By Christina Rivers
On Friday, the Indianapolis Colts held their last practice ahead of their AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots. The Colts will do a walkthrough on Saturday morning, then take a short plane trip to Foxborough. The game on Sunday will determine which team will represent the American Football Conference in the Super Bowl, and Indianapolis enters the game relatively healthy save for cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Greg Toler.
Davis was unable to practice on Wednesday and was limited due to a knee injury for the remainder of the week, while Toler (groin) missed Wednesday and was limited Thursday and Friday. Both cornerbacks are listed as “questionable,” but Colts head coach Chuck Pagano emphasized Friday that he is “absolutely” sure that both will play on Sunday against the Patriots. On the depth chart behind the two are Darius Butler and Josh Gordy. Butler has seen playing time in 14 regular season games and has 46 total tackles, nine passes defensed and two forced fumbles with one recovery. Gordy last played in week 14, but was able to secure an interception against the Cleveland Browns. Gordy has played in 16 games this season, but with Toler and Davis as the obvious starters, it would be difficult to make them sit if they feel strong enough to play.
Outside linebacker Erik Walden is the only other player on the injury report this week that was listed as “probable.” Walden has battled a sore knee, but fully participated on Thursday and Friday making him a likely starter.
Going into the AFC Championship game healthy, even after a tough battle against the Denver Broncos, has the Colts team excited. Pagano will return in the playoffs to Foxborough for the first time since visiting as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator where his team lost on a late-game field goal miss. Pagano doesn’t expect that his team needs any extra incentive to remember what is at stake on Sunday. He has been preparing the Indianapolis squad for “multiple, different looks,” according to quarterback Andrew Luck.
Since a 42-20 loss in week 11 to the Patriots, the Colts have been hoping for an opportunity to earn a rematch in what many on the team felt was an embarrassment. During the contest, the Patriots were able to control the line of scrimmage. The Colts are ready to move on and move forward. “What happened in the regular season is what happened,” said defensive end Cory Redding this week, “and we’re a much better team for that. We learned from those mistakes and we’re moving on.”
One area that has improved is Indianapolis’ run defense that struggled to shut down New England running back Jonas Gray. New England has gotten away from success in being able to establish a running game lately, emphasizing more pass plays from quarterback Tom Brady. With defensive tackle Art Jones back in the lineup and Bryan Stork out for the Patriots at center, Brady will be looking for an aerial attack scheme.
While the Patriots were able to limit wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the week 11 matchup, Hilton will be a priority, but has gained success in the slot on slant routes that have allowed Reggie Wayne and Coby Fleener to get involved in the pass offense for Indianapolis. With a more effective passing game, the Colts have been able to get their running backs more involved in the offense as well. Wayne compared this year’s playoff run to the Colts’ push in 2006. “When I said that,” Wayne explained, “it was mainly because everything was starting to come together at the right time.” Indeed, it has. Wayne hasn’t been spectacular so far in the 2014 playoffs, catching only one of three targets headed into this game, but he’s ready to step up at a critical time.
Colts Injury Recap
- Vontae Davis (CB, knee)
- Greg Toler (CB, groin)
- Erik Walden (OLB, knee)
For more Colts news and updates, visit Colts Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.