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Colts’ defense hoping to change image as playoffs heat up

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Mike Adams spent his first 10 NFL seasons developing his own perception of the Colts.

He bought into the theory that Indianapolis needed a high-scoring offense to win games. He also realized the Colts needed a better defense to win championships.

Now, the Colts’ starting strong safety and his teammates want to show the rest of the league image isn’t everything.

“We’re good enough to win, and that’s what you need to do at this point in the season. Stats don’t matter,” Adams said Monday. “But to win games like this, at Denver, our defense has to step up.”

The defense has done that before.

During their 2006 title run, Indy held Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson to 32 yards on 13 carries in a wild-card round win, limited Baltimore to two field goals in a divisional-round win, closed out the AFC championship game victory with Marlin Jackson’s interception and sealed their previous Super Bowl win with a 56-yard interception return from Kelvin Hayden. All that came after the Colts had allowed 375 yards rushing in a Week 14 loss to Jacksonville.

Could it happen again? Perhaps.

Since allowing 244 yards rushing in Week 11, the Colts have buckled down.

When Andrew Luck and the offense were plagued by turnovers and a rash of drive-killing penalties over the final six regular-season games, the defense played well enough to help the Colts (12-5) win five of the six.

When Luck protected the ball in Sunday’s 26-10 wild-card win over Cincinnati, the defense held up again. Indy limited Cincinnati to five first downs, 98 total yards and four straight three-and-outs in the second half.

Sure, detractors will contend the Bengals’ top two receivers, A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, were inactive because of injuries. But the Colts also limited the NFL’s top rookie rusher, Jeremy Hill, to 47 yards on 13 carries. And after allowing a 23-yard end around on Cincinnati’s first offensive play, the Bengals ran 20 more times for 87 yards.

Defensive tackle Cory Redding liked what he saw Sunday, but he knows the Colts must play even better this weekend to survive against Peyton Manning at Denver (12-4).

“I think we did enough to do what we needed to do (against Cincinnati). We got the win,” Redding said. “So we’ve got to keep the same mojo, the same mindset this week.”

It was Manning’s release in March 2012 that spurred a major change in the Colts’ plans.

Team owner Jim Irsay, general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano agreed that Indianapolis needed to be more than a point-scoring machine to be a contender. They invested in a bigger, more physical defense and stronger special teams.

Three years later, that investment appears to be paying off.

Kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee are All-Pros, long snapper Matt Overton played in last year’s Pro Bowl and Indy’s coverage units were ranked among the league’s best this season.

Adams, who played with the Broncos in 2013, shared the league lead with seven takeaways. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who signed as a free agent last winter, led Indy with 111 tackles. Both are Pro Bowl alternates.

Linebacker Jonathan Newsome finished with 6½ sacks, the second-highest total among rookies.

And over the past nine games, the Colts have allowed 4.2 yards per carry, matching the league average. Excluding Tennessee’s 142-yard performance in the regular-season finale, when the Colts subbed more freely than usual, and the number drops to 4.1.

Meanwhile, Indy spent most of the season ranked in the top half of the league in pass defense and finished in the top 10 in sacks (41) – despite losing 2013 NFL sacks champion Robert Mathis for the entire season.

“We’re getting there,” defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said when asked to compare this defense to the stout units he was with in San Francisco. “There are a few things we’re still looking to improve. But I think we’re getting closer and closer, and I think we’ll get above that standard this postseason.”

Perhaps just in time to change their reputation.

“Even though we love No. 12 (Luck), we don’t want to put all that on his shoulders,” Adams said. “We want the defense to have an identity, we want the defense to go out there and make plays.”

Notes: The only significant injury from Sunday’s game, Pagano said, was to backup center Jonotthan Harrison. He was diagnosed with a concussion after an extra point attempt and will go through the league’s protocol. … Backup offensive lineman A.Q. Shipley (ankle) is expected to practice Wednesday after sitting out against Cincinnati. … Right guard Hugh Thornton (shoulder) is still listed as week to week. … Pagano also confirmed Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton met with Oakland Raiders officials about their head coaching vacancy. Pagano said he was unaware of any other teams seeking permission to speak with Hamilton.