NFL Nation: Cory Redding

Examining the Indianapolis Colts' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
This is the safest position on the roster for the Colts. They plan to always keep a veteran backup if Luck ever goes down with an injury.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

The Colts will have a solid running combination if -- and we’re saying if until proven wrong -- Richardson can bounce back from a poor first season in Indianapolis and Bradshaw and Ballard can stay injury-free. Havili, a fullback, gets the edge over Mario Harvey, who switched from linebacker to fullback during offseason workouts.

RECEIVERS (5)

The final receiver spot will come down to Rogers and Griff Whalen. If the Colts want to play it safe, Whalen is the guy because he’s familiar with Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, but Rogers has the size and speed the team likes. There’s also the possibility of the Colts keeping six receivers.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Allen, who missed all but one game in 2013, and Fleener have the potential to be one of the top tight end duos in the league. Doyle and Saunders are both familiar with the system after backing up Fleener in Allen’s absence last season.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

There are plenty of questions surrounding the offensive line outside of tackles Castonzo and Cherilus. The one thing general manager Ryan Grigson wanted with this group is depth. The Colts have plenty of it.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)

Like the offensive line, the Colts want depth on the defensive line so they can constantly rotate in players, so come the fourth quarter they still have fresh legs to get after the opponent. Jones was the key offseason acquisition for the Colts. Chapman showed flashes last season; now he needs to do it every snap that he’s on the field.

LINEBACKERS (10)

All eyes will be on outside linebacker as the Colts look to find a replacement for Mathis, who is suspended for the first four games of the season. Werner gets the first crack at starting in Mathis’ spot. McNary is a player for whom Grigson has high expectations. It’ll be up to defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on how he uses McNary.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)

It’s anybody’s guess how the secondary will perform. It’s anybody’s guess who will start alongside Landry at safety. It looked like it would be Howell for most of the offseason, but the Colts signed the veteran Adams in June. Can Toler finally remain healthy? Can Davis live up to his contract? So many questions with no answers at the moment.

SPECIALIST

This only changes if an injury occurs.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts starting safety LaRon Landry wasn't required to take part in the team's organized team activities because they're voluntary. The three-day mandatory minicamp is the only time players are required to report to the team's facility.

Three days.

But Landry was not on the field for the first day of minicamp Tuesday.

Landry
The reason?

He hadn't undergone the required physical yet. This isn't a new physical that's being required, but it's the same physical veteran players are required to take before minicamp every year.

“(Monday night) we had an administrative meeting,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “(You) can't do any football first day. Every single vet on the football team, except the rookies have to go do physicals.”

Landry, by the way, was the only veteran player who did not take part in minicamp Tuesday because he didn't take his physical. He's also the only player not to be in facility during the offseason. Landry doesn't work out with the team during the offseason because he prefers to work out on his own. He's one of the more fit players in the NFL, but it's more than about being in shape.

Landry's about to have a new starting safety playing alongside of him, the Colts struggled as a defensive unit last season and Landry didn't have a great first season with the team. He missed four games with an ankle injury while finishing with 96 tackles and no interceptions.

“LaRon works as hard as anybody, wished it was here most of the time,” Pagano said. “I know that he's working. He probably does too much.”

As far as other players who missed Tuesday's session, defensive lineman Cory Redding was excused to tend to a family matter. Cornerback Vontae Davis has a groin injury and Pagano said safety Delano Howell is dealing with a soft tissue injury without going into specifics.

As expected, receiver Reggie Wayne (knee), running back Vick Ballard (knee) and offensive lineman Donald Thomas (quad, bicep) also didn't take part.
 

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis stood at his locker Wednesday afternoon and spent several minutes talking to the media for the first time since being suspended by the NFL for four games for violating the league's drug policy.

Mathis apologized to his teammates and told them, "Sorry, and I’ll be back."

His teammates accepted his apology and remained confident in one of their leaders.

"I know who he is," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. "I have no doubt the kind of person, the kind of character, what kind of man he is. Robert is a man. He owned up to his mistake.

"He addressed us, first and foremost, as a family. That’s what we are, a unit, a team. As long as we have his back -- and he knows that -- then everything else will work out."

