INDIANAPOLIS –He will be one of the shortest players on the field Sunday when the Colts meet Jacksonville but for the challenge Maurice Jones-Drew presents and always has presented, he casts one of the tallest shadows.
The 208-pound running back with a big punch once again is having a banner season.
For the third straight year, Jones-Drew was chosen as a Pro Bowler and his resume speaks for itself. The UCLA product leads the league in rushing attempts (318, 34 more than anyone else) and rushing yards (1,437, 128 more than anyone else).
"Maurice, he's a monster," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "To me he's one of the best, if not the best, running backs in the league. Everybody knows they're going to run the ball. Everyone knows and he's still able to get as many yards as he does. He hits it. It's not a scheme thing. It's not like the Denver Broncos full-zone whoever you plug in is going to get a 1,000 yards at least. No, not with him, he's a guy where he's running guys over, he's finding the hole, he's cutting it back, he's doing this, he's doing that. They give him the ball on the screens, the ball is in his hands 80 percent of the time and he's making plays all over the field. Everybody knows it and still has a problem stopping it."
Colts players used a plethora of adjectives in describing the powerful Jones-Drew with the word 'tough' continually coming up again and again.
"He is extremely tough, and that is the thing that jumps out at you, he just keeps going," Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "Obviously, he is leading the league in rushing right now for a reason, because he is durable, he's tough, he's tenacious and all of the skills that God has gifted him with, in terms of his balance, power, speed and he can catch out of the backfield. He's a tough, tough competitor."
Sunday's game against Jones-Drew will mark the 12th time the Colts have taken on the Pro Bowl running back. In the previous 11 games, Jones-Drew has rushed for 1,043 yards, which is the fifth-most by any back against the Colts.
"It doesn't take him long to show up," Caldwell said. "He has got some ability, but he doesn't stay hidden very long. He comes out of that backfield, and one of the things is (that) you'd better know where he is because if you can't locate him, then you will be chasing him down the field from behind."
In week 10 of this season, Jones-Drew ran for 114 yards on 25 carries against the Colts. His late fourth quarter touchdown put the game out of reach for Indianapolis and for veteran defensive end Robert Mathis this week marks yet another meeting with the All-Pro.
"If I don't see him again it won't be too soon," Mathis said with a laugh. "He's a guy that's going to bring his 'A' game, and he's going to try and punish you."
Sunday will mark the third straight AFC South opponent for the Colts and also marks the third big-time back the defense has faced in as many weeks.
Tennessee's Chris Johnson and Houston's Arian Foster carried the load for their respective offenses, and they presented definite challenges. Every runner carries a personal style, and Jones-Drew is a complete back who presents unique problems. His 360 touches in 2011 are the most in the NFL and Jones-Drew has accounted for 46.5 percent of his team's offense.
"He's equally as much of a force as the rest of them," cornerback Jacob Lacey said of Jones-Drew in comparison to other NFL backs. "He's one of the greatest backs in the game right now. He's a tough guy. He's real physical, a downhill runner that can break tackles. We've got to get a lot of bodies around him."
Another weapon that Jones-Drew brings to the table is ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He has 42 receptions on the season and he has caught at least six passes in three of the past four games.
"I think Jones-Drew is a smaller guy definitely, but he has the ability to beat you in so many ways, great vision, great strength, great speed, great power. He's definitely an all-around back," linebacker Kavell Conner said.
Since entering the league in 2006, Jones-Drew's name has routinely been thrown around as one of finest backs in the NFL. This marks the fourth straight season that Jones-Drew has rushed for more than 1,300 yards, and he has definitely caught the eye of the Colts' leading tackler.
"He's up there for sure. Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, those guys are the best there are," linebacker Pat Angerer said. "They all (have) great O-lines. It's tough. It's going to be a struggle, but it's going to be a great fight. He's going to run real hard and we are going to have to control our gaps and stop the run."
Success in stopping Jones-Drew does not come easily, but the Colts did hold him to 46 yards on 15 carries in week 15 last year. It was the second-lowest he had in 2010.
The task of containing Jones-Drew will be the first thing on the minds of every Colts defender on Sunday, but the ultimate goal remains the same.
"It definitely would be nice," Conner said of stopping Jones-Drew and earning a win. "We just want to come out and execute and try to keep this thing rolling to go into the off-season on an upbeat note."