People can second-guess Colts coach Jim Caldwell all they like about his decision to sacrifice a shot at an undefeated season to rest quarterback Peyton Manning and several other starters in the final two losses to the Jets and Bills. Caldwell’s goal was to have a healthy team playing at top speed in the playoffs, and that’s what he saw in the Colts’ 20-3 divisional playoff win over Baltimore.
The key to Indianapolis’ defense is speed off the corners with defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney along with the hustle of middle linebacker Gary Brackett. Caldwell said “no question” the Colts’ speed returned against the Ravens.
“That was the intent,” Caldwell said earlier this week. “Back on March 16, I had our first team meeting. I told them we wanted to enter the regular season fresh, hungry and well-prepared, and I believe we did. Going into the second season, that was one of our goals, as well.
“I really believe in speed, particularly at the time of year where you may be able to gain a step or two . It’s not guaranteed, but I’d rather lack a little bit in preparation and pick up a step or two in speed because you can make up for a mistake or two here and there.”
Caldwell saw in practice after the bye week that his team had its legs back. Recalling a conversation with assistant head coach Clyde Christensen, Caldwell said, “Both of us kind of looked at each other and I said, ‘Boy, did that seem fast to you out there today? Everybody seemed to be moving awfully fast and at a completely different level.’ He agreed.”
Perhaps the best example of the Colts’ speed and determination, was the play on which Manning was intercepted by Baltimore safety Ed Reed, who was run down from behind on a long return by Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who stripped the football, giving it right back to the Colts.
“That was a great play,” Caldwell said. “ epitomizes the type of effort our guys put forth.”
On the defensive side, Caldwell credited Brackett for playing “recklessly” and pressuring Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and recording the Colts’ only sack. “He was all over the field,” Caldwell said of Brackett. “I think that’s the way the entire defense played.”
Asked to evaluate the pass rush, Caldwell said it played a significant role in getting Flacco, who threw two interceptions, off his game.
“They put pressure on,” Caldwell said. “You may not get as many sacks as you would like, but when you look at the effect of the rush, that’s important. You’ll see was hurried; he was rushed. A few of those errant passes weren’t because he was off; he had to release it a little early.”
As the Colts’ coach sees it, the Jets — especially quarterback Mark Sanchez — are facing a different team, one that is fresh, fast and ready to go thanks to the mini-vacations Caldwell gave some players against the Jets and Bills.