Mathis is allowed to participate in all offseason workouts, as well as preseason practices and games, while suspended. He'll miss the Colts' first four regular-season games and is eligible to return the day after the Sept. 28 game against Tennessee.

As they’ve always done when they lose a teammate or coach for a period of time, the Colts said it’s the "next man up" to fill the void in Mathis’ absence.

"I understand [the suspension is] all set in stone, so there’s nothing you can say or do that’s going to change anything," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I know we’re not wasting our breath talking about it. We realize the circumstance. We realize we’re going to be without our best player, probably, for the first four games.

"Guys are going to have to step up. We’ll manage, we’ll do our best, and I think we have a lot of confidence in a lot of guys in this locker room and this building to pick up the slack."
INDIANAPOLIS – New Indianapolis Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones didn’t want to reveal too much when asked about if he would be playing more defensive tackle than end next season.

Jones
Jones
Colts coach Chuck Pagano answered the question during the NFL owners meetings earlier this week.

Well, sort of.

“I’m not going to pigeonhole by saying he’s an inside guy or an outside guy,” Pagano said. “He brings position flexibility to our front. He’s a sub-rusher on third down. He can give you inside push, he can beat guys one-on-one. He has sack numbers for an inside guy.”

Pagano was Jones’ defensive coordinator during his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. Jones went from having 20 tackles and zero sacks his rookie season to having 53 tackles and four sacks last season, and now he’ll try to be just as effective in Indianapolis.

“He’s really matured as a young man,” Pagano said. “He knows our scheme. Terminology won’t be an issue. It’ll be a seamless transition for us.”

Pagano’s goal is to have a defensive front that has players who can play multiple positions so that they can constantly rotate them in so in the fourth quarter they’ll still be relatively fresh. Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, who missed part of last season with a foot injury, can play on the end.

The Colts were abysmal at stopping the run last season, finishing 26th in the league in that category, and linebacker Robert Mathis had 19.5 of their 42 sacks.

“You can never have enough defensive linemen,” Pagano said. “We roll those guys all the time and try to keep them fresh. If you can play with six, seven guys in the defensive front by the time fourth quarter comes around and everybody is still fresh, it’s going to play to your advantage.”

The Colts currently have seven defensive linemen on the roster: Montori Hughes, Ricky Jean Francois, Arthur Jones, Fili Moala, Jeris Pendleton, Cory Redding, and Josh Chapman.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Defensive end or defensive tackle?

Jones
Jones
New Indianapolis Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones can play both positions, but he’s not tipping his hand on which one he’ll play more next season.

“I’m not going to give anything away,” Jones said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “You guys are going to have to wait until training camp to find that out because I don’t want anything out that [coach Chuck Pagano] doesn’t want out.”

Jones will help the Colts no matter if he plays defensive end or tackle. He called it a “no-brainer” to sign with Indianapolis once he hit the free-agent market. He signed a five-year, $33 million contract earlier this week.

The winning tradition and familiarity with Pagano and fellow defensive lineman Cory Redding made it an easy decision for Jones. Pagano was Jones’ defensive coordinator and Redding was a teammate of his during his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens.

“It’s always easy to go to a place where you see and know familiar faces,” Jones said. “It’s kind of like the first day of school. You are waiting at the bus stop looking for someone you know. [Pagano] brought so much passion to the game and a guy that loved his job and really loved football. Anytime you have a coach like that, that loves to win, you would love to go to war for him.

“[Redding] was my mentor in the big brother program they had in Baltimore. He was a guy that helped me mature and showed me the ropes, how to be a professional.”

Jones was real coy in talking about where he’ll play with the Colts next season. He did at least acknowledge that he spent more time playing defensive tackle last season with the Ravens when he had 53 tackles and four sacks. That’s good news for the Colts because they need help stopping the run up the middle. The Colts were 26th in the league in stopping the run last season.

“Yeah, I would say that’s safe to say, definitely,” Jones said when asked if he was brought here to help stop the run. “But you never know, though, you may see me on passing downs, too.”

