NFL Nation: Jerrell Freeman

Broncos vs. Colts preview

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8
When: 4:40 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High TV: CBS

For many, well, for most everybody really, it will be difficult to get past the quarterbacks in this one. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will face his former team and the player the Indianapolis Colts selected with the No. 1 pick in the draft, Andrew Luck, just after the Colts released Manning in early 2012 -- all with a slot in the AFC Championship Game on the line.

In some ways there is a bit of old-news flavor to this divisional-round game given it will actually be the third time Manning will face his former team after a meeting in Indianapolis in 2013 (a Colts win) and this year's regular-season opener in Denver (a Broncos win).

But this is the first postseason dance. The Broncos (12-4) are trying to earn a return trip to the Super Bowl and the Colts (12-5) are trying to keep the momentum they earned with Sunday's wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Colts reporter Mike Wells and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at the quarterbacks as well as other issues in the playoff matchup.

Legwold: Mike, any concern there, even with Luck's heroics, the offense has become too one-dimensional? And how much could they adjust in a week?

Wells: The Colts are one-dimensional on offense. They didn't become one-dimensional on purpose. The goal was for them to have a balanced offense. That thought vanished when Ahmad Bradshaw was lost for the season in the middle of November because of a fractured fibula. Trent Richardson has been so much of a disappointment that he's now the No. 3 running back for the Colts. The Colts finished 22nd in the league in the rushing department during the regular season. The only hope the Colts have in the running department is with Daniel "Boom" Herron. He rushed 12 times for 56 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati on Sunday. Besides that, Luck's arm will have to carry the offense. The Colts are fine with that because he did lead the NFL in touchdown passes during the regular season and was third in passing yards.

Running back CJ Anderson only carried the ball four times in the Week 1 matchup with the Colts. He had back-to-back games of 167 and 168 yards rushing during the regular season. How much has he helped take the load off of Manning and the passing game?

Legwold: Since an inexplicable loss Nov. 16 in St. Louis, when the Broncos ran the ball just 10 times, they have tried to balance things out the offense. They have run the ball at least 29 times in five of the last six games to close out the regular season. The exception was a 19-carry effort in the loss in Cincinnati. So, when they've pounded the ball down the stretch they've won games. They showed a little more of their pass-first chops in the regular-season finale against Oakland, but Anderson is the No. 1 option in the run game right now. Anderson's roster spot was a rather large question mark when he arrived to offseason workouts too heavy and looked sluggish, but he showed up to training camp far leaner. And when Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman were both injured Anderson got his chance. He has shown vision and power when he runs the ball as well as a good awareness in pass protection to go with his work as a receiver. They've only shown it in glimpses thus far, but if the Broncos can find a way to smooth out the rough spots as they transition from run to pass during games, the offense could certainly be built to work in the grind-it-out environment of the postseason.

Wes Welker didn't play in the season opener for the Broncos, Demaryius Thomas lined up in the slot because of that without a lot of success so it was tight end Julius Thomas who finished with three touchdown catches -- all in the second quarter. What do you think the Colts expect from the Broncos' offense this time around?

Wells: The Colts know Manning will be Manning. The difference for them is Anderson. The last thing the Colts can afford is for Anderson to get going early because it plays right into the hands of Manning with the play-action pass game. Manning is lethal even when he doesn't have a running game behind him. He's going to be almost impossible to stop if Anderson has the Colts on their heels in the running game. I asked former Broncos safety Mike Adams what's the biggest difference with Denver since their Week 1 matchup and the first player he mentioned was Anderson. The Colts have to find a way to put pressure on Manning when he drops back in the pocket. Good luck with that. Manning was only sacked 17 times during regular season. The Colts were 25th in the league in sacks.

The Broncos' defense sacked Luck three times and picked him off twice back in September. What is the key from Denver's defensive perspective in slowing down Luck and the offense?

