Thanks to their high-powered offense, the Indianapolis Colts are one of two undefeated teams left in the NFL.
To get to 6-0 for the second year in a row, however, the Colts may need to fix their rush defense, which figures to get a workout when the Washington Redskins visit the RCA Dome on Sunday.
Only eight teams in NFL history have started 6-0 in consecutive seasons, something the Colts can accomplish Sunday. They’ve managed to stay undefeated— along with Chicago—thanks to their fourth-ranked offense, which is averaging 357 yards per game.
With the league’s worst run defense that’s allowing 166.8 yards per game, however, Indianapolis has been lucky to escape its first five games without a loss.
“At some point, you’re going to have games when you have to stop the run,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “Fortunately, when we’ve had to do that, we’ve been able to. There are times when we’ve done it, but we’ve got to do it on a much more consistent basis.”
The Colts gave up an astounding 214 yards on the ground to Tennessee two weeks ago, nearly losing to the previously winless Titans before Peyton Manning threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with 5:10 remaining to pull out a 14-13 victory.
“It’s not anything that we have to do any type of rocket-scientist type work,” Dungy said. “I think we’ll get it fixed, but it’s worrisome.”
Indianapolis used its bye week to work on shoring up the defense, then acquired defensive tackle Anthony McFarland just before the trading deadline Tuesday.
Obtained from Tampa Bay for second-round draft pick in 2007, the 6-foot, 300-pound McFarland becomes the Colts’ biggest lineman and is expected to fill Corey Simon’s spot.
“I think any time you have a high-caliber player where his ability fits a team’s need, he would make a quick impact,” said McFarland’s agent, Karl Bernard. “We’re hoping it’s the missing piece to the puzzle.”
Simon, whose presence solidified the Colts’ defense last year, hasn’t played this season. He had arthroscopic surgery on his knee in mid-August, then was placed on the non-football illness-injury list Oct. 5 with an illness that Indianapolis won’t disclose.
After nearly beating the Colts, Tennessee got its first victory by knocking off Washington 25-22 last week, sending the Redskins into a panic. Expected to be a Super Bowl contender, Washington has lost four of its first six games and is struggling to generate offense.
Mark Brunell will remain the starting quarterback despite his uneven play this season. Brunell set an NFL record by completing 22 straight passes in a 31-15 win over Houston in Week 3, then followed that up with a 329-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 36-30 overtime victory against Jacksonville the next week.
In the last two games, though, he is 28-of-52 for 289 yards, one touchdown and one interception, prompting speculation that coach Joe Gibbs might make a switch.
“I’m not afraid to change anything and I don’t think I would hesitate to change something if it’s best for our football team,” Gibbs said Monday. “Right now, changing Mark—I don’t think that’s the answer.”
Running the ball against the Colts’ porous defense could solve some of Washington’s problems.
The Redskins have had success on the ground in their victories, piling up 234 yards on the Texans and 152 against the Jaguars.
Clinton Portis, fully recovered from the shoulder injury that hampered him at the start of the year, has six rushing touchdowns, second in the NFL.
In the loss to the Titans, however, he had only 14 carries for 58 yards.
“I’m focused right now on fixing this,” Gibbs said of the team’s poor start. “I will look at everything. I’m not focused on any one person. I’m focused on all of us together.”
While the Colts still have their offense playing at a high level, the Redskins are hampered by inconsistencies on both sides of the ball.
Washington has given up 349 total rushing yards in consecutive losses and ranks 24th in passing defense, allowing 222 yards per game.
The Redskins signed veteran defensive back Troy Vincent on Monday to help the secondary, which has been bolstered by the return of cornerback Shawn Springs after he missed the first five games with groin and abdomen injuries.
Washington will need all the help it can get defensively against the Colts. Indianapolis has won 18 of its last 21 home games and is averaging 27 points overall this season.
The duo has balanced Indianapolis’ offensive attack—the team has eight passing touchdowns and seven rushing TDs.
“Me and Joseph are both out there producing, and that’s the bottom line, we’re producing and helping this team win,” Rhodes said. “It’s not about one person, it’s about all of us.”
Washington has won four of the last five matchups with Indianapolis, including a 26-21 victory on Oct. 27, 2002, in the teams’ last meeting.
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