Indianapolis Colts season wrap-up

January, 15, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 8
Preseason Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: The questions were valid. Was linebacker Robert Mathis' production a product of having sack-machine Dwight Freeney playing on the other side? Could Mathis still be an impact player without Freeney? Mathis silenced the naysayers when he led the league in sacks with 19.5, including seven strip sacks. Mathis didn't hide the fact that he wanted to quiet the doubters. What made his season even more special is that he did it without much help elsewhere, as the Colts had only 42 sacks as a team. Mathis is one of the front-runners to be the league's defensive player of the year.

Biggest disappointment: Safety LaRon Landry was supposed to have the same kind of impact Bob Sanders had when he played for the Colts. That's why general manager Ryan Grigson signed him to four-year, $24 million contract. Landry was good when he was able to come up with the big hits or touchdown-saving tackles, but it was too often that he ended up whiffing on a play. The plays on which he missed running back Jamaal Charles on a touchdown run in the regular-season game against Kansas City and New England's LeGarrette Blount on his touchdown run last weekend are two examples that quickly come to mind. It also doesn't help that Landry missed four games because of injury this season.

Biggest need: Help on both lines -- offensive and defensive -- should be at the top of Grigson's list during the offseason. The Colts are set at offensive tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus. Donald Thomas will be back to take one of the guard spots after he missed most of the season with a quad injury, but the other guard spot and center could use upgrades. The Colts need a defensive tackle who can clog the middle of the line.

Team MVP: This is a no-brainer. Quarterback Andrew Luck was mentioned as a league MVP candidate at one point in the season. The second-year quarterback overcame injuries to five key offensive starters -- including future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne -- to cut his interceptions in half, increase his completion percentage and throw the same number of touchdown passes despite 52 fewer attempts. Take Luck out of the lineup and the Colts would have won maybe six games this season.

 
Chuck PaganoAndy Lyons/Getty Images"Chuck [Pagano] is someone who is genuine and he's someone that can get his players to buy into his message," GM Ryan Grigson said.
INDIANAPOLIS -- An argument could be made that Chuck Pagano's head coaching record in 2012 should have an asterisk next to it. The Indianapolis Colts went 11-5 during his first year. Pagano, though, only coached four of those games (2-2) because of an unfortunate battle with leukemia.

So a deserving question heading into this season was: Could Pagano really coach?

The Colts had everything it took to make a run in the AFC this season. Playmakers on offense to go with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. A defense that was supposed to be better in Year 2 of Pagano's 3-4 defense.

But one by one, key offensive players went down.

Running backs Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw. Guard Donald Thomas. Tight end Dwayne Allen. Then the big hit happened, the kind of devastating blow that had Pagano choked up during the press conference. Future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

[+] EnlargeIndianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLosing Reggie Wayne for the season to a torn ACL tested the Colts' mettle.
That in itself gave the Colts every reason to start to crumble.

Not only was Pagano's coaching put to the test, but also his ability to keep his team tied together during that time because sympathy cards weren't going to start coming in the mail from their opponents.

The journey wasn't smooth. It was actually bumpy at times, as some of Pagano's coaching decisions came into question. But when it was all said and done, the “family,” as they call themselves, stuck together, had another 11-win season and are headed back to the playoffs for the second straight sesaon.

“We're talking about a guy who fought every day during his battle with cancer,” Robert Mathis said. “If he did that, we could definitely go every single day and compete. If he told me to run through a brick wall, I'd do it for him. That's the type of coach he is.”

Pagano's name isn't near the top of the list when it comes to coach of the year candidates, but the job he did this season can't be discounted after they used a league-high 73 players during the regular season.

Here they stand, AFC South champs and days away from hosting the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium while 20 other teams are on vacation.

“You don't want to let Chuck down,” defensive end Cory Redding. “That's the biggest thing that will hurt anybody in this locker room if you let Chuck down. Chuck believes in you, so you want to give him everything you've got.”

The big picture has never changed for Pagano.

It started at training camp in Anderson, Ind., when he told his team that they had one shot because nothing is guaranteed, so they needed to “pour everything we have into this season.” It remained the same as players were lost to injury and continued when the defense couldn't stop giving up big plays and you wondered why they continued to try to run the ball this season.

