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
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As practice ended Friday afternoon, Reggie Wayne had a message for his team.
Wayne admitted it was a bit out of character to speak up in front of everyone but he wanted to let his teammates know what is at stake on Sunday.
“I broke the team down today and told them, ‘It’s a great feeling to go into someone else’s backyard to get a victory, and get on that plane.’ That’s something we haven’t experienced yet so hopefully we can get that done this week,” Wayne said.
Throughout his 12-year NFL career, Wayne has experienced numerous plane trips back to Indianapolis celebrating road victories.
He understands what a challenge it is to win away from home in the NFL and wants nothing more than for the rest of his teammates to experience such a feeling.
“The two times that we went on the road, we get back on the plane and it’s almost like it’s a 10-hour flight just because everybody is upset about the outcome of the game,” Wayne said. “I tell them why not be on the plane and just being joyous, just being happy that we got a victory. Let’s just get that done. Whatever we have to do to get that done and get above .500, let’s do it.”
In addressing what needs to be done to get that elusive road victory, Wayne is focused on the offensive side of the ball.
The Colts offense has had opportunities in each of the first two road games but the inability to sustain drives and costly turnovers have led to keeping the hostile home crowd into the game and getting in first half deficits.
“Offensively, we have to protect the ball,” Wayne said. “If you look at both our road games, it’s been the offense not protecting the ball. That’s something that you must get control of from the jump.
“It’s already hard enough to win on the road as it is but when you turn the ball over, it makes it even more harder. I think if we protect the ball, just do the things that we normally do, then we’ll be alright.”
A win on Sunday would give the Colts their first road win in over a year and push their record over .500 for the first time in 2012.
Wayne is focused on the specific task this weekend but knows in order to be playing into 2013, winning away from Lucas Oil Stadium must start now.
“If the playoffs were right now and we were in the playoffs, we would be on the road. We got to figure this out ASAP,” Wayne said. “This is a great opportunity for us to get it done against a division opponent, against a team who’s basically in the hunt also. It’ll be fun. I think everybody is tuned in to what needs to get done.”
Tags: Reggie Wayne
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The thought of possibly getting some key defenders back in the fold this weekend is a welcomed surprise to Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
Especially in the front seven, Manusky’s unit has been searching for bodies the past couple of weeks.
This week at practice, Manusky has added the services of rookie nose tackle Josh Chapman to the middle of the Colts defensive line.
Chapman tore his ACL during his senior season at the University of Alabama but elected to not have surgery until following the season while the Crimson Tide made their run to a second National Title in three years.
With putting off surgery until January, Chapman is just now getting his first taste of on the field action in the NFL.
“We finally got a young buck that we drafted to finally get a guy that looks the part,” Manusky said. “He looks good right now. He’s strong, he’s physical, he’s got good feet and he can put pressure in the middle of the pocket.”
The offseason was difficult for Chapman not knowing the exact date he would get back on the practice field.
While his rookie teammates have been showing their talent on the field, it’s been a lot of classroom work for Chapman.
“I’ll tell you the guy actually studies his playbook a lot,” Manusky said of Chapman. “He spends time in it, usually the good ones do.”
It’s that drive away from the field that has Manusky excited about the future for the 316-pound nose tackle.
Back in April’s NFL Draft, the Colts addressed the offensive side of the football with eight of their ten picks. Chapman is the lone rookie defender left and Manusky is anxious to see his talents that helped Alabama to the top rush defense in college football last season.
“From watching the tape, I’m happy as heck we got him when we got him,” Manusky said “Now we’re going to try to build through him and the young guys that we get in the future.”
On Thursday afternoon, Chapman admitted that he was a little sore from his first NFL practice but finally strapping the pads on brought back those championship memories.
“Being out there, being able to put my hand in the grass and making contact with o-linemen just gave me that great feeling again,” Chapman said.
Tags: Greg Manusky, josh chapman
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