The Herald Bulletin

December 15, 2013

Colts trying to round into postseason form

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

INDIANAPOLIS — LaRon Landry's first — and to date only — playoff appearance came in 2007 with the Washington Redskins.

He intercepted two passes against Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and the first led to a Washington touchdown and a 14-13 lead in the third quarter. But that was as good as it got for the Redskins.

Seattle scored the game's final 22 points and advanced to the NFC divisional round with a 35-14 victory.

The veteran strong safety was in a contemplative mood earlier this week at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. He's preparing to head back to the postseason with the Indianapolis Colts, and this time Hasselbeck is a teammate.

But there's still plenty of work to do for the AFC South champions, beginning with today's game against the Houston Texans (2-11) at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"We're already in the playoffs, and there's no room for error once you get there," Landry said. "I remember that as a rookie. I just try to build on things I need to work on to perfect my craft."

Indianapolis' defense has been far from perfect in recent weeks, allowing 40 or more points in two of the past three games. In between, however, the Colts (8-5) forced four turnovers in a 22-14 win against Tennessee.

That was the team's most recent home game, and it kept Indianapolis undefeated in four division games this season. The Colts haven't swept their AFC South rivals since 2009, when they started 14-0 and advanced to Super Bowl XLIV.

That's one of several streaks the Texans will try to end today. Houston won division titles in 2011 and 2012 but hasn't been a factor in this year's race. The Texans are just 1-3 against division foes and have never won in Indianapolis in 11 tries. They've also lost 11 in a row overall, including seven straight by seven points or less.

The Colts have troubles of their own, beyond the aforementioned defensive lapses. The offense hasn't scored a touchdown in the first half since Oct. 20, and third down has been a nightmare since veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne's season ended with a fourth-quarter injury against the Broncos.

The woes continued during last week's 42-28 loss at Cincinnati when Indianapolis failed to convert on all six third-down chances while falling behind 14-0 in the first half.

So there's little fear of the Colts taking today's game against Houston lightly.

"They are a dangerous team," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I think they're the third-ranked defense in the league. (Defensive end) J.J. Watt's a premier player. They have two solid corners, a very stout front seven. We have our hands full. We know how dangerous they can be."

Indeed, Indianapolis trailed the Texans 24-6 late in the third quarter of the team's first meeting on Nov. 3. That game became Houston's sixth consecutive loss when Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton hooked up for three touchdown passes in the final 17 minutes.

Luck got back on track in the second half last week against the Bengals, throwing four touchdown passes as he tried to rally the team from another big deficit. Part of the reason for his improvement was pass protection. The Colts didn't allow a sack for the first time in 25 games.

There will be more shuffling along the offensive line, however, with center Samson Satele out with an injury. Mike McGlynn will move from right guard to center. Rookie Hugh Thornton will return at left guard after missing last week's game, and Joe Reitz — who started in Thornton's place at Cincinnati — will slide over to the right side.

The Colts also could be without wide receiver LaVon Brazill, who caught three passes for 53 yards and two scores against the Bengals. He suffered a foot injury late in that game and missed practice all week. Griff Whalen was called up from the practice squad to provide insurance.

Don't expect to see many other personnel changes.

Though Indianapolis mathematically remains alive for the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, it will need substantial help to improve from the No. 4 seed it currently holds. That likely means a home playoff game on Jan. 4 or 5 against the loser of the AFC West race between Kansas City and Denver.

But head coach Chuck Pagano has no intention of resting healthy starters. Instead, he's looking for ways to fix the Colts' recent struggles and get the team on the right track for the postseason.

"We've got to get better," he said. "We got to go play. We got to get better."