AFC South: Greg Manusky

Colts vs. Steelers preview

October, 24, 2014
10/24/14
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The streaking Indianapolis Colts will try to win their sixth game in a row on Sunday when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. Slowing down quarterback Andrew Luck will be the Steelers' priority, and they have to find a way to minimize his impact or score enough to keep pace with the 5-2 Colts. Beating Indianapolis would give Pittsburgh a 5-3 record at the halfway point of the season as well as a signature win.

ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 4:25 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.

Brown: Mike, the Steelers’ passing game has been torched by the likes of Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer this season. The Steelers' pass rush has been average, and they are suspect in the secondary. That is not a good formula for stopping Luck. What is the best way to contain him, if that is possible?

Wells: Blitzing Luck is the best way, but that appears to be a problem for the Steelers. Luck has done an exceptional job of spreading the ball around this season. He is not just focusing on receivers Reggie Wayne or T.Y. Hilton. Luck had back-to-back games where he completed passes to nine different receivers this season. His biggest problem, though, is interceptions: He is tied for third in the league in that category with seven. The Colts have survived Luck’s miscues so far, but they won’t be as fortunate once they get to the playoffs and face teams that can make them pay for their mistakes.

The Steelers are a tough team to figure out. One week they get blown out by Cleveland, and then they come back and use an incredible performance in the second quarter to beat Houston. What is Pittsburgh’s identity?

Brown: Mike, I can’t figure out this team quarter to quarter, much less game to game. The defense certainly isn’t the one that people are accustomed to seeing. There is no intimidation factor, no swagger, and the Steelers are really just trying to get by defensively as they retool a unit that is in transition. The Steelers have the potential to forge a personality as a dynamic offensive team, as they have the NFL’s leading receiver in Antonio Brown, the second-leading rusher in Le'Veon Bell and, of course, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have moved the ball this season, but they have too often bogged down in the red zone. Maybe scoring three touchdowns in the last three minutes of the second quarter Monday night against the Texans will serve as a springboard for the offense. It had better put up a lot of points against the Colts if the Steelers are to beat one of the NFL’s hottest teams.

I normally don’t associate the Colts with the kind of defense they played in absolutely stifling the Bengals on Sunday. Is Indianapolis' defense underrated?

Wells: It is very underrated. I didn’t think this defense had a chance once linebacker Robert Mathis, last season’s sack leader, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles. The unit appeared to be headed for a rough season after it had only one sack over the first two games. But defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has taken a hold-nothing-back approach with his defense. With two cornerbacks who can blanket receivers, Greg Toler and Vontae Davis, Manusky is loading the box and constantly blitzing. That is why the Colts have 20 sacks and nine turnovers during their five-game winning streak. They have also held their past four opponents to 4-of-41 on third down. People might not have respected the Colts' defense before, but now teams have to take notice.

The Steelers have a history of being a good defensive team. They are 15th in the league in yards allowed a game. Are they on the decline defensively?

Brown: That is a great question. The Steelers have to hope it doesn’t get any worse defensively, or they could be in trouble. They have some promising young players to build around in rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier and rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt. But the Steelers have serious questions at outside linebacker, especially if 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones doesn’t develop into a pass-rushing force. Cornerback is also an issue, a position at which the organization has not drafted well or neglected, depending on your vantage point. Cortez Allen is the Steelers’ best young cornerback, and he recently lost his starting job to Brice McCain. Allen has the physical ability to develop into a No. 1 cornerback, but the 2011 fourth-round pick has to become more consistent. It could get worse before it gets better on defense, given some of the holes that the Steelers have tried to spackle over by moves such as coaxing veteran outside linebacker James Harrison out of retirement.

The Colts seem like they have something going with Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw at running back. Richardson seems to be playing much better than he did last season. Is part of the reason that Bradshaw has eased the pressure on Richardson to carry the Colts' ground game?

Wells: Richardson might never live up to the expectations as being the No. 3 overall pick in 2012, but he is running better than he did last season, when he eventually was demoted. He is running with more confidence and making better decisions. Having Bradshaw has been a blessing for Richardson because he doesn’t have the burden of carrying the load in the backfield. Neither player has a problem sharing the work, and it helps that Bradshaw is familiar with sharing the load in the backfield. He went through it while with the New York Giants.

Brown looks like he could surpass the 1,499 receiving yards he had last season. What makes him so successful, and what type of challenges will he present to the Colts’ secondary?

