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NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - INSIDE SLANT
The Indianapolis Colts find themselves in familiar territory this week, although it took them awhile to get back there.
With Houston losing at San Francisco along with Tennessee falling to Kansas City, Indianapolis -- now with a 4-1 record and with a three-game winning streak -- has returned to the top of the divisional heap.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano likes the position his team finds itself in, especially after impressive wins over NFC favorites San Francisco and Seattle. But Pagano is quick to stress that there's still a long ways to go before any real chest thumping can begin.
"You know what? It's Week (6). It's a marathon, it's not a sprint. We know that, so we're going to stay grounded, we're going to say humble. We're going to enjoy this for a couple (days) and then we're going to get back to work and get ready for Monday Night Football against San Diego," he said.
Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman knows that the Chargers present yet another stiff test for the Colts defense, which has faced a varying array of talented quarterback so far this season.
"(San Diego QB Philip) Rivers presents his own problems, man. He is a gun-slinger. You can see it. I grew up watching him and (tight end) Antonio (Gates) going back and forth with each other," Freeman previewed.
"(Rivers) definitely can sling that rock. He puts the ball where he wants it. (We) have to play a lot tighter coverage. He just beings a lot of knowledge of the game, try to hide stuff. We've got a nice little string of quarterbacks we're going to play (with Denver's Peyton Manning returning to Lucas Oil Stadium next week). We're definitely going to have to be on our P's and Q's about disguising things and not letting (Rivers) see what we're doing."
Pagano, though, admits that he appreciates the enormity of what the Colts have accomplished so far this season.
"You have to (feel good). You have to. Accomplish those two things (wins over the 49ers and Seahawks) and to be more importantly sitting here at 4-1 after five weeks of the season. Every team is good. We know that. We're going to face another good one Sunday (at San Diego). Games are hard to win at this level but the guys, I guess if you polled the coaches and the players, you'd have to feel good about yourself winning," he said.
"It doesn't matter who it is. Beating quality opponents builds confidence. All those type of things. I don't think you'll see any of these guys walk around with their chest (puffed) out like a robin, walking around the yard after a big rain storm, bunch of worms out there, all robin-ed up. We're not going there. We'll keep reminding them (that) it's a short ride from the penthouse to the outhouse. Stay humble. Stay grounded. Stay steady. Just stick to the process one week at a time."
Pagano knows that he has a good locker room, led by a core of veterans such as wide receiver Reggie Wayne, outside linebacker Robert Mathis, defensive end Cory Redding, safety Antoine Bethea and backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
"We don't have to say much because of our veteran leadership. Those guys take care of it. They handle that locker room. I'm sure if anybody starts to whatever, those guys take care of it," he explained.
"They understand that they've been around the block too many times and seen it happen too many times. Again, you start reading your own press clippings and patting yourself on the back, you're just setting yourself up for failure."
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 15-9. San Diego has also won two of three post-season meetings with the Colts. The Chargers have won the last two games, posting a 36-14 win at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2010 and taking an overtime 23-17 post-season victory at San Diego in 2009. Indianapolis' last road win in the series occurred on 11/23/08 as the Colts came away with the 23-20 victory. Interestingly, the Colts have a better regular-season record against San Diego on the road (6-4) than at home (3-11). Counting post-season games, the Colts are 7-5 at Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium. The series between the two franchises began in 1970 with the Colts winning the first game 16-14 in San Diego.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Colts, with a 4-1 record, are holding down sole possession of first place in the AFC South for the first time since the end of the 2010 season. It's also the first time that Indianapolis has been in sole possession of first place in a division without Peyton Manning at quarterback since the seventh week of the 1996 season. Current San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback when the Colts led the AFC East.
--Indianapolis is second to Denver in 80-yard scoring drives this season. The Broncos have 12 while the Colts have put together nine such possessions.
--Family ties Monday night in San Diego. Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano is the younger brother of Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.
"Another ball game. It's just another ball game," the Indianapolis coach said. "We've played each other before. There's no communication this week for obvious reasons. It's another football game."
--Former Colts RBs Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson will be added to the team's Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 15. Faulk played five seasons (1994-98) in Indianapolis after being the team's No. 1 draft pick in 1994. He wound up being the franchise's third all-time leading rusher with 5,320 yards. He was later traded to the St. Louis Rams. Dickerson, meanwhile, came to the Colts in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams in 1987. He spent four seasons in Indianapolis, finishing up as the franchise's No. 4 all-time rusher with 5,194 yards. They will be the 10th and 11th members of the Colts Ring of Honor.
--"(It) means a lot. I played in Indianapolis four years. We had some good teams there, some really good teams, some great guys. This is an honor for me. For any player, especially for me, when you play for a team, you hope you do something that is pivotal for that team so that one day they'll honor you for your playing career." Dickerson on being named to the Colts' Ring of Honor.
