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INDIANAPOLIS – Three weeks since their last game in Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts return home to take on the 4-3 Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.
Last season, the Falcons had the best record in the NFC, going 13-3 and winning the South division.
Coach Mike Smith's Falcons were 8-1 after the bye week last year and are coming off their bye this Sunday.
Quarterback Matt Ryan is expected to play after getting banged up in the Falcons win over the Lions two weeks ago. In his career against the AFC, Ryan is 9-3 with 18 touchdowns and three interceptions.
The mainstay in the Falcons backfield is Northern Illinois product Michael Turner. The Colts are familiar with Turner having faced him when he was a member of the San Diego Chargers.
"Powerful, quick, fast and with vision," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said when describing the Pro Bowl running back. "He's very good. We see one every week. That's the thing about this league. Last week it was (Chris) Johnson, and this week it's a guy that, maybe a little different style, but highly, highly productive."
Turner is coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, and he leads the league with three runs exceeding 50 yards this season. Since 2008, the Falcons offense has grinded out 56 touchdown drives of at least 10 plays which leads the NFC and trails only Indianapolis (57).
"I think Michael has had, through the first seven games, some very efficient games, and I don't believe he's lost a step," Turner said. "I think that his weight is where he feels comfortable, and I think that's the important thing. He's been relatively healthy, and hasn't had any real nagging injuries, which as a running back is very important."
In the passing department, Ryan has three main weapons at his disposal.
The Falcons traded up in the first round of April's NFL Draft and selected wide receiver Julio Jones. He leads all NFC rookies in catches and he has two 100-yard receiving games.
On the opposite side of Jones, is Roddy White, who led the league with 115 receptions last season.
At tight end, Tony Gonzalez holds virtually every receiving record at his position. Similar to Turner, the Colts have seen a lot of Gonzalez before when he was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
"When you watch him on film one of the things you realize, just in terms of how they have their offense packaged, they have a real strong running attack," said Caldwell. "(They have) two guys on the outside that can run with the best of them, that can catch and that are big. Julio (Jones) is 6-3 and 220 (pounds), and a good-sized guy. Both (Roddy White and Julio Jones) are very effective in terms of things that they do. Oftentimes, some of them (the receivers) may require teams to double cover them on the outside, which opens up who I consider to be the best pass-route running tight end in the business right now in terms of a guy who's been around and done it all. He still runs excellent routes. He's tough to handle. Not only that, but he's still making one-handed catches and things of that nature. He's a very good player, and he's still just as effective, and you can see that (Matt) Ryan really likes throwing to him as well. He's one of the top three receivers, and a very effective guy."
It remains to be seen how the Colts defend Gonzalez, who has the second-most receptions in NFL history behind Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice.
"Only Jerry, yeah, that says a whole lot. I think he's re-defined the tight end position," cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "There were some guys earlier, but in terms of what's happened in the last 10-12 years, he's kind of re-defined it. There have been guys that have come after him that have the similar skill set, but not nearly the success that Tony's had."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons have allowed 20 points a game since 2008, second-best in the NFC.
Sunday's game will pit two of the active sack leaders in the NFL in defensive ends John Abraham and Dwight Freeney. Second among all active sack leaders, Abraham has 105.5 sacks in his career. That is seven ahead of Freeney.
One common theme between the Colts and Falcons is the amount of former players for each team.
Falcons cornerback Kelvin Hayden and linebacker Mike Peterson make their return to Indianapolis on Sunday. Current Colts Jamaal Anderson and Quinn Ojinnaka spent much of the past four seasons in Atlanta.
A former top-10 pick of the Falcons, Anderson has provided some depth along the defensive line for the Colts and can offer a little insight into his former team.
"They're going to do a lot of no huddle and a lot of check with me, similar to what Peyton Manning did here," Anderson said. "So I think we'll be pretty comfortable getting used to it. The main thing is not jumping offsides, because they're going to do a lot of false cadence. They're pretty equal as far as running and passing the ball, so we're going to have to do a good job of stopping both."
One of the main bright spots for the Colts this season has been the play of fourth-round draft pick Delone Carter. In the past two games, Carter is averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne (822) is continuing to march up the all-time receptions list and currently is six catches away from 18th place. In the past two home games, wide receiver Pierre Garcon is averaging 103.5 receiving yards per game.
At the halfway point of the season, the Colts are still trying to overcome their injury problems in search for the first win of 2011. Sometimes one win can result in a domino effect leading to a streak of positive results.
