First down defense telling for Colts

December, 3, 2008
12/03/08
5:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

When he talked Wednesday about the play Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis combined to make to get the Colts a decisive touchdown in Cleveland, Tony Dungy pointed to how first down defense set things up.

"The better we play on first down and the more opportunities we get to rush the passer on second-and-long and third-and-long, the more plays we make as a team," he told Indianapolis reporters. "Not only those two guys, but our secondary and everyone, that's kind of how we're built. So, the onus comes on us to play well on first down.

"In the games that we do that, we're usually in pretty good shape. This past game (at Cleveland) we were good. We defended the first-down plays fairly well."

The Colts held Jamal Lewis to a 2-yard run on first down in the fourth quarter last Sunday, then got an incomplete pass on second down. That set up the third-and-8 where Freeney popped quarterback Derek Anderson, jarring the ball free for Mathis to scoop and take 37 yards for a touchdown that provided the Colts with the 10-6 margin of victory.

The Elias Sports Bureau helped out with some numbers that illustrate Dungy's point about first-down defense.

In the Colts' eight wins, they've allowed an average of 5.1 yards on first down, and held quarterbacks to a completion percentage of .588.

In the Colts' four losses, they've allowed an average of 6.5 yards on first down, and have let quarterbacks complete passes at a .722 clip.

Keep an eye on first-down defense the rest of the way for Indy. It's a pretty good harbinger of what's going to happen for the Colts.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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