It boiled down to trust, loyalty and respect with Pagano. Those are the three things he constantly preached to his players through the good and bad times.

“Really from the beginning we wanted a leader of men and someone that had those qualities and weren't fake about it,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. “That's the one thing that people don't realize, football players get shortchanged. They're a lot smarter than people think and they know when someone is full of baloney. Chuck is someone who is genuine and he's someone that can get his players to buy into his message.”

There's no clear definition of what a player's coach is. But do an Internet search of it and there's a good chance Pagano's picture will pop up, punter Pat McAfee said. He treats every player the same, no matter if it's Andrew Luck or the last player on the practice squad.

Redding's phone went off earlier this season. He looked down at it and noticed it was a text message from Pagano.

“It basically said get your beep out your head and start playing like you know how to,” Redding recalled the message saying.

Upset or embarrassed?

Not one bit.

Redding embraced how Pagano handled the situation. The coach didn't call him out in a team meeting or berate him on the sideline in front of everybody at practice. That's not how Pagano learned to do things from his father, a former high school football coach in Colorado.

“Trust me, he does have a temper,” Redding said. “He'll dog cuss you out in a heartbeat, but it takes a lot for him to get there. He does it in a way that's coachable, in a way that's a constructive criticism type deal. He will get on you like that, but never in a way that will degrade you as a person or a man or insult your manhood. You respect a man who respects you.”

Pagano's first playoff game as a head coach didn't go well, as they lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card game last season. They used that as a learning experience.

“I think players, coaches, everybody has got a year under their belt,” Pagano said. “So you know a little bit more what to expect. Again, it's playoffs. It's one and done. We know that. We know it's a tournament type of atmosphere, all those things. We're just going to prepare like we always prepare and try to go play better than we did last week.”

Players-only meeting helped turn season

December, 30, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The exact moment it happened is on the cloudy side.

It might have been after the 30-point loss to the St. Louis Rams. It might have been after the Arizona Cardinals or Cincinnati Bengals game.

It really doesn't matter when it happened.

The meeting had to be done.

The Indianapolis Colts weren't going anywhere. They had been blown out by the Rams and Cardinals, two teams that started their vacation Sunday evening, so a players' only meeting was called.

No filter. No holding anything back. No worrying about hurting anybody feelings.

Players-only meetings aren't anything new. Teams have been having them for years.

"It was really just a gut-check meeting," linebacker Robert Mathis said. "One of those games where we kind of got blown out of the water. It's a distant memory. But it was a guys meeting, men talking and holding each other accountable. And we responded quite nicely."

You just never know how players-only meetings will turn out. Sometimes players have one just to say they had one when nothing really gets accomplished. The Colts couldn't have that happen. They were treading water with the possibility of going under. They were likely going to win the AFC South because it's the worse division in football, but there was little optimism about them winning a game in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

"It was a lot of guys, the guys that are older and that are in the position of being a leader, speak up," Mathis said. "Anybody that wanted to say anything, the floor was open. And so that's what it was and we got good results from it."

This meeting turned to be a positive for the Colts. They went into December with a 7-4 record and closed out the regular season by going 4-1.

The Colts head into Sunday's wild card match up against the Kansas City Chiefs on a three-game winning streak.

Here's a look at several key stats during the winning streak:
  • They outscored their opponents 78-20
  • Forced eight turnovers
  • Recorded 11 sacks
  • Tied for their second high scoring quarter of the season when they scored 17 points in the first quarter against Jacksonville

"It's one of those meetings that takes place and we're fortunate to have guys like Robert, Reggie (Wayne) and Cory (Redding) and Adam (Vinatieri) and Antoine (Bethea), a bunch of guys that love winning, love competing and are willing to grab a group of guys and say, 'Okay, this is what we have to do from here on out, win the games we're supposed to win and give ourselves a chance to get in the tournament,'" Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "The expectations are what they are. Players hold each other to a high standard. We as coaches hold ourselves and players to a high standard. Accountability comes from the players, from the locker room. That's when you really have something special."
INDIANAPOLIS – The trend has gotten to the point that it's not if Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano will announce that they will have a different starting offensive line, but what the line will look like when they play.

