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Surprising success has Indy thinking big for 2013

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Surprising success has Indy thinking big for 2013

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Andrew Luck spent Monday morning poring over a little more game film. It's never too early to start thinking about his next game.

Less than 24 hours after Indianapolis' magical 2012 run ended with a 24-9 playoff loss at Baltimore, Luck and the Colts were already contemplating what improvements they need to make before next season begins.

``I think I'll take this week to sort of figure it out more,'' Luck said. ``I don't think I've had enough time to really digest a lot of things.''

The Colts (11-6) were the surprise of the NFL this season. Some critics said they made the wrong move by releasing Peyton Manning, then took the wrong guy with the No. 1 overall draft pick. Surely the Colts had no chance of succeeding with a first-time head coach, a rookie quarterback and dozens of other new faces on the roster.

And that was long before Chuck Pagano missed 13 weeks after being diagnosed with leukemia and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians spent the playoff game in the hospital instead of calling plays. Arians was still in the hospital Monday with an undisclosed illness.

Turns out those doomsayers were as wrong as the Mayans.

Arians went 9-3 in Pagano's absence, tying the NFL record for most wins after a midseason coaching change, and somehow, the Colts kept winning games in improbable ways. There was Reggie Wayne's orange-gloved stretch that beat Green Bay and Vick Ballard's backward dive into the end zone to beat Tennessee in overtime. There was Luck's winning TD pass to Donnie Avery in Detroit as time expired and the emotional win against Houston when Pagano returned to the sideline Dec. 30.

``This is probably one of the most memorable seasons since I've been here and that includes my rookie season when we went 14-0 and went to the Super Bowl,'' said cornerback Jerraud Powers, who spent most of the season on injured reserve. ``Because of the turnover, because of the new faces, people didn't expect a lot from us.''

The Colts didn't care what was expected.

Luck played with a sore right knee and still set NFL rookie records for attempts and yards passing and fell just short of the league's rookie marks for completions and touchdown passes. He set a new franchise record for TDs rushing by a quarterback and managed to throw 10 fewer interceptions than Manning did in 1998. Luck's quarterback rating (76.5) was even higher than that of Manning or John Unitas in their first NFL seasons.

Based on the one universal barometer to judge quarterbacks - wins and losses - Luck did well, too. He won more games than any No. 1 draft pick in the Super Bowl era, tied the league's single-season record for most winning drives in the fourth quarter (seven), produced a league-high nine wins in one-possession games and reached the postseason one year sooner than Manning did when he was in Indy.

But Luck is far from satisfied after completing just 54.1 percent of his passes, being sacked 41 times, getting hit dozens more times and having all those passes batted at the line of scrimmage. His plan is simple.

``I think just improving accuracy, footwork, making the different throws,'' Luck said. ``I think I have a feel for how fast things occur, how our different guys get out of breaks, depths of routes, things of that nature. Just building up more rapport with the receivers, the tight ends and running backs.''

Other rookies are just as eager as Luck to get started on Year 2.

Tight end Dwayne Allen hopes to return in better shape after spending so much of last offseason prepping for the combine and his pro day. Running back Vick Ballard said he will spend countless hours working on his run reads. And all this after the Colts produced the highest combined yards rushing and yards receiving (3,108) by rookies since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

``It just tells me how hungry they are and how passionate they are about football. When (GM) Ryan (Grigson) and his staff get together and they go and look for football players and they look for players with Colt traits, that's exactly what we loved to hear and exactly what we expect to hear, from those type of guys,'' Pagano said. ``They will get away from it a little bit but again, they are hungry to get back and start working toward that ultimate goal.''

The coaching staff and veterans know this will not be the same team a few months from now.

Arians was scheduled to interview for head coaching jobs in Chicago and Philadelphia and there has been speculation he could be on the wish-lists of Cleveland and San Diego, too.

Dwight Freeney, the longtime face of Indy's defense, had his third successive decline in sacks after moving from defensive end to outside linebacker and could leave in free agency. Powers, Avery and right tackle Winston Justice are all scheduled to become free agents, too.

And after making all those tough decisions last winter, general manager Ryan Grigson has more than $40 million to spend in free agency to help reinforce the offensive line, the Colts' secondary and just about any other spots he and Pagano deem necessary. Pagano said they have not yet had that discussion.

So as Luck took a quick peek at the three pairs of shoes and the three empty hangers in his locker Monday, he wasn't thinking about what he was leaving behind. He was already planning ahead.

``It's weird. You've been going 100 mph 20-something weeks, and now, you're at 0 mph with nothing to do. It's weird coming in here and cleaning out your locker,'' Luck said. ``Talking to Dwayne Allen earlier this morning, I said, `How long ago does Week 1 against Chicago feel, and how much better do you think we've gotten since then?' Hopefully, we'll continue on that upward trend.''

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Redskins-Cowboys Week 7 preview: A storyline, a stat and a player to watch

Redskins-Cowboys Week 7 preview: A storyline, a stat and a player to watch

This Sunday, for the 117th time, the Redskins and Cowboys will meet. 