Legwold: If there is one play in this past Sunday's game that showed the task at hand for the Broncos it was Luck's touchdown throw to Donte Moncrief with Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap wrapped around Luck's leg as he made the throw. The Broncos see Luck as a power runner in a pocket passer's body, a combination that is difficult to handle. It's not that they have to just get to Luck, but they have to get him down when they get there. Luck has shown himself to be particularly adept at escaping four-man rush packages that close in on him, especially if the two edge-rushers get too wide or rush too deep into the backfield in their efforts to get to him. The Broncos will try to keep him contained, allow a secondary with three Pro Bowl players to cover and force Luck to stay put, hold the ball and work through his progressions. Down and distance will also be important. If the Broncos don't allow the Colts much production on first down, they'll get the option of using some of their specialty packages, with five, six or seven defensive backs. Opposing quarterbacks have had some trouble moving the ball against those looks.

In the end, we all know about the quarterbacks, we all will be watching them perform Sunday, but if you had to name one or two other players who have to have an elite player type of day for the Colts to win, who would it be?

Wells: Linebacker Jerrell Freeman. As you recall, Jeff, Broncos tight end Julius Thomas dominated the Colts on that Sunday night in early September. Thomas had seven receptions for 104 yards and three touchdowns. The Colts tried a number of different players on Thomas, even safety LaRon Landry. None of those players could slow him down. You can expect Freeman to spend a lot of time defending Thomas. Freeman is coming off his best game of the season when he had a season-high 15 tackles to go with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He's the only Colts linebacker athletic enough to defend Thomas.

Still, it wouldn't be right if we previewed this game and I didn't ask a Manning question because of the obvious connection with the Indianapolis. Manning said earlier this season that he'll be back as long as the Broncos will have him. You've been around him for the past three seasons, how many years do you think he has in that arm?

Legwold: Most folks look at Manning's right arm when they discuss his future, how he throws, the velocity on the ball, his ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field. But in terms of how many seasons he will play beyond this one, I believe in many ways he will make the call on when to call it a career, by how his legs are doing. He often talks about the “ability to move around and protect yourself,'' as being an important part of how he feels. And it is worth noting -- and I see him in practice every day -- he still throws the ball much the same as when he arrived in Denver in 2012 and that all of his injuries, at least the ones serious enough to show up on the injury reports, have been leg injuries. Last year he injured, and re-injured, both ankles and played with pain down the stretch. And this year he suffered a right thigh injury in a December win over the San Diego Chargers that affected his ability to plant and throw down the stretch. In the end, Manning has already said he plans to come back next season. His contract runs through 2016 and there are some in the Broncos organization who could see him finishing out the deal, but it will depend on Manning's health overall, including his ability to move in the pocket, to slide and to keep himself out of harm's way.
Examining the Indianapolis Colts' roster:

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


This only changes if an injury occurs.

Analyzing McShay mock 4.0: Colts 

April, 10, 2014
ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay posted his 2014 mock draft Insider earlier on Thursday.

As you’ve been reminded every time you hear the name “Trent Richardson,” the Indianapolis Colts do not have a first-round pick because of their trade with Cleveland to acquire the running back last September.

Analyzing Kiper Grade A draft: Colts 

April, 3, 2014
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.'s fourth 2014 NFL mock draftInsider is out and instead of wondering who the Colts would have taken if they kept the No. 26 pick, which is now Cleveland's property courtesy of the trade for running back Trent Richardson, Kiper has a mock through the first three rounds based on team need.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Colts' performance-based pay

March, 25, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Nine Indianapolis Colts players received performance-based incentives for more than $100,000 each during the 2013 season. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman and offensive line Hugh Thornton both earned more than $218,000.

The incentives are based off playing time and a player’s base salary. Veteran backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck received only $827.05 out of the $3.46 million which teams are allotted. The money usually benefits minimum-salaried free-agent signings and players on their first NFL contracts who end up playing a lot.

Here’s a breakdown of the top-10 performance bonuses on the Colts.

