AFC Playoffs: Defensive Revival in Indy

The Colts defense was ridiculed repeatedly in the media this season with many analysts claiming Indy couldn't win a Super Bowl because of their defense. But the return of safety Bob Sanders has helped spur a defensive revival in Indianapolis -- and renewed their hopes of a championship season.

After the Colts' 15-6 victory in Baltimore that provided them with a return ticket to the AFC Championship game, Bob Sanders found himself surrounded in the locker room by members of the media who mainly wanted the answer to one simple question.

What is it that the Pro Bowl safety does for this Indy defense that helps it play at such a high level when he's on the field?

Sanders quickly deflected the notion that his presence has been responsible for the Colts' defense's two dominating performances in the playoffs.

"I don't even think about it like that," he said. "My job is just to go out there and do what I do and keep playing fast. That's something I've tried to do all year. 

"Since I've been back, guys have are having a little more energy. We're in the playoffs, so that could be play a lot of part into that. So we're just going to continue to work and get better."

And Sanders is right to some degree. The entire defense has played harder and seemingly more intelligently and inspired since this team went into playoff mode after their final regular season game against Miami.

Indianapolis has allowed just one touchdown over the past two weeks and a total of just fourteen points. They've picked off four passes and recovered three fumbles. They've dropped the opposing quarterbacks a total of six times. 

And while their two playoff opponents to date were able to move the ball at times against them, the Colts defense only allowed them to convert a measly 13.6 percent of their third-downs. During the regular season, which included less than playoff-caliber teams in the mix, the Colts allowed a 47.1 percent third-down conversion rate.

But Sanders noted the difference in focus and energy that a playoff run is bringing to the Colts defense, saying, "We made plays when we had to."

Some of the reporters just weren't buying it though. Surely there's some magic, some charisma, something that Sanders does to elevate the play of Indy's defense. So they continued to press him for the answer.

Colts CB Nick Harper upends Ravens TE Todd Heap, knocking the ball loose (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
"I don't know. I have no idea. Maybe you can tell me," he said with a laugh. "You're watching, I don't know.

"It's the same guys out there, it's the same personnel and not much difference. I've just been able to get back out there and play and it just seems like guys want to work harder."

Whatever it is, the results certainly speak for themselves. An Indy defense that was the league's worst run defense allowing 173 yards per game has allowed an average of just 63.5 per game in the playoffs. And they've allowed just 185 total net yards per game versus an average of 332 during the regular season.

Sanders continued to point the credit to the entire defensive unit saying, "It's a new season, it's playoffs. Everybody's out to make plays."

And it's obvious that numerous Colts across the entire defensive unit have stepped up their game over the past two weeks. They're in a groove and playing with something to prove to the world.  And it couldn't have happened at a better time.

By the way, don't let Sanders' humble and team-oriented responses fool you. It sure didn't fool any of us in the Colts locker room Saturday night.

Earlier this week on the NFL Network, head coach Tony Dungy shared an important point about his defensive scheme when he noted that it's designed to funnel plays towards Bob Sanders. He talked about how it was set up the same way in Tampa Bay where they tried to funnel the runners to another hard-hitting, sure tackler -- John Lynch.

With Sanders missing for 12 games this season due to arthroscopic knee surgery and the Colts suffering additional injuries to the depth chart at safety during the season, they had to rotate players into his spot throughout the year -- and understandably got some very mixed results out of it.

But now he's back. He's making a difference. And he knows how he can help this team as they continue their quest a Super Bowl victory.

 "Just play fast. Play smart and play aggressive. Just bring a lot of energy," he said.

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