The Herald Bulletin

November 24, 2013

Colts GameDay: Pass defense could be key against Cards

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

INDIANAPOLIS — Every inch of LaRon Landry's 6-foot, 226-pound frame seems larger than life.

He's like a comic book superhero brought to life, with muscles as big as many mortal's heads. And he feeds that image by keeping an action figure version of Marvel's Red Hulk — a toy Landry says serves as his alter ego — on display in his locker.

It's hard to imagine this boulder of a safety being forced to the sideline by a sore toe. But that's just what happened this week in practice at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

"I'm going to take it a day a time, just keep on trying to get better and better each day," Landry said Friday. "Hopefully, I'm out there on Sunday."

The Indianapolis Colts certainly are counting on it.

Starting cornerback Greg Toler will miss his fourth straight game with a groin injury — despite a promising outlook early in the week — and the opposing Arizona Cardinals have an increasingly dangerous passing offense.

Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer is coming off a 30-of-42 passing performance for 419 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 27-14 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"They're going to throw the football down field," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said. "They're going to throw it to guys that can make plays in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and the rest of that crew. They've got guys that can beat you. So we're going to get challenged.

"But that's OK. That's why we play the game, and that's what they get paid to do — them cover guys — is make sure the ball doesn't get behind them."

That's been a significant concern in recent weeks. The Colts allowed four touchdown passes of 40 yards or more in the first two games without Toler, a come-from-behind 27-24 win at Houston on Nov. 3 and a disastrous 38-8 home loss against St. Louis on Nov. 10.

Four days later, Indianapolis held off the big plays in another comeback victory — 30-27 at Tennessee — but still allowed journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick to complete nearly 79 percent of his passes for 222 yards and one score.

Palmer, even in the twilight of his career, represents a step up from the backup quarterbacks who have challenged the Colts in the past three weeks.

And that makes Landry's presence that much more meaningful. He's officially questionable for today's contest but sounds like a man who expects to play.

"It's sort of minimal but quite aggravating," the seventh-year safety said of the injury. "So once the aggravation calms down, I'll be alright."

Landry was more than alright during his one season with the New York Jets a year ago. After two injury-plagued campaigns with Washington, he played in all 16 games — recording a total of 100 tackles, four forced fumbles and two interceptions.

That led to Landry's first Pro Bowl appearance, and helped convince Indianapolis to sign him to a four-year, $24 million deal during the offseason.

But a high ankle sprain sidelined him for four games, and he's yet to make the impact he had with the Jets. That could change today.

Palmer has thrown 15 interceptions, and last week's win against Jacksonville was the first game this season in which he hasn't committed a turnover. The streak ended only because head coach Bruce Arians called timeout just before the snap when Palmer threw the ball into the arms of Jaguars linebacker Russell Allen.

So the opportunities for big plays could go both ways.

"You say plenty of opportunities (will be there), and there's only going to be opportunities if we execute," Landry said. "And if we don't execute, it can be dangerous giving up big plays. With that being said, we've got to be sound in coverage and finish."

The Colts haven't intercepted a pass this month, but that's something Pagano hopes to change. The former defensive backs coach has drilled a turnover mentality into his players.

Indianapolis is plus-four on takeaways for the season. And finding an edge in the turnover battle could be the key to victory in the desert.

"No question, no question," Pagano said when asked about the opportunities for his secondary. "That's what we talk about all the time is when they throw that ball up, we've got the same opportunity that they have. And that's got to be their mindset, and that's got to be their mentality."