LB Jerrell Freeman $248,772.35

OL Hugh Thornton $218,167.75

WR T.Y. Hilton $162,808.35

FB Stanley Havili $132,945.28

TE Jack Doyle $128,223.40

DE Ricardo Mathews $118,490.40

LB Cam Johnson $109,230.89

WR Griff Whalen $101,056.36

LB Kelvin Sheppard $100,435.98

LB Mario Harvey $92,307.29

Here’s a breakdown of the bottom-10 performance bonuses on the roster.

WR Reggie Wayne $6,651.65

TE Dwayne Allen $5,711.86

C Khaled Holmes $4,695.54

TE Justice Cunningham $3,913.60

OL Donald Thomas $3,384.86

K Adam Vinatieri $2,738.82

RB Robert Hughes $2,618.30

RB Kerwynn Williams $2,494.16

OL Thomas Austin $1,816.86

QB Matt Hasselbeck $827.05

Free-agency primer: Colts

March, 7, 2014
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: CB Vontae Davis, S Antoine Bethea, K Adam Vinatieri, RB Donald Brown

Where they stand: The Colts have the fourth-most salary-cap space ($41 million) in the league. They solved one of their issues when they signed inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on Thursday to start alongside Jerrell Freeman, Erik Walden and Robert Mathis. Davis is the most important player to re-sign with having to acquire a new starting center next in line after Samson Satele was released on March 6. The Colts re-signed punter Pat McAfee to a five-year deal Friday. The 41-year-old Vinatieri believes he can kick for several more seasons. Expect the Colts to look to add depth at receiver to give quarterback Andrew Luck another target to go with receivers T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

What to expect: The Colts should be able to work out a deal with Davis, who was inconsistent last season but has the talent to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Don't expect the Colts to go with a rookie or second-year player as their starting center. The position is too valuable for them to go that direction with their franchise player, Luck, taking the snaps. New Orleans' Brian De La Puente and Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith are both free agents. Denver receiver Eric Decker is an ideal receiver to go with Hilton and Wayne. The Colts and Decker have mutual interest, but he may be out of their price range if he wants to be paid like a No. 1 receiver. Hakeem Nicks and James Jones are also free agents the Colts could pursue. Acquiring a veteran guard is a better option than drafting one, because Indianapolis has the talent to take another step in the AFC next season. Decker's teammate in Denver, guard Zane Beadles, is a free agent.

INDIANAPOLIS -- New Indianapolis Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson had options.

Tennessee. Denver. Miami.

But when it was all said and done, the familiarity with his former coach in Cleveland and the family-type atmosphere, the one that so many players talk about, won out over playing with Peyton Manning and the Broncos and the sandy beaches in South Florida.

"One thing that attracted me here was the fact that I feel like it's a family environment," Jackson said during a conference call Thursday afternoon. "Everyone is on the same page and everyone has the same goals in mind and that's whatever needs to be done to win the Super Bowl."

Jackson didn't have to call any of Indianapolis' players to do research on possible joining the team after the Cleveland Browns released him Feb. 26 following eight seasons. He called former Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski. The Colts hired Chudzinski to be coach Chuck Pagano's special assistant last month. Jackson, who was upset when the Browns fired his coach at the end of last season, has respect for Chudzinski.

"He's a big part of me being here today," Jackson said. "I thought highly of him last year when he was my head coach in Cleveland. He hadn't been here for a long time, but I trusted his judgment. We had a great run in Cleveland. It's unfortunate it didn't work out, but all things happen for a reason and here we are today. I'm very excited about it and I'm excited to get going."

Jackson also came away with a strong feeling about the organization after a dinner with Pagano where they "barely talked football." That right there told Jackson that he wants to be "around people like that."

Jackson will join fellow linebackers Jerrell Freeman, Robert Mathis and Erik Walden on the starting line. The Browns ran a 3-4 defense in six of Jackson's eight seasons.