--"Man, it was how everything got going. The opportunity I was given by the Irsay family, (former general manager) Bill Tobin believing in me, (former head coach) Ted Marchibroda. They were instrumental in my growth. (Former Colts running backs coach) Gene Huey (and) all the hard coaching he did with me. That laid the very fabric to what I became." Faulk on his induction to the Colts Ring of Honor.
--Indianapolis will be one of three cities allowed to bid on the 2018 Super Bowl. Minneapolis and New Orleans will be the other two potential Super Bowl sites. Indianapolis hosted Super Bowl XLV in 2012.
--"It's incredible. People lose perspective because they get caught up with where you are. But to think about these injuries and what people thought about us before the season started. And to be ranked by the power-ratings as the fourth-best team in the league is quite an accomplishment for the players and coaches." Colts owner Jim Irsay on the team's 4-1 start after wins over NFC favorites San Francisco and Seattle.
--"A true professional. He's not getting as many (opportunities) as some guys. But when he does, he shows up big, man. He doesn't mope around. He doesn't complain. He just keeps showing up, playing and waiting for his opportunity. When he gets it, he's showing what he can do." Colts WR Reggie Wayne on the play of backup RB Donald Brown this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 12/4. Twelve Colts players have missed a combined 28 games so far this season. Four starters have been lost for the season: RB Vick Ballard, OG Donald Thomas, TE Dwayne Allen and RB Ahmad Bradshaw.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Other teams have injuries too. But I don't know if anyone's had the type of injuries we've had at running back. We've lost two starting running backs (this season)." Colts owner Jim Irsay discussing the losses of RBs Vick Ballard (knee) and Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) to season-ending injuries.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Indianapolis waived fullback Robert Hughes from the active roster and released rookie RB Kerwynn Williams from the practice squad.
In other roster updates, the Colts signed RB Daniel Herron off the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad. LB Andy Studebaker, who played for Kansas City from 2008-12, was also added to the active roster.
--DT Fili Moala will start his third straight game if DT Ricky Jean Francois is unable to play this week. Moala was a starter on the Colts' defensive line earlier in his career and has played well as a backup to Francois this season.
--WR LaVon Brazill will be worked into the Colts' pass receiving rotation this week. Brazill has missed the first four games of the season as he sat out a league-mandated suspension. The second-year receiver impressed as a rookie in 2012 but needs to develop more consistency.
--CB Darius Butler continues to be a major playmaker for the Colts defense. The team's primary nickel back, Butler has recorded interceptions the last two weeks in wins over Jacksonville and Seattle. He has also provided pretty pass coverage when needed.
--WR Darius Heyward-Bey will be playing his ninth career game against the Chargers. Heyward-Bey spent the early part of his NFL career with Oakland and faced San Diego twice each season. He has caught 15 passes and is averaging 13.1 yards per reception against the Chargers.
--NT Aubrayo Franklin played for the Chargers last season. Franklin signed with Indianapolis as a veteran free agent last spring. He has been the Colts' starter all season but has been splitting time with talented second-year NT Josh Chapman.
--The Colts placed RB Ahmad Bradshaw on injured reserve. Bradshaw has decided to undergo surgery to repair a bulging disc in his neck. He has been sidelined since he was hurt against San Francisco three weeks ago.
--OLB Bjoern Werner (torn plantar fascia) is still sidelined after he was hurt against Jacksonville two weeks ago. Werner's rehab is continuing. He will not play against the Chargers on Monday night.
--FB Stanley Havili (ankle) is expected to return to practice this week. He suffered a mild ankle sprain against the Jaguars two weeks ago. Havili did not play Sunday against Seattle.
--DT Ricky Jean Francois (groin) should be able to practice this week. Francois should be able to play against the Chargers on Monday night but a final decision won't be made until later this week.
--S LaRon Landry (ankle) remains hopeful of being cleared to practice. His status for the Monday night game at San Diego will be determined later this week.
GAME PLAN: Keep running the football. Indianapolis rushed for more than 100 yards as a team for the first five games of the season, which tied a franchise record. In order to have success against the Chargers, the Colts must continue to be aggressive with their ground attack.
Indianapolis found success using the run game to help set up big strikes through the air during its current three-game winning streak. The Colts aren't expected to deviate from its successful game plan.
Defensively, Indianapolis has to keep up the pressure. The Colts have been very much a "bend but don't break" unit all season. While giving up yardage between the 20-yard lines, the defense has been able to settle down and force field goals instead of giving up touchdowns. Indianapolis forced two turnovers in last week's win over Seattle.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Colts RBs Trent Richardson/Donald Brown vs. Chargers run defense -- Indianapolis ranks fourth in the league in rushing offense, averaging 142 yards per game. San Diego, meanwhile, is ranked 24th in the NFL in run defense, allowing 117.2 yards per outing. Something has to give.
Chargers QB Phillip Rivers vs. Colts secondary -- Rivers can be a magician with the football in his hand. San Diego's passing offense is averaging 311.2 yards per game through the air and Rivers has a good group of talented receivers to work with. Indianapolis' secondary is much improved but has been porous at times, especially early in a game.