Brown: I thought Brown would have a really tough time matching his production in 2013, when the fifth-year veteran set a Steelers record for receiving yards in a season. He has been even better this season and has scored five touchdowns after reaching the end zone eight times in 2013. Brown is an excellent route-runner, makes tough catches in traffic and is dazzling after the catch. The Colts will have to limit the damage Brown does after the catch, and I would imagine they will do everything they can to take him out of the game. But no team has succeeded in doing that, even though a reliable complement opposite Brown has yet to emerge.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The final significant days of the offseason for the Indianapolis Colts (outside of when commissioner Roger Goodell disciplines owner Jim Irsay) starts Tuesday at the team's facility when they begin the first of three days of mandatory minicamp before breaking up for the final time prior to reporting for training camp July 23.

Let's take a look at several things to pay attention to during the camp:

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsThe competition at running back, including Trent Richardson, won't be decided in this week's mandatory minicamp.
Offensive line battle: You can go ahead and put Khaled Holmes down as the starting center, but with Donald Thomas (quad, bicep) still working his way back, the starting guard positions could end up taking some time. Hugh Thornton, who took Thomas's spot after he was injured last season, has been working with the first team at right guard during organized team activities. Lance Louis had been working with the first team at left guard, but rookie Jack Mewhort, the Colts' second-round pick, moved ahead of him last week. The competition will intensify during training camp.

Running back competition: Just like the battle for the starting guard position, we won't get full competition for the starting running back position because Vick Ballard (knee) isn't expected to take part, as he's still working his way back from ACL surgery. Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw, the other two primary candidates, both wore red non-contact jerseys during OTAs. So this is another competition that won't pick up until training camp. All three players will get playing time, but keep in mind that coach Chuck Pagano said earlier in the offseason they want a workhorse in the backfield.

Landry sighting: Safety LaRon Landry has been the most significant healthy player missing during OTAs. It's not required for players to attend OTAs and Landry prefers to work out on his own during the offseason. But it still would have been good if he would have popped in for some of the workouts because of the need for improvement for the defense, the transition from a seasoned veteran in Antoine Bethea to possibly Delano Howell, who lacks significant experience, and Landry simply didn't have a great first season with the Colts. The offense, as long as Andrew Luck is the quarterback, will be fine. He's shown he can be effective even without good blocking. The same can't be said about a defense that finished 20th in the league last season.

The Bjoern factor: The fact linebacker Robert Mathis (suspension) won't be with the Colts the first four games of the season has definitely sunk in. Now it's up to second-year player Bjoern Werner, who gets the first shot to start in Mathis's absence, to prove he was worth the Colts selecting him in the first round after an inconsistent rookie season. "This year it's just knowing the defense and to feel comfortable in the defense," Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. "Now it's just his ability to get to the passer, which it's kind of you want him to do that in these OTAs, but he's never really going to get there because you don't have the pads on. But he's been doing a great job at least from the calls and signals and getting everything lined up and knowing exactly what he's supposed to do. It's a great situation for him."

Can Adams help: The Colts signed veteran safety Mike Adams over the weekend to take Corey Lynch's spot on the roster after placing him on injured reserve. Howell is leading the race to start, but Adams has started 73 games in his career. The question about Adams is: Does he have enough left in his 33-year-old body to help the Colts and possibly supplant Howell as the starting safety alongside Landry?

Who won't be there: Barring a sudden change of events, here are the players -- not including those on injured reserve -- you won't see taking part in minicamp. Receiver Reggie Wayne (knee), Ballard (knee) and Thomas (quad, bicep).

Defense was embarrassment in playoffs

January, 12, 2014
1/12/14
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Everything was going so smooth for the Indianapolis Colts defense heading into the playoffs.

They forced eight turnovers and recorded 11 sacks during their three-game winning streak to close out the regular season. They were actually playing better than the offense.

But then it happened.

The defense crawled into the fetal position on the biggest stage when every play, every tackle means something. They failed to step up to the challenge and were thoroughly embarrassed in playoff games against the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots.

The defense gave up 87 points, 932 yards in the two games and the Chiefs and Patriots were 20-of-34 on third down. The Chiefs didn't even have their best offensive weapon, running back Jamaal Charles, after their first series.

Those are horrendous numbers, especially when coach Chuck Pagano is considered a defensive coach.

"Everyone on the defensive side of the football is -- obviously it's not the level of play and any of those guys or coaches and all of us expect," Pagano said. "We've got to play better, so we'll go to work and fix some things."

The defense has no excuse for being as atrocious as it was in the final two games. They weren't the ones missing five starters like the offense. Cornerback Greg Toler was the only one missing against Kansas City and New England. I know Toler played against the Chiefs, but let's be real, he really wasn't out there.