Jackson has 815 tackles in his career, and his best season was 2011 when he had 158.

"That was something that definitely weighed heavily on my mind, how I would fit into any team that was running any particular defense," Jackson said. "My time in Cleveland was a special time. I was fortunate enough to play in a 4-3 and 3-4, and last year was a 3-4. At the end of the day, to me, it's football. It comes down to guys willing to prepare as well as they do, and willing to go out and win a ton of games, and have one common goal in mind, and that's winning a championship."
There’s a strong opinion from many, myself included, that the interior part of the offensive line and receiver are areas the Indianapolis Colts should look to address in the draft, free agency or trade.

Linebacker is another area of concern for the Colts.

Jerrell Freeman has had an incredible past two seasons, Robert Mathis dominated last season, Erik Walden didn’t live up to expectations after the Colts signed him last offseason and Pat Angerer, who lost his starting job before having his season end with a knee injury, is a free agent. Kelvin Sheppard replaced Angerer in the starting lineup and finished with 62 tackles.

The Colts, as you’ve known for the past five months, do not have a first-round pick at the moment. Their first pick will be in the second round at No. 59 overall. Their front office and coaching staff will be at the scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium later this week.

Here’s a breakdown of the top inside and outside linebackers, according to Mel Kiper Jr.

Inside linebackers

1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama
2. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
3. Shayne Skov, Stanford
4. Preston Brown, Louisville
5. Max Bullough, Michigan State
6. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut
7. Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA
8. Glenn Carson, Penn State
9. Avery Williamson, Kentucky
10. Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky

Outside linebackers

1. Khalil Mack, Buffalo
2. Anthony Barr, UCLA
3. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
4. Dee Ford, Auburn
5. Kyle Van Noy, BYU
6. Trent Murphy, Stanford
7. Carl Bradford, Arizona State
8. Telvin Smith, Florida State
9. Lamin Barrow, LSU
10. Adrian Hubbard, Alabama

Kiper has Mosley and Mack projected to go in the first round of his most recent mock draft .
A legitimate argument could be made that the AFC South was the weakest division in the NFL this season after the Houston Texans fell flat on their face by going 2-14 despite having some of league’s most talented players. I personally thought it was the worst division in the league this season.

The Indianapolis Colts took advantage of the opportunity to go a perfect 6-0 in the division during their 11-5 season.

Per Pro Football Focus’ All-AFC South Team, the Colts had seven of the best 26 players in the division on offense and defense.

Quarterback Andrew Luck, receiver T.Y. Hilton, and linebackers Robert Mathis and Jerrell Freeman, were easy picks to make the team. Cornerback Vontae Davis, guard Gosdar Cherilus, and special teams standout Kavell Conner also made the team.

Here are some tidbits on what writer Khaled Elsayed said about each Colt named to the team:

On Luck: “2013 was a step forward for Luck in a year where the rest of the AFC South was left with some serious questions at the quarterback spot. He’s still far too streaky and the team would like for him to take less time to get going (part of making a comeback is falling behind after all), but he’s a real playmaker at the QB spot who overcame an, at times, non-existent ground game and the loss of his favorite weapon.”

On Hilton: “On the outside the speedy Hilton had the eighth-most deep catches as he showed himself to be a field-stretcher.”

On Mathis: “Colts’ outside linebacker Robert Mathis no longer lives in the shadow of Dwight Freeney. He’s not the most consistent getter of pressure, but no pass-rusher creates turnovers like he does.”

On Freeman: “A trio that doesn’t exactly excite. Freeman made his share of plays.”

On Davis: “One of the more stacked positions in the division with Alan Ball and Jason McCourty both having cases to make this team. As is, Davis was the first choice with some big games leading the way.”

On Cherilus: “Cherilus was definitely an upgrade for the Colts, if not completely worth the money.”

On Conner: “Only Darrell Stuckey could match his grade for work on kickoffs. Tackle numbers aren’t everything with how he operates.” ran its All-AFC South team this month.

