Colts' defense now taking the blame for losses
First, the Indianapolis Colts were derailed by a struggling offense. Now their leaky defense is the problem.
After blowing two double-digit leads in seven days and becoming the target of critics yet again, Indianapolis' defenders are out to prove they can help end the Colts' five-game losing streak.
''We did OK for some time (Sunday), then we fell apart,'' defensive end Dwight Freeney said Wednesday. ''You never want to give up anywhere near as many points as 28. On top of the way it happened, it wasn't good. We all understand that. We're still working on this thing.''
Freeney isn't the only Pro Bowler eager to turn things around.
Robert Mathis called Sunday's 28-24 loss to Kansas City a ''complete collapse'' and described the postgame mood as the ''angriest'' he's been after a game. Safety Antoine Bethea said simply: ''We blew it.''
Defensive signal-caller Gary Brackett, out with a torn rotator cuff, said the problems have been frustrating to watch and he'd rather be helping his teammates than rehabilitating from season-ending surgery.
Still, Freeney, Mathis, Bethea and Brackett are not the root cause of the Colts' problems.
Freeney and Mathis have lived up to their reputation as one of the NFL's fiercest pass-rush tandems, combining for eight sacks and forcing three fumbles in five weeks. Bethea is second on the team in tackles (49) and has often been the last line of defense against big plays. Even Brackett's replacement, Pat Angerer, has performed well. He leads the NFL in tackles - the league credits him for 65, the team 64 - a pace that would give him 205 over 16 games.
Instead, the biggest concerns have been Indy's abysmal pass coverage, and their inability to stop teams on third down and close out games.
Things have gotten so bad over the last two weeks that coach Jim Caldwell even critiqued his cornerbacks publicly Wednesday.
''Not good enough, obviously,'' Caldwell said. ''Not a blanket statement because some guys are playing well. (Jerraud) Powers has been playing solid, but we've had some problems here and there. (Jacob) Lacey hasn't played as well as we'd like.''
''I've got to keep pushing,'' he said. ''Got to keep grinding, trying to get better each and every play. When my time comes, it'll come and I'll rise up at that moment.''
Fans are losing patience, too.
For years, outsiders complained Indy's defense was too small to hold up against the run. The latest rash of injuries isn't helping.
Angerer has taken over at middle linebacker for Brackett, David Caldwell has replaced safety Melvin Bullitt (shoulder) and defensive tackles Drake Nevis (back) and Eric Foster (dislocated ankle) missed Sunday's game. Foster and Bullitt, like Brackett, are on injured reserve.
This week, Indy tried to fill a big hole by re-signing Dan Muir, a two-year starter at defensive tackle who left for the Rams in free agency. Muir was released by the Rams during their final cut and believes he can help right away.
In fact, he could get plenty of playing time this weekend at Cincinnati.
''I've watched everything this year,'' he said. ''We've got to keep working, not get discouraged in any way by any outside influences. We've got to come in and do what we do, not lay down. I know the system, I know the system real well, so I can come in produce on the field.''
The Colts will take anything after last weekend's debacle.
Kansas City's Jackie Battle rushed for 119 yards, and Matt Cassel burned the Indy secondary for four TD passes.
Things could get even worse for the secondary this week. Powers, Indy's top cornerback, could miss the Bengals game because of a hamstring injury.
But Freeney and the others insist all of it can be fixed.
''We didn't win all these games (over the years) for no reason,'' Freeney said. ''It (a win) gets us on the right track, and that's what you want to do. It's about wins and losses in this league and not about stats or anything else.''