You have to wonder if the Colts are going to play with fire and kick off to red-hot Brad Smith on Saturday night. The Jets’ No. 1 kickoff man returned two for scores this season, was the NFL’s second-leading returner (28.6-yard average), returned five kickoffs for 139 yards against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game and raced for a 106-yard score at Indy in Week 16 of the 2009 season.
“The biggest thing is we’re just going to do what we do, try to execute our assignments, find a hole and hit it,” Smith said this week. “Hopefully we can do it well enough to break one and to get good field position for our offense. Every opponent, it’s all about what we do and hopefully they’ll have to adjust to us.”
Punter Pat McAfee handles kickoff chores for the Horseshoes and he totaled 16 touchbacks during the regular season.
“Their kicker is like ninth in the league in touchbacks,” said the versatile Smith. “They do a good job of covering it because they do a good job of covering when they have to. It’s just a solid all-around group. They play their responsibilities well. We just have to try to find something to take advantage of.”
But a number of Indy injuries have forced major realignments across the board and that has affected their coverage units. After surrendering a 78-yard punt-return TD to the Jags’ Mike Thomas in Week 15, the Colts allowed a 99-yard KR TD to the Raiders’ Jacoby Ford in Week 16 and then dangerous Titans return man Marc Mariani had a 47-yarder last week at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We approach it the same. We want to score each and every time we get our hands on the ball, on kickoff returns, punt returns,” said Smith. “It’s not a different approach — it’s a consistent approach of trying to make a play when we’re out there.”
The Colts defense will also have to prepare to see No. 16 on offense. He rushed for a career-high 299 yards in 2010, averaging a healthy 7.9 yards a carry, and he also completed a long 45-yard toss to Jerricho Cotchery in last year’s conference championship.
“We haven’t talked about revenge too much. They came out, played a game and beat us,” said the friendly yet deadly assassin. “They played better than us the last game. It’s just a matter of coming out and trying to do what we need to win. Just saying revenge is not going to do anything because it’s just a word. It’s about going on the field and playing hard, playing passionate and playing well.”
Colts in a Zone
While the Colts dramatically improved their rush defense late in the season, you don’t hear much talk about their retooled secondary. They ranked 13th in yards allowed (214.6 per game) despite losing three regulars — S Bob Sanders, S Melvin Bullitt and CB Jerraud Powers — to injured reserve.
“They’re pretty much a zone defense, but they’re fast-flow,” said WR Jerricho Cotchery. “Those guys [DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis] get after the quarterback, so you don’t have very long to work your guy on the outside to get open. They do play zone, but you don’t have much time.”
The Colts actually ranked just tied for 23rd in sacks, amassing 30 in 16 regular-season contests. Freeney, who had 10, will match up with D’Brickashaw Ferguson while Mathis, who racked up 11, will draw either Damien Woody or Wayne Hunter.
“You see a little bit of man sometimes when you pressure,” said Cotchery, “but they really don’t have to bring extra guys in to pressure when you have Freeney and Mathis on the edge.”
The Colts list Kelvin Hayden and Jacob Lacey as their starting LCB and RCB respectively while Aaron Francisco and Antoine Bethea man the safety spots.
“They have a great system over there where they say, ‘Next man up.’ They expect the next man up to step up and play up to the standards of what they expect. I see the same guys flying around. I see Bethea making plays. You have Freeney and Mathis still and [Gary] Brackett, so you see some of the same guys,” Cotchery said. “And once you have those guys on defense, the other guys that they plug in, they have to step their game up a notch because those guys are expecting it from them.”
Work for Revis
It is no surprise that Darrelle Revis will draw the assignment of Reggie Wayne. The Colts’ 10-year vet had a fantastic year with 111 receptions, 1,355 yards and six touchdowns. And while Peyton Manning, working with a shuffled deck, respects the league’s No. 1 corner, he’s not going to completely avoid Revis.
“He threw at me a couple of times last year,” Revis said. “You have to expect that you’re on the hot seat all the time when you’re out there covering Reggie Wayne, Garçon and those guys. Peyton is going to read the defense and whatever his best 1-on-1 matchup or his best matchup, he’s going to throw the ball no matter what.”
Wayne caught three balls in the championship game for 55 yards after hauling in three catches for 33 yards back in Week 16.
“He’s one of the best at putting balls where defensive backs can’t get it,” Revis said of Manning. “So I think that’s the toughest part. You might be on a guy with good coverage, but Peyton finds a way to back-shoulder you on a fade route or put the ball where it needs to be where only the receiver can get it.”
Tags: Brad Smith, Darrelle Revis, Indianapolis Colts, Jerricho Cotchery, Lucas Oil Stadium, Peyton Manning
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