The Colts had six players on that team, which didn’t have a special teamer. Colts tight end Coby Fleener made the team, and Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner and McCourty were the two cornerbacks selected.

Indianapolis Colts season wrap-up

January, 15, 2014
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.


Quick Take: Colts at Patriots

January, 5, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS -- Three things to know about Saturday's Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. This will be the first playoff matchup between the two teams since the epic AFC Championship Game the Colts won 38-34 on Jan. 21, 2007.

1. Battle of receivers. Quick: Can you name a receiver on either team not named T.Y. Hilton? Andrew Luck of the Colts and Tom Brady of the Patriots are the two best quarterbacks in the league when it comes to getting the most out of their receivers. They both lost their primary receiving targets to injury this season. Colts receiver Reggie Wayne's season ended in Week 7 with a torn ACL. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's season ended with a torn ACL and MCL in Week 14. Receiver Julian Edelman led the Patriots in receiving this season with 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. Hilton, who set a franchise playoff record with 224 yards against Kansas City on Saturday, led the Colts with 1,083 yards and five touchdowns this season.

2. Ugly first game. Luck is making his second appearance against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. New England beat Indianapolis 59-24 during the 2012 season. The Colts led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and trailed only 24-17 at halftime, but the Patriots outscored them 35-7 in the second half. Luck was 27-of-50 for 334 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Brady was simply better, as expected. He was 24-of-35 for 331 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. But Brady won't have Gronkowski (137 yards) or Wes Welker (80 yards) to throw the ball to this time around. Hilton had six catches for 100 yards. Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman had 12 tackles in that game.

3. Stopping the run. Brady is obviously the focal point for the Patriots, but New England does have a decent running game, too. Running backs Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount finished within a yard of each other during the regular season, with Ridley gaining 773 yards and Blount rushing for 772 yards. They also combined for 14 touchdowns. The Colts, on the other hand, had Donald Brown rush for 537 yards and Trent Richardson finished with 458 yards.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts were back at the team’s facility Sunday morning getting treatment and lifting weights before heading home in the snowstorm to hop on their couch and get ready to watch the Cincinnati Bengals-San Diego Chargers game.

That game means a lot to the Colts because it’ll determine who they’ll play in the playoffs next weekend.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos or Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

That’s like choosing between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Good luck.

“I’m not sure there’s much of a difference,” Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “Both of them do a lot of things. Both of them make a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage. They both have some pretty good offenses. It doesn’t matter who we play it’s going to be a tough battle.”

The Colts will travel to New England if the Chargers are able to pull off the upset. They’ll go to Denver for a rematch against Manning if the Bengals win.

Manning led the league in passing and touchdowns. Brady was sixth in the league in passing despite being forced to get the most out of a relatively unknown receiving group.

The Colts beat the Broncos 39-33 in Week 7 despite Manning passing for 386 yards and three touchdowns.

The Colts and Patriots played in the regular season in 2012. New England easily won that game 59-24 with Brady throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns.

Manning and Brady have combined to win four Super Bowls in their careers.

“Either way it’s a huge undertaking, a huge challenge as we know, two of the best that ever played the game,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We’ve faced both, we know both. It’ll be a huge challenge. They’re both great quarterbacks and they’re both winners. Got Super Bowl rings to prove it.”

Something will have to give when the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs meet in an AFC wild-card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.

The Chiefs have lost seven straight playoff games, tying them for the longest playoff losing streak in NFL history. The Colts have lost three straight wild-card playoff games.

This is the second time the teams will meet in a three-game period. The Colts, who are on a three-game winning streak, beat the Chiefs 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 22. Colts reporter Mike Wells and Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher break down the matchup.

Teicher: The Colts were wobbling coming into Kansas City a couple of weeks ago but seem to have righted themselves that day. What can you point to as the reasons?

