NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - INSIDE SLANT
The primary goal for the Indianapolis Colts in Sunday's home game with the St. Louis Rams is relatively simple.
The Colts are off to a 6-2 start while St. Louis will come into Lucas Oil Stadium at 3-6. But Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano isn't about to let his team fall into the trap of looking at the Rams' won-loss record.
"We always talk about win your home games, split on the road and you're probably going to make the playoffs nine out of 10 times every year. You've got to dominate at home. You've got to protect your house, so to speak. Our guys, we were 7-1 last year. I think we're 3-1 currently. It's the next game, (with a) good football team coming in here," Pagano said this week.
"It happens to be at home. Is it a must-win? Yeah. We want to win them all. We prepare to win them all. And again, it seems like it's been a long, long time since we played at home, after the Denver game and the bye and all that stuff. Our guys are really excited. It'll be great to be back at Lucas Oil."
One area where the Colts will need to continue to improve is pass protection. Quarterback Andrew Luck has been sacked 19 times so far this year. St. Louis, meanwhile, has registered 29 total sacks, led by defensive ends Chris Long (5.5) and Robert Quinn (10).
"From a defensive standpoint, they're No. 1 in the league as far as putting pressure on the quarterback and sacking the quarterback," Pagano said. "They've got 29 (sacks), which ranks first (in) sacks per pass play. They've got really good front four, two edge guys. The rest of the guys, they do a great job off the edge. They get after you. They're going to be up in your face."
"They play press man (pass defense). They got back end guys. They got corners that can play. They can get up in your face and make things tough on your receivers to work to get off the line of scrimmage. From a defensive standpoint, they kind of smother you. That's going to be a challenge."
St. Louis enters the game ranked 30th in total offense and has a journeyman backup quarterback in Kellen Clemens subbing for injured Sam Bradford. The Rams rank 22nd in passing yardage and 23rd in rushing yardage, but the Colts' coaching staff knows St. Louis still has playmakers that can hurt defenses.
"They've got a runner who is emerging as a legitimate No. 1 (rookie Zac Stacy)," Pagano said. "He's had back-to-back 100-plus yard weeks. Tough guy. A guy that gets yards after contact, hard to get on the ground. They got playmakers on the outside. They got a tight end, obviously, that they went out and got in free agency and paid a lot of money for. That's a darn good football player and leads their team in receptions right now in (Jared) Cook."
"Wide receiver crew that is excellent, can beat you vertically. One of the most dynamic young players in football in Tavon Austin, not only as a receiver but as a returner. He's legitimately one of the best, going to be one of the best to play at this level. He's a dynamic guy and he can score from anywhere. It doesn't matter how they get him the football. He's a threat to score from anywhere on the field."
The Colts want to get to Clemens, who has thrown one touchdown against two interceptions while being sacked seven times over the past three games. He has a 62.0 passer rating and is averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt compared to Bradford's 6.4 this season before being injured.
"He's not a guy that hasn't been around," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said of Clemens. "He definitely knows what he's doing, he's a veteran quarterback, and we have our job cut out for us. We just have to execute and we can't take anything for granted."
SERIES HISTORY: 43rd regular season meeting. Colts lead series, 23-17-2. Indianapolis has won three of the past four meetings, including a 42-6 victory at the Edward Jones Dome on Oct. 25, 2009. Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning completed 23 of 34 passes for 235 yards and three touchdown passes. The Colts are 14-5-2 against the Rams in home games and trail 12-9 in away games. Overall, the Rams have won four of the last seven matchups.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - NOTES, QUOTES
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and tight end Coby Fleener were teammates of Jonathan Martin at Stanford. Martin left the Miami Dolphins last week amid reports of bullying from teammates.
"Jon is a close friend," Luck said. "We had a lot of great times together at Stanford. I have talked to him. Really an unfortunate situation. It does hurt. Out of respect, I'd rather not talk about it any more. But he is a close friend."
Said Fleener: "I wish nothing but the best for Jonathan and the whole Dolphins organization."
Fleener took exception to the notion that Martin might not be mentally tough enough to handle the rigors and personalities in the NFL.
