When Colts owner Jim Irsay decided to rebuild the team after the 2011 season, he insisted on finding the right balance.
Sure, he wanted an entertaining offense that would score points and sell tickets, but he also wanted a team capable of grinding out wins. He insisted on upgrading the defense and the coverage units, too, and now he's seeing the payoff.
After Sunday, Indianapolis was the only NFL team with an offense and a defense ranked in the league's top five — and still getting better.
"The whole defense is feeding off of each other right now," coach Chuck Pagano said Monday. "The energy that they're playing with, the effort that they're playing with right now. Anytime you have success like they're having, the confidence level is at an all-time high."
The Colts celebrated their 500th NFL win, including the postseason, by dominating one of the league's best offenses. In the 27-0 blowout, Cincinnati (3-2-1) managed just 135 total yards, the second fewest of coach Marvin Lewis' tenure and the fewest allowed by the Colts since their last shutout in December 2008.
Indy's defensive ascension is no fluke.
Since arriving in 2012, Pagano has repeatedly talked about the need to have a defense that plays consistently as well as the offense. These Colts (5-2) are starting to play that way.
Over the last five games, all wins, Indianapolis has forced 11 turnovers, made 20 sacks and allowed 15 points per game. The Colts have allowed just one third-down conversion in four straight games, while opponents are just 4 of 41 over that span. If the defense continues playing this well, Irsay might finally have the most complete team in the NFL.
Entering Monday night's game, the numbers looked like this:
— Andrew Luck was one of seven quarterbacks with a rating over 100 and was tied with Peyton Manning for the league lead in touchdown passes (19). Luck already has six 300-yard games this season and is on pace for second-most completions in a single season in league history.
— The Colts already have five 100-yard games rushing this season, including 127 against Baltimore, and a season-best 171 against Cincinnati, and were ranked No. 12.
— Indy's defense had cracked the top 10 in overall yards, yards rushing, yards passing allowed, sacks, points per game and third-down conversions allowed.
— Pat McAfee led the NFL in net punting average (44.8) with only one touchback. He also had the league's highest touchback total on kickoffs (36) and was 3 for 3 on onside kicks.
— Adam Vinatieri, the only player in NFL history to score 900 points with two teams, has been virtually automatic. He's made 20 consecutive field goals, dating to Week 14 of last season.
— And according to STATS, Indy's current average possession time of 36 minutes, 56 seconds would shatter the highest total since 1981. The 1984 Bears (35:08) are the only club over that stretch to hold the ball for more than 35 minutes.
"If we can run the ball for 170-plus yards a game and throw it for 300-plus, that's great," Pagano said. "I've said from Day 1 that to win at any level, you've got to be able to run it and stop the run. That was a blueprint for success right there yesterday. If you were going to draw it up, you can't draw it up any better."
Still, Pagano sees flaws.
A year ago, the Colts held the turnovers and penalties in check. This season, that's a concern.
Only three teams entered Monday with more giveaways than Indy (13) and only six had more penalties than the Colts (51). Indy also blew two scoring chances Sunday because of red-zone fumbles, and Luck nearly had a couple of other passes picked off. Pagano will spend this week trying to get those mistakes cleaned up before Sunday's game at Pittsburgh.
But this year's combination has been better than most people expected three years ago when Pagano, Irsay and a host of young players began Indy's transformation.
"We always want to perform at a high level. We always want to be able to score points and win the game," tight end Dwayne Allen said. "We really kind of put blinders on. The defense is doing great. All we see is we have the ball back, not the scoreboard or anything like that, because every possession our job is to go out there and score."
Notes: Receiver Reggie Wayne (elbow), inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (hip) and running back Trent Richardson (hamstring) all were scheduled for MRIs on Monday. Pagano said he did not yet have results on the three injured players.
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