Wells: Most fans would say it's because of quarterback Andrew Luck. Don't get me wrong, Luck has been as good as expected, but the change has been led by the defense. The Colts have 12 sacks and have forced eight turnovers, including four against the Chiefs in Week 16, during their three-game winning streak. That's where Luck and the offense come in. You give Luck a short field to work with, and the odds are pretty good that he'll lead the Colts to a score. They scored a quick 17 points in the first quarter against Jacksonville last week.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid decided to rest most of his starters against San Diego in the finale. Do you think that was the right thing to do?

Teicher: Undoubtedly. The Chiefs didn’t get a bye in the playoffs, but Reid created one for eight defensive and seven offensive starters who didn’t play against the Chargers. I would expect that to be reflected in how those guys play against the Colts. Momentum going into the playoffs is overrated. The NFL is such a week-to-week deal that it’s almost impossible for a team to carry anything over from one game to the next, and even at that, the starters were able to get in some practice time last week. Not that this is a huge thing with the playoffs beginning, but the Chiefs got a good look at some of their backups under game conditions against an opponent that needed to win. In several cases, they liked what they saw.

Donald Brown was the Colts’ playmaker against the Chiefs a couple of weeks ago. He obviously is fast and has more power than you would think by looking at him. Why don’t the Colts use him more as their featured back and why did they trade for Trent Richardson?

Wells: Brown took over the starting spot from Richardson against Tennessee on Dec. 1 because Richardson was having a difficult time finding a rhythm. I still think the Colts made the right move in trading for Richardson, because Brown has been inconsistent for most of his five seasons with the Colts up until now. Richardson is still the future for the Colts; they have no intention of parting ways with him after the season. They still envision him and Luck having a great future together. And Brown said it best earlier this week, “There are only a handful of teams that only use one running back. We’re going to need two, three running backs to get through the playoffs.”

Speaking of running backs, it looked like Jamaal Charles was going to have a huge game against the Colts (not that 106 yards is a bad game) after the first series. He ended up with only 13 carries. How come the team’s best player didn’t have more carries or more catches, for that matter?

Teicher: Reid messed up that one and he beat himself up for it afterward. You can count on that not happening again this time around. Charles was given the ball 18 times (13 carries, five receptions) against the Colts two weeks ago. That actually wasn’t a season low for him. He had 16 touches (and a monster game) the week before in Oakland and 18 touches in two other games (both Chiefs losses). Another thing to remember is the Chiefs had only 53 offensive plays against the Colts, their second-lowest total of the season. They didn’t have the normal amount of opportunities to get him the ball. But whether or not the Chiefs have a limited amount of snaps on Saturday, they will get him the ball more often. He’s their best offensive player, so they’re making a huge mistake if they don’t.

Linebacker Jerrell Freeman is another player who had a big game for the Colts when they played against the Chiefs. Has he had other games like that this season? Give us a little scouting report on his strengths and weaknesses.

Wells: You have to credit Colts general manager Ryan Grigson for finding Freeman. Grigson is known for finding players in different parts of the world. He’d probably go to Antarctica to scout if there were a football team there. Freeman is a former Canadian Football League player. He led the Colts in tackles as a rookie and would be the team’s defensive MVP if not for a player named Robert Mathis. Freeman reached double figures in tackles in 12 of the 16 games this season. He has no problem being matched up against a running back out of the backfield, a tight end or even a wide receiver if he has to, because he’s athletic enough to defend them. An argument could be made that Freeman deserved a Pro Bowl nod.

This is not a knock against Charles, but how come the Chiefs had a running back lead them in receiving this season? I would have said Dwayne Bowe led them in receiving if you asked me to take a guess on their leading receiver this season.

