INDIANAPOLIS –The Colts will go up against the NFL's top offense this Sunday when they visit the New England Patriots.
Averaging a league-best 430.3 yards, 33.2 points and 28.8 first downs a game, the Patriots present a near pick-your-poison type of question for an opposing defense.
New England has topped 30 points on six occasions, scoring 45 and 52 points in their two most potent outings.
The Patriots have won five-of-six games in hosting a Colts team that has won four straight, and these are two of six AFC teams with six or more victories.
While a knee-jerk response on how to counteract the Patriots would be to limit Tom Brady and his receivers, one would miss the point in dismissing the New England ground attack that ranks as the league's fifth-most potent at 146.0 yards per game.
Count Colts Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians as one who does not miss the point.
"I think, first and foremost, is stop the run," said Arians when asked his priority. "Going into every game, that's our mantra, 'Stop the run.' Get them one-dimensional and get after them.
"We can't allow them to run the football and get us guessing. We've got to stop the run, shut it down and make them one-dimensional."
Indianapolis enters this week having yielded its three lowest rushing totals during the four-game winning streak. Cleveland rushed for 55 yards on 17 attempts in a 17-13 Colts win on October 21. Indianapolis limited Miami to 84 yards two games ago, while Jacksonville (minus Maurice Jones-Drew) gained 37 in a game it trailed early and played catch-up for most of the way.
Chuck Pagano instituted a hybrid 3-4 defense this season and preached the need to limit opponents' ground effectiveness. Doing so would help the overall success of the scheme in Indianapolis as it did in Baltimore.
Pagano was there from 2008-11, the final year as coordinator, and Baltimore ranked no lower than fifth in rushing yards per game allowed (3rd, 81.4; 2008; 5th, 93.3, 2009; 5th, 93.9, 2010; 2nd, 92.6, 2011). The Ravens also never ranked below eighth in yards per attempt (5th, 3.6, 2008; 1st, 3.4, 2009; 8th, 3.9; 2010; 2nd, 3.5, 2011).
Indianapolis is allowing a 120.3 rushing average, but has been beset by injuries. Linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have missed six combined games and have been on the field together only in parts of three outings. Linebacker Pat Angerer has played in four games after breaking a foot on the preseason's first play. Indianapolis put cornerback Jerraud Powers and tackle Drake Nevis on injured reserve this week, while cornerback Vontae Davis will miss a fourth game this Sunday. Other players to miss time were linemen Fili Moala (three games), Cory Redding (one) and Martin Tevaseu (two).
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky believes the unit is healing, and he knows being stingy on the ground has been a journey.
"We get a couple of guys who are healthy that are coming back. I think it's always a process," said Manusky. "Chuck always talked about the process. That's what it is. They feel comfortable with the guys around them starting to play a little bit better. They feel comfortable with what the guys in front are going to do and what the guys in back are going to do. (It's) just playing together as a unit."
Manusky echoes Arians' words about making New England one-dimensional. The Patriots lead the NFL with 92 rushing first downs and have out-rushed six opponents. New England had 247 and 252 rushing yards in its top games.
Stevan Ridley (814 yards, six TDs) has four of the five 100-yard individual rushing days for the club. Ridley has 21 of the team's 36 rushes that gained double-digit yards, and he has popped six of the eight New England rushes exceeding 20 yards.
"This year they've kind of gotten back to that ground game. It really makes them that much more dangerous because you have two factors of their offense you have to be ready for. You just can't rely on him (Brady) throwing the ball," said Mathis. "He's (Ridley) going to hit it. We have to get on him and stop him from getting up on our DBs so quick. The front seven has to be on its job this week."
Mathis is a veteran of the series that has seen 12 overall meetings since 2003. He has battled talented offenses, like this one.
"Yeah, it's classic New England," said Mathis. "They're going to come out and do what they do better than anybody else does. You just can't have that happen.
"We just can't get fooled by all the misdirection stuff. Just know what you're doing and be on the details."