By Tom James CNHI New Service
---- — INDIANAPOLIS - Outside linebacker Robert Mathis, one of the Indianapolis Colts two most vested veterans, has taken it upon himself to make sure his team is ready for Sunday’s AFC South matchup with Houston.
Mathis and injured wide receiver Reggie Wayne have been with the Colts the longest. They, along with defensive end Cory Redding and safety Antoine Bethea, have become important voices in the Indianapolis locker room.
With the Colts having already locked up the division title, the next goal is to finish the regular season strong and be ready to roll into the playoffs.
But that’s easier said than done. Indianapolis has lost three of the last five games and the defense has been giving up yards and points by the bucketful.
If the Colts want to do any damage in the post-season, that trend has to stop. The defense will be severely tested by a 2-11 Houston team that has the ability to score quickly and often.
“It’s a division game, [a] division rival. [They’ve] got a roster that’s loaded with great talent. They’ve got a good football team. You look at their last six ballgames that they’ve played. They’ve lost those six ballgames by a combined total of 28 points,” head coach Chuck Pagano warned Wednesday.
“They’re coming in here to win a football game. We all know that and so we’ll prepare accordingly.”
Mathis and the rest of his Colts defensive teammates know all about Houston and how explosive their offense can be.
The Texans jumped out to a 21-3 lead the first time the two teams faced off this season at Reliant Stadium. Quarterback Case Keenum and Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson lead the way for the Houston offense.
“We have to get back to basics and do our job,” Mathis said of the Colts’ recent defensive struggles. “[You] have to get [Keenum] under wraps. You just can’t let him get going knowing he’s the engine that drives their offensive machine. [We] have to stay on him just as much as we can.”
Redding knows that it’s time for Indianapolis to raise it’s overall game up a couple of notches.
“We got the make up and the pieces to do this. As far as catching fire, all I know about is going back to work. Just being very detailed on the little things. That’s what it boils down to. Trust and execution,” he explained.
“No matter how you slice it, whenever you look at the tape, grading myself and everybody else, [its] all about trust and execution. As long as we do that, we should be fine.”
The fact that Sunday’s game features another AFC South opponent makes it even more important. The Colts are already 4-0 in the division with Houston and Jacksonville remaining on the schedule.
“We got to go out and win those games in our division. We want to keep the presence of dominance in the league as far as our division. That’s what we got to do,” Redding continued.
“This is a big game. It’s the next one. It’s our division opponent. Even though we have the title right now, as far as claiming [the AFC] south. We still got to go out and put good tape on the field and go out and put a good product on the field.”
Injury list -- Wide receiver LaVon Brazill (foot), fullback Stanley Havili (knee), defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois (foot), offensive guard/tackle Jeff Linkenbach (quad), and center Samson Satele (elbow) did not practice on Wednesday.
Cornerback Greg Toler (groin) saw limited work. Rookie offensive guard Hugh Thornton (neck) fully practiced but wore a protective pad.
Hilton help -- With Wayne sidelined for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn meniscus, second-year wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has tried to pick up the slack by being the Colts’ primary receiver.
Opposing teams, however, have found success double-teaming Hilton on a regular basis. The rest of the team’s receiving corps -- most notably veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey -- haven’t been able to help fill the void.
A pair of youngsters -- rookie Da’Rick Rogers (six catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns) and Brazill (three receptions for 53 yards and two TDs) -- had big games in last week’s loss at Cincinnati. For Indianapolis to having any kind of success in the passing game going forward this season, the pair will need to continue to raise the level of their overall play.
“Whether they’re doubling [Hilton], dropping somebody down, a linebacker or an extra safety to give a nickel back or whatever extra help on him, rolling the coverage to him, I’m sure he’s one of the guys they talk about as a game-wrecker. They’re going to make sure he doesn’t wreck the game,” Pagano said.
“LaVon and Da’Rick, [the games that] they had last week, the numbers that they had and the production that they had, certainly now hopefully we continue that trend and it’ll take some of that coverage, take it maybe away from T.Y. We got to get him going again.”
Rogers had a history of off-field issues while in college at Tennessee. He was not drafted after finishing his career at Tennessee Tech last season. After being signed, and subsequently released, by Buffalo, he wound up on the Colts’ practice squad.
“He got a second chance and he’s taken advantage of the opportunity that this organization has given him. Now it’s a matter of handling success. And that’s something that we’ll continue to talk to him daily about,” the Indianapolis coach said.
“Nothing has shown us that he’s not [been able to handle success] to this point. So I would have to say yes. Time will tell.”
Rogers and Brazill are expected to see as much, or more, playing than the enigmatic Heyward-Bey, who has struggled with consistency this season.
“You know what, they were productive in that football game and they gave us a spark in that second half [at Cincinnati]. And so certainly they’ve earned a right to play more,” Pagano said.
League agrees with Colts -- National Football League supervisor of officials Dean Blandino admitted Tuesday night during an appearance on the NFL Network that game officials made a mistake during Indianapolis’ loss to the Bengals.
The much-discussed fourth-down goal line stop of Cincinnati running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who was later awarded a touchdown after a replay review, was the play in question.
“It wasn’t a correct call,” Blandino said “We made a mistake here.”
Second-year nose tackle Josh Chapman appeared to get a hand on Green-Ellis’ foot, which forced him to stumble and come up short of the goal line. The running back wound up in the end zone after the run had been blown dead by officials.
“The call on the field was that he was touched and he was down by contact with the ball short of the goal line. In order to overturn that there has to be indisputable visual evidence that the call on the field was incorrect. That’s the standard,” he explained.
“When we look at these angles, it’s close. Don’t think it’s definitive either way. And when it’s not definitive either way, that means the call on the field should stand. So we made a mistake here. This should not have been overturned. This should have been Indianapolis’ ball.”