The Indianapolis Colts are 3-3 and a big reason behind that record is a group that doesn’t usually get too much attention unless something goes wrong. The Colts coverage teams have been faced with stopping some of the game’s best return men in their six games this season. To this point, they’ve been up to the challenge.
In six games, the Colts have had to deal with Chicago’s Devin Hester, Minnesota’s Percy Harvin, Green Bay’s Randall Cobb, the Jets’ Joe McKnight, and on Sunday, Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs. Each of these return men have produced highlight-reel returns during their career and are a threat to change the game any time they get their hands on the ball.
Not only have none of opposing returners scored on the Colts, but the return units have kept them largely contained, preventing them from changing field position. Indianapolis ranks fourth overall in the NFL in net punting average at 44.4 yards per attempt and tenth overall in yards per return, allowing just 7.5 yards per return. The kickoff return average isn’t as good, ranking in the league’s bottom third, but has yet to yield a score. The longest return allowed thus far was to Randall Cobb of the Packers who returned a kick 50 yards against the Colts in week four. With Pat McAfee booming more than half his kicks deep enough for touchbacks, that relieves the return unit of more pressure.
McAfee raved about his coverage teams after the game yesterday:
“We’ve had quite a lineup of return guys we’ve had to face and our coverage guys have answered the bell every single week.”
McAfee also credited the efforts of new special teams coaches, Marwan Maalouff and Brant Boyer. McAfee says the two have changed the attitude of special teams this season:
“We’re letting people know we’re going to affect the game, not just be a part of it.”
Last year the Colts were last in the NFL in kick coverage, surrendering over 30 yards per return, which often put the defense in a hole with regard to field position. The punt return average thus far this season is allowing almost four full yards fewer than last season.
Special teams player Justin Hickman is one that welcomes the challenge of facing the league’s best each week:
“I think it helps you focus when you know you’re going into a week when you know they have an explosive guy back there who can take it to the house on every touch. You know every kickoff, every punt, they’re going to bring it out because they want to get something done.”
The Colts have been outstanding at limiting those opportunities for their opponents which has translated into longer fields for their opponents, which in turn helps the defense.
The coverage units won’t get a rest next week when they face Tennessee’s Darius Reynaud. The Titans’ rookie is averaging over 26 yards per kick return and already has taken one 105 yards for a score. For Justin Hickman and the rest of the Colts coverage teams, it will be just another day at the office.
Chuck Chapman is entering his second season as the editor and lead writer for Colts 101. He also covered the Cincinnati Bengals for the Sports Media 101. Chuck and his family are originally from Ohio, but have settled in Central Indiana and become big Colts fans. You can read Chuck’s other writing about the Colts at www.colts101.com.
Tags: Brant Boyer, Justin Hickman, Marwaan Maalouf, pat mcafee
Posted in Colts Blog