By Todd Golden
INDIANAPOLIS — When you reel off the statistics, the Indianapolis Colts’ defense comes off, well, pedestrian.
Going into Sunday’s game against Tennessee, the Colts were 15th in the league in total defense.
The Colts were 14th against the pass and 20th against the run.
It doesn’t mean the Colts’ defense hasn’t been effective … far from it. This is a big-play defense that’s defined by the sum of its parts more so than the whole.
It was borne out repeatedly Sunday in the Colts’ 27-17 victory against the Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Absolutely. That’s our personality,” Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said when asked whether the Colts defined themselves as a big-play defense. “Anytime we can give the ball back to the offense is going to be huge for our team.”
“We may be an undersized defense, we may not have that many first-round stars, but we hustle and we run,” Colts defensive tackle Daniel Muir explained. “Our defense showcases that and [defensive coordinator] Larry Coyer comes up with a great scheme.”
It’s a scheme that has had the Colts living off forced turnovers all season. Statistical validation for the Colts’ defense comes via its No. 5 ranking in league turnover differential at plus-7 going into Sunday’s game. It added a plus-two to that against the Titans.
The Colts forced a fumble and intercepted Tennessee quarterback Vince Young once. The Young pick led to a Colts’ touchdown.
“When we’re put in those kind of situations, we just want to overcome them. Somebody has to step up and make a play and we had some guys do that today,” said Colts cornerback Jacob Lacey, who had the interception, his second of the season.
But it isn’t just forced turnovers. As the team stats show, the Colts’ defense has been elastic, but as the 12-0 record proves, they hold when they need to.
No more so on Sunday than the Colts’ third-quarter goal-line stand. Trailing 24-14 with 3:02 to go in the period, the Titans had first-and-goal at the the Colts’ 1, but they would never taste paydirt. Young botched the quarterback-center snap exchange on the first play and Phillip Wheeler stuffed LenDale White on second down, a play during which the Titans were penalized for holding, pushing the ball back to the Colts’ 11-yard line.
The Titans could only muster a 2-yard completion to Bo Sciafe on the replayed second down and Young nearly fumbled again on a 7-yard scramble on third down. An attempted fade pass from Young to Kenny Britt on fourth down was well defended by Jerraud Powers and Britt caught the ball out of bounds.
Nothing doing for the Titans.
The Colts did it again in the fourth quarter when the Titans went for it on fourth-and-5 from the Colts’ 14. The Colts blitzed Young and he threw off his back foot, overthrowing intended receiver Lavelle Hawkins by a country mile.
Tennessee was 0 for 3 on fourth-down conversions, was 0 for 2 in goal-to-go efficiency and was 2 of 5 in the red zone.
It’s no surprise. While the Colts were fourth-worst in the NFL on third-down conversions, they ranked 10th in defensive fourth-down conversions going into Sunday’s game and improved their lot against the Titans. Colts’ opponents are 5 for 14 on fourth down.
“I love it when teams go for it on fourth down,” Colts linebacker Clint Session said. “We know we have confidence to stop them on fourth down.”
Brackett was less enthused about the Colts’ repeated fourth-down tests, but admitted that the team has been accustomed to dealing with the situation.
“I don’t like being in that situation, but we have been there quite a bit. We know how to keep our poise, we know how to play our keys and make fourth-down plays in crucial situations,” Brackett said.
While the Colts’ offense hums along and gets the national accolades, the defense flies under the radar. It’s not an accurate reflection of the impact on a 12-0 team as the Colts’ defense comes up big when they need to.
“This defense has a lot of pride,” end Dwight Freeney said. “If we get attention and everybody gives us props, that’s fine. If they don’t, we can use that, too. We just need to go out there and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or email@example.com