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Smooth transition so far

New regime off to good start as Colts enter bye week 5-0

Caldwell
Manning

– The Colts are looking a lot like their old selves.

Peyton Manning is completing passes at a record rate, the offense is scoring points by the dozens, the defense is harassing quarterbacks and the Colts are heading into another bye week with yet another perfect record.

Just the way they always seem to do.

Though some of the faces have changed this year – Jim Caldwell is the new coach, Larry Coyer is the new defensive coordinator, Ray Rychleski is the new special teams coach – the results have stayed the same.

“We sort of planned it this way,” team President Bill Polian said. “Jim had a year to learn the job, be part of all the decision-making processes, so that part of it was sort of a dress rehearsal. But you never expect to go 5-0.”

Few NFL teams have made the transition from one head coach to another so seamlessly. Indianapolis has started 5-0 four times in the last five years and has won a franchise record 14 consecutive regular-season games, the last nine in 2008 under Tony Dungy and the first five this season under Caldwell.

Even fewer have tried doing it the way Indianapolis did.

In January 2008, the Colts essentially took Caldwell off the head coaching market by announcing he would replace Dungy when Dungy retired. The decision gave Caldwell time to consult with Dungy, contemplate draft strategies, figure out what worked and what changes were needed before Dungy decided to walk away nine months ago.

By then, Caldwell knew what he wanted to do.

He hired the pipe-smoking Coyer, brought in the excitable Rychleski and decided to beef up the undersized defensive line – changes that have worked perfectly.

Caldwell stayed with what worked and discarded what didn’t.

He embraced Coyer’s new defensive philosophy, using the Colts’ speed in more blitz packages and their versatility to help pass-rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis get more one-on-one blocks. Adding size in the middle of the line has helped Indianapolis hold up better against the run. The combination has the usually maligned defense ranked No. 7 in the NFL, No. 14 against the run.

But it’s not just the scheme that changed.

“We had meetings with (Caldwell) last year and this year, and he’d say, ‘What do we need to do to keep you guys fresh?’ ” defensive captain Gary Brackett said. “He’s done things like taking the pads off early in the week and getting guys some extra rest. So I don’t think it’s a surprise that the third and fourth quarters have been our quarters.”

Caldwell hasn’t changed much on offense.

Manning, the three-time league MVP, is on pace to top 5,000 yards and break the NFL record for completion percentage. Cincinnati’s Ken Anderson still holds the mark, completing 70.55 percent in 1982. Manning is at 73.5 percent with 11 games remaining.

His numbers are even more impressive considering he doesn’t have Marvin Harrison, released in a cost-cutting move in February, or Harrison’s projected replacement Anthony Gonzalez, who sprained ligaments in his right knee in Week 1.

If they keep this up, Caldwell’s first season as an NFL head coach could be one for the books.

To Dungy, it’s no surprise.

“All the key components are still in place,” Dungy said.

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