1. I've only watched the Steelers this season, so pardon my ignorance, but since Robert Mathis is gone, how are the Colts getting a pass rush?
The Colts' 3-4 scheme is predicated on a lot of blitzing from the front seven with solid coverage. Cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Greg Toler have been solid in press coverage, which has allowed coordinator Greg Manusky to bring extra rushers. As a result, the sacks are spread around with 10 different guys contributing to the 21-sack total. Teams can't concentrate on one pass rusher. It's been one of the most surprising developments this season for a defense that won't have the reigning NFL sack champion for the entire season.
2. What are the Colts' tendencies on offense and defense?
As mentioned above, the 3-4 defense blitzes a lot and gets steady pressure on the pocket. That has caused a lot of problems for opposing offenses, particularly in the last four games, in which foes have converted only one third down in each game. The Colts are No. 1 in stopping opponents on third down at 26 percent (20-of-77). The offense is built around Andrew Luck, who leads the NFL with 2,331 passing yards and entered the weekend tied with Peyton Manning for the league lead in TD passes with 19. The Colts will try to establish the run and give it some balance, but typically the pass game with nine different targets catching at least nine passes forces the defense to cover and opens up run lanes.
Expect to see Hakeem Nicks take on a larger role as the No. 2 wide receiver after T.Y. Hilton, then Moncrief, the rookie, should get more snaps and a few passes. Moncrief has handled himself well in limited duty and, at times, has actually spelled Nicks in the base offense. Whalen might get a few snaps, too, but the hunch is you will see more Moncrief than Whalen.
4. The Colts have played great defense this year (third yardage, fourth scoring, first third downs). Last year the defense was only so-so during the regular season and gave up 88 points in two playoff games. What do you attribute this resurgence to?
The secondary has been solid, and that allows the Colts to blitz more when the down and distances are advantageous. The Colts have been decent against the run. Teams can't just play smashmouth. So when it reaches third down, count on extra guys coming. The pass play had better be quick because there's going to be someone pressuring the pocket to speed up the quarterback's internal clock. Baltimore's Joe Flacco observed after a 20-13 loss at Indianapolis that he knew where to go with the ball in these situations but didn't have the time because the Colts often brought more pass rushers than could be blocked.
5. What has led to the Colts' recent success in protecting Andrew Luck?
The Colts utilize the running backs a lot in the pass game, so Luck often dumps it off when pressured. And after some shuffling of guys due to injuries, the Colts have had some continuity up front, although they're young on the interior with rookie Jack Mewhort at left guard, rookie Jonotthan Harrison at center and second-year Hugh Thornton at right guard. Tight ends Jack Doyle and Dwayne Allen help out a lot as blockers, as do running backs Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. Many times, blitzers have been picked off by these guys, and that buys Luck more time to get off a throw. Luck is also smarter in getting rid of the ball, although he still sometimes tries to extend a play too long and has been known to make a risky throw now and then as opposed to taking a sack.