NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - INSIDE SLANT
Playoff experience means something in the National Football League.
For most of the Indianapolis Colts, that experience came in last year's AFC wild-card game at Baltimore. The Colts were in contention for most of the afternoon before finally succumbing 24-9 to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Ravens.
Indianapolis trailed 17-9 heading into the fourth quarter. An 18-yard scoring toss from Joe Flacco to Anguan Boldin provided the winning margin for Baltimore.
The game was also memorable for who wasn't there. Former Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who went on to earn Co-NFL Coach of the Year honors with Chuck Pagano, wasn't on the sidelines after becoming ill earlier in the day and was taken to a local hospital.
Whether having Arians around for the game would have made that much of a difference is open to discussion, although probably not. The Colts were a young team that had made tremendous amount of progress over a short period of time and under trying circumstances.
Pagano had missed most of last season after being hospitalized for leukemia and had only returned to the sidelines for the final two games of the season.
Fast forward to this year. Indianapolis heads into the 2013 post-season with an identical 11-5 record as last year. But this time around, the Colts are at home and will have its full complement of coaches. And they've got a playoff game already under their belts.
First comes the Kansas City Chiefs, a team Indianapolis defeated 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium two weeks ago. The Colts and Chiefs will square off at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Pagano can't wait for this weekend.
"Hopefully we'll have our whole staff available. That's first and foremost. So hopefully we wake up Saturday morning and nobody is getting carted off to the hospital. That'll help, number one. Number two, I think players, coaches, everybody has got a year under their belt. So you know a little bit more what to expect," the Colts head coach voiced.
"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."
Thoughts on the game?
"Well, I got a few more games under my belt. I don't know. I guess as prepared as you can be going into this one. I don't know. I guess time will tell," Pagano previewed, adding that he doesn't think what happened two weeks ago in Kansas City will have any bearing on how Saturday's matchup will go.
"I can't predict how that thing's going to go. I just know that we're not expecting the same type of ball game. We're going to prepare for them the same way we did, but how the game's going to go, how it's going to start, how it's going to end, I can't predict that. All I know is we're going to try and do the things that we need to do in all areas, all three phases, play great situational football, take care of the ball, try to take the ball away, be good on third down, try to control the clock, field position, all those things are going to play a huge factor."
Slowing down Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and being able to pass protect against Kansas City's front seven on defense will be keys to what happens. Indianapolis limited Charles to 106 yards rushing the last time the two teams met. But he went for over 200 yards on the ground last season against the Colts.
"We called him public enemy No. 1 and he still is. (He totaled) 1,900-plus yards from scrimmage, 1,287 I think rushing and 693 out of the backfield receiving yards, 19 touchdowns, didn't play the last game. First and foremost that's the guy that you've got to take away," Pagano explained.
"They've got other skilled athletes we know on the outside in Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe and (Dexter) McCluster can beat you. Knile Davis coming in as a change of pace guy running it and the quarterback (Alex Smith) can certainly beat you. But it all starts with Jamaal. We got to do a great job containing him, try to slow him down."
And the Kansas City defense?
"Again, it always starts up front, offensive and defensive line. This game is always won in the trenches. (The Colts offensive line has) got a huge challenge with this team coming in here," he said.
"They've got a great front seven, you look at (Mike) DeVito, (Dontari) Poe and (Tyson) Jackson in the middle and (Tamba) Hali and (Justin) Houston on the outside. They're going to bring pressure from all levels. Huge challenge in both trying to run the football and protect the quarterback."
