INDIANAPOLIS — Forcing turnovers has never not been a focus of Indianapolis Colts' defenses in years past.
But something's definitely different so far this year.
After ranking tied for 26th in the league with just 17 takeaways last season, the Colts, through their first two preseason games, have forced three turnovers — two on forced fumbles/recoveries, and the other on an interception.
Is the team doing anything special to cause more turnovers? Or is it simply being at the right place at the right time so far this preseason?
Turns out it's a little bit of both.
When the offseason began and the Colts sat down to determine their team goals for the upcoming season, head coach Chuck Pagano said forcing turnovers was at the top of the list.
"We went through, (and) the research and development part before (the players) got back here was that we had to be better at a lot of things – but we had to be better at taking care of the football and taking it away," Pagano said this week. "Other than the score— you guys know this — turnover margin is the second single indicator of wins and losses in this league."
The solution? Competition.
When the players returned for the offseason workout program, they learned the coaches would be charting each and every turnover, and even attempted turnover, created by the defense in practices moving forward.
Did you intercept a pass? That's a point. Force a fumble? Point. Even attempted strips of the football were given a point.
The goal? Go get the football — even if it's sitting on the ground after an incomplete pass. Treat every ball like a fumble.
And, of course, those points all add up and are displayed on a leaderboard in the meeting rooms for everybody to see.
"The first guy over there, you see guys scrambling to get it – we're charting it," Pagano said. "There's a chart that goes up in meetings every single day. You're either going to be up there and you're going to have a bunch of hashes by your name or you're going to have zero. It kind of sticks out."
For defensive coordinator Ted Monachino, this new competition represents "a cultural thing" for his unit.
"As we emphasize it every day in our unit meeting, we're putting up a totals board every day of who's getting their hand on the ball, who's disrupting the ball and who is knocking the ball off of guys," Monachino said Wednesday. "The more you emphasize it, the more they'll do it and our guys have done a great job of just taking the ball and running with it at that point."
Monachino pointed out that while the defense has had more success so far creating takeaways through two preseason games, it's the near-turnovers that might be even better evidence of this movement.
Against the Dallas Cowboys last Saturday, a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage was nearly picked off by outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (who had forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown earlier in the game). Then, in the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions, outside linebacker Akeem Ayers reached in and ripped the football out of wide receiver Michael Roberts' grip and into the possession of one of his teammates; the officials ruled Roberts was down due to forward progress prior to losing the football, however.
While those can be classified as "close but no cigar" moments, Monachino said his players are putting themselves in noticeably better position to create turnovers from the start.
"Those things are critical to our success, especially as a team," Monachino said. "Defensively, it's great to get those numbers, but to help our team we've got to try to shorten the field as often as we can. It doesn't matter if you've got the best offense in the league or not, the short fields are important and that's what we're working on. We're trying to get as many balls off guys as we can."
For Pagano, the competitive nature of getting to the ball in practices and landing on that leaderboard now is just as much about pride as it is anything else.
"Forget money, forget prizes – it's just having your name up there that day," Pagano said. "It means a lot."
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