Yesterday was a “Victory Monday” for the Colts. The coaches came to work for meetings and film sessions, and Bruce Arians addressed the media. Quotes are provided courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts Public Relations Department.
First, A Little Love for the Defense
Since a rollercoaster start to the season that featured some memorable highs and lows, along with a forgettable game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, a trend began with the Colts defense – an under the radar trend to be sure – but a trend nonetheless. At first, it seemed anomalous, an aberration, but as the weeks went by, it continued.
Following their calamitous beating by the Jets, Indianapolis came home needing very earnestly to regroup against the Cleveland Browns. Las Vegas gave the line to the Colts as the favorite…by one point. It’s safe to say, there was little confidence in the team outside of their Eagle Creek-area team headquarters.
The Colts won the game, of course, holding the Browns to just three second half points. A week later, they did the same thing to the Titans, holding them to three points after halftime to facilitate a furious comeback by Luck and the offense. It seemed as though they were doing this without making many big plays, and their success could have been dismissed as the result of opposing offenses playing poorly.
Nevertheless, the defense soldiered on. With the exception of the New England game, in which the Patriots scored even more in the second half, frantically adding to their stats, Indianapolis’s second half defense has been impressive. They allowed 3 second half points against Miami, a meaningless fourth quarter touchdown in Jacksonville, 7 points by Buffalo, 10 by the explosive but mercurial Lions, and just 86 yards, two interceptions, and a field goal for Tennessee on Sunday.
Moreover, they have begun forcing turnovers of late with four in the last three games and three against the Jaguars (after just 3 in the first 8 games). One could argue that they haven’t really been spectacular, but they have all but shut down the second half scoring for 7 of their last 8 opponents.
Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians is well aware of the second half success. “Oh there’s no doubt,” he said when asked if the defense deserves some love for the way they have performed. “Throughout most of the season, when we come out of halftime, we’re able to turn it up and shut people down, especially at home. Even in the game down at Tennessee, we were getting third down stops, we’re getting off the field, we got some turnovers and gave our offense some field position. Again it was a great team win and sometimes the quarterback and coach get way too much credit and too much blame but defensively, we’re playing very well.”
A 9-4 Record isn’t Just “Smoke and Mirrors”
If you throw out the worst of the Colts’ three blowout losses, they’ve still been outscored on the season, 270-268. They’ve had an average score of 39-18 in their four losses and won by a close but respectable average score of 25-19. Questions aside, Indianapolis is 8-1 in games decided by 8 points or less.
A bad team, as many reasonably expected the Colts to be this year, might win one or two close games, but they will generally be unable to close out highly competitive contests. Thus, to be able to find a way into the win column in eight of nine closely contested games doesn’t look like some type of fluke. It looks more like a pattern, an identity. It looks like the sign of a promising young team that wins the games they should and could begin doing so more convincingly in years to come.
Chuck Pagano said they were going to “Build the Monster.” It turns out that, in its fledgling stages, that monster has made a shocking seven-game improvement over last season. “I think guys bought in,” Arians said of the team’s quick turnaround. “They bought in right off the bat. Ryan (Grigson) has done a great job of finding guys to keep filling holes and once a team bonds, I think that they play for each other. Talent really doesn’t matter. We’ve always said talent would never be the issue why we win or lose this year. We have enough talent to win. It’s just a matter of believing it, believing in each other, and trusting each other.”
Asked to expound on the team’s success and what substance there is to it, Arians added, “No, you can’t win nine ball games with just smoke and mirrors, not in this league. You can’t win seven-of-eight in the last minutes without having guys that pass protect, get open, get the ball back for you defensively and a quarterback that can sling it down there and get touchdowns.”
A Few Good Quotes and a Pagano Update
Bruce Arians on whether he thinks Punter Pat McAfee, who was vital to the Colts’ win over the Titans, is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season: “Oh there’s no doubt. No doubt. I mean he has improved in what we’ve been asking him to do and he’s working at the directional stuff and just doing a great job of pinning some great punt returners on the sideline for us.”
Arians, discussing Vick Ballard’s development as a running back: “He’s powerful. He’s a poor man’s Edge (Edgerrin James). He’s bowlegged like Edge and he’s about the same size and tough to bring down. He’s quick, he’s elusive, doesn’t have the great, great speed but he can make the first guy miss and he’s going to make a lot of yards because he makes people miss. He’s got a great future, stay healthy.”
Arians on whether he watches Monday Night Football: “I do try and watch some, if it’s a team we are going to play to see how much they’ve changed because I really don’t like watching it on television. But to see what they’ve changed, if anything, from the tape I’ve watched of them on Monday and start our preparation. It’s like the final part of the preparation.”
As for Chuck Pagano, Arians said, “He was in this morning and picked up his film and got his iPad re-charged, loaded up. He looked really good, really good.” Pagano is finished with his third round of Chemotherapy, and he and the team are still targeting December 30th for his return to the sidelines.
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