INDIANAPOLIS –Indianapolis has done relatively well with its rushing defense in its first two tests this year by limiting Chicago's Matt Forte to 80 yards and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson to 60 yards.
The Bears gained 114 as a team, while the Vikings gained 95 and on Sunday, the Colts will take aim on trying to stop one of the most productive rushers the franchise ever has faced – Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew has 1,212 yards on 230 rushes against the Colts, scoring nine touchdowns and producing seven 100 outings. His yardage total ranks fourth-most ever by an opposing rusher, while his 100 efforts tie for second-most and his touchdowns rank fifth.
He has been the feature back in the Jacksonville offense since 2009, and Jones-Drew leads the NFL with 18 touchdowns (15 rushing) and a 99.6-yard ground average in 18 division games during that time. Jones-Drew rushed for 114 and 169 yards in two outings against the Colts in 2011, and stopping him is a key for Indianapolis.
"You can't see him. You can't find him. He's like a rolling ball of butcher knives," said Head Coach Chuck Pagano. "He's got legs like tree trunks, like two sequoias. I told our guys, 'If you try to hit this guy high and don't wrap up, you'll bounce off him like BB's off a tin can.'
"We have to gang-tackle this guy, but he's strong as heck. He breaks a ton of tackles. He's quick. He's got good vision. I said, 'Basically, the one thing that's the same size on all these (NFL) backs is their ankles. If you wrap him up, you slide down and get his ankles and you bring them together, you have a good chance of bringing this guy down.' He's just a physical, physical back. He's got great talent, and he's got great vision. We have another one this week we have to tend to and do a great job gang-tackling him."
Jones-Drew has a 101.0 rushing average in 12 games against the Colts. That average ranks second by an opposing rusher. Curtis Martin averaged 109.7 yards in 15 games against the Colts, and it is Martin's 1,645 yards that rank as the most by any back who has faced the Colts.
"(He's) a short guy, low gravity to the ground, compact and he runs hard," said Antoine Bethea, who is a physical player himself and a close friend of Jones-Drew. "He just runs with the type of tenacity that the good backs run (with).
"It's going to take 11 hats to the ball. Like every time we play, they're going to give him the ball and he's going to try to make it happen. … It's going to be fun."
Bethea never has backed down from a challenge. He also never has missed a game against Jacksonville. A number of his 716 career tackles have come against the powerful back, and he buys into the notion that gang-tackling Jones-Drew will be good business.
"He's a couple of bowling balls going down at you. He's tough," said Bethea. "Trying to tackle him one-on-one, it's a task. One thing we harp on this week is 11 guys have to get to the ball, 11 guys. You try to anchor down and pray someone is coming to help."
Defensive end Cory Redding is one of the most fluent players in the club's new 3-4 scheme. Redding believes the team is coming along with good progress in defensing the run. Indianapolis is allowing 3.5 yards per attempt for the season, an average that he and others would like to be shaved down a bit.
Jones-Drew has a 5.3 career average against the Colts, so Redding is aware of the challenge.
"At the end of the day, you know he's going to get the ball at least 30 or 40 times. You have to gear up," said Redding. "You know whenever he's coming downhill you have to hit him and hold on and everybody else rally around. That's pretty much going to be the mind-set, stopping the run first and foremost, taking away what they do best.
"Everyone knows him from across the league, what he can do and what he can bring. It's going to be a good game, and I'm looking forward to it."
Jones-Drew has been a good career performer on the road. He topped the league last year with a 98.1 road rushing average, while he holds a 92.9 average as the team's feature back. Four of his six 100-yard games in 2011 came on the road, while three of his seven all-time against the Colts have come in Indianapolis.
Jacksonville will hit Lucas Oil Stadium with quarterback Blaine Gabbert nursing a glute muscle injury that caused him to leave before the end of last week's home game with Houston. To what degree the ailment will slow him in preparations remains to be seen.
Last year, he hit 25-of-40 passes for 210 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception against the Colts. The Jaguars rushed 41 and 35 times against Indianapolis in those two games, posting a 4.4 average and totaling 18 of its 33 first downs.
Indianapolis could expect much of the same as it opens AFC South play.
"I guess you can say a bowling ball," said cornerback Jerraud Powers of Jones-Drew. "It's going to take more than one hat to bring the guy down. He's a proven back, tough back, one of the best backs in the league. He has those huge legs. He takes pride in how he runs the ball. We're going to have to have multiple hats on him."
INJURY UPDATE – Pagano said linebacker Dwight Freeney remains day-to-day with an ankle injury. The MRI results on center Samson Satele were negative. Satele has a bone bruise and is day-to-day. Tackle Winston Justice and wide receiver Austin Collie were cleared to practice and both will be monitored as they mend from concussions.
ROSTER MOVE – The Colts released wide receiver Jabin Sambrano from Injured Reserve. Sambrano was originally signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent on April 30, 2012 and was placed on Injured Reserve on August 31.