INDIANAPOLIS –Teams are measured in the NFL weekly and while some tests are passed, others are not.
The Colts are taking the practice field today in trying to overcome areas last week that conspired to account for a 35-9 loss at the New York Jets.
The Colts were out-gained on the ground by more than 200 yards, while not cashing in on opportunities as well offensively as they have in past games this season.
Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians and his staff went through points of emphasis with the players on Monday, then prepared the game plan after that. Today is the first day of on-field implementation as Indianapolis hosts Cleveland on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"This (past) one was easy," said Arians of pinpointing problems. "It's more fundamentals than anything else, fundamentals and mental errors. Defensively, we just have to fit in the right gaps and tackle. We missed a lot of tackles in that ballgame. We started pressing. Guys were getting out of their gaps, trying to go make a play, which created bigger holes.
"Just do the defense the way it's designed. Fit your gap, make the tackle. We can correct a lot of that. … Hopefully, the mental errors will go away. We haven't been having them at home, not that many."
Indianapolis has faced a weekly series of potent backs this year, namely Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Shonn Greene.
The club held Forte to 80 yards and Peterson to 60, but Jones-Drew (177) and Greene (161) had strong days against the defense.
Indianapolis needs to tighten the bolts on the ground. It has yielded 185, 149 and 252 yards in the last three games. Following assignments and tackling are areas which coaches have stressed.
"We're going to have to stop the run. Once you get blood in the water, everybody is (going to try to capitalize) – whether it's a blitz on defense that the offense doesn't pick up, you're going to see it over and over until you put the fire out," said Arians. "Right now, we have to stop the run. We did a really good job against Adrian Peterson. We didn't do a good job against Maurice Jones-Drew. Obviously, we didn't do a good job in New York."
The Colts have had three productive days offensively at home this season, particularly the final 30 minutes of the win over Green Bay.
Indianapolis has used a "hurry-up" offense on nine home possessions, scoring five times (three touchdowns). For the season, it has gone to the attack on 14 drives, scoring seven times.
The Colts scored on two of five such possessions last week at New York, going to the attack once in the first half and four times afterward when the Jets increased their lead.
Going to the offense and trying to counteract the scoreboard meant running the ball was not going to be a prominent approach.
"Our offensive line when we ran the ball, we had good push," said Arians. "There was good movement up front, especially early in the ballgame. We went into the no-huddle mode because of the success we've been having with it. (We) kind of got away from the running game. Obviously, the score dictated what we had to do in the second half a lot."
A season-long issue for the team is the ability to convert third-and-short distances. The team is 30-of-76 overall on third downs, ranking 15th in the league, but it is 17-of-35 on third-and-four and shorter.
"We missed two third-and-ones, and we hit third-and-12, third-and-10," said Arians of last week. "That's the frustrating part. We've been getting ourselves in good third-down situations, between one and five (yards to go for the first down). That's probably been the worst scenario for us to be in. It's something we've addressed for two weeks. We just have to continue to address it."
Rookie Vick Ballard ran the ball well last week when the club stayed on the ground. Ballard had no negative plays and had eight of the team's 17 attempts. Ballard says he is a "rhythm" runner who gets better when he senses a game's flow through more attempts. Arians agrees with Ballard's assessment.
"Everything was positive (with him), but we just didn't give it to him enough," said Arians. "I went to the 'hurry-up' because we've been so successful, and I thought we'd be successful. It takes some of his momentum away as far as getting carries.
"He's the type of back who needs to tote it and tote it. Right now, that's not our style. There's no doubt some guys do (get better with more carries). He's one of those guys."
A young Colts team that is fighting health concerns will see another young opponent when it looks across the scrimmage line on Sunday. Cleveland comes to Indianapolis with 16 rookies on the roster, including quarterback in Brandon Weeden.
The Browns won a divisional home clash against Cincinnati, 34-24, last Sunday, their first win. Three times the Browns have scored at least 27 points, and only two of five losses have been by 10 points or more.
"They've been in every ballgame. (They) took the Giants to the wire, took the Eagles to the wire, beat a really good Bengals team at home," said Arians. "They're playing extremely good football. They're younger than we are, so youth is no excuse for us this week. We have two rookie quarterbacks going against each other. They're a very talented, young team. (Coordinator) Dick Jauron does a great job defensively of keeping it very simple and playing (as) an attack style, Cover-2 team.
"We've got a team that just came off their first win, and they're going to be pretty excited and pumped up about it. Hopefully (we) get a great crowd again. Take their energy and go play and get to 3-3. The only thing that matters right now is getting to 3-3."