Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Defense a Pleasant Surprise for Colts

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Defense a Pleasant Surprise for Colts

Article excerpt

The Indianapolis Colts won the AFC South division title last season in spite of their defense. They ranked 20th overall in total defense, allowed 357 yards per game and gave up 88 points in two their postseason games. They rallied from a 28-point deficit to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game, 45-44, and were blown out in New England in the divisional round, 43-22.

Things didn't figure to improve when All-Pro defensive end Robert Mathis went down with a season-ending Achilles injury, but the Colts have gone from one of the worst defenses in the NFL to one of the best in short order.

The Colts are No. 3 in total defense (311.1 yards per game), No. 4 in scoring defense (19.4 points per game) and are coming off a 27- 0 shutout of the Cincinnati Bengals, their first shutout since 2008.

"We're miles ahead of where we were when we started in 2012," said third-year coach Chuck Pagano, who was the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens before getting hired in Indianapolis. "It's never an easy task to go from a 4-3 [to a 3-4]. It's a process, and we feel like we're headed in the right direction. We feel good about where we're at and the direction we're headed."

Mathis, a five-time Pro Bowler, led the NFL with 19 1/2 sacks last season, but the Colts have been much better without him. They are tied for third in the NFL with 21 sacks. Outside linebackers Bjoern Werner (four) and Erik Walden (three) have combined for seven and inside linebacker D'Quell Jackson, a free agent acquisition from Cleveland, has three.

"It's been a collaborative effort," Pagano said. "Guys have stepped up. There was a lot of talk once we lost Robert [and] a lot of guys are playing with a chip on their shoulder because a ton of people were saying: 'Where are you going to get the sack production and how are you going to put pressure on the quarterback?' "

The Steelers remain among the most productive offenses in the league in total yardage, but they know this week it will be important to win the time possession battle and to score touchdowns. The Colts have won five consecutive games because their offense possesses the ball for an average of 37 minutes per game and because they're scoring more points (30. …

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