INDIANAPOLIS - LeGarrette Blount is a nice back, powerful with a somewhat surprising dose of shiftiness. Jonas Gray is a one-cut and go guy, and go he went, out of Foxboro less than a year after he commanded national headlines. Neither player is headed for Canton, Ohio, home of Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, unless they buy a ticket. But that duo combined to torture the Indianapolis Colts last season, looking more like Walter Payton than they actually are.
In the two matchups between the Patriots and Colts, one during the regular season, the other in the AFC Championship game, Blount and Gray combined to rampage like wild stallions though Indy, rushing for 349 yards and seven touchdowns. Gray got his mug on the cover of Sports Illustrated in November, while Blount relished his role in January’s title game bludgeoning.
Considering the Colts were so close to getting to the Super Bowl, but in reality, so far away with that porous run defense. Anyone with half a brain assumed that solving that problem would be priorities one, two and three for Indy this offseason. Surprisingly, it wasn’t. GM Ryan Grigson (yeah, that guy) spent most of his free agency money on aging skill position players Frank Gore and Andre Johnson. He used his first round pick on a speedy wideout, Phillip Dorsett. What?
Now I won’t mislead you. It wasn’t as if Grigson completely ignored that front seven. He signed Kendall Langford and Nate Irving, traded for Sio Moore and drafted a pair of defensive tackles out of Stanford, Henry Anderson and David Parry. They have helped to improve the Colts run defense, slightly. They’re currently allowing 112 yards per game. They allowed 113 last year. However, this year’s group is surrendering just 3.8 yards per carry as opposed to last year’s 4.3, and bottled up the Texans and Arian Foster during their last game, a 27-20 victory over the Texans last Thursday.
“The last few games we’ve done a good job of stopping the run,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, currently leading the NFL in tackles. “Teams are still, last week for instance, 29 attempts (by the Texans), a little over 80 yards. That’s hard to do - when a team runs the ball that much- it’s hard to keep a team under 100 yards and we’ve done it, proven we can do it, proven we can do it with some guys being out.”
He continued, “We’re confident right now and hey, we won games where we had to fight tooth and nail to get back into it. We were able to come out of it victorious. I like that. I like where we are as a team.”
Defensive coordinator Gregg Manusky concurs with Jackson, and thinks his defensive front is better equipped to stop the Pats now than it has been in the past, with Anderson and Parry playing big roles.
“I think just overall, maybe athletic ability,” he said. “Understand the scheme a little bit better. I think those guys, even though they’re rookies coming into the game, they understand the concepts that we’re trying to get across from stopping the run and who’s, from the blocking schemes, going to attack them certain ways. Smart, athletic, good football players.”
That statement played well in the Colts locker room, as you would expect.
“It makes me feel good,” Parry admitted. “I’m happy to have a coach that has that type of confidence in you, but also I don’t want to let him down. I want to be accountable to him.”
“We’re confident here,” said Langford, in his 8th season. “We feel we can get the job done. We agree with his comments. We’re looking froward to the challenge. We’re ready to roll. Let’s get this game going. I’ve been hearing too much about it.”
Manusky has challenged his group in practice. The defensive line said they’ve been pushed, both on the field and in the film and meeting rooms, since last Thursday’s game. One of the points being driven home: physicality. That was a huge issue for the Colts last year, especially against the Pats.
“Any team that runs the ball for as many yards as they have, it’s a combination of not doing the right thing, not being physical enough,” said Manusky. “It’s every week when you play guys like that. It’s across the board. Even from a coaching standpoint, putting them in the right call, putting them in the right front. During practice the same thing, so we’ve got to stop them.”
“This is a football team that will try to run the ball,” said Langford. “They’ve had success before. We gotta bow up. It’s a physical game. We have to get after it.”
Langford took it one step further.
“We need to get as many guys to the ball as possible. Put a hat on him (running back). Make it count.”
Langford smiled and laughed. Not sure if it was nerves setting in, or knowing what his team is capable of. But it’s almost a certainty that the Colts will get tested in that regard, over and over, until they prove they are truly different.