Colts Run Defense Has Improved by the Game in Recent Weeks
INDIANAPOLIS – Eric Foster said he has heard it every week.
What he has heard are the words of Colts defensive line coach John Teerlinck, cajoling the line to improve, to work, and to solidify the front of the defense.
"He harps on it every week: 'We've got to get this thing right, got to get this thing right,''' Johnson said Thursday.
The Colts have done so more and more in recent weeks, improving steadily against the run, and Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said on Thursday the interior of the line – a young group that includes Foster, a rookie free agent from Rutgers – is among the reasons.
"They have gotten better," Dungy said Thursday afternoon as the Colts (5-4) prepared to play the Houston Texans (3-6) in an AFC South game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We're playing a little sharper. We're doing a lot of things better, and just playing smarter. A lot of that is our younger guys learning it a little better."
The Colts, after struggling at times early in the season against the run, have improved drastically in that area. Through three games, they ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing defense and had allowed 199.3 yards per game.
Through nine games they are ranked 24th and have allowed 133.8 yards per game.
In a Week 3 game against Jacksonville, they allowed eight runs of 12 yards or more. Dungy said Thursday they have allowed six such runs since.
"We're playing off each other," Foster said. "I think the chemistry is coming together at the right time. We just have to keep playing hard in practice. I definitely feel good about where we are right now."
In addition to Foster, who has started all but one game since the release of Ed Johnson in Week 2, second-year veteran Keyunta Dawson has started every game this season.
The Colts last week signed Antonio Johnson (6-feet-3, 310 pounds), who had spent the first part of the season on the Tennessee Titans' practice squad, as a free agent. He was credited with eight tackles this past Sunday in the Colts' 24-20 victory over Pittsburgh.
The Colts held Pittsburgh, which entered the game averaging 101.9 yards per game rushing, to 55 yards rushing on 26 carries.
"He was in in a lot of running situations," Dungy said of Johnson. "He did a good job for us. He did a good job for his first game. He does some things we have missed not having Ed and Quinn (Pitcock, who retired shortly before the season). He gives us a big body who's an athletic, big guy.
"We haven't had that, so I think he's got a chance to help us."
Also on Thursday, the Colts released their second injury reof the week, with wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (hamstring), cornerback Kelvin Hayden (hamstring), safety Antoine Bethea (ankle), wide receiver Roy Hall (knee), tight end Tom Santi (shoulder), wide receiver Reggie Wayne (ankle) and defensive end Robert Mathis (foot) listed as not participating in practice.
Safety Bob Sanders (not injury related/rested), defensive end Dwight Freeney (not injury related/rested), linebacker Gary Brackett (not injury related/rested), cornerback Tim Jennings (not injury related/rested), defensive tackle Dan Muir (hamstring) and cornerback Keiwan Ratliff (quadriceps) returned to full-participation status after being listed as not participating Wednesday.
Dungy said early in the week the injuries to offensive players affected practice.
"I thought we went with good tempo, but it's not quite the same," Dungy said Thursday before an afternoon practice at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "Hopefully, we'll get some of those guys back (Thursday) and we just have to be a little bit sharper. All in all, we're off to a pretty good start to the week. . . . I think we'll be OK by Friday for sure."
Dungy said he expects many of the injured players to play Sunday, particularly Wayne and Gonzalez.
"You always feel like they're going to improve by game time – I think we are going to get our receivers back for sure," Dungy said, adding of Wednesday's practice, "It was not bad on defense. Offensively, it was tough. We didn't have our receivers, who are going to be playing in the game. We had to put different guys in those spots and work on some different personnel packages."