That’s the case again this weekend, as the Colts will start their sixth different offensive line in as many weeks against the Jacksonville Jaguars and their eighth different one of the season.

Guard Mike McGlynn, who didn’t practice all week, is doubtful for the game.

“In the National Football League, nothing surprises you,” Pagano said. “Every day you show up is an adventure.”

In typical Pagano fashion, the coach didn’t reveal who he plans to start in McGlynn’s spot. The Colts have options on who to start on the offensive line for the first time in weeks.

Joe Reitz has been cleared to play after passing his final concussion test Friday. There’s Jeff Linkenbach, who has missed the past three games with a quadriceps injury, or Pagano can turn to Xavier Nixon, whose lead block opened up the hole on Donald Brown’s 51-yard touchdown run against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend.

The offensive line has played well recently. The Colts have rushed for 287 yards in the past two games and quarterback Andrew Luck has only been sacked twice in the past three games.

Defensive end Cory Redding (shoulder) and safety Sergio Brown (groin) are also doubtful for Sunday.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of the injured players from Friday:

Out: Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois (foot)

Questionable: Safety Antoine Bethea (ankle)

Probable: Cornerback Darius Butler (quad), cornerback Vontae Davis (groin), safety LaRon Landry (rest), linebacker Robert Mathis (rest), guard Hugh Thornton (neck) and cornerback Greg Toler (groin)
INDIANAPOLIS – The offensive line is playing well. The same goes for the defense. And now the Indianapolis Colts may finally be getting healthy. It’s coming at a good time, too, with the playoffs less than two weeks away.

Coach Chuck Pagano had a lot of positive information when he talked about the long list of players dealing with injuries during his news conference on Monday.

The MRI on defensive lineman Cory Redding’s shoulder came back negative. He missed part of the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs after injuring it while trying to make a diving tackle on running back Jamaal Charles. Redding may not practice on Tuesday, but the Colts are hopeful that he’ll be able to go on Thursday.

Safety Sergio Brown (groin), linebacker Daniel Adongo (hamstring), defensive tackle Montori Hughes (knee), guard Hugh Thornton (neck) and guard Jeff Linkenbach (quad) could all return to practice this season. Offensive lineman Joe Reitz has been cleared to practice after passing an impact concussion test. He has to pass one more concussion protocol before being cleared to play in a game.

It’ll be interesting to see what Pagano does with the offensive line if everybody is healthy. The Colts have started five different lineups on the offensive line in the past five games and seven overall this season.

The Colts wrap up the regular season against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 16

December, 23, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An examination of five topics from the Indianapolis Colts' 23-7 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

[+] EnlargeDonald Brown
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsDonald Brown had 110 total yards and two scores against the Chiefs.
Charles causes pain: Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding left the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. He said it happened while trying to tackle Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. “I was trying to get a diving tackle on Jamaal and landed on my shoulder, and it just kind of popped out and came back in,” Redding said. “I’m good to go. I’m from Texas where we’re tough.” Redding took part in the sack party that the Colts had on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Redding had a sack and recovered a fumble.

What can Brown do for you? Running back Donald Brown rushed for a team-high 79 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown. His 51-yard touchdown is the longest run of the season for the Colts. Brown also had two catches for 31 yards and a touchdown. The 110 total yards are a season high for Brown. He’s averaging 5.6 yards a carry this season. That average is good enough for second-best in the NFL among running backs with at least 90 carries. That’s the good. Here’s the not-so-good part. The rest of the Colts are averaging 3.7 yards a carry this season, with quarterback Andrew Luck averaging 6.1 yards a carry.

Protecting the ball: Protecting the football is part of the reason the Colts have a chance to match their win total of 11 from last season. They didn’t commit a turnover against the Chiefs and have committed a league-low 14 turnovers this season.

Toler returns: Cornerback Greg Toler returned to the lineup for the first time in seven weeks. He didn’t start, but the fact that he was able to play after an extended absence because of a groin injury was a step in the right direction for him. Toler didn’t have any tackles. “I was happy. I was able to get my foot in the ground when I wanted to,” Toler said. “They had me on a couple of meds before the game, but I was happy to have a chance to get back out there. I’ve been past the stage of thinking about my groin.”

