INDIANAPOLIS – Storylines around the Colts late last week and on Friday night against Green Bay centered quite heavily on the offense.
With the signing of veteran free agent quarterback Kerry Collins and the fact third-year pro Curtis Painter was going to be scrutinized during his playing time, a great deal of attention was spent that way.
While Painter responded with a very good second quarter, the Colts' defense turned in a pretty solid outing, too, in facing a potent Green Bay offense that had multiple weapons.
Indianapolis punted its first three possessions offensively, and this came after two preseason games where opponents amassed large first-half leads.
St. Louis held a 23-3 advantage after 30 minutes in the August 13 opener. Last week, Washington rolled to a 16-0 halftime lead that could have been larger had the defense not produced three red zone stops that forced Redskins field goals.
While Indianapolis was a bit slow to get untracked, Green Bay grabbed a 7-0 lead early. The Colts defense responded to the challenge. The Indianapolis defense showed resolve down deep again to keep the scoreboard manageable. Indianapolis had two first-half stops in the red zone, while totaling four of its five sacks. Yielding in places other than the scoreboard, Indianapolis was able to seize a 14-10 halftime lead that eventually swelled to 21-13 before the Packers tallied 11 points in the final 35 seconds to get the 24-21 victory.
As mentioned, Indianapolis deployed its defensive starters for more than half the game. The defense, however, typically rolls in defensive personnel on a frequent basis, and fans attending the game were able to see some new faces.
During training camp, Indianapolis signed four veteran defensive free agents who got playing time Friday night. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris (Chicago), defensive end Jamaal Anderson (Atlanta), defensive end Tyler Brayton (Carolina) and linebacker Ernie Sims (Detroit) played in the club's preseason home finale.
Harris and Sims were playing against a bitter divisional foe from their previous stops. Harris measured up with one tackle, one sack, one quarterback hit and one pass defensed. He was able to interrupt a short dump pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and nearly intercepted the deflection he caused. Also, his six-yard sack of Rodgers near the two-minute warning of the first half forced a Green Bay field goal that missed. The Colts used the subsequent possession to march to the halftime lead.
Anderson had two tackles, one for a loss, while Brayton had a stop as well. Sims was playing for the first time during preseason after undergoing an appendectomy after the first week of training camp. Sims was credited with eight tackles, five solo.
The newcomers helped Indianapolis total three red zone stops and five sacks for the game. Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney had two sacks, while linebackers Philip Wheeler and Pat Angerer had the other ones.
Caldwell was asked about the impact of Sims and if he were challenging for a starting position.
"Ernie looks like certainly he broke on the ball well," said Caldwell. "I thought he did a lot of things really well, and you can tell that he's kind of getting accustomed to our system. He was actually playing in our nickel package, and that's the position in which Ernie will probably play at this point in time until we see other evidence of utilizing him somewhere else. But right now, that's kind of been the spot that he's been working at and doing a good job in that area.
Overall, he made some plays and he helped us."
The third-year head coach also liked what he saw from Harris as well as the other new linemen.
"Just looking at the film, we certainly saw that Tommie was able to make a couple of plays," said Caldwell. "He did a nice job on the sack, did a nice job on knocking down the screen. So he did some things well."
"Up front we have a pretty interesting group of guys. When we say up front, typically we're talking about our front seven, and that includes our linebacking corps. But if you just include our front, you've got Dwight (Freeney) and Robert (Mathis) who have been around a long time. They set the pace at that position. Those two guys have great leadership and do a tremendous job in there. Then you have guys like Jamaal (Anderson) who's been around, and Tommie (Harris) who's been around, and Tyler (Brayton) who's been around. Those guys have been around as well, so I just think it's a good nucleus of people. They (Brayton and Anderson) look like guys that are coming along and making progress. The good thing about (Friday) night was this, there's probably not an area that I can tell you that we didn't make some progress. I really felt that way across the board. Certainly there were a whole lot of things that we didn't do well that we can do better, but I think we're moving in the right direction."
Caldwell was asked who he believes is the leader among the interior defensive linemen, and he said it is too early to judge.
"Well, it's kind of tough right now to determine who that person is, you know what I mean? It's not like we've had a long period of time to establish everyone's strengths and weaknesses, and determine how well they lead and things of that nature," he said. "We're going off of a couple weeks, and typically it takes you a little bit more time to determine who your leaders are. A guy has to be able to demonstrate resolve, I think, in order to make certain that he's one of those individuals that can lead your group."
As for future rotations along the line, Caldwell said the groupings would change based on the type of opponent Indianapolis would face.
"Sometimes, depending on who you're playing, if the team is more of a power-oriented team that is going to run downhill quite a bit, you may see our rotation a little differently because of our personnel," said Caldwell. "If it's a team that's a little bit more zone blocking and reaching on outside runs, you may see another rotation. So that's the rotation that we would use against a team that runs an offense like Green Bay."