INDIANAPOLIS –A preseason opening 38-3 win over St. Louis was a team affair.
Indianapolis out-rushed the Rams, scored early an often, and the defense was stingy along the way.
Two games deeper into the preseason journey have seen the club struggle a bit more in stopping opposing ground games.
Two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, the Steelers produced 146 yards on the ground, including two bursts exceeding 20 yards.
Last week in Washington, the Redskins found success to the tune of 147 yards and a 5.4 average against a Colts unit that was missing front line players like Cory Redding, Robert Mathis, Justin King and Pat Angerer. Further complicating matters were the early departures of Brandon McKinney (year-ending knee injury) and Jerraud Powers, who left for precautionary reasons with a knee injury.
Running back Alfred Morris tallied on a two-yard score to open the game and gained 77 of his game-high 107 yards in the first half. During that span, Washington had nine runs exceeding five yards and three bursts of 17 yards or longer. On its first attempt of the second half, Morris popped for 24 yards.
It was a performance that was contrary to the club's wishes of limiting damaging yards on the ground, and it is something Indianapolis wants to correct.
"That's the first thing we want to do," said safety Antoine Bethea of stopping the run. "We want to control the line of scrimmage and try to make the offense one-dimensional. The Redskins had some success running the ball. We can control that. It's something we look forward to doing."
Angerer has been a spectator with a foot injury since the first snap of the St. Louis game. He knows Washington had success and that the club needs to make corrections.
"They were a good offense. The Redskins played tremendously," said Angerer. "That stretch play, they ran it as good as anybody. Of course, we're going to face that versus Houston…We have our work cut out for us. It is important (to stop the run). It is something we have to stress. Right now, we should focus on ourselves. We have a lot of improvement to make."
Head Coach Chuck Pagano is three preseason games into his tenure, and he is implementing a new hybrid 3-4 scheme. He knows the success of any defense is halting yardage on the ground to open up chances for the attacking style of play to reap dividends.
In 2011, Baltimore (288.9) sported the NFL's third-rated defense and ranked second against the rush (92.6). The success in stopping the run allowed Baltimore to rank fourth against the pass (196.3). The overall stinginess of the unit, particularly with the tone set by a solid run-stopping knack, allowed the Ravens to rank third in the league in scoring defense (16.6) for the fourth straight season.
More impressively, Baltimore extended a league-record 16-year streak of not allowing opponents to post a 4.0 seasonal rushing average.
To say limiting the run is critical is not exaggerating.
"Major, Major. You know, like I said after the ball game and when I got back here, there's going to be some days that are really tough sledding," said Pagano. "You know, giving up 100-and-whatever we gave up on the defensive side rushing is unacceptable. Every man in that locker room that plays defense here would be the first to tell you that, and every coach.
"But they're just technical things. They're just things where when you put in a new system, and you put in a new scheme, and you're trying to develop guys. Then we're missing some guys. We don't make excuses but we're missing some guys. You don't have Pat (Angerer) in the middle. You don't have Cory (Redding) out there. You don't have Robert (Mathis) out there. From a continuity standpoint, it makes it different. Again, I'm not making any excuses for these guys, but it certainly didn't help us on Saturday night."
Pagano will get the services of Redding, Powers and Mathis back as the club targets the regular season opener at Chicago on September 9. Angerer will return early in the season as well.
The continuity of the defense learning a new system has been an issue throughout camp and preseason. Pagano credits Greg Manusky, his coordinator, and the entire defensive staff for working through the adversity.
"It's really been amazing what they've been able to go and do what they've been able to do. It's because of a type of character that we have in that locker room and the guys on the defensive side of the ball, and the coaches that we have over there to be able to keep this thing tied together," said Pagano. "They just keep plugging away. We'll continue to strive to be the best obviously that we can be and get better on a daily basis. It's been a challenge but an exciting one."
Jerrell Freeman, a first year NFL pro from Mary Hardin-Baylor and with three years in the CFL with Saskatchewan, is subbing for Angerer, and he is thriving in the process. Freeman has been around enough that the instruction to stop the run is ingrained.
"Coach Pagano will be the first guy to tell you what we're going to do is stop the run and run the ball on offense," said Freeman. "It's definitely a priority for us. There's a lot of things we can build on. All the stuff that happened is fixable stuff. We'll be alright in the long run."