SERIES HISTORY: 24th overall meeting. Colts lead overall series, 15-8. Indianapolis is 12-8 against the Chiefs in the regular season and 3-0 all-time against Kansas City in post-season games. The Chiefs are 3-11 against the Colts, including playoff games, since franchise relocated to Indianapolis in 1984. Indianapolis has won the last four regular-season matchups, including a 23-7 victory at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 22. The Colts have won nine of the past 11 overall meetings with Kansas City and five of the past six at Arrowhead Stadium. Counting post-season games, the Colts are 6-4 against Kansas City in home games (Baltimore and Indianapolis) and 9-4 against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Colts posted a 10-7 victory over Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium in the 1995 AFC Divisional playoff game (1/7/96); a 38-31 win at Arrowhead Stadium in a 2003 AFC Divisional playoff game (1/11/04); and a 23-8 decision at the RCA Dome in a 2006 AFC Wild Card playoff game (1/6/07). In the 2006 playoff meeting, former Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning completed 30-of-38 passes for 268 yards, one touchdown and had three passes intercepted. Former Colts running back Joseph Addai rushed for 122 yards and one touchdown in 25 rushing attempts. The Indianapolis defense limited a strong Chiefs rushing attack to 44 yards in 17 rushes while producing four sacks and three takeaways. Colts coach Chuck Pagano has a 2-0 career coaching record against Kansas City. Kansas City coach Andy Reid has a 1-4 career coaching record against the Colts.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - NOTES, QUOTES
--Colts coach Chuck Pagano was asked about making changes after playing Kansas City two weeks ago.
"I don't think you ever want to overcook it, so to speak. I think you'll have a wrinkle, much like they will in all three phases. I think at this point, everybody is going to play to their strengths. Certainly we've found some things in all three phases that are working for us," Pagano said.
"To get away from that too far would probably be egregious on our part. I think we just keep doing what we're doing and do it better and find something here or there that they haven't seen. I'm sure we'll experience the same thing. There's always the unknown that you've got to take into account."
--RB Donald Brown was asked what advice he would give the team's younger players who may be playing in their first NFL playoff game.
"Just watch the older guys. They'll lead. Having guys like (outside linebacker) Robert (Mathis), (safety) Antoine (Bethea), (defensive end) Cory (Redding)," Brown said. "The older guys, just watch them. Follow their lead and match their intensity in practice."
--Something has to give on Saturday. The Colts led the NFL with the fewest turnovers this season with 14. Kansas City, meanwhile, was second in the league with the most takeaways (36). The Chiefs were second in the league in best turnovers margin (plus-18). Indianapolis was third with a plus-13.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6. The Colts are 6-0 the second time around against an opponent over the last two seasons. Indianapolis posted a 23-7 win over Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium two weeks ago (Dec. 22).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Accountability. No personnel shifts. No change in schemes. No world-changing type of deals. It's just holding guys accountable. If you're not doing your job, you're going to be called out within ourselves, not in the media or anything like that. It's guys being accountable." Colts OLB Robert Mathis was asked what changed on defense over the last month of the regular-season. Indianapolis has allowed 13 total points over the final three games of the year.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Colts signed defensive end Aaron Morgan to a Reserve/Future contract.
Morgan (6-4, 250) has played in 18 career games, making six tackles (five solo) and four specials teams stops. He was originally signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent on April 24, 2010.
A four-year letterman at Louisiana-Monroe (2006-09), Morgan finished his career with 138 tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss, 22.0 sacks, one interception and eight passes defensed. His sack total set a school record and ranked as the second-most in Sun Belt Conference history.
--WR Griff Whalen has worked himself into a regular spot in the Colts' receivers rotation as well as taking over as the team's primary punt returner. Whalen, an undrafted free agent in 2012, has been on and off the practice squad and has been waived a couple of times. But the former Stanford standout has continued to work and is now a key member of the Indianapolis receiver corps.
--Colts general manager Ryan Grigson remains a staunch supporter of RB Trent Richardson. Despite a lack of big-time production from the Cleveland Browns' 2012 No. 1 draft pick since being acquired in an early season trade, Richardson has the full support of the Indianapolis front office and coaching staff. Grigson wants to see Richardson go through a full offseason, OTA and training camp heading into the 2014 season.
--TE Jack Doyle, a rookie who grew up in Indianapolis, is getting more work in the Colts pass offense. Signed off the Tennessee Titans practice squad at the beginning of the regular season, Doyle -- who attended Western Kentucky -- has gone from blocking tight end to becoming more acclimated with the team's passing attack.
