Colts defense survives 1st test without Freeney Print
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Tuesday, 20 November 2007 11:14
NFL Headline News

 INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Indianapolis defense looked just fine without Dwight Freeney.
Robert Mathis still got a sack, his teammates still pressured the quarterback and Kansas City ran 27 times for 72 yards, a paltry 2.7 average. Not bad for a unit that was supposed to be devastated by the loss of its three-time Pro Bowl defensive end.
``It was actually fine,'' coach Tony Dungy said of the performance. ``We had some plays early in the running game that we missed, we missed some coverages on third downs, we had a deep ball caught in the end zone, but I thought for the most part we played OK.''
And if you have an offense that can score points like the Colts, OK might be good enough.
Freeney, long considered the catalyst on the Colts' defense, was one of the league's most-feared pass rushers over the past six years. He had at least 11 sacks in each of his first four seasons, won the league title in 2004 and is already the Colts' career leader in sacks (60).
But Freeney's impact was never measured in numbers alone.
He often forced opponents to use more than one blocker against him, and when they dared not to, Freeney usually made them pay. Just ask Jacksonville, which let Freeney go one-on-one against a tackle one time in October, and Freeney responded with the first safety of his six-year career.
So when Freeney slipped on a spin move last week in soggy San Diego and suffered a season-ending foot injury, most figured the Colts' vastly improved defense would take an immediate hit.
Instead, the Colts (8-2) limited Kansas City to just 234 yards and forced two turnovers.
Given the remaining schedule, the Colts might not miss him again until January. Of their last six regular-season opponents only Houston, at No. 8, ranks in the top half of the league's offenses. Four opponents - Atlanta, Baltimore, Oakland and Tennessee - are ranked in the 20s, and Jacksonville is No. 18.
That should give the Colts enough time to adjust to their new contributors.
Josh Thomas, a fourth-year player out of Syracuse, started in Freeney's place and got good marks from Dungy after making three tackles.
believes will help him get acclimated to his new teammates.
``I'm getting comfortable,'' he said after the Colts' 13-10 victory. ``It's similar to what I'm accustomed to. It's just playing and getting in the play patterns. Things are coming along real well for me.''
If Sunday was any indication, not much should change.
The Colts consistently chased first-time starter Brodie Croyle from the pocket, and Mathis took advantage with one of his frequent chops to knock the ball out of Croyle's hands.
``Freeney brings a lot with his pressures on the quarterback, and his pressures are definitely felt out there on the field,'' middle linebacker Gary Brackett said. ``He's definitely missed. But Josh did a good job out there and we have Simeon coming in on third down, so I think we'll be all right.''
The question is whether it will make a difference in the playoffs.
Indianapolis, the defending Super Bowl champs, put itself back in position for the coveted first-round bye when it won and Pittsburgh lost to the New York Jets, and many still expect a January rematch with New England (10-0).
If it comes to that, Freeney will be missed.
But there is good news for the injury-depleted Colts.
Former Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders has missed only one game this season and looks healthy enough to make a strong finishing run. Dungy said Monday that linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, who has missed three straight games with a neck injury, also could return soon.
But with Freeney missing the rest of the season, the Colts know they must follow Dungy's appeal to worry more about what they do on the field than about the players out with injuries.
Even when the list includes Freeney.
``It's tough,'' Brackett said. ``Throughout the year, you're going to face adversity. You just have to fight through it, and the guys whose numbers are going to get called are going to have to step up.''
 

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