Teicher: It’s a number of factors. The Chiefs wanted to use Charles more in the open field and get him in favorable one-on-one matchups, and it’s easier to do that by throwing him the ball. Ideally, the Chiefs would go down the field to their wide receivers more often, but Bowe, Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster haven’t been able to get open consistently and have delivered few plays. Quarterback Alex Smith has tended to do the safe thing and opt for the checkdown to Charles rather than take a chance down the field. It’s something the Chiefs will need to correct next season. They’ll find another receiver or two in the draft or through free agency.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts were a team without an identity about a month ago. The running game didn't have much traction. The offensive line had its own problems. The defense was getting roasted on almost a regular basis. Stringing together consecutive wins had become a foreign concept to them.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY SportsAndrew Luck and the Colts will ride a three-game win streak into the 2013 postseason.
You're excused if you have no recollection of those things happening.

The Colts, you know, the ones that didn't look they had a chance of winning a game in the playoffs, aren't that same team.

They're a team that's playing with the same confidence it had when it won three in a row and four out of five games early in the season.

And they picked the best time to get it going, with the playoffs starting next weekend.

"The playoffs, most times, are about momentum," Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. "We've been able to generate some of that, so we have to keep going into the postseason."

It hasn't been an easy road to this point for the Colts. They know it, too. They never made excuses for missing five key offensive players, including future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, before the midpoint of the season or that quarterback Andrew Luck had to make due with basically a bare cupboard of receivers.

They stuck together, never pointed fingers at each other and did their best to tread water until they figured out how to best use what they had on the roster.

That mindset worked. The Colts won 11 games for the second straight season and they're headed back to the playoffs for the second straight season. The difference being they'll be at home for the first game and they're going into it on a three-game winning streak.

"All we did as a group of players and coaches was made a decision that we weren't going to live in circumstances," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We were going to live in vision. We were going to go to work. Again, hats off to the players and hats off to the coaches. But it's the guys. It's their resiliency. They don't read the clippings, good or bad, listen to talk radio and all that stuff and everybody telling them what they can't do. We always talk about faith is believing in something that you can't see and the reward is if you believe in it long enough, you'll probably get to see it. Our journey continues and we're very excited to be in the playoffs."

For as much as Luck deserves credit for leading the Colts back to the playoffs, the defense deserves almost just much credit for leading the late-season turnaround.

Linebacker Jerrell Freeman got it started Sunday when he caused Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew to fumble on the opening series of the game. Cornerback Darius Butler recovered the ball at Jacksonville's 42-yard line.

Indianapolis used the short field to its advantage and scored eight plays later.

The Colts, who beat Jacksonville 30-10 on Sunday, had three sacks and forced two turnovers to bring their total to 11 sacks and eight turnovers during the winning streak.

"We had our ups and downs earlier, but we're on a good roll," Freeman said. "We're getting hot now and that's all that matters. That's how you want it."

Speaking of things that happened earlier in the season, do you remember when offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was steadfast in making the Colts a run-first team?

I didn't think so.

The Colts switched things up the past three games by putting Luck in control of the offense in the shotgun and using a no-huddle offense. They had their second best quarter of the season Sunday when they scored 17 points in the first quarter.

"The up-tempo, the no-huddle's been good," Luck said. "We've practiced it since OTAs, we've always had it but it seems to be working now. I think that combined with being able to get in big people and get those third-and-shorts. Switch out personnel, different formations, up-tempo, I think it's good for our offense and it managed to work again. So I guess we're executing well with it."

Of course you're probably asking: What took Hamilton so long to use an up-tempo offense?

It's not that it didn't cross Hamilton's mind, but it's a tough thing to do when the receivers are struggling and the defense can't force turnovers.

"I think continuity, chemistry, the young guys come around from a receiver-standpoint," Pagano said. "I think the quarterback is obviously feeling a lot more comfortable. Again, everybody is loading the box on us and challenging the young wide receivers. The quarterback has done a great job of managing the game, taking care of the football and we know how special a player and leader Andrew is. He can make those throws. We've got some guys making some huge plays and some huge contributions."

