Coach Tony Dungy hopes that his team can earn some recognition for its defense this season.
The Colts debut what they hope will be a faster, more aggressive defense as they open the season against the revamped Cleveland Browns.
Last season, the Colts’ defensive ranking jumped from 29th to eighth under the guidance of first-year coach Dungy, the architect of Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay’s tenacious defense.
However, the Colts didn’t exactly slow the opposition down. The run defense allowed 4.3 yards per carry and 16 touchdowns and the Colts forced just 27 turnovers.
Dungy is hoping that his defense has learned to move faster and hit harder.
“It’s like being in your house,” said defensive end Dwight Freeney, who had a breakout season in 2002. “The more you’re in it, the more you know where all the steps are, all the cracks are, everything.”
The Colts have added a tough safety in second-round pick Mike Doss and a quick pass rusher in defensive end Robert Mathis. Dungy also moved defensive end Chad Bratzke to a part-time role at tackle, hoping that the extra rest will make him more adept at getting to the quarterback.
However, linebacker Mike Peterson, who led the team in tackles in two of the last three seasons, left for Jacksonville in the offseason. His replacement, David Thornton, will be making his first NFL start Sunday.
Dungy is optimistic.
“I think our defense is getting the idea of what they can do and the way we can play,” he said. “I really like where we are right now.”
On offense, the Colts are hoping James can rebound from the injuries that have hampered him for the past three seasons and that Manning can cut down on his interceptions. He was picked off 19 times last season and 23 in 2001.
Harrison is looking to extend his NFL record of five straight 100-reception seasons. Last year, he caught a record 143 passes.
“With our offense and the continuity he and Peyton have together, he could have a year where he averages 10 catches per game,” Dungy said of his top wideout.
Cleveland coach Butch Davis has been reconstructing his team since it suffered a disappointing 36-33 first-round playoff loss to Pittsburgh last season.
Davis fired defensive coordinator Foge Fazio and replaced him with former Dallas coach Dave Campo.
He also cut starting linebackers Darren Hambrick, Earl Holmes and Dwayne Rudd and cornerback Corey Fuller. Davis’ starting linebackers this season will be Andra Davis, Kevin Bentley and Ben Taylor—all second-year players.
“He believes in the people he has,” right tackle Ryan Tucker said of his coach. “The easy thing for him to do would be to keep things the same and try to progress. But he thought we could be a lot better with the moves that he’s made. He’s our guy, and we have to trust what he does and go with it.”
2002 STANDINGS: Colts - 2nd place, AFC South. Browns - 2nd place, NFC North.
2002 COLTS LEADERS: Offense - Manning, 4,200 passing yards and 27 passing TDs; James, 989 rushing yards; James Mungro, 8 rushing TDs; Harrison, 143 receptions, 1,722 receiving yards and 11 receiving TDs. Defense - Mike Peterson, 104 tackles and 3 INTs; Dwight Freeney, 13 sacks.
2002 BROWNS LEADERS: Offense - Couch, 2,842 passing yards and 18 passing TDs; William Green, 887 rushing yards and 6 rushing TDs; Kevin Johnson, 67 receptions; Quincy Morgan, 964 receiving yards and 7 receiving TDs. Defense - Holmes, 95 tackles; Kenard Lang, 5 1/2 sacks; Earl Little, 4 INTs.
2002 COLTS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 97.6 yards per game (26th in NFL); Passing Offense - 253.4 ypg (4th); Total Offense - 351.0 ypg (9th). Rushing Defense - 124.5 ypg (20th); Passing Defense - 182.3 ypg (2nd); Total Defense - 306.8 ypg (8th).
2002 BROWNS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 100.9 ypg (23rd); Passing Offense - 213.3 ypg (18th); Total Offense - 314.2 ypg (23rd). Rushing Defense - 129.9 ypg (27th); Passing Defense - 204.3 ypg (15th); Total Defense - 334.2 ypg (21st).
LAST MEETING: Dec. 15, 2002; Colts, 28-23. At Cleveland, the Colts rebounded from deficits of 16-0 at halftime and 24-14 in the fourth quarter to win the game. Manning threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns to Harrison, who caught nine passes for 172 yards. Couch threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-35 passing.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Colts - In four preseason games, the Colts forced 17 fumbles, 14 turnovers and piled up 11 sacks. … The Colts’ four-game winning streak on opening day is the second longest in the NFL behind Miami (11). … Indianapolis’ offense has gained at least 5,000 yards in each of the last five seasons and has scored 400 points in three of the last four. … QB Manning has made 80 straight starts and thrown for at least 4,000 yards in four straight seasons. Browns - In the playoff loss to Pittsburgh, QB Holcomb threw for 429 yards. … Davis said that WR Andre Davis, who was nursing a knee injury for much of August, is doing well and is planning to return kickoffs Sunday. … The Browns won five of their last seven games last season to earn a wild-card playoff berth.
2002 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Colts - 5-3 on the road; Browns - 3-5 at home.
INJURIES: Colts - OUT: CB Joseph Jefferson (pelvis); CB Donald Strickland (groin). DOUBTFUL: RB Mungro (ribs). QUESTIONABLE: RB Dominic Rhodes (knee); WR Brandon Stokley (hamstring). PROBABLE: S Idrees Bashir (knee); S Cory Bird (shoulder); DE Bratzke (foot); DE Raheem Brock (neck); TE Dallas Clark (thigh); CB Nicholas Harper (knee); CB Walt Harris (knee); QB Brock Huard (hand); DE Robert Mathis (knee); T Adam Meadows (foot); LB Rob Morris (knee); LB Jim Nelson (hand); DT Montae Reagor (back); DT Brad Scioli (shoulder); G Steve Sciullo (shoulder); RB Detron Smith (hamstring). Browns - PROBABLE: CB Michael Lehan (calf); CB Lewis Sanders (hamstring).