"Yeah, a win cures so many (things)," center Jeff Saturday said. "You can have the exact same errors, and you can come back and win that game, and you'd forget about most of them. Even when you win games, they're not perfect. There are a lot mistakes that you make that the other team could have taken advantage of but sometimes don't. When you lose, everything's magnified, and that's just the way of the game, that's the way of the NFL. Like I said, you get a couple of wins, and all of a sudden those mistakes aren't nearly as glaring as they are right now."
The month of November provides new life for the Colts with three straight games at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"It seems like we haven't been here in a while," Powers said. "It's good when you always can come home and play in front of your home crowd. Definitely, to get this thing turned around at home would be a better feeling than any. Going out there and playing against a good football team, and they have a lot of explosive guys on the offense, it's going to be a tough challenge, but it should be a fun one. Our guys are definitely going to step up to it."
Colts 31, Falcons 13 – November 22, 2007
Playing on Thanksgiving in the Georgia Dome, the visiting Colts overcame an early 10-point deficit to roll over the Falcons, 31-13. Down 10-0 to start the second quarter, quarterback Peyton Manning would put together one of the most impressive quarters of his career by throwing for three touchdowns. The first came three plays into the quarter when he found Reggie Wayne for a 23-yard scoring strike. Falcons kicker Morten Andersen added a field goal on the ensuing drive, but that would be the final points scored from the home team as the Colts did not allow a point in the game's final 41 minutes. Tight end Dallas Clark hauled in an eight-yard touchdown catch with 6:45 remaining the second quarter, giving the Colts a 14-13 lead they would not surrender. Cornerback Kelvin Hayden would intercept Falcons quarterback Joey Harrington on the following possession setting up the Colts in Falcons territory. The final touchdown pass of the quarter went to tight end Ben Utecht on a five-yard pass, pushing the lead to 21-13 at halftime. Any chance of a Falcons comeback was thwarted in the third quarter as running back Joseph Addai scored on a four-yard touchdown run and kicker Adam Vinatieri concluded the scoring on the evening by kicking a 24-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.
Falcons running back Michael Turner against the Colts defense: For the second time in three weeks, the Colts will face another former San Diego Charger running back. Michael Turner's career has taken off since switching conferences, and he has been a staple of the Falcons resurgence the past few years. Since 2008, Turner is second in the NFL with 45 rushing touchdowns. The Colts shut down Titans running back Chris Johnson last week holding him to just 2.4 yards a carry. An important stat to remember is when Turner carries the ball at least 21 times, his teams are 25-1. Three weeks ago, Indianapolis faced former Charger Darren Sproles, now with New Orleans.
Colts quarterback Curtis Painter against the Falcons defense: After three weeks on the road, Painter will make his second career start at Lucas Oil Stadium. In his first career start at home against Kansas City, Painter was 15-for-27 for 277 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Protecting Painter on Sunday is likely to be the sixth different starting combination in nine games this season. Offensive linemen Anthony Castonzo, Ryan Diem and Mike Pollak have all practiced this week after missing the Tennessee game last Sunday. The Colts have established the run the past few weeks, but the Falcons have the league's seventh-ranked rushing unit. Painter and the passing offense will be facing a defense that is 23rd against the pass.
-The Colts hold a 13-1 all-time record over the Falcons.
-Colts defensive end Jamaal Anderson (2007-10) and offensive tackle Quinn Ojinnaka (2006-09) are former Falcons.
-Colts linebacker Pat Angerer (89) leads the NFL in tackles.
-Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is 1.5 sacks away from 100 in his career.
-Colts center Jeff Saturday is scheduled to start his 180th career game against the Falcons.
-Falcons head coach Mike Smith is 9-3 all-time against the AFC.
-Falcons are looking for their sixth straight win in the month of November.
-Falcons cornerback Kelvin Hayden (2005-10) and linebacker Mike Peterson are former Colts (1999-02).
-Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez passed Marvin Harrison last week to move into second-place on the NFL's all-time receptions list with 1,104 catches.
-Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is tied for NFC rookie lead with 25 catches and is second with 358 receiving yards.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan):
"He keeps getting better. I think when you look at him on film you see what he's capable of doing. He's certainly got very good arm strength. Not only that, but you can see that he manages an offense extremely well. He's got a good knack for it. He's doing a lot of checking at the line of scrimmage. He gets them into very good plays and he's very efficient. Obviously, he likes the guys who he's throwing to, (because) they give him some very unique matchups."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on the play of the offensive line despite numerous injuries):
"I think the guys that are working with them in the trenches have done a good job, just in terms of making certain that we're doing the things that they do well. I think Jeff (Saturday) in the middle is kind of a steady influence with the rest of the guys, and he kind of gets everybody sort of headed in the right direction. I think Pete Metzelaars and Ron Prince do a nice job with those guys. They've been able to hang in there and give the backs some creases to run in, and it's been pretty productive."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell(on Pat Angerer's performance this season and leading the league in tackles):
"He's done an incredible job up to this point. He's played outside linebacker for us for the great majority of the time since he's been here, because Gary (Brackett) has been in the middle, and he played well at that spot. He is a natural middle linebacker. He's one of those guys that it looks as if he's gotten faster, but the fact of the matter is that he's playing in a position that's natural for him. He covers a lot of ground. He has an extreme measure of 'want' to get there within him, and he's a great leader. I think the guy is really doing a nice job. Now, leading the league in tackles also has some residual effects that aren't always positive, because that's a lot of blows on the body. But he's able to hang in there. He throws his body around and he loves to play."
Colts center Jeff Saturday(on the team returning home for the next three games):
"It's always nice to have your home crowd, especially when you're struggling offensively. We like to get our crowd involved, get them excited and you can play off that momentum and feed off of it. So it will be good to be back at Lucas Oil (Stadium), and I look forward to seeing some smiling faces and some good fans."
Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers(on the importance for young players to receive playing time early in their careers):
"It's definitely important. My rookie year I was fortunate enough to be an opening-day starter. The more playing time that I got early as a rookie, by the time we got to the end of the year I felt like a seasoned vet. For these guys to come in and be able to play at an early stage, even though we're going through some rough times right now, they're gaining some valuable experience and they're learning. I just see KT (Kevin Thomas), who played for the first time versus the Saints and watched the film where he played in (Sunday's) game (at Tennessee), and you just see a huge improvement. I think guys will continue to get better as they get more playing experience."
Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith(on having a balanced offensive attack):
"We'd like to be balanced, and as close to 50-50 as possible. Philosophically, we want to try to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. On the offensive side of the ball that means being able to run the ball effectively and protect the quarterback. When we get off-balance it usually is predicated by how defenses are trying to defense us. If they load the box, like we have had happen in a couple of ball games, then it makes it tough-sledding to run the football. Then you have to try to loosen the defense up and throw the deep ball. That's really, philosophically, what we believe in. We preach it to our players all the time, and I think they have a good understanding of what our identity is. It can change based on how people are trying to defend us."
Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith(on the mindset of the team changing when facing a struggling team):
"Since we've gotten here, we've never mentioned in our presentation when we talk to our players about what the team's record is. We know the strengths, and we try to identify what the strengths and weaknesses of our opponent are, and how we're going to attack them. We try to approach it the same way every single week, and that's how you have to do it. We know that they're a very capable team, and they've got some, I think, really strong points on both sides of the football and in special teams. I like some of the things that they do, and we have to go out there and stop them. We don't concern ourselves with records. We also say, 'Guys, whatever happened last week is going to have no bearing on the game that's being played this week.' You've got to go out there, and each week it's a new week and it's a different dynamic, and you've got to go out and play."
Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith(on tight end Tony Gonzalez):
"It's almost like, 'Wow,' when you describe what Tony does, and it's not just what he does on the field on Sunday's. Since he's gotten here he has really helped instill the culture that we like to have, and that's to be a hard-working group of men that like to have fun. It starts every day that we go out on the practice field with Tony coming out 20 minutes early and catching passes, and it rubs off on everybody, not just the wide receivers. I think Tony doesn't say a lot, but he leads by example. It's just not the receivers, you'll see defensive linemen. Since Tony's gotten here it's become kind of the thing to do. To get out and work on your trade early and we talk about it as coaches all the time. It's been good for us as a team, and it's helped us as a coaching staff to have someone of his stature to kind of blaze the way for the rest of our guys. You just have to look at Tony Gonzalez to know that he's going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He's the second all-time leading receiver, and his work ethic is unbelievable."
Falcons running back Michael Turner(on the Falcons committing to the run in order to win):
"I think we got back to focusing on the things we can (do) to maintain the running game and the passing game and not be one-dimensional. So that's our strength, that we can be able to run and pass, use all of our weapons. I think that's where our focus has been."
Falcons running back Michael Turner(on the Falcons coming off a bye week):
"The body always loves the bye week. You come back and you seem rejuvenated coming back off of a bye, but you also don't want to be rusty coming back into the next game. It makes a big difference. Your body gets banged up throughout the weeks, and it's waiting for that big break to take some days off so it can relax and do some extra work in the training room or the weight room, or whatever you've got to do to get that soreness out."