The Colts spent the week leading up to the Patriots game talking about how they needed to stop New England's running game.

Gigantic failure.

The Patriots ran for 234 yards and set a franchise record with six rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Tom Brady didn't even have to throw a touchdown pass for the Patriots to win.

"We've got work to do," linebacker Robert Mathis said. "We didn't reach our goal and we've got work to do."

There will be changes on the defense in the offseason. They had too many lapses to bring the same personnel back. Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky have to put a better product on the field next season.

The Colts finished 20th in the league in total yards allowed, 13th in passing yards allowed and 26th in rushing yards.
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts had their top cornerbacks on the practice field Wednesday, a day after only having three available in Tuesday's practice.

Cornerbacks Vontae Davis (groin), Darius Butler (quad) and Greg Toler (groin) were full participants in practice, giving an indication that the Colts could have a healthy group for Saturday’s wild-card playoff matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Davis injured his groin in last weekend’s victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“They still have to get their feet under them,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “They looked pretty good [at practice Wednesday]. Still evaluating and see how it goes come Saturday.”

The Colts are becoming healthy at the right time.

Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and defensive end Fili Moala (knee) were the only two players not to practice Wednesday. Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) was limited in practice.

Mathis expected lead Colts' Pro Bowlers

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts should have some happy players when the Pro Bowl teams are announced Friday.

Linebacker Robert Mathis, who has 17.5 sacks, should be named to the team for the sixth straight year.

“Pro Bowl? He’s Hall of Fame from my standpoint,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “He’s just the type of player that if he was playing the rush end for all the years that he’s been playing defensive end, he would probably have a lot more sacks.”

Mathis, in typical fashion, brushed off the Pro Bowl talk because he’s more worried about bigger things.

“I’m trying to get to New York [for the Super Bowl],” he said. “That’s the team goal, and that’s a cherry on top of the cake if you’re able to get voted in.”

Mathis could be joined in Hawaii by quarterback Andrew Luck, linebacker Jerrell Freeman and special-teams ace Sergio Brown. On Thursday, Mathis made a plea for Freeman, who was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week this week, and who has 118 tackles and 4.5 sacks this season.

“I don’t think, I know he’s a Pro Bowler,” Mathis said. “If he’s not in the Pro Bowl, it’s a crime. Recount or whatever you need to do, he definitely needs to be there.”

A draft of the players chosen will take place Jan. 21 to determine the two teams.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Cornerback Greg Toler's groin injury was originally expected to keep him out the Indianapolis Colts' lineup 2-4 weeks.

Four weeks came and went. So did Week 5. The same can be said for Weeks 6 and 7.

It’s gotten to the point now where you wonder if he’ll be back to help the defense this season.

“I want to be back out there helping my teammates,” Toler said. “Some dudes can play with their bodies being off a little. I can’t. The training staff told me they want me to be 100 percent before I go back out there.”

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace and Greg Toler
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe groin injury suffered by cornerback Greg Toler (right), has weakened the Colts' secondary.
Where is Toler at health-wise?

“I’d say I’m about 90-95 percent,” he said. “I need a great full week of practice of not having to be limited at all. They want to know that if a guy gets by me, I can turn it on and catch him. I respect that. This is one of those situations where I have to be completely healed first.”

The time it has taken Toler to try to overcome his groin injury, which happened in the third quarter of the Oct. 20 game against Denver, is somewhat alarming.

He said there is a backstory behind it. Toler, who also had injury problems during his four seasons with Arizona, said he made the mistake of trying to play through injuries when he was younger.

He doesn’t want to make the same mistake again.

Toler suffered a setback with his groin while working out about three weeks ago. He practiced on a limited basis last week but knew the odds of playing against the Cincinnati Bengals were slim, because he faced the risk of aggravating his groin with the game was played outdoors in the cold.

“I’m ready and confident that I’ll be back out there with the guys,” Toler said. “They want me to be at my best. I don’t want to hurt the team. The cold doesn’t play in your favor, because it doesn’t allow your body warm up the way you want to."

Toler's absensce isn't the only reason behind the recent demise, but the secondary has struggled since he was injured. Receivers like Houston’s Andre Johnson (229 yards), St. Louis' Tavon Austin (138 yards) and Arizona’s Michael Floyd (104 yards) have had big games against the Colts.

