By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — One week after allowing the Buffalo Bills to complete nearly 80 percent of their passes and score a franchise-record 44 points in a preseason game, the Indianapolis Colts' defense rebounded Sunday.
With six sacks, one interception and no touchdowns allowed, the unit made a strong first half by the first-team offense hold up in a 20-12 victory against the New York Giants.
The game was another indication of the growing confidence in the second season of head coach Chuck Pagano's hybrid 3-4 scheme.
"That's exactly how we want to play," Pagano said of the performance in the Big Apple. "There were so many good things, and a lot of players contributed and did some great things."
The defense got off to a slow start when a 21-yard run by New York's David Wilson and a pass interference penalty against cornerback Greg Toler on consecutive plays gave the Giants a first down at the Colts' 13-yard line on the opening series.
After a three-yard run, an incompletion and a six-yard pass play, New York went for it on fourth-and-1. Outside linebacker Erik Walden and free safety Antoine Bethea met Andre Brown at the line of scrimmage and ended the drive.
It was the first of three trips by the Giants' first-team offense into the red zone that ended with a total of six points allowed by the Colts.
"Those guys were flying around," Pagano said. "They're playing with enthusiasm. They're feeding off each other's energy. They're making plays. Again, doing what they did down in the red zone, any time you can keep somebody out of the end zone, force field goals and play the way they played down there, we're going to be a damn good defense."
The final score of the Buffalo game obscured a solid start by the first-team defense that forced a punt and recovered a fumble on its two possessions.
In fact, the only touchdown allowed by the defense in the first half of either preseason game was scored during a two-minute drill by the Bills against a unit featuring many of Indianapolis' third-stringers.
Buffalo quarterback E.J. Manuel had nine of his 16 completions and 68 of his 107 yards on the drive that ended with a 17-yard touchdown pass.
The main damage against the first team has come on long runs by the Bills' C.J. Spiller and the Giants' David Wilson early in the game. In each case, the running back has cut back against the Colts' overpursuit and used the defense's aggressiveness against it.
Pagano said Wilson's big gain was the result of a miscommunication between two defenders and admitted the defense still has some work to do.
"We're going to keep working to eliminate the big plays, the chunk plays in the run and pass game," he said. "It was unfortunate we had the PI (pass interference) which gave up a big chunk there, but in the one run, one guy thought one guy was supposed to be somewhere else, and we've just got to trust the guy next to you and that he's going to be where he's supposed to be."
Toler made up for his penalty by intercepting Eli Manning on the next possession, and Walden tied for the team lead with six tackles and added a sack against the Giants. They're just two of the many additions general manager Ryan Grigson made during the offseason to bring the Colts' personnel more in line with the needs of the 3-4 scheme.
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois made four tackles against New York, and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin recovered the fumble against Buffalo. And Indianapolis hopes another newcomer, strong safety LaRon Landry, will make his debut this week against the Cleveland Browns after missing the first two preseason games with a knee injury.
Pagano credited defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and his staff with making a quick transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and praised Grigson and his scouts for adding the right pieces. But none of it works without the players.
"They've bought in hook, line and sinker and believe and trust the scheme and the calls and their coaches," Pagano said. "So when you get everybody on the same page like that and you start having success from a confidence standpoint, you can see the level of play will just continue to go up week in and week out. It's very exciting."