The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Sports

September 21, 2010

Colts defense may still get better

Unit still has some soft spots to shore up

INDIANAPOLIS — Here’s a scary thought: The NFL still might not have seen the Indianapolis Colts defense at its best.

That statement would have elicited only laughter a week ago, following Houston running back Arian Foster’s 231-yard explosion in Week 1.

But Indy forced three turnovers, racked up four sacks and held the New York Giants to 69 total yards in the first half of Sunday night’s 38-14 conquest.

The Colts’ defenders certainly would have been forgiven for thumping their chests in the aftermath. But the reaction was eerily subdued.

“No, it was not a perfect game because we left some plays out there,” defensive end Robert Mathis said. “A goose egg, that is a perfect game for a defense, and we didn’t get that so we still can build.”

Perhaps the response is measured because this is what Indianapolis always expected it would do.

The Colts have ranked higher in scoring defense than in scoring offense in each of the past three seasons, and they believe they’ll be even better this season in their second-year under defensive coordinator Larry Coyer.

His more aggressive approach has struck a cord with the team, especially ends Mathis and Dwight Freeney who made life miserable for Giants quarterback Eli Manning on Sunday.

Each had two sacks, and each forced a fumble on one. Freeney’s sack-strip came deep in New York territory, and second-year defensive tackle Fili Moala recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown.

“We are programmed as defensive linemen, especially here, to not only get the sack but to go for the trifecta,” Freeney said. “You get the sack, you cause the fumble and you get the touchdown, and that is what happened.”

The Colts’ defense has something of a symbiotic relationship with the offense. If Indianapolis gets a big lead early, as it did with a 17-point second-quarter against the Giants, Freeney and Mathis are unleashed.

Their combined Pro Bowl talent makes the Colts the toughest team in the NFL to come from behind against.

“They have great defensive ends, a great defensive rush, causing us to get sacks or throw it away or get it out quickly,” Eli Manning said. “It was hard to get into a rhythm and consistently do it. They made more big plays than we did.”

After Peyton Manning’s 50-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Clark gave the Colts a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, Eli immediately tried to answer with a deep ball of his own.

But his heave, intended for Steve Smith, was picked off by Jerraud Powers. That led to an Adam Vinatieri field goal, and the Giants never got as close as two scores again.

That cushion, however, masked the defense’s one flaw.

Though the run defense was improved, the Giants still averaged a robust 4.8 yards per carry. Even while New York was being shut down in the first half, it averaged 4.5 yards per attempt.

The difference this week was that the Giants constantly were playing from behind. That limited them to 25 carries. The Colts also did a better job of avoiding the big mistake. The Giants’ longest run from scrimmage was 14 yards.

“There were some signs even early on that had we been able to have a nice mix, I think we would have had a good balance,” New York head coach Tom Coughlin said, lamenting his team’s predicament.

When the Colts’ offense is clicking the way it was Sunday, the defense doesn’t have to be great.

But Indianapolis knows there will be tougher games ahead, and there still is room to improve.

“I think a B,” captain Gary Brackett said, grading the defensive effort. “We still let them get 14 points, and we like to put a goose egg on the board, and I think we can still get better.”

 

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