With headlines primarily dominated by Peyton Manning’s absence and the current decision Indianapolis made at quarterback with Curtis Painter starting over Kerry Collins, it might be tempting to look past what the Colts still possess in their offensive backfield.
Sixth-year running back Joseph Addai, limited to eight games in 2010, is healthy again and has been increasingly active from week to week in the Colts’ new-look offense. Through three games, Addai has 189 yards on 39 carries, logged his first touchdown of the season last Sunday night against Pittsburgh and is averaging 4.8 yards per touch. The 5-foot-11, 214-pounder has also caught seven passes for 52 yards.
Friday afternoon, Bucs defensive players spoke about the challenges presented by the two-time 1,000-yard back out of LSU. Not that many current Bucs defenders were around during Tampa Bay’s last meeting with Indianapolis in 2007, but neither was Addai. It was the only game of that season he did not play in, making Monday night his first experience against a Bucs defense.
“You’ve got to prepare for him kind of like we did Adrian Peterson,” said defensive end Tim Crowder. “He’s not as powerful as Peterson, but he’s a jump-cut guy. You can’t sit there and be greedy and try to get in someone else’s gap to make a p right in where you were supposed to be. You’ve got to be real gap-conscious and just stay in your lane. Make him come to you.”
Rookie Adrian Clayborn, the man starting ahead of Crowder, echoed his teammate’s analysis. “We’ve just got to try and execute it like we did last week. [Addai’s] more of a different back, he’s shiftier. He can stop on a dime and dip into another hole, so it’s a little different from Turner; he just hits the hole and hits the hole hard.”
Tampa Bay put together by far its best run-stopping performance of the young season last week, limiting Atlanta to 30 yards on 15 carries. Turner was virtually a nonfactor in the Bucs’ 16-13 win, taking only 11 handoffs for 20 yards. The performance was so good, in fact, that it ranks as Tampa Bay’s 11th-best game against the run in team history.
“Got to keep it going,” said middle linebacker Mason Foster. “We faced a great back last week and it’s just something you’ve got to do in the NFL. You’ve got to play against great players, so we’re excited.”
“It was huge shutting down the run,” Crowder said. “We discouraged them from running it again. They weren’t running that much because they felt like they couldn’t do it and that gave us more opportunities to rush the passer and see what happens from there.”
Last Sunday represented a giant leap in the right direction for a Bucs defense that had allowed 126 and 186 yards in back-to-back weeks against Detroit and Minnesota, respectively, to start the season.
Given that the bright lights of Monday Night Football is going to be Painter’s first career NFL start, Addai and rookie Delone Carter [22 rushes for 82 yards] will likely be expected to carry the Indianapolis offense. Addai’s use and production have both steadily increased in each of the Colts’ three games this year. He rushed eight times for 39 yards in Week 1 at Houston, 14 times for 64 yards the following week against Cleveland and 17 times for 86 yards against Pittsburgh.
However extensively Indianapolis decides to throw Addai and a run-heavy attack at Tampa Bay, Crowder said it hasn’t changed the defense’s approach from game to game.
“It’s not just Indianapolis, it’s each week,” Crowder said. “Our number one priority is to stop the run. If we stop the run then everything else can unfold. They’ve got a great scheme; they do a lot of zone blocking kind of like Mike Shanahan [offensive coordinators]. We’ve just got to make sure we’re in our gaps and get penetration and stop the run.”
“It’s a new week, a new challenge, a new offense and we’ve got a whole different game plan from last week,” Clayborn said. “We’ve just got to try and execute it like we did last week.”
The Colts may be dramatically different on offense without their future Hall of Fame quarterback, and they may be 0-3, but Foster and Clayborn said it’s still Indianapolis and there’s no looking past any NFL game.
“The Colts are a good team, period,” Foster said. “Even without their quarterback, they’re going to be good. They’ve got a good O-line and a good running back, so it’s going to be another big game. We’ve got to go out there and get the job done.”
“To be honest with you I didn’t even know they were 0-3,” Clayborn said. “It’s the Colts, man. You’ve got to prepare for the Colts. Me being a rookie, I’m definitely not overlooking anybody.”
As for missing the opportunity to face Manning on Monday, Clayborn isn’t overly upset.
“I’m so sad he’s not playing this week,” he said sarcastically. “No, not at all.”