"That's a stupid, stupid statement. If somebody wanted to dispute that, I'd be happy to talk to them," Fleener said. "Being my buddy, I want the best for him. I really don't have a reaction other than wanting the best for Jonathan. (He's) a standup guy. Awesome character guy. Very much like a lot of his teammates out there."
Fleener is confident Martin will continue to play in the NFL.
"Oh yeah. Absolutely. He loves this game," Fleener said. "He's worked his butt off since high school to get where he is now. I think for anybody to think that he's walking away from the game that he loves is inaccurate."
The locker room culture throughout the NFL is coming under scrutiny due to the Martin situation.
"I think from the top down, it's a standup organization," Fleener said of the Colts. "(General manager) Ryan (Grigson) and Chuck (Pagano) have done an awesome job of leading us in the right way, bringing in guys that really set a good example on and off the field."
Colts wide receiver Griff Whalen also played with Martin at Stanford.
"I definitely consider him a friend. But I haven't talked to him since the whole thing happened," Whalen said. "So I don't know any more details than I've heard on TV. But he's a great friend, a great teammate in college. I wish him the best. Not sure what to make (of Martin's current situation). I definitely hope he's alright. I haven't talked to him. But I know that he has a strong character, loves football. Worked hard to prepare himself to get where he is. I know he loves the game."
--Pagano continues to preach improvement as a team-wide mission as the Colts embark on the second half of their schedule.
"We get better. We got to come in, again, when we go out on the practice field," he said. "We got a good football teams coming in here Sunday. We got to get better. We got to focus on us. We can't worry about (the Rams). We got to focus, again, on blocking, tackling, running, catching, communication. We got to play consistent football for 60 minutes.
"We can't have the kind of (slow) start (the Colts have had several times this season). Again, we're very fortunate to get (out of Houston last Sunday night) with a victory. I think everybody understands that."
The slow starts are an overriding theme, as Indianapolis has had to stage multiple rallies to win games that nearly got out of reach.
"We know that we need to execute better, much better at the start of games," Luck said. "You can't survive your mistakes forever, in a sense. So we'll focus on it and try to improve."
--A win over St. Louis would give the Colts a 3-0 record against the NFC West this season. Indianapolis has already registered wins over San Francisco (27-7) and Seattle (34-28). The Colts will play at Arizona on Nov. 24.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6/31. The Colts have only committed six turnovers and have been flagged just 31 times for penalties so far this season. Both totals are the fewest in the league. Indianapolis has also been penalized 242 yards, which is the fewest in the NFL.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They have two premier defensive ends. They lead the league in sacks I think (tied, third). So you know they can get to the quarterback. They have athletes, fast and physical guys. We know it's going to be a heavyweight fight. Every game in this league is. We're just looking for a great challenge." --Colts QB Andrew Luck on Sunday's game with the Rams.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
If OG Hugh Thornton (foot) is unable to play Sunday against the Rams, look for either Joe Reitz or G Jeff Linkenbach to get the nod. Reitz and Linkenbach have both played guard and offensive tackle during their careers with the Colts. Linkenbach has started two games this season and Reitz one.
--RB Donald Brown could see more playing time against St. Louis on Sunday if Trent Richardson is slowed by an injured ankle. Brown has rushed for 244 yards this season, just four yards less than Richardson.
"I think they're complementing each other very well. And again, credit (offensive coordinator) Pep (Hamilton) and (running backs coach) David Walker and the offensive staff. They do a great job of designing plays that fit our players and put them in a position to be successful," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said.
"(Brown's) a good football player. I mean, (the Colts) took him where they took him for a reason. I just think he's starting to hit his stride."
--RB Trent Richardson, if healthy, is expected to be used more in the Colts passing game as the season progresses.
"Coming in we knew, 51 catches his first year in Cleveland, we know he's got that ability. I think as he gets, again, more comfortable with the scheme and terminology and all those types of things and the game, the situation, the score, all those things kind of line up," Pagano said. "If the stars all line up, we'd love to get him in space more and get the ball in his hands more."
--WR Reggie Wayne may be sidelined with a knee injury for the remainder of the season, but his obligations to the team continues. Wayne will be used as a voluntary assistant receivers coach, working with the Colts' young receiving corps.