Colts deliver a much-needed message

December, 22, 2013
Chuck PaganoAP Photo/Charlie RiedelChuck Pagano's Colts had an all-around performance that says they could make a deep playoff run.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The record indicates they're a playoff team. They're also a team with the types of cracks in it that make it vulnerable.

The Indianapolis Colts beat up on teams that will be sitting on a Caribbean beach sipping fruity umbrella drinks at this time in less than two weeks. But their résumé had a void in it that had been sitting there for more than two months.

The Colts hadn’t defeated a team with a winning record since knocking off Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in late October. The gap -- seven weeks to be exact -- left plenty of deserving questions on whether the Colts could be more than a one-and-done team in the playoffs.

The Colts knew it, too, despite not wanting to publicly acknowledge it. They ended up letting their actions speak for them when they beat the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7 in a possible playoff preview.

And what made the win even better is that the Colts did it on the road, in the frigid Kansas City air and while dealing with some of the loudest fans in the NFL at Arrowhead Stadium.

“Coming to a place like this ... it’s hard to win at Arrowhead ... tough team, playoff team, it’s a great team,” Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “To come get a victory on the road, get that confidence, showing ourselves and the rest of the world that we can go on the road because we’re probably going to have to go on the road in the playoffs [at some point].”

Chalk Kansas City up alongside San Francisco, Seattle and Denver as playoff teams that the Colts have beaten this season.

But what happened on Sunday was something that hadn’t since Indianapolis beat the 49ers in Week 3. The Colts put on an all-around performance, the type that says they won't be an easy out in the playoffs.

Coach Chuck Pagano could have passed out game balls to almost every player in the locker room because almost all of them did something to contribute on offense, defense and special teams at some point.

The offensive line -- the seventh different starting group of the season -- gave up only one sack and helped the Colts rush for 135 yards. The defense made a Chiefs team that averaged 44 points in the four games prior look ordinary. Even receiver-turned-special-teams player Darrius Heyward-Bey had a presence.

“This team in a hostile environment with the elements as they were, it speaks to the character of our football team, of our players,” Pagano said. “They stick to the process and stay focused on that process. That means not getting ahead of ourselves, staying humble, staying grounded.”

The thought of laying back and not showing their complete hand was not on Pagano's mind, despite the possibility of these two teams facing each other again at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in two weeks. The Colts aren't a good enough team that can coast and suddenly think they can turn it on.

It was all about sending a message for Indianapolis. It started with containing Chiefs do-everything running back Jamaal Charles. The Colts already had horrible flashbacks of Charles rushing for 226 yards against them last season. Then Charles had five touchdowns and 195 receiving yards against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 15.

A repeat performance seemed like a possibility when Charles ran for 37 yards on the Chiefs’ opening drive.

But the Colts turned into the opportunistic defense that created turnovers against Tennessee and Houston in recent weeks.

Charles, public enemy No. 1, according to Pagano, gained only 69 more yards on the ground the rest of the game.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith and Bjoern Werner
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsThe Colts' defense harassed Alex Smith all day, sacking him four times and intercepting him twice.
“We know Jamaal is going to get his touches, we know he’s going to make his plays,” Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. “We had to settle down, stay in our gaps and control the line of scrimmage. This game was going to be won in the trenches.”

With Charles tamed, the Colts were able to zero in on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. They sacked him four times and intercepted him twice.

The best part about the four sacks?

Not one came from league-leader Robert Mathis. That’s substantial considering that the Colts went into Sunday with Mathis having 13 more sacks than the next closest player on the roster.

Mathis’ presence was felt, though. He hit Smith’s arm on a pass attempt Freeman intercepted.

In the past two games, the Colts have eight sacks, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and they’ve given up only 10 points.

“It’s a long season and you can harp on one game, harp on another game, but like I said, we’ve always believed in this room what type of talent we have, what type of football we can play and the biggest thing for us, playing that style of football at the right time,” Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. “Last week we had a good performance, this week we had another good performance in a playoff atmosphere.”