Moving up the rankings: Luck was 26-of-37 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Luck is 7 yards shy of surpassing Carolina quarterback Cam Newton for the most passing yards in the first two seasons of a career. Luck shouldn’t have a problem moving ahead of Newton because the Colts close the regular season against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 29. Luck threw for 257 yards against the Jaguars in the Week 4 meeting between the two teams.

Colts win AFC South despite their flaws

December, 8, 2013
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ColtsAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck and the Colts have struggled against teams with a winning record recently.

CINCINNATI -- The Indianapolis Colts probably did a lot of score-checking on their phones as they made the 115-mile bus ride back home from Cincinnati.

They were about 30 minutes outside of Indianapolis when Peyton Manning, of all people, helped his former team win its first AFC South title in three years when the Denver Broncos beat the Tennessee Titans.

Winning the division deserves some handshakes and hugs when you think about all the injuries the Colts have dealt with on offense this season and that they were 2-14 two years ago. But there's some legitimate concern, too, after they needed help to wrap up the division.

The Colts went into Sunday's game against the Bengals wanting to take care of things on their own. They left Paul Brown Stadium after a 42-28 loss without easing any of the doubts about how the rest of the season could go for them.

“We wanted to win the game,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “Like we said before, if we took care of our business, we wouldn’t have to worry about anybody losing or anything of that nature. We want to go into December, into the playoffs on a hot roll.”

As important as it was for the Colts to beat the Bengals so that they could say they won the division on their own, it was even more important for them from the standpoint of proving they can beat a team with a winning record. The loss dropped Indianapolis to the No. 4 seed, a game behind the Bengals for the third seed.

The Colts are 3-3 in their past six games, with all three victories coming against teams with losing records -- all teams from the AFC South, the worst division in football.

Indianapolis hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record since knocking off Manning and the Broncos on Oct. 20. They were still considered a threat in the AFC when they went into that game seven weeks ago.

Not anymore.

They have too many flaws and not enough talent to make the same type of run they made in 2006. They’re wobbling toward the playoffs and look to be a one-and-done team when they get there.

“We try to measure ourselves every week,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We’ll go back to work, and we’ll grind. We’ve got a resilient bunch, a tough-minded group. They don’t ever quit. They’re hurting right now, everybody is.”

So much was talked about referee Jeff Triplette's reversal on the Colts’ fourth-and-goal stop of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis at the 1-yard line, giving the Bengals a 14-0 lead with 74 seconds left in the first half.

Was it a bad call by Triplette? Yes.

Would the Colts have won the game if the call had not been reversed? No.

The Colts continued their trend of slow starts -- outscored 114-24 in the first half of the past six games -- but the defense couldn't come up with the necessary stops to get the offense back on the field.

The bend-but-don’t-break defense the Colts played earlier this season continues to break. Don’t be fooled by the four turnovers they forced against Tennessee on Dec. 1. The Titans aren’t in the same class as the Bengals or the Arizona Cardinals.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had all day to sit back in the pocket because the Colts barely got any pressure on him. Dalton threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns. Cincinnati also did what the Colts have wanted to do for weeks -- run the ball. They averaged 4.4 yards and rushed for 155 yards while going 6-of-12 on third down.

“We had our chances but didn’t capitalize,” Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. “At the end of the day, they made more plays than us. They caught all the deep passes, they had some good calls go their way. That’s pretty much how the game turned out. We have to find ways to get off the field on third down.”

Quarterback Andrew Luck found a couple of receivers to throw the ball to in Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill, but it won't matter the rest of the season if the defense can't stop anybody. The Colts have given up an average of 31 points and 401 yards per game and allowed opponents to convert 44 percent of their third-down opportunities in the past seven games.

“Back to the drawing board for us,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “It’s a work in progress. Everybody has a job to do, and we have to get it done.”