“When you’ve got a player of his caliber that can play, that’s why we signed him, and for him not to be in the lineup does hurt a little bit, don’t get me wrong,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky recently said. “If something happens to other players that are Pro Bowl type players, you’re going to have a letdown. But we pick it up and next guy in line, we go out there and we roll.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts put on extra layers, shook off the frigid air and spent the week practicing outside to prepare for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

There’s a chance Mother Nature won’t be too kind to either team at Paul Brown Stadium. The forecast calls for temperatures to be in the 30’s with a chance of snow on Sunday. The Colts haven’t played a game in the snow since the 2009 season.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
AP Photo/AJ MastTrent Richardson and the Colts' running backs might get a lot of work on Sunday in Cincinnati.
“You know what, the elements, it is what it is,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano. “From a ball-security standpoint, that’s what we stressed all week long. That’s why we got outside all week long. If it’s sleeting sideways and 30 degrees, 20 degrees, it really comes down to ball security, taking care of it. Makes throwing the ball a little bit difficult, too, so better pack a good run game.”

Limiting quarterback Andrew Luck's throwing ability and relying on the run game could cause some uneasiness since Luck is the Colts’ best offensive weapon, and the running game has been inconsistent this season.

But that’s what it might take for the Colts to have a chance to beat the Bengals, who are 5-0 at home, and get a game lead on them for the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoff standings.

“I probably haven’t played in snow since I was throwing a football around as a kid, so very excited about it,” Luck said. “I love playing outside. I think there’s something about it that’s fun, so we’re looking forward to it.”

The Colts rushed for 104 yards -- only the second time in the past five games that they rushed for at least 100 yards -- against the Tennessee Titans last weekend.

“I can play in snow, as a kid,” running back Trent Richardson said laughing. “But it’s just something, you just got to go out there and fight it. You got to man up. This is what the big playmakers have done their whole life. You look at the Jim Browns, the Emmitt Smiths, the Fred Taylors, the Ricky Williams' and the Edgerrin James'. Look at those type of guys. Those guys fought through it, and they stuck it through the whole time in the snow. It didn’t matter to them.”

Indianapolis has to hope it can get something out of its running game, and with some Luck-being-Luck sprinkled in there, too, because the Bengals have the offensive weapons to put points on the board.

Cincinnati averages more than 363 yards a game and has won six of its past eight. Bengals receiver A.J. Green has 72 catches for 1,103 yards, which is only 71 yards less than what T.Y. Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, LaVon Brazill and Da’Rick Rogers gave combined for this season.

Indianapolis' defense forced four turnovers against Tennessee last weekend, and the unit might get cornerback Greg Toler (groin) back in the lineup for the first time in five games.

“It’s a talented team,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “They got good receivers, a good quarterback ... they got some players in the backfield with (Benjarvus Green-Ellis) and (Giovani Bernard). Talented guys that can see the hole and break long runs. We got to make sure we bottle them up as best we can.”

Double Coverage: Rams at Colts

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
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Zac Stacy and Antoine Bethea AP Photo/L.G. PattersonZac Stacy and the Rams have run well of late. That will be vital against Antoine Bethea and the Colts.
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Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford were supposed to be the key players when their teams meet at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Luck will be on the field taking snaps, but Bradford is stuck being a spectator after tearing his ACL earlier this season.

The Rams have been hit hard by the loss of Bradford: They have lost three in a row and don't appear close to turning things around. Meanwhile, Luck is an MVP candidate despite not putting up off-the-charts statistics. He’s simply overcome the loss of five key offensive players to lead the Colts to first place in the AFC South.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner break down the matchup.

Wells: Nick, I’m sure most fans thought St. Louis would make progress off its seven wins last season. That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. How much has Bradford’s season-ending injury affected the Rams? Or do you think they were going to struggle even with him leading the way?

Wagoner: It's been a strange season in which it's really hard to predict what you're going to get from the Rams from week to week. There's no question the team was better with Bradford at quarterback. If he'd been healthy the last two weeks (and making the big assumption that everything else stayed the same), the Rams likely would be sitting at 5-4 right now. The Rams already had a really small margin for error, and it got even smaller when Bradford went down. They have had way too many self-inflicted mistakes to overcome, and they have a knack for not being able to get out of their own way.

We can talk about Luck in a minute, but I wanted to get to a big-picture Colts issue first. The Rams and Colts both began 2012 in something of a rebuilding mode. The Colts were able to do it really quickly, whereas the Rams are still sifting through the process. Aside from Luck, what do you think has been the biggest key to the Colts' turnaround?

Wells: The defense. It took the unit a season to get used to the 3-4 scheme employed by coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. They also acquired players comfortable in the system. Linebacker Robert Mathis is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate with 11.5 sacks. The unit itself isn’t highly ranked – 22nd overall – but it seems to find a way to make plays at the right time. It deserves just as much credit as Luck for the victory over Denver on Oct. 20. The defense must continue to make plays to help out the offense, which is without receiver Reggie Wayne for the rest of the season.

