About Colts try to explain its run defense
|December 12th, 2006||#1|
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Colts try to explain its run defense info
INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Dungy again took the gentlemanly approach. Rather than harp on all the ugly reminders from Sunday's blowout in Jacksonville, Dungy turned his attention to the future, making corrections and reminding his players there's still time to get things right.
It's become a weekly refrain lately for the Indianapolis Colts' even-tempered coach.
"What we have to do is look at things, examine the breakdowns and improve," he said Monday. "Fortunately, we have time to do that. If this was the last game of the season, it would be tougher."
Still, the discussion around Indianapolis is more about whether the Colts (10-3) can improve enough over the next three weeks to make themselves a viable Super Bowl contender.
Sunday's 44-17 debacle, Indianapolis' third loss in four games after starting 9-0, certainly didn't allay any concerns.
Jacksonville gashed the league's worst run defense for 375 yards - the second-highest single game total in the NFL since the 1970 merger.
It pushed Indy's league-low average for rushing yards from nearly 160 to 176.5 and came one week after Tennessee piled up 219 yards on the ground. Dungy expects more of the same during Indy's final three regular-season games.
What made it more troubling, though, was that Dungy had spent all last week stressing the need to concentrate more. The result: Brandon Stokley dropped a touchdown pass on Indy's first series and the defense lined up in the wrong formation on the game's first play.
Colts defenders also missed at least 17 tackles in the first three quarters and after a halftime talk that likely included discussion of rallying from a 14-point deficit, Maurice Drew returned the second-half kickoff 93 yards for a score. Game over.
"That tests you," Dungy acknowledged. "Those are things that should not happen in Week 14, but they did, and we've got to find a way to eliminate those things."
Middle linebacker Gary Brackett acknowledged part of the defense's problem this season has been using a makeshift unit.
Among the missing from last season's defense - which yielded the second-fewest points in the NFL - are defensive tackles Corey Simon (illness) and Montae Reagor (facial injuries), who were expected to be major cogs in the middle, and linebacker David Thornton, who signed with Tennessee as a free agent.
The starting safeties also have vanished.
Mike Doss tore an ACL in October and is out for the season, and Bob Sanders, a Pro Bowl pick last year, has played only twice since having arthroscopic knee surgery in September.
Things got even worse on the injury front Sunday.
Indy's starting safeties at Jacksonville, Antoine Bethea and Marlin Jackson, both left with shoulder injuries, and cornerback Nick Harper did not return after spraining an ankle. Receiver Brandon Stokley also injured his right Achilles' tendon and may be lost for the season.
Dungy had no immediate updates on whether they would play against Cincinnati next Monday night.
It's gotten so bad that Dungy even resorted to making a rare lineup change, benching struggling outside linebacker Gilbert Gardner late in the first half and replacing him with Rocky Boiman.
Neither Dungy nor Boiman said Monday if that was a permanent move.
But it's going to take more than cosmetic changes to turn this around.
"We haven't had the continuity, and part of that, obviously, is injuries," Brackett said. "But there's no finger-pointing or anything. It's just that man-to-man, we've got to step it up. We've still got the second-best record in the NFL at 10-3."
Outside the locker room, there are even doubts how long the Colts can claim that title.
San Diego (11-2) has seized as the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed and the Colts now share the No. 2 spot with Baltimore.
The schedule isn't working to their advantage, either.
The resurgent Bengals bring their potent offense to Indianapolis next week, and if the corrections aren't made by then, the Colts could even lose their hold on the cherished bye week awarded to each conference's top two playoff teams.
"We got pounded in all three phases yesterday," Boiman said. "We've got to take responsibility for that and get beyond it. ... I was sick about it, and I'm still sick about it, so we've got to take it out on the next team."
Dungy has kept his perspective by recounting what he calls a more embarrassing loss during Tampa Bay's playoff push in 1999. Oakland beat the Buccaneers 45-0 in Week 14, but Tampa won its final two games and eventually reached the NFC Championship Game before losing at St. Louis.
He believes it could happen again - if the Colts can get things corrected.
"Tackling is about being in the right place, knowing where your help is and funneling ball carriers the right way," he said. "You've heard me say it all year. It's going to take work and it's not going to be easy, but I think we've got the players here to do it."
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