A lot of it gets dumped on the guy at the quarterback position. That old adage that, 'They get too much credit when you win. They get too much blame when you lose,' I think is without question appropriate in this particular case, because of the fact that he can't do it by himself.
"Everybody plays a part in that – a solid running game, good, solid protection, and protection is not only the offensive line but also the tight ends protecting, the running backs doing their job, it's receivers running their routes on time, and it's the quarterback getting the ball out of his hand in rhythm. All of those things are part of it."
Orlovsky still is finding his way in the attack. Caldwell cited Orlovsky's mental abilities in training camp and "marveled" how quickly the quarterback was learning a difficult offense. Orlovsky likes his receivers and is working his way into the flow. Still, it takes an adaption period.
"It takes a long time," said Orlovsky. "It takes multiple, multiple years and multiple reps to have a comfort level and to know guys and to think the same way as guys. Sometimes it doesn't happen at all with guys, just because it just doesn't happen. It's a pretty special thing when it happens. It's probably why you saw it here with Peyton (Manning) and Marvin (Harrison) and Peyton and Reggie (Wayne) and Dallas (Clark). It's not like they played together for two or three years. They played together for decades. It takes time. It's hundreds of reps over the same plays against the same looks, different looks. It takes a while."
Caldwell has watched his team toil through the season. He knows leads in games have been too scarce for the team's tastes. Caldwell has no preference how a game goes at this point, he is far more interested in the final result.
"I'm probably beyond that, of being picky in terms of how we win a game," said Caldwell. "I don't care if we have to come from behind, with a lead or whatever it might be. It's like I typically end most of our discussions with them (by saying), 'Above all else, the point is to win. That's the object, so however you have to get it done.' You could say it would be nice (to play with the lead), but we're not living in a fantasy world either. The reality is that it may not happen that way. With this particular team (Tennessee), they're tough and they're hard to score upon anyway. We're going to have our work cut out for us.
"They (Tennessee) keep getting better, that's the key. Their lineup has been pretty much the same since the last time we played them. It's the same offensive line. The backfield is the same, same receiving corps and they've been able to improve little-by-little each and every week. They're playing really sound. I think they're plus-five in terms of their turnover ratio, so that's obviously very, very important. It shows you they're not making a whole lot of mistakes in terms of turnovers, and they're getting some as well. From a defensive standpoint they are solid, and they are not allowing teams to have a lot of big plays. Last week the (New Orleans) Saints struggled with them a bit from time to time. They put them in a number of long-yardage situations and they played well. In the kicking game, they are always good. (Marc) Mariani is doing a great job in terms of returns, giving them an advantage in terms of field position. They're kicking the ball well. They're punting it well and they're a threat to block a punt at any time. They have really developed into a real solid football team."
Tight end Jacob Tamme is ready for a win. Like 52 teammates, he is focused on Sunday.
"We have to get a win," said Tamme. "We'd like to get more than one. We'd like to get all three, but we have to take them one at a time. At this point, it's been tough. It's been a frustrating year. We have three opportunities left to play football. This next one coming up is the only one we can worry about now. We're going to try to win this one."
Orlovsky knows the Titans from having spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons with Houston. He views the Titans as a difficult opponent.
"I would say everything," said Orlovsky when asked what Tennessee does well. "I think they do a really good job of doing everything well. When they have 11 guys on the field, all 11 are playing. No matter who the 11 are, they're playing really well together. They don't have a weakness. They're not giving up a ton of yards. When you get down in the red zone, they're not giving up a ton of touchdowns. They make you play 60 minutes, and they make you beat them for 60 minutes. They don't give up a lot of big plays. They don't have a lot of open weaknesses. They don't make a lot of mistakes. I think their mindset is they're going to play better over 60 minutes than you're going to play. It's a challenge. It's a pretty danged good defense, even in comparison to last week's (in Baltimore). I can't see a massive difference as far as production. I think scheme-wise they do things differently (than the Ravens). They're playing extremely well."
