INDIANAPOLIS – Coach Chuck Pagano came to Indianapolis to fix the defense.
He added bigger bodies to stop the run, moved his pass rushers around to create havoc and brought in a new system to change the Colts’ identity.
So far, so good. The Colts have held Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson in check the first two weeks, and today they’ll face another big test – stopping Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew.
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis learned about Jones-Drew the hard way when he once had a clean shot at the 5-foot-7, 210-pound wrecking ball and wound up missing a rare tackle.
Longtime Colts know all about what that feels like.
In 12 career games against the Colts, Jones-Drew has rushed for 1,212 yards, nine touchdowns, averaged 5.3 yards per carry, topped 100 yards seven times and set the franchise record for all-purpose yards (303) in a 44-17 rout that was Indianapolis’ last loss in its 2006 Super Bowl-winning season. Nobody other than perhaps Tom Brady has been a bigger thorn in Indianapolis’ side.
For Jones-Drew, it’s personal. During the 2006 draft when the Colts had a chance to take the UCLA star late in the first round, they opted instead for Joseph Addai, a decision Jones-Drew has been making them regret the past six years.
I always have that on my shoulder, he said.
But things have changed dramatically since Jones-Drew last faced this defense on New Year’s Day. Back then, he was running for 169 yards and winning the NFL’s rushing title while Indianapolis wound up getting the winning ticket in the Andrew Luck Lottery.
Both teams have new coaches, have committed to playing young quarterbacks and have adopted new philosophies.
The difference, so far, is the Colts (1-1) are a little further ahead.
After years of struggling to stop guys such as Jones-Drew, Indianapolis’ new 3-4 hybrid defense held Forte to 80 yards and one touchdown in the season-opener and Peterson to 60 yards last week.
The whole team’s approach is different, Pagano said. Obviously, in the past it was to get to the passer. Now their focus is stop the run, be physical.
Jacksonville’s start has been rougher. The Jags (0-2) blew a 10-0 lead at Minnesota and lost 26-23 in overtime as Jones-Drew ran for 77 yards.