Indianapolis cranks up pressure with aggressive approach
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Colts linebacker Erik Walden likes coach Chuck Pagano’s gambling mentality.
He’s hoping it sticks.
After turning a fourth-down try into a touchdown on the game’s opening series last weekend and attempting an onside kick in the second quarter, Pagano has promised to double down on his play calls — a promise his players have embraced.
“Anytime you have an approach like that, it motivates you whether you get it or not,” Walden said. “It shows he has faith in you.”
Get used to it.
A year ago, the Colts (3-3) successfully executed three surprise onside kicks on their way to a second straight division title and a third straight playoff appearance.
They tried it again Sunday and nearly pulled it off against the defending Super Bowl champs. In fact, Pagano was so certain the Colts had possession he challenged the call even though he knew the replay had to show a “clear” recovery for the call to be overturned.
Pagano lost the challenge, and the New England Patriots took advantage of the good field position by driving for a touchdown.
Of course, Pagano has taken plenty of criticism this week for gambling on another play: Down six points in the third quarter, Pagano called for an unusual formation and a fake punt that blew up in his face. A premature snap to the safety ended with the Patriots taking over and driving for a TD.
None of the failures seem likely to deter Pagano from staying aggressive.
“We’ve got the best kicker in the league at doing it,” Pagano said earlier this week, a reference to Pat McAfee and his onside kicks. “I think our special teams coaches do a fabulous job of designing ways to get extra possessions if you will. If there’s something there and it’s to be had, I see these guys practice it and practice it and practice it over and over and over again during the week and weeks past. It’s not just something we pull the dust off.”
With Pagano in the final year of his contract, the Colts can’t afford to back down as they try to stay atop the AFC South.
They’re in the midst of a brutal five-game stretch in which they face some of the league’s best quarterbacks and top teams. After losing to Tom Brady and the perfect Patriots last weekend, they get Drew Brees and the Saints (2-4) on Sunday, Cam Newton and unbeaten Carolina the following week, Peyton Manning and the unbeaten Broncos on Nov. 8 and Matt Ryan and the one-loss Falcons on Nov. 22.
That doesn’t mean anything goes, though.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said Thursday it was never his intention to run 26 consecutive pass plays in the fourth quarter last weekend and that he has to do a better job finding balance even if the Colts are trying to get back into a game.
“I probably was a bit overzealous at the end,” Hamilton said. “I probably should have done a better job of mixing in a screen or a draw to help against a good pass rushing front.”
But whatever Pagano decides, one thing is certain: He believes in his players and they believe in him pushing the issue.
“What’s not good about it? Fourth-and-1? Our offense will get that all day,” Walden said. “And he believes in us.”
Notes: Safeties Mike Adams (hamstring) and Clayton Geathers (knee) did not practice Thursday. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson also was given an extra day of rest. ... Linebacker Jerrell Freeman (groin) did limited work. ... Cornerback Dontae Davis, linebacker Robert Mathis and receiver Andre Johnson all returned to practice after taking Wednesday off. Linebacker Nate Irving, who sat out Wednesday because of a knee injury, also was a full participant Thursday.