In order to win Saturday night’s AFC wild-card playoff game with the New York Jets, the Indianapolis Colts have to be able to do two things — run the football and stop the Jets from having success at running the ball.
It sounds relatively simple, but it isn’t.
The Colts have struggled most of the year in both categories. Indianapolis ranked 16th in the AFC and 29th overall in running the ball during the regular season, averaging 92.7 yards per game.
And the franchise was 12th in the conference and 25th in the league in stopping the run, giving up an average of 127 yards per outing.
But over the last month, those stats have been turned upside down.
The Colts rushed for 155 yards against Jacksonville, 191 yards in a win over Oakland and had 101 yards in Sunday’s regular-season finale with Tennessee.
Conversely, Indianapolis has allowed 67, 80 and 51 yards rushing the last three weeks.
The reasons for the improvement in both areas are relatively simple — commitment and simplification.
“We have committed ourselves to running it more in December. And you can see how that pays dividends,” center Jeff Saturday said.
“You see how teams are wearing down and we are getting those bigger runs late. It is just consistency. It is very similar to the passing game.”
As for the run defense, middle linebacker Gary Brackett says that the Colts’ defense simplified the scheme a bit, but it’s more than that.
“We eliminated some calls, some things that were a little bit confusing. We went back to base [defense] about two or three things and do them well,” Brackett said.
“Our mantra has always been that we are going to do what we do better than what the other team does what they do.”
• Injury list — Sitting out Thursday’s practice were safety Mike Newton (hamstring), running back Dominic Rhodes (hip), offensive guard Jamey Richard (concussion), weak-side linebacker Clint Session (elbow), offensive tackle Jaimie Thomas (ankle), wide receiver Reggie Wayne (knee), offensive tackle Ryan Diem (back), safety Al Afalava (ankle) and cornerback Kelvin Hayden (neck).
Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson (chest) saw limited work. Defensive tackle Daniel Muir (chest), defensive end Dwight Freeney (rest) and defensive end Robert Mathis (rest) all practiced.
Rhodes said after Thursday’s workout that he plans on playing against the Jets. “I’m fine. [Sitting out of practice] is just precautionary. I wouldn’t miss [the game],” he said.
If Diem is unable to start at right offensive tackle, rookie Jeff Linkenbach will most likely take his place. Linkenbach started for an injured left offensive tackle Charlie Johnson on a couple of occasions this season.
• Wayne ignores Ryan’s words — Reggie Wayne, the Colts’ Pro Bowl wide receiver, usually tunes out Jets coach Rex Ryan, especially when it comes to discussing Saturday night’s game.
Ryan had said earlier in the week that he was promising a New York victory and that he had a personal score to settle with Indianapolis, particularly quarterback Peyton Manning and Wayne, among several others.
“I don’t pay it any attention. I mean, everybody is going to have something to say, right? I actually hadn’t seen it, but I heard about him and his ‘personal’ statement, and that’s cool. If it’s personal, it’s personal. Get in line. I mean, I’m sure he is not the only one who feels that way,” he mused.
Wayne is hoping for a loud and boisterous stadium come game time.
“We are going to need all of that support. We are going to need everything. We are going to need that 12th man to be on their feet like they’ve been doing for my 10 years here. I believe that they know it’s playoff time. So everything now is times 10,” he said.
“We are going to need them to make those loud sounds and cheers and make it hard on the Jets. I think that’s the bonus of having a home game and I think they understand that. I am not worrying about the fans. I already know what they are going to do. They are going to be loud, just like always.”