PHOENIX -- The scenario has been the same in the past three meetings between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady taking the snap and handing the ball off to one of his running backs.
Over and over again, no matter who the running back is. And over and over again that running back would run around, by and through the Colts' defense.
Colts owner Jim Irsay knows all too well about that.
“It’s concerning, obviously, when you have 657 yards in three games,” he said. “You have 219 yards a game against you on the ground and that doesn’t bode well.”
Irsay didn’t have those numbers written down on a piece of paper when he brought it up on Monday. He rattled them off the top of his head like he’s been steaming about it for the past two months since his team lost to the Patriots, 45-7, in the AFC Championship Game.
Irsay’s orders to general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano was that they had to improve their run defense.
“We have to get stronger up the middle,” Grigson said. “We have to do a better job as a whole, collectively, myself with the personnel, adjusting the schemes, adapting. The mandate from our owner down is to be able to stop the run in January and make the adaptations during the game to stop the bleeding, so to speak.”
The Colts made a little progress with their run defense, going from 26th in the league in that category in 2013 to finishing 18th last season.
But that’s not good enough. They need to do better, a lot better in that area.
“It’s our Achilles heel right now,” Pagano said. “We either get it fixed or it will be somebody else getting it fixed.”
Having a healthy Art Jones will help the Colts’ defensive front. Jones missed seven games last season because of a high-ankle sprain. The Colts went into the AFC Championship Game giving up 4.67 yards a carry and 12 rushing touchdowns without Jones on the field and 3.73 yards a carry and only two rushing touchdowns with him on the field.
The Colts lost Cory Redding to Arizona at the start of free agency and released Ricky Jean Francois last month off the defensive line. They signed Kendall Langford to take Redding’s spot, but there are still question marks on who will plug the middle of the line to give the Colts some push in the backfield.
Indianapolis was never in the mix for former Patriots mammoth defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who signed with Houston last week. The Colts are likely going to stay in house when it comes to playing defensive tackle for them.
Zach Kerr, Montori Hughes, Kelcy Quarles and Jeris Pendleton are all in the mix for the job. Experience is not on the side of any of those players. They’ve combined to play a total of just 33 games in seven seasons.
“We have guys that are big, athletic guys that can run, but they’ve got to develop and they have to come through,” Pagano said. “I don’t think they have a choice. None of us have a choice.”
Grigson added, “It’s time. I feel like we’re in a good spot with our youth that people don’t really know guys yet.”