The Washington Times-Herald

December 1, 2012

For Colts, perception is everything

Tom James
Tribune Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to today's interconference matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Detroit Lions (1 p.m., CBS Sports), perception is everything.

Indianapolis brings a 7-4 record into the game, with the Colts winners of six of their last six games and prime contenders for one of the two available AFC playoff wild-card berths. The Lions, meanwhile, are 4-7 and have lost their last three games. Their hopes of making a post-season run are starting to fade.

But look a little closer. The Colts have dropped three of its five road games so far this season and have been outscored 135-54 in blowouts losses to Chicago (41-21), the New York Jets (35-9) and New England (59-21). Indianapolis is a minus-12 in takeaway/giveway ratio in games played away from Lucas Oil Stadium.

Then there's Detroit, who have been beaten 34-24 by Minnesota, 24-20 by Green Bay and 34-31 in overtime to Houston a week ago. The Lions have been competitive and, in the case of the loss to the Texans, downright unlucky. A missed officials call on a Houston touchdown run, and a replay review mistake by Detroit coach Jim Schwartz in trying to challenge the play, proved to be the difference in the game.

Statistically-speaking, the Colts and Lions are very similar. Detroit is 14th in the league in points per game (24.3) and Indianapolis is 21st (20.9). The Lions are second in total offense (412.9 yards per game) and the Colts fifth (386 ypg). Detroit is first in net passing yards (312.5) and 24th in net rushing yards (100.5). Indianapolis is seventh in passing (277.7) and 17th in rushing (108.3).

It's the same for the defense. The Lions are ranked 24th in opponents scoring (25.5), 14th in opponent total offense (343.8), 22nd in opponent net rushing (122.4) and 11th in opponent net passing (221.5). The Colts, meanwhile, are 22nd in opponents scoring (24.8), 20th in opponent total offense (355.0), 21st in opponent net rushing (121.2) and 19th in opponent net passing (233.8).

Across the board, Indianapolis and Detroit are close to being mirror images of each other. Both have former No. 1 overall draft picks as their starting quarterbacks, Matthew Stafford for the Lions and Andrew Luck for the Colts.

But there are some very noticeable differences, of course. Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson is younger and bigger than the Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne, although both are very good.

The Lions defensive line is rated much better than the Colts defensive front with a starting group of ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch along with tackles Ndamukong Suh (also a former No. 1 draft pick) and Corey Williams. Nick Fairley, another former first-round pick, is also rotated into the game at tackle to spell Suh or Williams.

When reviewing game tape of Indianapolis, Schwartz -- the former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator -- admits he sees a lot of his town team. The difference in their records can be attributed to making the right plays at the right times.

"We’re 4-7, you don’t get style points. You don’t do anything other than get wins and losses in this league. You can say the same thing about the Colts. The Colts are 7-4 and other than that Jacksonville win, down in Jacksonville a few weeks ago, all of them have been less than a touchdown. They’ve gotten those wins, and their losses have been blowouts," Schwartz said late last week.

"Again, you don’t get style points on a blowout loss. They don’t count any more than a close loss, an overtime loss, or anything else. That’s the name of the game in the NFL and you have to find a way to be able to make that one play. That’s the way the league goes. I think the Colts have done a really good job of not just hanging in games but finding a way to make that one at the end of the game.”

While Indianapolis' ultimate goal is to maintain their wild-card positioning for the playoffs, the Lions are just trying to tread water and hopefully work their way back into contention for the post-season.

“I think that’s been, that’s been one of the things that’s been on our, I don’t know what you’d call it, radar or whatever the entire season. Even back in training camp people were talking about the playoffs. I’m not talking about players, people in the media, fans, people around the league. You say, hey all we have to do is go out and compete from week to week and leave the other stuff for the end of the season when that stuff happens," the Lions coach said.

"I think we have to be able to stay in the moment. You have to be able to do that in this league. The last two Super Bowl champs were 9-7 at the end of the season. Both of them were 7-7 with two weeks to go. I think that it’s not always as clear cut as everybody would like it to be. This league has always rewarded people who are resilient and play until the very end. The only game we have this week is the Colts and I think that’s the only thing we can concentrate on. If we do a good job with that, then we go to the next week.”

Schwartz' comments pretty much mirrors what Indianapolis interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians continues to preach to his team.

"I think we’ve been able to play at the end of halves and at the end of games extremely well on offense. But we’re the type of team, we’re going to be in a lot of close games and fortunately we’ve found a lot of ways to win them," Arians voiced.

"The big thing for us is to go on the road and protect the football and play good defense and bring those special teams with us on the road and see if we can play our best football on the road.”