COLTS FRIDAY NOTEBOOK (QUOTE-UNQUOTE): Jim Caldwell(on C-Jeff Saturday's leadership) "It's been exceptional, obviously, because we've just had so many guys that have not been able to go from week-to-week and to have a constant there in the middle, which is crucial, because he kind of sets the tone of everything that is happening in the middle. He identifies what is going on defensively and he sets our protections schemes as well. To have a guy that has the kind of experience that he has helps all of those guys around him, from tackle-to-tackle and our quarterback." Caldwell(on RB-Chris Johnson) "He looks pretty good to me. He's still just as explosive as ever. They're getting the ball in his hands quite a bit, both in the passing game and also handing it to him as well. He's still like lightning in a bottle." Caldwell(on RB-Chris Johnson getting in a groove) "I think so. I think he's running well. He's shown the speed that he's always possessed, and I think they're getting the ball to him a number of different ways. He's leading the team in rushing, obviously, but also he's second in receiving. They're getting it to him on check-downs, out in space. They're also using motion and emptying the backfield with him as well. They're still getting the ball to him on the outside once in a while. They're taking advantage of his skill set, and I think he's back in his groove." Caldwell(on players handling disappointment of season) "For the most part, guys are disappointed. They're competitive people. They don't like to lose. I think oftentimes people anticipate that to show that a guy (has fire he) has got to kick a door in his locker, throw his helmet and all that. That's the kind of stuff that (observers) like to see, I guess, I don't know. It's not necessarily an indication of a guy's frustration level, his competitiveness or his desire to win. It's never been. Oftentimes people are assailed for not doing something ridiculous. Then when they do something ridiculous, they get vilified anyway. Nevertheless, I think that our guys are still just as competitive, just as tough, get just as disappointed when they lose as any other point in time since I've been around here. So that hasn't changed." Caldwell(on importance of helping RB-Delone Carter's confidence) "I think that is one of the things that we just keep trying to work with him on. Obviously, the last game he got in and performed and he didn't turn the ball over. It's not something that's been part of his history, so we'll continue to work with him. We've been working a little bit after practice, (we are) trying to focus in on those things during practice, and I think he'll be fine." Dwight Freeney(on Colts being only in 'spoiler' role) "I guess that's kind of how it lined up to be. You never really want to be in that situation where that's all you have to play for is to spoil someone else's chances. I do know what we're trying to do is win, and, obviously, doing that would spoil something for them. We're not going out there saying, 'Let's spoil their chances.' No, we're thinking about winning." Freeney(on what keeps Colts fighting) "It's kind of been drilled into us from day one, and it's just that you've got to take every day one day at a time, one practice at a time and one play at a time. We go out there and try to perfect our craft. We're professionals and regardless if you're going to be here or somewhere else, you're going to go out there and try your best. At the end of the game you see what the score is and whatever happened." Freeney(on if there is a specific sack number he is seeking) "I never really went out for numbers. I just go out and play and play as hard as I can. If there are numbers, there are numbers. Obviously, that's what you hope for. There is no number (I'm shooting to reach in sacks). I'm not saying, '150 (sacks), I'm done,' or '120, I'm done.' I'm just going out there saying, 'If they come, they come.' Sometimes they come in bunches. Sometimes they don't come at all. That's just how this game is." Dan Orlovsky(on if the offense is progressing) "I would say, yeah. Do we have much to show for yesterday? No. Do we have something to show for it two weeks ago? Yes. Like I said last week, every week is different. You move on. We didn't play well yesterday. We can't go back and change that. We can change how we play this Sunday. That will be a goal of ours this week in practice. We certainly need to get better." Orlovsky(on looking forward to playing at home) "I do. I've been around the home crowd for six games or something like that, maybe not even that. I know what the community stands for and this town and the expectation level they have and the teams they've been able to watch play for a long time. I think it's a great crowd. Hopefully, we