"Absolutely, he's another set of eyes. He's got his rehab to do and he spent, I think (athletic trainer) Dave (Hammer) told me, eight and a half hours in here (Tuesday) rehabbing. (Wayne) beat everybody in. And that's Reggie being Reggie. But he's also got his duties now as assistant wide receivers coach," Pagano said.
"So as far as sitting in the meetings, going through the plan, watching the tape, studying the opponent - now he can just dive in and really break down our opponent's secondary, their corners and give that information to other wide receivers and spread that information in that room and help the young guys."
--FB Stanley Havili has proven useful as a lead blocker on running plays, as a potential receiver out of the backfield and on special teams coverage units.
"Yeah, he's been outstanding. He's a tough, rugged football player. It's not the most glamorous position, we know, in the National Football League. It's one of those that there's only a select few that will sign up for that job and that duty. He loves it and he relishes the opportunity to slam himself into linebackers and defensive ends and those types of things," Pagano said.
"His production on special teams has been outstanding. He's just one of those guys that's really selfless."
--WR Griff Whalen should be seeing more work against the Rams on Sunday. Whalen was added to the active roster from the practice squad last week. He had three catches for 32 yards, including one for a big second-half first down. Whalen and WR LaVon Brazill are expected to split most of the duty behind starters T.Y. Hilton and Darius Heyward-Bey.
--RB Trent Richardson (ankle) was held out of Wednesday's workout. Richardson is expected to start Sunday against the Rams.
--OLB Robert Mathis (shoulder) did not practice on Wednesday. Mathis should be good to good for the St. Louis game on Sunday.
--OG Hugh Thornton (foot) did not practice Wednesday. Thornton had his left foot in a walking boot. Thornton's availability for the Rams game on Sunday will be updated later in the week.
--WR Darius Heyward-Bey (head) participated in Wednesday's workout. He was hurt against the Texans last week and did not return. He was checked for a concussion and cleared but was held out as a precaution. Heyward-Bey is expected to play Sunday against the Rams.
--CB Greg Toler (groin) is questionable for the St. Louis game. He was hurt against Denver and did not play last week at Houston. Toler did not practice Wednesday.
--CB Josh Gordy (groin) is questionable for the Rams game. Gordy was injured against the Broncos and was sidelined for the Texans game. Gordy was held out of Wednesday's workout.
--OLB Cam Johnson (knee) returned for Wednesday's practice session. Johnson was hurt in practice last week and did not play against Houston last Sunday night. He is expected to play Sunday against St. Louis.
--NT Josh Chapman (knee) did not practice Wednesday. Chapman suffered a bone bruise in practice last week. He did not play at Houston last Sunday night. His status for the St. Louis game won't be determined until later this week.
--S Delano Howell (neck) remains questionable for the St. Louis game on Sunday. He did not take part in the Wednesday practice. Howell was injured against Denver on Oct. 20 and has not practiced or played since then.
GAME PLAN: Start fast on offense. Do a better job on defense on slowing down the running game.
The Colts have struggled to get off to a smooth start in several games this season, forcing the team to stage one comeback after another. Heading into Sunday's game with St. Louis, Indianapolis wants to play a more consistent game from start to finish.
Defensively, the Colts have been up and down against the run. Indianapolis has been allowing 124.9 yards per game on the ground. While some of those yards came from earlier opponents who had mobile quarterbacks, Indianapolis will be facing solid rookie running back this week in Zac Stacy who can be trouble unless bottled up early and often.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Colts OLB Robert Mathis vs. Rams OTs Jake Long/Rodger Saffold. Mathis has 11.5 sacks so far this season. That ties his career best, which was previously set in 2005 and 2008. St. Louis has allowed 22 sacks in 2013, with injured starter Sam Bradford going down 15 times and current starter Kellen Clemens seven times.
Rams RB Zac Stacy vs. the Colts run defense. Stacy, a rookie from Vanderbilt, has been a revelation this season for St. Louis. He has rushed for a team-leading 475 yards and two touchdowns after taking over the primary role when Daryl Richardson was injured. Indianapolis has allowed 999 yards rushing this year on an average of 4.4 yards per carry.