Colts defense takes big step in preseason game
The Associated Press | August 20,2013
New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is tackled by Indianapolis Colts defensive back Delano Howell, center, and Antoine Bethea during Sunday’s preseason game in East Rutherford, N.J.
INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Pagano spent Monday morning sifting through game tape from Sunday night’s 20-12 victory at New York. It didn’t change his opinion one bit.
Less than 24 hours after the Colts coach and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky were seen smiling and congratulating on the sideline, Pagano told reporters this is the expectation.
“That’s exactly how we want to play,” Pagano said during a conference call with reporters. “We’re going to be a damn good defense. The guys can see it and they can feel it.”
Pagano knows a thing or two about top defenses, having spent four seasons in Baltimore before taking the Indy job. In Indianapolis, it’s a whole new phenomenon.
For years, the Colts’ defense was designed to rush quarterbacks, stay in front of plays and protect leads. That was good enough to make the playoffs in 11 of the 13 seasons before Pagano’s arrival. But critics contended the usually undersized Colts wound up with only one Super Bowl title because they couldn’t hold up against the run.
So when owner Jim Irsay rebuilt the team after 2011, he hired two people — Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson — determined to change the philosophy. This spring, Irsay again demonstrated what he meant with a rare free-agent spending spree that brought in a handful of high-priced free agents, including safety LaRon Landry, defensive linemen Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky Jean Francois, linebacker Erik Walden and cornerback Greg Toler.
On Sunday, Indy finally saw the results.
The Colts finished with six sacks and stymied the Giants on their first red-zone opportunity by forcing New York to turn over the ball on downs.
The performance was applauded by everyone.
“When we give up a short field and field position, and we hold them to a fourth-down stand, it’s great,” quarterback Andrew Luck said Monday. “I think it’s been fun watching them. We like to think they’ve improved, but we still have to prove it on Sundays.”
Even Irsay, who a week earlier apologized to Colts fans on Twitter following a 44-20 loss to Buffalo, appreciated the dramatic turnabout.
“That’s more like it..there r sum that shrug off losing,even at checkers;they’ll never wear the HORSESHOE or touch the Diamond’s of Champions,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday night.
But how much can the Colts really project from Sunday’s game?
It’s still not clear.
While the Colts did manage to keep the Giants out of the end zone and first-round pick Bjoern Werner played a solid game in his preseason debut, New York also reached the red zone four times. David Wilson and Andre Brown combined to rush for 70 yards on 16 carries (4.4).
Pagano wants that part of the game cleaned up before hosting Cleveland on Saturday, but he won’t quibble with the improvements he’s already seen.
“The players, they have bought in hook, line and sinker. So when you get everybody on the same page like that, you can see the level of play will just continue to go up week in and week out,” Pagano said. “It’s exciting to see, and I know we’re trying to build all three phases and be dominant in all three phases.”
There was more good news on the injury front Monday.
Pagano said the Colts are hoping tight end Coby Fleener and linebacker Lawrence Sidbury will return to practice after leaving the game with injuries. An MRI on Fleener’s injured knee was negative, Pagano said. Sidbury is listed as day to day with a shoulder injury.
Pagano also is hoping Indy’s other starting tight end, Dwayne Allen, will return to practice this week — earlier than expected — from a right foot injury that has kept him out of action for more than a week.
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