Now No Time for Drastic Changes, Dungy and Brackett Say
INDIANAPOLIS – Gary Brackett said he won't change a thing.
Brackett, the Colts' middle linebacker and defensive captain, said when he and the Colts prepare this week for their matchup with the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans Monday – despite uncharacteristic results at times this season – there in fact really is nothing to change.
Not the approach. Not the scheme. Not the practice schedule. Not . . . not . . .
Well, not anything.
"I'll approach it like any other week," Brackett said this week as the Colts (3-3) prepared to play the Titans (6-0) – the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team – at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Monday at 8:30 p.m.
"I think guys have been professional about approaching the games with consistency as far as watching film. This week is no different. . . .We have a formula of success that has been working for a number of years. To change it now, that's really uncalled for."
The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions, have struggled with inconsistency at times this season, according to Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy. They haven't been .500 this late in the season since 2002, his first season. They never have been this far behind – three games – in the seven-year history of the AFC South.
The Colts, after starting 13-0, 9-0 and 7-0 the last three seasons, lost two of their first three games this season, then after a two-game winning streak, lost to the Green Bay Packers, 34-14, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
The loss – combined with Tennessee's 34-10 victory over Kansas City – created an unpleasant first for the Colts entering Monday's division showdown.
It will be the first game between the Colts and Tennessee since the 2002 inception of the South in which the Colts were neither in first place nor had the chance to take over first place with a victory.
"We just have to practice through it, work to get it corrected, move forward and play much better in the middle of the year and the second half of the year than the beginning," Dungy said.
Doing so, Dungy said, doesn't involve drastic changes.
And that, he said, is a lesson he learned first-hand during his first head coaching stint in the NFL, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, from 1996-2001.
While the Colts typically have made the playoffs on the strength of strong starts and consistent finishes in recent seasons, that wasn't the case for Dungy's teams in Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers missed the playoffs in two of Dungy's first three seasons, 1996 and 1998, and started 5-0 en route to a wild-card appearance in 1997. But the Buccaneers made the playoffs in each of Dungy's last three seasons by overcoming 3-4 starts with dramatic, season-ending finishes.
In 1999, the Buccaneers won six consecutive games and eight of the last nine to finish 11-5 and win the team's first NFC Central title in two decades. They advanced to the NFC Championship Game, losing to eventual Super Bowl champion St. Louis, 11-5.
In 2000, the Buccaneers won seven of their last nine games to finish 10-6 before losing in the wild-card round of the playoffs to Philadelphia. The following season, they slipped to 4-5 before winning five of their last seven games to again qualify for the playoffs as a wild card before a first-round postseason loss to Philadelphia.
"You focus on your details and everyone has to do their job," Dungy said. "That's all you concentrate on, doing your job as well as you can. If you do, you're going to be in good shape. You don't need to lift more weights or run more gassers after practice. You just need to do your job. If we get 53 guys doing that, you'll be fine."
The Colts this week followed the same schedule they typically have used under Dungy for Monday night games. Players reviewed film Monday, followed by off days on Tuesday and Wednesday – with full-scale preparation beginning Thursday. On a normal week, the players have Tuesday off, but because of the Monday night game, this week, there were two off days.
"We just have to keep working on it each week, trying to get better," Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said. "That's the only thing we can do right now. We don't change anything. We just keep working like we've been working each week. We watch film, trying to make corrections. We just have to relax, come back and get our heads back into it."
The needed changes, Brock said, are less approach than execution. Historically one of the NFL's least-penalized teams under Dungy, the Colts have had 11 and 12 penalties, respectively, the last two weeks, and Dungy this week said penalties are the No. 1 issue facing the team.
"We just have to really prepare like we normally would," Dungy said. "What we have to do is concentrate on being sharp in everything we do – preparation, meetings, drill work, practice. . . . You have to eliminate the mistakes. Obviously, you want to play with high energy, but you don't want that energy to cause you to make mistakes, either personal fouls or with some other judgment calls."
When asked this week about changes, players focused more on playing with more discipline than drastic alterations in approach.
"There's nothing we can change," Brock said. "We could have been more disciplined. That's about it. I got a penalty. I jumped offsides. Our defense, we're just trying to make plays. Guys are pushing hard to make a play. We started off slow and had our backs against the wall a little bit I guess everybody was just a little eager to make a play, if that makes sense.
"We just have to work on being consistent and being more disciplined. We have a lot of things to work on. We're way too inconsistent right now. We just have to get back on track where everybody's on the same page every week and we can keep winning games."
Said Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson, "We prepared well last week. We didn't think we would have that many penalties, especially on third downs. There were just a lot of key penalties. We just have to stay positive and do what we do.
"We have to cut the penalties out. We have to be more disciplined in what we do."
Brackett said one thing players can't do in this situation is try to do too much.
"I tell them, 'Don't start pressing, don't be get in trouble by being out of your gap and trying to make a play,''' Brackett said. "The defense works. Everyone has to believe in the style and whatever your job calls for you to do, that's what you have to do."
A key to the immediate future, Dungy said, may be found in the recent past. Although the Colts have won 12 games in five consecutive seasons, the past six seasons have not been free of critical times.
In 2002, Dungy's first season, the Colts started 4-4, then won six of their last eight games en route to a wild-card appearance.
In 2004, the second of their five AFC South title-winning seasons, the Colts were 4-3 in October before winning eight consecutive games en route to the No. 3 seed in the AFC.
In 2006, the Colts started 9-0, but lost four of their next six games before winning five consecutive games – including four in the postseason – en route to the Super Bowl XLI title.
The key in those seasons Dungy said, was the same as it will be this season.
"There are always suggestions, always different ways you can do things," Dungy said. "What we want them (the players) to do is really look at what we're doing, look at the problems we've caused ourselves, see if we can eliminate those and not beat ourselves. That's really the first step toward coming out of it. If we can do that, do the things we need to do to win and avoid the things that cause you to lose, then you're halfway home.
"What we've got to do is start playing better. I unfortunately have been in this position a few times. When we started playing better, we were able to run off some wins. We were 3-4 one year in Tampa. We ran off a bunch straight and we ended up winning our division and going to the NFC Championship game.
"That hinges on playing well in November and December. That's what we have to do. If we get ourselves ready to play and we start playing the way we can, I think we'll be in there at the end."