I have to say, Nick, there are not a lot of recognizable names on the Rams' roster. Is there any reason to believe they can go into Lucas Oil Stadium and upset the Colts?

Wagoner: Honestly, I don't see how the Rams can win this one. Credit to the Rams, they've really shown some fight the past two weeks without Bradford. But they were unable to pull off a couple of winnable games because they keep making mistakes they can't surmount. The Rams' best hope in this one is to continue to run the ball well -- which, considering the Colts have the 27th-ranked rush defense, seems possible -- and to get some turnovers on defense.

One area that continues to plague the Rams is defending the run. Tennessee's woeful rushing attack got healthy on the Rams last week. I wonder if the Colts and Trent Richardson can do the same. It seems the return on investment hasn't been there for Indy on the Richardson deal. What's been the struggle, and do you think the Colts can get him and their running game going?

Wells: It seems that every week the talk is about Richardson getting closer to having a big game. But everybody is still waiting. First it was a matter of Richardson getting comfortable with the system the first few weeks after he was acquired from Cleveland. Then offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton came out last week and said he has to do a better job of finding ways to get Richardson out in space. The Colts’ running game was put into some perspective when they ran the ball only four times in the second half last weekend against Houston -- and three of those runs came on their final offensive series when they were killing some clock. Titans running back Chris Johnson had his best game of the season – 150 yards – against the Rams last week. Maybe Richardson will do the same. Finally.

The Colts are pretty familiar with Jeff Fisher from his days with their AFC South rival Titans. Is there any danger of the Rams' coach losing his job at the end of the season?

Wagoner: Short of some wild scandal breaking out, I'd say the chances of that happening are pretty much zero. He's in only his second season, and the Rams knew they had a long road to climb to get back to being a contender. They exceeded expectations in his first season, and that may have sped up the way people view the rebuilding project. But the Rams have always viewed 2014 as the year they hoped to really take a major step forward. This season will likely go down as a disappointment, but if Bradford returns healthy and the Rams have a good offseason, they'll believe they can be back in the mix. The biggest disappointment this season has been the lack of progress by many of the team's young players. That's not to say nobody has made that move; it's just not as many as the Rams would have liked, at least not yet. That said, I do think it's possible Fisher could take a look at some of the guys on his staff. He's a loyal guy and many of his assistants have been with him for a while, but that doesn't mean everyone is exempt.

I do want to ask about Luck, but I wanted to take a different approach than the old "Why is Andrew Luck so awesome?" question you probably get every week. Each of these teams has a No. 1 overall pick at quarterback, but they have very different salaries. How much of a difference has it made for the Colts that they not only got a franchise-changing quarterback but one they don't have to pay like an NFL megastar for a while?

Wells: I’m going to take it beyond the fact that the Colts don’t have to pay Luck megastar money for a while. The Colts will likely have their choice of free agents to choose from because many will want to play with Luck. As one player recently told me, “You want a chance to win a couple of rings? Come to Indianapolis because 12 is going to be here for a long time and he’s going to win this organization some Super Bowls.” The best part from an organizational standpoint is that Luck is in just his second season and his desire to win and get better on a daily basis is something a lot of players in this league wish they had.

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The game footage on Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum is limited for the Indianapolis Colts. Limited to one regular-season game and few preseason appearances. To get more specific, Keenum's pro career stat line is: 15 of 25 for 271 yards and a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeCase Keenum
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesThe Chiefs are having to rely on limited game footage -- just one game -- of their opponent's starting quarterback, Case Keenum.
The Colts have to take what they can get on Keenum because they’ll be facing him on Sunday night in their third straight nationally televised game.

“Thank God we at least have one game on him with Kansas City,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “We went back into the preseason, watched some of the reps that he took there, compiled those and from the players' and from the coaches' standpoint, we watched all those. It’s just trying to get a repertoire of what the guy likes and what throws he has.”

The Texans (2-5) replaced the struggling Matt Schaub with Keenum to try to salvage their season and also see if he's their quarterback of the future. Keenum set the NCAA all-time passing record (19,217 yards) while at the University of Houston.

“Yeah, it’s a little tough,” Colts cornerback Vontae Davis said. “It’s tough because you don’t have too much game film on him. You have to look at the last game he started. He’s doing pretty good.”

The Colts can’t go into the game thinking they’ll be able to easily rattle Keenum. He shook off being sacked five times to complete six passes of at least 25 yards against a Kansas City defense that's ranked in the top five in the league on Oct. 20. Colts linebacker Robert Mathis leads the league in sacks with 11.5.

