Who dat? Why, it's the Colts' defense

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Thank goodness for the name plates and jerseys that helped the media identify the Indianapolis Colts during Super Bowl XLIV interview sessions.

Otherwise, we never would have known who the defensive players were.

No joke. I cover the NFL for a living and couldn't pick most of these guys out of a police lineup. This may be the most anonymous unit to ever play in a Super Bowl.

Some fans can ID long-time Colts players like Dwight Freeney, Gary Brackett or Bob Sanders without their helmets. But Philip Wheeler? Antonio Johnson? Jerraud Powers?

Heck, even fans in Indianapolis don't recognize players when they're out on the town.

"The majority of the time I'll go out without being hassled," said Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster, a key cog in Indianapolis' improved run defense. "When people do notice me, they ask, 'Do you play?' I tell them and they're like, 'What's your name?' That's kind of fun to play with."

Individual acclaim isn't there, but that's one of the reasons for this unit's surprising success.

Colts president Bill Polian has done a masterful job assembling a quality defense from the scrap heap. If Freeney (ankle) doesn't play Sunday against New Orleans, the Colts' defense won't have a first-round draft choice on the field. Five starters and two key backups were either undrafted or claimed off waivers. Of the remaining six starters, four were chosen between rounds three and six.

Those humble NFL beginnings have fostered camaraderie among Colts defenders.

"Most guys on our defense started as underdogs," said weak-side linebacker Clint Session, a 2007 fourth-round pick. "We were told we were either too slow or too small. Everybody on our defense was put down at some point.

"We all play with a chip on our shoulder."

Feeding off underdog status is one reason for the Colts' defensive rise in 2009. So are the adjustments made by new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. Indianapolis is no longer strictly a cover-two defense. Coyer has modified the scheme to include more blitzing and varied pass coverages.

The long-standing knock against the Colts has been their run defense. But a unit that emphasizes speed over size has improved as the season unfolded. Indianapolis surrendered an average of 86.5 rushing yards during playoff victories against two of the NFL's top five rushing attacks: Baltimore and the New York Jets.

"From past history, guys have been able to move the ball on us," said defensive tackle Eric Foster, a 2008 college free agent and key cog in the Colts' run defense. "But we're changing the culture of, 'The Colts can't stop the run,' and that whole thing.

"Coach Coyer is a huge part of that. He really made it known that if we really, really, really believe we can stop the run, nobody can beat us. We've got the best quarterback (Peyton Manning) arguably in NFL history. We've got the pass rushers to get to the quarterback. All we need is to stop the run."

The Colts will need a solid all-around effort to stop the Saints' well-balanced offense. Freeney's availability and potential effectiveness are also in question because of an ankle injury. If he can't play, Indianapolis will be without the services of the NFL's top speed rusher.

Should the Colts win and mount a strong defensive effort, some of the unit's anonymity will be gone. But nobody on defense is expecting to get mentioned in the same breath as Manning.

"The offense scores points. They're allowed to get all that recognition," Session said. "Our job is to stop people from scoring. We don't need anyone to tout us. We just need to get our job done."