INDIANAPOLIS –While Bruce Arians says every week starts with planning for protecting the quarterback, Chuck Pagano says defensive meetings start with a certain discussion point.
"Every single week the first thing we say in the room is, 'We have to stop the run. Set the edge of the defense.' This week is no different than the past 16," said Pagano.
Ten of the Colts' games this year came against running backs who wound up gaining more than 1,000 yards, with eight of those coming against players who topped 1,200 yards.
Baltimore's Ray Rice, with 1,143 yards in 2012, falls in that area. Rice leads the NFL since 2009 with 39 100-plus games, more than Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Arian Foster whom the Colts saw this year as well.
"This defense has faced great runners every week. Ray (Rice) is the next one," said Pagano. "Bernard Pierce is another one. He runs angry. He runs downhill. He'll hurdle you, or he'll run over you. Stopping the run is paramount."
While the Colts limited Peterson to 60 yards, there were some breakout games – 177 by Maurice Jones-Drew, 161 by Shonn Greene, 165 by Foster and 226 by Jamaal Charles in a game where Kansas City totaled 352 yards and had Peyton Hillis (101) crack the mark, too.
Limiting Rice, who many Colts say is the key to the Baltimore offense, is a must.
"Good running back, great sight lines, a hard runner to bring down," said defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. "We need multiple people to corral him and put him down. He sees the hole and does a great job of cutting back and making plays in the open field and making guys miss. We've got to corral him. He's a similar runner (to Maurice Jones-Drew), a hard runner to get down."
Pagano joined the Colts this year after being the Raven's defensive coordinator in 2011. The implementation of a 3-4 is in process.
"(They are) a little identical, in my mind, just a little wrinkle here and there," said Cory Redding. "It's pretty much the same format. It doesn't matter, the same defense, or same plays or different personnel, it's lining up, getting the calls and executing it to the fullest of your ability. That's what it's going to come down to (on) every single play, and having the mental preparation and strength to endure whatever comes at you."
Pagano is in his 29th year of coaching, and his first time as a field leader was interrupted by a three-month fight with leukemia that kept him from the sidelines for 12 weeks.
Even in his absence, the team reflected Pagano's imprint from the get-go.
"Chuck has done a great of instilling all the pieces of the puzzle to get us to this point. He brought in players to fit this scheme," said Redding. "Chuck really has done it his way, basically building the monster, so to speak, his way. (There are) some similarities here (Indianapolis) and there (Baltimore), but pretty much fine tuning into Chuck's way. That's what it is. There are not a lot of similarities, it's just doing what we do. He built it from day one, and that's how we roll."
WAYNE FINDS 2012 SPECIAL – The longest-tenured Colt, Reggie Wayne, has been a unquestioned leader of a team that reflects a great deal of newcomers, including nine rookies and 33 players with no more than three years of NFL experience.
The receiving corps has three rookies (T.Y. Hilton, LaVon Brazill, Nathan Palmer), while two rookie tight ends start (Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen), along with Andrew Luck and Vick Ballard.
Observers downplayed any post-season hopes for the Colts heading into the year. One prominent entity ranked the Colts last in its preseason poll, something that spawned a shirt given to players as an incentive.
At 11-5 and with another solid season, Wayne, a 12-year pro, finds 2012 to be memorable.
"It has been special to me, starting off by being power-ranked 32nd," said Wayne. "That's been pretty satisfying. A lot of people didn't have us winning much. They felt we were rebuilding, and rightfully so. The way we've been going about it has been great. It could have been easy for us to hang our heads with everything that went on with Coach Pagano. We kind of had an excuse being young.
"Everybody continued to fight and do everything they had to do to prevail. Seeing it being done by so many young guys is special. They've been keeping me young, keeping me in it, keeping me laughing. It's been a special year. Hopefully, we can continue writing this movie."
The Colts find a tough challenge by visiting Baltimore in the Wild Card playoffs. Wayne was frank with advice he dispensed to Luck and other young teammates.
"First and foremost, stay away from Ed Reed. He's definitely a ballhawk. You have to look him off," said Wayne. "A lot of these guys are so young, they don't know the history. A lot of guys didn't know anything about the Mayflower leaving in the middle of the night. We kind of hipped them up to game, told them what to expect when we get there. Hopefully, it won't be such a culture shock when they get there.
"I told the receivers, 'Trust me. No one out there in purple is going to be your friend. Just be prepared for whatever, prepared to hear whatever. Just have tunnel vision. Go out and play ball like you've been playing.' I think everybody's prepped for this game. It's going to be a tough game, and that's what the playoffs are all about."