The Colts have taken a hit in the secondary, as starting cornerback Greg Toler will miss Sunday’s game with a groin injury. Davis will be lined up against Keenum’s top target, receiver Andre Johnson.

“The kid has moxie,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “He’s got savvy. He was cool under pressure. That’s a top-five defense that he went against. Made big plays. He’s able to extend plays. He’s got enough arm talent to beat you. Enough weapons around him. We’ve got to do a great job, number one, of stopping the run, but number two of trying to put pressure on him and get to him and make him as uncomfortable as possible.”

Colts' Twitter mailbag

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
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Here’s this week’s Colts’ Twitter mailbag during the team’s bye week.
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W2W4: Colts-Broncos

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
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INDIANAPOLIS – Here are five storylines to watch for Sunday night's game between the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsMight Andrew Luck have to throw more for the Colts to be successful on offense?
1. The clock-management game: Stick with the style that got you four wins or put the ball in your franchise quarterback’s hands and have him test the NFL’s worst pass defense team in the league? That’s the quandary Colt offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton finds himself in against the Broncos. Hamilton's sticking with the run-first mentality. That’s the right approach to take because the Colts are sixth in the league in rushing and a ball-controlled offense keeps Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning on the sideline with his helmet on, arms crossed and antsy to get his offense back on the field. But the Colts have to be effective in order to make it work, and they have to do it against a Denver team that’s only giving up 69.8 yards a game. The Colts ran for a season-low 74 yards and only had the ball for 21 minutes against San Diego last week. The Broncos are giving up a league-worst 338 yards in the air. The Colts have to score touchdowns. Field goals won’t cut it against Manning. Don't be surprised if Andrew Luck is forced to go back to being Andrew Luck of last season when he had to throw 45 times a game in order for the Colts to win.

2. Avoid the emotions: This game is all about Manning. Nobody else. Reggie Wayne referred to it as a circus. The Colts have downplayed Manning’s return by referring to it as just another game on the schedule. I wouldn’t have believed them if this were my first week covering them. But I actually believe them. They do a good job keeping their emotions in check when it comes to injuries, facing quarterbacks like Seattle’s Russell Wilson and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, and they’ve done a good job of avoiding the hype with Manning so far. But doing it on the football field is the only thing that matters. The Colts obviously respect Manning, but it seems like they’re tired of talking about his return.

3. Don’t get frustrated: Manning will make plays. He’s proven that over and over throughout his career. The Broncos have the best offense in the league, averaging 476 yards of total offense and 360.7 yards through the air to go with 44 points a game. The Colts got frustrated on defense because they couldn’t get off the field on third down against the Chargers. Do that Sunday night and the Broncos will easily surpass their scoring average. Cornerbacks Greg Toler, Vontae Davis and Darius Butler are risk takers. They're not going to shy away from gambling, but they better make the play because Manning will exploit them if they make a mistake. Linebacker Robert Mathis has an advantage because Denver's left tackle Ryan Clady (knee) is out for the season and right tackle Orlando Franklin is doubtful with a knee and ankle injury. “They’re going to make plays,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said about Denver. “But when the opportunity arises for us to make plays, we got to make sure we make them. It’s kind of like playing golf. It’s what you do with your mishits, not so much what you do with your hits. It’s that philosophy going into the game.”

4. Leave the drops behind: The Colts hurt themselves with a case of the drops against the Chargers. They officially had four drops even though an argument could be made that they had more -- Darrius Heyward-Bey getting both hands on the ball on what should have been a 60-yard catch -- in the first half. Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, Trent Richardson and, yes, even Wayne, can’t have a repeat performance this week. “I think it was more so of an isolated incident,” Hamilton said. “It just happened that way. We’ll make those plays. Drops are not an issue for our offense.”

5. Richardson factor: Richardson deserves his own storyline because he’s yet to be a significant factor for the Colts since they acquired him Sept. 18. He hasn't rushed for more than 60 yards in a game with them. The Colts want to control the clock. It starts with Richardson. It’s time for him to step up. He’s only averaging 3.1 yards a carry as a Colt. “As far as my comfort level, I’m ready to play,” Richardson said. “I don’t know what you call a breakout game, I guess over 100 yards or whatever, but if it happens it happens. As long as we win, I think it’s a breakout game for me.”

Colts next to try to slow Manning down

October, 18, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Greg Manusky had bags under his eyes and his voice was raspy as he stood at the podium addressing the media Thursday afternoon.