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Upon Further Review: Indianapolis Colts

December, 2, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A review of four topics from the Indianapolis Colts' 22-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

Eye on a bye: The Colts will win the AFC South unless they completely collapse and Tennessee wins out. Neither is going to happen. The next goal for Indianapolis is to get the second seed (Denver will likely finish with the top seed) so that it can have a bye in the first weekend of the playoffs. The Colts have a chance to improve their odds of reaching that goal if they can go on the road and beat the Cincinnati Bengals next weekend. The Colts and Bengals have identical 8-4 records, but Indianapolis owns the tiebreaker because it has a better winning percentage in the conference. "We have to go to Cincinnati with a good game plan and stop that run, get on the quarterback and make something happen," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. New England currently holds the second seed at 9-3.

[+] EnlargeIndianapolis' Donald Brown
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsDonald Brown got the start and scored a fourth-quarter touchdown that sealed the victory.
Still kicking strong: Just as he's been throughout his 18-year career, kicker Adam Vinatieri was Mr. Reliable for the Colts. He was a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals and had an extra point to give him 16 points for the game. The five field goals tied Vinatieri's career high and the Colts' franchise record. He's got 100 points on the season, which ties him with Jason Elam for most 100-point seasons in NFL history with 16. "To have a security blanket like that, it makes a big difference, it really does," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "When we're struggling like that and can't put a touchdown on the board early, to have that really keeps that momentum going for you."

Staying positive: Running back Trent Richardson was the focal point of the lineup shakeup on Sunday because the Colts gave up a first-round pick to acquire him from Cleveland in September. But the player who deserves credit is Donald Brown, and it's not because he scored the touchdown to put the Colts up eight points late in the fourth quarter. It's because he constantly stayed professional and was ready to play when called upon despite being the third running back on the depth chart not once, but twice this season. Now he's starting. Brown had only 8 yards on eight carries until the Colts' final offensive series. The former first-round pick had 46 yards on six carries on the final drive. "Donnie earned the opportunity [to start] the way he was working and running the football," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.

Still perfect: Pagano and Luck can still say they've yet to lose back-to-back games as an NFL head coach and quarterback. The Colts have gone 28 games without losing consecutive games under Pagano. The 28 games ties for the fifth-longest streak by an Indianapolis head coach. The Colts still have road games at Cincinnati and Kansas City, but the games are split up by Houston in the middle, so they've got a chance to complete two straight seasons without losing back-to-back games.
Donald BrownAP Photo/AJ MastDonald Brown's touchdown late in the fourth quarter sealed the game for the Colts.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Change was necessary.

It wasn't an easy task to pull off because the cupboard had limited options. But the Indianapolis Colts had to do something because things simply weren't working.

You wouldn't have known that the Colts went into Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans with a two-game lead in the AFC South by the way they had play in the four games prior.

That's what prompted the moves to be made.

All is not fixed, but when the clock struck all zeroes at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts walked off the field 22-14 winners and on the brink of winning their first division title since 2010.

"That was a backyard street brawl man," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. "You got called out in your neighborhood by the biggest kid and you have to fight. And that's what it was. Both of us are a really fighting for the division...We knew it was going to be a tough division game and definitely get the bad taste out of our mouths. We never want to have one loss turn into two."

The Colts (8-4) have been ravished with injuries, including to veteran Reggie Wayne, and their play at times has left some wondering how they've managed to win eight games this season.

Here they stand with a three-game lead in the division with only four to play. The Colts can wrap things up with a victory at Cincinnati or if the Titans lose at Denver next weekend.

"We're not exhaling," coach Chuck Pagano said. "The division is not sewn up. We're going to do everything within our power to keep trending in the right direction."

Out went cornerback Cassius Vaughn. Out went guard Mike McGlynn. And out went running back Trent Richardson, further proving that the trade with Cleveland earlier this season has been a bust.

Enter cornerback Darius Butler, guard Jeff Linkenbach and running back Donald Brown.

Vaughn responded to his demotion by getting two of Indianapolis' three interceptions. Brown was held to eight yards on eight attempts until he had six carries for 46 yards and a touchdown on the Colts' final offensive series.

"We're always trying to just make decisions based on what's best for the team and what gives us the best chance to win," Pagano said. "We made a decision to give a couple guys an opportunity and move forward."

But this is only one game.

The Colts know that, too. That's why they didn't strut around the locker room after the game like all was well again.