give them something to cheer for. People throw around in all aspects of sports (the term), 'fair weather fans.' A fan is someone who likes to watch something good. I think we need to do our part in giving them something to cheer for on Sunday, and (something to) get excited about and leave the game feeling good. I'm excited to play in front of them. I know this team is important to them. I know this rivalry and this division is important to them, too. It will be nice to get home and play in front of them." Jeff Saturday(on dedicated fans backing the team) "Our fans are as good as they get. We've had fans who continually come out and support us. Throughout the city I see people all the time (who say), 'Hey we're still with you and we're still supporting you.' With our record the way it is that's tough to do but these guys are doing it, and we really appreciate it." Saturday(on the difficulty of trying to grasp understanding of 13 losses this year) "I don't know how many years you have to put together to lose 13 games, but it's a bunch. To lose 13 in one (season is tough), but we've got to play better. You watch the film and we got outplayed by Baltimore. They took it to us. So that's what you get." Saturday(on what a victory would mean) "Obviously, every time you go out you want to win. It would be sure nice to get a win and be able to try to get something put together late in the season. (It would be) something to build on for the future and show guys around the locker room what it's like to win. Some of these guys haven't won, either any games or many games, if they are just (arriving) here. So we want to show guys, 'Hey, this is what our tradition is really about. This is what we're normally used to.' You've got to go out and execute and play better to get that done." Saturday(on trying to earn a win) "It rests in our hands. We have to go out and out-play a team and put together four consistent quarters where we out-play a football team. We haven't done it yet. Hopefully we get it done on Sunday." Saturday(on OT-Anthony Castonzo) "(Anthony) Castonzo's done well this year. You just have to build on it. It's hard to come out and play left tackle in the NFL. Castonzo's a tough-minded guy and a good athlete. He'll be a good one for us." Saturday(on lack of offensive consistency) "We're just making mistakes. Football is a pretty simple game. It's not easy, but it's simple. We just got out-played. Baltimore got after our quarterback. We didn't run the ball well. Once you become one-dimensional against a team like that (it's tough). It's the same for our defense. If you make a team one-dimensional, with all those pass rushers, all the the different blitzes and the exotic type of looks, then it's going to make for a long day. That's exactly what happened." Saturday(on challenges this year with personnel changes) "It's been tough. We've been banged up. Guys having to rotate and move around and shift, it's not easy. I equate it to a quarterback who loses his receivers. There's a continuity there when guys are healthy and playing together week in and week out and kind of building that group as a corps. It's been tough this year with so many guys getting injured at different times." Jacob Tamme(on getting a win) "We have to get a win. We'd like to get more than one. We'd like to get all three, but we have to take them one at a time. At this point, it's been tough. It's been a frustrating year. We have three opportunities left to play football. This next one coming up is the only one we can worry about now. We're going to try to win this one." Tamme(on Tennessee) "They have a good team. They have good, young players on defense. (Matt) Hasselbeck is a complete veteran, a type of guy that can make a push for a playoff run. He's that type of quarterback. He's done it all. They have a good team. Offensively, we have to try to sustain drives to keep the ball away from their offense. (Chris) Johnson's running the ball well, kind of coming into his own. We have to do our job offensively." Tamme(on the 'spoiler' tag) "I honestly don't care about the 'spoiler' (tag) personally. I really just want to win, and hopefully put a couple together. It starts with this game. I just want to win. I don't think anybody's too concerned with spoiling anything. We'd all like to celebrate on a Sunday." Tamme(on success on early downs) "Sustaining drives and converting third downs makes a big difference, whether it's third-and-three or third-and-eleven. First and second down are definitely key. If we can get in some good first-down plays, it will make third downs a little more manageable." Pat McAfee(on his tackling ability) "I do feel strongly about my tackling performance so far this year. I feel like I've been laying the lumber a little bit."