Colts’ defense needs answers for miscues, injuries

The Indianapolis Colts defense is a mess.

Injuries have decimated the secondary. Dwight Freeney and Robert

Mathis are struggling to pressure opposing quarterbacks. The unit

has given up more than 400 yards rushing in two losses and

everybody knows what’s coming next – more running.

”We’ve got to stop the run,” defensive captain Gary Brackett

said Wednesday. ”We know that week in and week out, everybody is

going to run the ball on us until we stop it.”

That includes Sunday’s opponent, Kansas City (3-0), the NFL’s

last unbeaten team. The Chiefs rank fifth in the NFL in rushing,

led by the tandem of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, and will

almost certainly go with a run-first strategy.

And again the Colts (2-2) will be playing short-handed.

Safety Bob Sanders is expected to be out until at least December

after having surgery to repair a torn biceps muscle in his right

arm. Melvin Bullitt, Sanders’ replacement, will miss the rest of

the season after hurting his right shoulder in Sunday’s loss at

Jacksonville.

Starting linebacker Clint Session returned to the lineup against

the Jags after missing back-to-back games – only after backups

Ramon Humber (hand) and Kavell Conner (foot) needed surgery to fix

fractured bones.

Now the Colts have added even more defenders to the injury

list.

Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Jacob Lacey both

sat out Wednesday’s practice – Bethea with a hamstring injury,

Lacey with a sore foot. Brackett (back), Session and cornerback

Jerraud Powers (foot) at least managed to get in all of their work

as the Colts continue to try to fill holes.

They re-signed safety Aaron Francisco, who was let go after

spending last season in Indy, and promoted safety Mike Newton from

the practice squad to the active roster.

Who will start? Coach Jim Caldwell isn’t sure.

”We’ll find out as the week goes on,” Caldwell said. ”They’ll

have a chance to work with them and we’ll see who emerges.”

That’s the predicament Indy faces eight months after playing in

the second Super Bowl of the Peyton Manning era.

The Colts are yielding nearly 150 yards rushing a game and an

average of 5.0 yards per carry.

”The last few weeks there’s been some inconsistency,” Freeney

said. ”It’s not that we’re just getting beat and can’t fix the

problem. We’ll get it fixed, hopefully sooner than later.”

They’d better because the porous run defense is causing other

headaches in Indy.

Freeney and Mathis – the league’s most productive pass-rushing

tandem since 2004 – have been less effective over the last two

weeks.

The reason: Indy’s defense is built to play with the lead. If

opponents can score on the ground, Manning has fewer chances to

score points, and Freeney and Mathis can’t take advantage of teams

forced to throw to keep up.

With a lack of pressure coming up the middle and a thin

secondary that had six players go down with season-ending injuries

in the preseason, well, the holes are becoming more apparent.

”It’s a mistake here or a mistake there, but once we get all

that fine-tuned, we should be OK,” Bethea said. ”It’s just a

matter of limiting those mistakes.”

When the Colts were giving up 40 points per game during the

preseason, players and coaches kept saying things would be fine.

Now that they’re giving up 23 points during the regular-season,

have struggled to rush quarterbacks, stop the run and get off the

field on third down, fans aren’t the only ones pointing out the

problems.

”We didn’t get punched out the way we did in Houston,” Colts

President Bill Polian said during Monday night’s radio show,

referring to the Jacksonville loss. ”That’s something positive to

take from it, but there’s obviously a lot of work to do on that

side of the ball. We’ve got to get that straightened away. I think

we have good players there, but they’re not playing very well at

this point.”

Colts players haven’t lost hope and are promising to get things

fixed.

”We’ll continue to grow,” Brackett said. ”And we’ll get

better on defense.”