Colts' defense determined to turn things around
Dwight Freeney is used to hearing the criticism.
Every year, it seems, the so-called experts call Indianapolis' defense too small, too soft, too one-dimensional. Every year, they see the Colts' defense as the impediment to success, not the solution.
Freeney and his teammates are content to let people keep talking as long as they continue working to get it right.
''I don't think it could get any worse,'' the six-time Pro Bowler said Wednesday. ''What are they going to say, that we're worse than the worst? So we'll focus on our next goal and that's to win this game.''
Indy desperately needs a win after starting 0-2 for the first time since 1998.
In past years, fans expected Peyton Manning to pull the Colts out of an old-fashioned funk. Not this time. Manning is expected to miss at least two months and possibly the entire season following his third neck surgery in 19 months. Not surprisingly, the Colts have struggled without him.
Few expected it to be this bad.
Indy has scored only two touchdowns in eight quarters, both late in games already decided. Kerry Collins has the AFC's third-worst quarterback rating at 71.4, has lost three fumbles and, at one point Sunday, threw 10 straight incompletions.
The rebuilt offensive line has struggled with pass protection, and the Colts' Pro Bowl receivers don't have their reliably impressive numbers, either.
Hey, at least the running game has improved. After four straight seasons of averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry, Indy is up to 4.1 through the first two games.
But that's where the problem lies. Until the offense gets in sync, something players and coaches insist will happen eventually, the Colts must rely on their usually maligned defense to bail them out.
''You know when we were 14-0, people were criticizing us, so it's no shocker that when we're 0-2, people are criticizing us,'' defensive captain Gary Brackett said. ''You know who your allies are, so you just have to go out and do your job.''
The problem is there's little evidence right now to suggest the defense can turn things around.
Only one team, Kansas City, has allowed more points than Indianapolis' 61. Indy also ranks second worst in the AFC in getting off the field on third down, and last weekend, Cleveland converted five times on third downs when it needed at least 6 yards. Two of those went for touchdowns.
The Colts know that's just not good enough.
''Somebody has to step up and make a play,'' defensive tackle Eric Foster said. ''I've been here, this is my fourth year, and I know that losing is not common around here. So we'll find a way to get it going.''
Injuries are now compounding the problems.
Brackett was out last week with a left shoulder injury and there's no certainty he'll play Sunday night against Pittsburgh. Defensive tackle Fili Moala is likely to miss the game with a high ankle sprain, and it's unclear whether starting safety Melvin Bullitt will play after hurting his shoulder in Sunday's loss.
All three missed Wednesday's practice. Other defensive players who didn't practice were Freeney (adominal), Foster (foot) and Robert Mathis (chest). Tight ends Dallas Clark (foot) and Jacob Tamme (concussion) and right guard Ryan Diem (ankle) also sat out, and Collins (shoulder) was limited in practice.
None of it is good news.
But some continue to believe the biggest hurdle is that the Colts' defense is built to play from the lead, something they haven't been able to do much of this season.
Vice chairman Bill Polian contends that's a false premise and uses Manning's 45 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime to prove his point.
''There are a lot of bromides out there,'' Polian said on his radio show Monday night. ''I don't think that our defense has been as bad as people make it out, and when they do the things we ask them to do, when they play fast and physical like they did (Sunday against Cleveland), I think they're a pretty good defense. Now we have to get some things cleaned up in the back end and we'll do that.''
How quickly they can adapt will likely dictate how the rest of this season goes.
They also know it's only been two games, and there's no better stage to prove people wrong than a nationally televised, prime-time game against the defending AFC champs.
But Freeney understands everything can't change in one week.
''To be honest with you, I don't care what anybody thinks outside of this locker room,'' he said. ''We could win this game by 20 points and lose the next game. It's about consistent football. That's the next challenge, the next step.''
Notes: The Colts have waived running back Darren Evans and receiver Marshall Williams, and added safety Stevie Brown to the active roster. Brown is from Columbus, Ind., about 30 minutes south of Indy. Coach Jim Caldwell said the Colts would bring back Evans to the practice squad if he cleared waivers.