--OG/OT Xavier Nixon continues to impress. Nixon, who is normally an offensive tackle but has been plugged into a guard position due to injuries along the Colts' offensive line this season, provided the key block for RB Donald Brown on a 51-yard touchdown run against Kansas City two weeks ago. The rookie from Florida fits what Indianapolis wants in its offensive linemen, an ability to be a swing player between two different positions.
--From an athletic and pure football standpoint, rookie WR Da'Rick Rogers has been a success for the Colts offense ever since getting promoted to the active roster last month. His speed downfield and willingness to make a tough catch in traffic has opened a lot of eyes. Rogers, though, still needs to improve his overall consistency as a receiver, especially as a route runner.
--NT Aubrayo Franklin (knee) fully practiced on Thursday. Franklin did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday. He is expected to be a game-time decision against Kansas City on Saturday.
-WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) went through a full workout on Thursday. He had limited work on Wednesday and did not participate in Tuesday's practice session.
--CB Greg Toler (groin) did not practice on Tuesday. Toler has seen limited playing time the last two weeks after being sidelined for several weeks. He was hurt against Denver on Oct. 22. Toler has slowed been worked back into practice and games. His status for Saturday's game with Kansas City remains undetermined.
--CB Darius Butler (quad) did not practice Tuesday. Butler is expected to be available for the Kansas City game on Saturday. His availability against the Chiefs will be updated later this week.
--CB Vontae Davis (groin) was hurt against Jacksonville and did not return. He underwent an MRI after the game, which was negative. He will be day-to-day this week in practice. Davis' availability for Kansas City will be updated later in the week.
--OLB Bjoern Werner (ankle) did not practice Tuesday. He was wearing a walking boot on his left foot. Werner was sidelined against Jacksonville and did not return. He will be day-to-day in practice this week and hopes to be ready to play against Kansas City on Saturday. His MRI was negative after the Jaguars game.
--DE Cory Redding (shoulder) practiced Tuesday. He did not dress for the Jaguars game. Redding was hurt against Kansas City a week earlier and did not practice last week. He may possibly start against the Chiefs on Saturday.
--OG Joe Reitz (concussion) went through practice on Tuesday. He was a pregame inactive for the Jacksonville game. Reitz suffered a concussion against Houston and did not play against the Chiefs two weeks ago. He practiced last week but was held out of the Jaguars matchup.
--OG Mike McGlynn (elbow) was able to practice Tuesday. He did not play against Jacksonville. McGlynn did not practice last week but should be available to start against the Chiefs on Saturday.
--S Sergio Brown (groin) went through practice on Tuesday. He was sidelined for the Jaguars game. Brown has not practiced for the last two weeks. He might be available for the Kansas City game on Saturday.
--DT Ricky Jean Francois (foot) practiced for the first time in several weeks on Tuesday. His availability for the Chiefs game on Saturday probably won't be determined until later in the week.
Play smart. And keep the momentum going.
The Colts are in the midst of a three-game winning streak and won four of their last five games. Indianapolis has opened up the offense a bit by going more no huddle and playing at a faster tempo. They've had success moving the football, especially with short dump passes and quick openers on the ground.
Look for more of the same Saturday against Kansas City. The Colts will try to run the ball more in an attempt to keep the Chiefs' offense off the field.
Defensively, Indianapolis has done a much better job of forcing turnovers and getting off the field on third down over the last month of the season. That has to continue this week. The Colts were able to force turnovers in its earlier game with the Chiefs two weeks ago. Controlling the tempo, while not easy, will be key.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Colts offensive line vs. Chiefs defensive line.
For the first time in quite a while, Indianapolis have a full compliment on the offensive line. Injuries have played havoc with continuity and consistency up front for the Colts this season. Kansas City, though, has a tough, hard-nosed defense and knows how to get after the quarterback. Pass protection and run blocking is paramount.
--Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles vs. Colts inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman.
Charles is an AFC Offensive Player of the Year candidate. His ability to run with the football as well as catch the ball out of the backfield on screens and dumps offs are integral to the success of the Kansas City offense. Freeman, meanwhile, has played well all season but particularly over the last month of the season. A good one-on-one tackler with the athletic skills to face premier running backs. But he will be severely tested by Charles on Saturday.