If you didn’t know the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator had been battling a cold, you would think he looked and sounded like that because he hadn’t slept for several days because he had consumed all hours trying to figure out a way to slow down a Peyton Manning offense that has left defenses looking foolish and frustrated.

[+] EnlargeChuck Pagano
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsCoach Chuck Pagano and the Colts have been studying up all week on how to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Pagano: "It's a challenge."
“It’s always hard trying to get as much information to see what he does and what he’s looking at and how to disrupt him as much as you can,” Manusky said. “But yeah, it’s hard.”

The Broncos have yet to be slowed down on offense this season. The closest any team has come to slowing the Broncos down -- if you want to call it that -- came Sept. 23 when Oakland limited them to 10 points in the second half.

Denver, Manning in particular, has set the standard offensively this season. Per game, the Broncos lead the league in scoring (44.2), total yards (476) and passing yards (360.7). Manning has thrown 22 touchdowns, two interceptions and he’s only been sacked five times.

The Broncos have four receivers with at least 31 catches this season.

Now it’s understandable why Manusky likely hasn’t slept since he got off the plane from San Diego early Tuesday morning.

“You’re looking at an offense, you look at the stat sheet and they’re ranked one at just about every category,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “It’s a challenge. We’re going to put our time in regardless. We just know that the challenge is a great one cause they’ve got a great one coming in here. First-ballot Hall of Famer (Manning) under center and all that stuff. Great wideouts, runners, offensive line. Across the board, it’s going to be a huge challenge.”

There isn’t a defense Manning hasn’t seen in his career. You may be able to rattle him early, but he’s the mastermind of getting ahead of the defense because of his ability to adjust accordingly. Colts fans spent 13 seasons (he was injured in his final season) watching Manning walk up to the line of scrimmage and make the proper changes based off how the defense was playing.

That will be the case again on Sunday. Pagano wouldn’t give the slightest hint on how they plan to attempt to slow the former Colt down. Pagano joked that he should just head over to the Broncos’ team hotel in Indianapolis and leave their defensive plan at the front desk for them if he talked about their scheme.

“Everybody knows Peyton,” safety LaRon Landry said. “Great quarterback, one of the best. You really have to be sound in your coverage, give different looks, disguises. For us, it’s all about what we create, what we do on the back end and just disguising and playing sound coverage. Peyton is going to be Peyton. He’s going to make some plays, we have to respond.”

The Broncos can’t be knocked because they’ve done their job by winning. It should be noted, though, that the combined record of their six opponents is 11-25 this season.

The Colts have been solid defensively for most of the season, but the 11th best unit in the league picked a bad time to have a setback.

The San Diego Chargers had the ball for 38 minutes and 31 seconds and were 7-of-14 on third down against the Colts on Monday.

Just imagine how many points Manning can put up if given that much time with the ball. The Broncos only need the ball about 31 minutes a game to average their 44 points a game.

“You want to play against the best,” Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. “That’s every week. Every week as competitors in the NFL, you want to play against the best. You got beat the best to be the best. It’s going to be fun.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts are on the verge of having their starting defensive unit on the field against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

Landry
And it couldn’t come at a better time.

Safety LaRon Landry, who has missed the past four games with a high ankle sprain, has practiced the past two days and starting linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who missed the second half of Monday’s game at San Diego, returned to practice Thursday.

“It was good to get him back into the mix,” defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said about having Landry back. “It’s been a month now that we haven’t had him. So it’ll be good to get him back on the field and see how he does. He’s got fresh legs after a month.”

The Broncos are averaging a league-high 44.2 points, 476.0 yards per game and 360.7 passing yards a game. The Colts are coming off a disappointing defensive game in their loss to the Chargers. San Diego had the ball for almost 39 minutes against Indianapolis.

“They’re a good offense,” Manusky said. “But when the opportunity arises for us to make plays, we got to make sure we make them.”

Colts' defense bottles up another foe

September, 29, 2013
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Don’t pay attention to the total yards the Indianapolis Colts gave up the Jacksonville Jaguars in their 37-3 victory on Sunday.

Giving up only 205 yards was impressive, but the number that you should pay attention to is the 67 yards the Colts gave up through three quarters when they were making sure they weren't going to get caught in the trap against Jacksonville.

The 138 yards the Colts gave up in the fourth quarter were garbage yards because the outcome had already been determined and the winless Jaguars were playing for their dignity at that point.

[+] EnlargeDarius Butler
Phil Sears/USA TODAY SportsDarius Butler returned an interception for a TD as part of a dominant day for the Colts' defense.
The Colts carried over what they did against San Francisco last weekend and brought that same dominating defense with them to Jacksonville.