The flaws are still there and they'd be even more glaring if future Hall-of-Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri didn't make five field goals -- four coming from at least 45 yards -- and the defense didn't force four turnovers.

The Colts will have a difficult time winning a playoff game if they continue to play like this.

"We know we can't survive our mistakes forever," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I know it sounds a bit like a broken record, but sometimes you just got to gut a win out, no matter how ugly it is. ... We still got a lot of mistakes to clean up."

Speaking of broken records, where have you heard this before? It's a miracle that Luck is able to continue to shake off all the hits he takes during the game.

Inserting Linkenbach into the starting lineup didn't improve an offensive line that needs to be upgraded in the offseason for the second straight year. Luck was sacked five times, including four in the second quarter.

The Colts did manage to score 12 points in the first half, but they haven't scored a touchdown in the first 30 minutes of a game since tight end Coby Fleener caught an 8-yard pass from Luck in the second quarter against Denver on Oct. 20 and Indianapolis was still considered a threat in the AFC.

"We know going down the stretch here that you've got to score touchdowns and try to put people away," Pagano said. "You let people hang around, you're just asking for trouble. Great win, but we still got obviously a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but really proud of the guys, proud of the coaches, proud of the players."

And proud to be closing in on a division title.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The opponent doesn’t have the same hype or record as teams like Denver, San Francisco or Seattle. But the pressure to win is right there for the Indianapolis Colts.

Just ask owner Jim Irsay if you need further proof.

[+] Enlarge Andrew Luck
AP Photo/Darron CummingsAndrew Luck and the Colts have their work cut out for them in their December slate of games.
It was only a few weeks ago that it looked like the Colts were going to be able to cruise the AFC South title. Two blowout losses in the past three games has made things a little more interesting.

It’s actually caused some uneasiness for the Colts.

Things can be righted some with a victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Win and the Colts will have a three-game lead in the division with four games to go. Lose and palms become increasingly sweaty because the division race gets even tighter.

“That's the way we approached it from a preparation standpoint," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We have a chance to seal the division, put a nail in the coffin. However you want to put it. We’ve got to play, just from a confidence standpoint. Someone is going to get hot in the league. Somebody is going to get hot going down the stretch. Win this football game and be 8-4 with four games to go. We need to play well in all three phases. This game is huge.”

Quarterback Andrew Luck has yet to lose back-to-back games as a Colt. The Colts are 34-14 in December games since 2002, which is the second-highest winning percentage in the NFL.

Those numbers won’t mean anything if the vulnerable Colts can’t shore up a number of areas.

• The Colts have been outscored 93-12 in the first half of their last four games.

• Indianapolis' running backs rushed for only 49 yards against the Arizona Cardinals.

• Receiver T.Y. Hilton has 10 catches for 82 yards in the past two games after going for 14 catches, 251 yards and three touchdowns in the two games prior to that.

• The defense has given up at least 340 total yards, including two games of at least 410 yards, in the past four games.

• The Colts are 24-of-78 on third down in their past six games.

"We'll turn every stone and exhaust all resources, but at the end of the day, no matter what you do, what wrinkles you throw in there, you’ve got to execute and you’ve got to do it better. You’ve got to play better. You've got to coach better," Pagano said.

"We're not going to beat people with gimmicks and this, that and the other. You beat people with sound football -- tough, hard-nosed, physical, disciplined. Play with great fundamentals, great technique, great effort, all those things. I know our guys are tough and physical and they’re going to play with great effort, just got to play more consistent for 60 minutes.”

The Titans, who are 0-3 in divisional games, have just as much on the line as the Colts. Tennessee wants to close the gap on the Colts in the division and its currently the sixth seed in the AFC. A Titans' victory moves them to within a game of teh Colts in the division.

Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown for 806 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 71.8 percent of his attempts in the past three games.

"This a divisional game," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. "Again, this is a tough team that we know and they know us. This is going to be a fight. We all know the fastest way to get into the playoffs is to control your division. We have that two-game lead and we got to maintain that lead. We have to do all that we can to fight and scrap for the place that we’re in. We worked our butts off to get where we’re at and we got to stay there."

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