Dallas will bring its 3-3 record into FedEx Field and face off with a 3-2 Washington squad. The winner of the contest will guarantee themselves a share of the NFC East lead heading into Week 8.

Here's a storyline, stat and player to watch for the next installment of this rivalry. Once you're done reading those, you can officially start preparing yourself for some sketchy fourth down decisions by Jason Garrett. 

Biggest storyline

Since his tidy but effective game vs. the Packers, Alex Smith turned in a disconcerting performance in New Orleans and a lukewarm effort (albeit a winning one) against the Panthers. Overall, Smith has looked very in control at times but also uneasy and ineffective at others so far in 2018.

So, the biggest storyline in this edition of the series has to do with Smith. If this game calls for it, can he lead the 'Skins to a victory?

That could be difficult vs. the Cowboys. The QB will be without Jamison Crowder again, and on Friday, Jay Gruden listed Paul Richardson as doubtful. Chris Thompson, meanwhile, is questionable.

So, it's likely Smith will be without two of his most talented weapons and possible that he'll be missing three. And on top of that, he'll be operating behind an offensive line that's had issues, which is contributing to his sometimes shaky feet in the pocket.  

To make things even harder, the Dallas defense allows the second-fewest points-per-game in the league and boasts a defensive line that Gruden is very worried about because it employs a scheme that involves a lot of movement. The Colts D-line uses a lot of stunts and movement, too, and they held the 'Skins to just 9 points in Week 2.

Smith has yet to top 300 yards this season or throw for more than two touchdowns in a single outing. He's had no problem winning when the team jumps to an early lead and the running game is going, sure, but he can't count on that each time he starts. 

At some point, his right arm is going to have to be mainly responsible for a Redskins W. And there'd be no better time for that to happen than in his first shot against his new franchise's most-hated opponent.

One key stat

Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott don't know what it's like to play an NFL game vs. Washington and leave that game as the loser. Prescott is 4-0 in his four starts, while Elliott suited up in three of those triumphs. 

Elliott has been a big-time problem for the Redskins in their run-ins. The RB has scored five times against the burgundy and gold and averages 110 yards per appearance. 

Come Sunday around 7:30 or 8 p.m., when Elliott's day is done, odds are you'll be able to look at his stat line and judge the outcome of the game solely based on it.

If Greg Manusky and his defense, particularly his young stars up front, are able to bottle up Zeke, you have to like the Redskins' chances of beating the Cowboys for the first time since the 2015 season finale.

The Redskin to watch

Charley Casserly identified Fabian Moreau as a key Redskin for Week 7 (full video above). Another one worth watching is DJ Swearinger.

Swearinger terrorized Cam Newton last week and really flew around the entire field. He'll need to be as active against the Cowboys and, most importantly, be a sure tackler.

Elliott is going to churn out a few seven- and eight-yard runs. It'll be on Swearinger, plus fellow safety Montae Nicholson, to not let those become 20- or 30-yard gains. 

A lof of the attention, and deservedly so, will go toward what Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis are doing on Sunday. But if Swearinger can take smart angles, get Elliott to the ground and make a few plays in pass coverage, that'll go a long way vs. a limited Dallas offense.

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Swaggy Picasso's Sole Talk had the Wizards taking notice opening night

Swaggy Picasso's Sole Talk had the Wizards taking notice opening night

The connection between athletes and their fans is a powerful thing in sports. The NBA is one of the trendiest, fashion-forward leagues in the world. From shoe design to overall wardrobe to eccentric personalities...the Association has it all on display for fans across the globe to consume. 

Lloyd Ferguson, a fan himself and native of Silver Spring, Md., is bursting onto the customized sneakers scene as an up-and-coming artist. 

His Instagram (@SwaggyPicasso) serves as his personal laboratory and a platform to share his creations. 

Prior to the start of Thursday night's Wizards-Heat game, NBC Sports Washington invited Ferguson to Capital One Arena for what would become a memorable night for the 23-year-old. 

Chris Miller and Drew Gooden featured Swaggy Picasso on the pregame show for an interview and sneaker showcase.

"The inside of my body was jiggling and moving. I was like 'I gotta keep composed and stay cool. You're on national televison, Lloyd.'" 

You would have never known it. 

Ferguson, who was a basketball player himself locally, grew up a Wizards and D.C. sports fan all around. 

Little did he know several Wizards would take notice of his artwork. 

Kelly Oubre, Devin Robinson and John Wall - each known for their wardrobes and respective styles - stopped by to take a peek at Ferguson's kicks. 

"Their reactions to my art was all I needed, honestly. They see the potential and growth. It's very overwhelming." 

It was a groundbreaking night for a young talent with lofty dreams and aspirations. 

Swaggy Picasso has no plans of stopping anytime soon. 

"I've been busting out these shoes day and night. I don't sleep. My desire to paint shoes is ridiculous." 

 

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