“You can sense when blood is in the water,” Colts cornerback Vontae Davis said. “The first quarter they came out throwing their best shot at us, but we knew once we tasted blood we could jump on them quick. It got to the point where it seemed like they were ready for us to pack up our stuff and head back to Indy.”

It would be easy to wonder if the Colts' defense is for real because they played the Jaguars, who are just treading water these days. But that thought should quickly get erased because Indianapolis did the same thing to the 49ers.

The Colts have only given up 459 yards, 28 first downs and 10 points in the past two games. It’s time to look at the Colts as more than an offensive team.

Coach Chuck Pagano’s defensive mindset and coordinator Greg Manusky’s schemes have sunk in. It just took a little while for it to happen.

“We are going to stick to the process, keep coming back in here and preparing, staying the course and staying ready,” Pagano said. “We know who we are. … Again, to go on the road, after last week’s road trip, division game, and all those things.”

Having a stout defense eases the pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck and the rest of offense to put up a lot of points in order for them to win. The defense has shown that it’s good enough to win games on days the offense struggles.

“It’s awesome. It really is,” Luck said. “They do such a great job in practice all week, and to have them come out [like they did], it makes the offense’s job easier. Yeah, we’d love to score every play, but when you have a defense that’s playing like that, you realize it can be good team football.”

Indianapolis’ defense spent the week leading up to the game talking about containing running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who went into Sunday averaging 106.8 yards in 13 games against the Colts.

Jones-Drew was never a factor Sunday. The Colts bottled him up and held him to 23 yards on 13 carries.

That meant the Jaguars were forced to try to beat the Colts through the air with an unimpressive Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. And that played into the hands of Davis and fellow cornerback Greg Toler.

Davis set the tone defensively for the Colts by intercepting a Gabbert pass after dancing to get both feet in along the sideline on Jacksonville’s first offensive possession.

That just turned out to be the start of things for the opportunistic Colts defense. Davis tipped a Gabbert pass intended for Cecil Shorts and nickelback Darius Butler picked it off and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown.

The Colts intercepted Gabbert three times, sacked him four times and held the Jaguars to 2-of-11 on third down.

“We work real hard in practice, we push each other, the offense pushes us in practice, we hone in on our techniques and on Sunday it’s almost easier than it should be,” Butler said. “We’re just playing physical and we want to keep that mentality.”

Colts will try to stop a 'fire hydrant'

September, 26, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS – The words used by the Indianapolis Colts to describe Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew ranged from "fire hydrant" to "one of the best in the league" to "powerful."

The list could go on and on.

For the Colts, Jones-Drew has been that nagging thorn you can’t get out, or the fly buzzing by your ear you can't swat away.

“He’s built like a fire hydrant, runs like a shorebird,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Tree trunks for legs. Never stops churning. Powerful, powerful guy. We know what type of runs he excels at.”

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/Darron CummingsMaurice Jones-Drew has averaged more than 100 rushing yards in 13 career games against the Colts.
In 13 career games against the Colts, Jones-Drew has averaged 106.8 yards on the ground -- the most against any team he’s faced more than once.

“He’s a thick-bodied guy that runs with his pads down,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “He’s a downhill runner. He has great vision. I think he can make all the cuts. He’s just a tough, physical runner that’s been producing in the NFL for a number of years.”

The Jaguars have actually done well against the Colts with Blaine Gabbert as quarterback. They’re 3-1 against Indianapolis with Gabbert taking the snaps, as opposed to 2-19 against the rest of the NFL.

Still, the only chance the Jaguars have to beat the Colts on Sunday is to feed Jones-Drew the ball like he’s at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

“MJD, he’s one of the best in the league,” Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. “Any time he gets the ball, he can take it to the end zone. I always talk about Travis Henry, those short, compact-type guys that has low gravity to the ground that’s really tough to get down. MJD, man, he’s there.”

The Colts struggled against the run last season, and this season they are 26th in the league in that category, giving up 129 yards a game.

Jones, who has been dealing with an ankle injury, has gotten off to a slow start this season. He’s tied for 32nd in the league in rushing at 115 yards. He’s averaging just 2.6 yards per carry.

But there’s no better team than the Colts for Jones-Drew to try to get back on track against. That’s why the Colts aren’t taking him and the winless Jaguars lightly. All they have to do is look at Jones-Drew's 5.4-yards-a-carry average against them in his career if they need a reminder.

“One guy get there, hit him high, slide down to the ankle and hold on until the other 10 guys there,” Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. “It’s very hard for one guy to take him down by himself. … It’s going to be a total defensive effort against [him] this week to stop the run.”

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