|Colts' defense turning doubters into believers after beating Jags|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 23 October 2007 10:04|
They're fast, physical and opportunistic - traits that helped coach Tony Dungy build his reputation as a defensive mastermind. If there were doubts these Colts could excel playing that style before Monday night, the game at Jacksonville erased them.
``I think we're a little more experienced than last year, we've cut down on some things a little and so we're not making as many mistakes,'' Dungy said Tuesday. ``I think everyone realizes after the playoffs that if you just do your job, we're pretty good.''
The Jaguars (4-2), who embarrassed the Colts by rushing for 375 yards in December, learned that lesson the hard way.
Indy's defense wanted to use Monday's prime-time stage as a proving ground. As they like to say on Florida's Space Coast: Mission accomplished.
The Colts (6-0) forced three turnovers, limited one of the league's best rushing teams to 117 yards, knocked quarterback David Garrard out of the game with a badly sprained left ankle and had an advantage of nearly 10 minutes in time of possession.
Indy also awoke to a bigger surprise Tuesday.
While the high-scoring offense finds itself in its typically lofty perch, ranked third in the league, the defense also is ranked No. 3 in the NFL and No. 1 against the pass.
It's done it against four opponents who are at least .500 and most of whom have tried to run the ball against Indy's smallish defensive front.
One explanation for the passing stats is that opponents have again tried to keep the Colts offense off the field by running. The other is they want to test a Colts defense that ranked last against the run in 2006.
That's history. This is a new year and a new team, as Dungy often says, and the Colts have been proving the point all season. Indy ranks 14th against the run this year and, more important, has limited opponents to a much more respectable 4.2 yards per carry after giving up 5.3 last year.
What's changed? Plenty.
Former Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders has missed only one game as opposed to playing in just four regular-season games a year ago, and has increasingly crept closer to the line of scrimmage in running situations.
``When he's out there, we benefit from it,'' Dungy said. ``He had an interception, made tackles and had a play on fourth-and-1 that was really unbelievable. He just has a knack for that.''
Cornerbacks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden have been more physical than last year's starters, Nick Harper and Jason David, against the pass and the run.
Plus, the Colts seem to have resolved their issues at linebacker despite losing starter Rob Morris for the season with a left knee injury. First-year starter Freddy Keiaho has been solid on the strong side, and on Monday third-year linebacker Tyjuan Hagler replaced Rocky Boiman in the starting lineup and finished with six tackles.
It's enough to draw smiles from the Colts' biggest personality, Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning.
``They were great tonight,'' Manning said after the 29-7 victory. ``I think any competitive athlete wants to come back down in the same environment and play better (than they did last year). If it hadn't been for that kick return, they may have had a shutout.''
Indianapolis also has found ways to spread the wealth.
The eight interceptions have each been by a different player and at least eight players have recorded a sack.
With the Colts one game from heading into their third straight November with a perfect record, the typically understated Dungy appears impressed with what he's seen from a defense that could be the best he's had in six years with the Colts.
He just wants them to keep playing that way.
``The '05 team was pretty good and they did it for the whole year,'' Dungy said. ``We're probably a little deeper than that team, but you have to keep doing it. So I guess, we'll see in about nine weeks.''