A second year under coordinator Larry Coyer -- along with the return of most of last year's starters -- had observers expecting a big year from the Colts defense in 2010.
But through the first four games, that unit has struggled to stop both the run and the pass. A problem is alleviated in one area, but then leaks appear somewhere else.
Injuries have not helped the situation. The Colts have lost the services of safeties Melvin Bullitt (shoulder) and Jamie Silva (knee) for the season. Another safety, 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders (biceps), is sidelined indefinitely.
Weak-side linebacker Clint Session (hamstring) has missed playing time. And the team's pass rush, led by defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, has been as inconsistent as the rest of the defensive squad.
So what gives?
"I think it is a matter of (making a play when it has to be made), and there is consistency across the board. The thing that happens to you is it is not like every guy is playing poorly," coach Jim Caldwell said. "It's just that maybe a breakdown here or there creates problems for you, and that's what we've had. So we have to get back to more consistent play across the board."
One area of concern -- the pass rush -- can partially be explained by the fact that both Denver and Jacksonville have utilized "max protection," as they often double- and sometimes triple-teamed Freeney and Mathis.
The Colts are getting no consistent pass-rush push from the middle of the defensive line. Plus the inability to the stop opponent's running game on a regular basis adds to the problem.
"I think it is cyclical. I think people go to some extra lengths to try and make certain that they do not put themselves in position to let our guys get an up-the-field rush going," Caldwell said. "But part of that is also making certain that you stop the run. You force them into those situations. (The Jaguars) were able to stay in third and manageable, get the ball out of their hands a lot quicker. I do think that we have control over some of those aspects. If we play like we are supposed to play and know how to play, I think those opportunities will come back to us."
--Time to get back to work.
After getting off to a 2-2 start with sluggish performances in three of the team's four games, the Colts continue to be a work in progress.
While the offense has been able to move the ball, turnovers and mental mistakes have thwarted potential scoring opportunities.
Defensively, the Colts are out of synch. Indianapolis has given up big yards on the ground (Houston) and in the air (Denver).
They haven't been able to get off the field on third down (Jacksonville). And the pass rush has registered just one sack over the past eight quarters after coming up with four sacks in a home win over the New York Giants three weeks ago.
There's frustration in Indianapolis.
"There's really not a lot to be happy about. But I do always subscribe to a theory taught to me many years ago by (former Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins head coach) Don Shula who said, 'Every time you go out there you have to take something positive away because you have to have something to build on for the next week,'" team president Bill Polian said.
The Colts aren't that far away from being one of the premier teams in AFC once again. But improvements must be made quickly in several areas, especially with the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) coming to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday after a bye week.
"There's obviously a lot of work to do on (the defensive) side of the ball. We've got to get that straightened away. I think we have good players there, but they're not playing very well at this point," Polian said.
Quarterback Peyton Manning would rather use the phrase "determined" rather than "frustrated."
"I think guys are disappointed, frustrated, all normal reactions. I think those can be healthy reactions and moods. I think determined is the main thing. To have a really good week of practice this week," Manning said.
"That's where it has to start. We're playing a good football team that is playing well. They don't care what our record is. They don't care that we've lost two division games. It's really about what we do. I think it's important to have a good week of practice this week. We've got some injuries that we're dealing with like all teams are. Once again, you get no sympathy there. I think we need to carry a little bit of that frustration onto the practice field and be a little sharper in the way we practice."
So Indianapolis is going back to work this week, trying to fix their problem areas while also preparing for a pretty good Chiefs team.
"The one thing you have to do is keep your nose to the grindstone, keep your head down and keep working. If everyone does that, and doesn't worry about the other guy's job, only his, then you'll come out all right in the end," Polian continued.
"It's the head coach's job to tie it all together. Jim Caldwell does a great job of that. I don't have any worries about that. Concentrate only on your job and the head coach will get that strategically adjusted if he needs to."
So the work continues.
"We've got a lot of work to do. I said you have to put a good face on things and be positive, but you can't gloss over the fact that we have a lot of work to do to be a good football team," he said.
"Bill Parcells is fond of saying, 'You are what your record says you are.' Right now, we're a pretty mediocre football team, so we have work to do."
17th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 9-7. Indianapolis also has a 3-0 lead in postseason meetings (1996, 2004, 2007). The Colts have won six of the last seven regular-season meetings. Indianapolis has won nine of the last 10 matchups, including the playoffs. The Colts have a 3-0 record against Kansas City in regular-season games played in Indianapolis. Indianapolis is 4-0 in home games against the Chiefs, including the playoffs. Counting the Colts years in Baltimore, the franchise has a 4-3 regular-season record against Kansas City in home games. Indianapolis is aiming for its fifth straight win against the Chiefs at home. The two franchises last met on Nov. 18, 2007 with Indianapolis posting a 13-10 victory as PK Adam Vinatieri booted a 24-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in regulation.
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