INDIANAPOLIS -- It's a brand new defensive scheme for the Indianapolis Colts and the same old story: Can they stop Maurice Jones-Drew?
When it comes to the Colts, Jacksonville's Jones-Drew is the horror-movie villain who keeps coming back. If Colts defenders let down their guard for one play, he'll be cutting past linebackers, darting free and tearing up yards and yards of turf.
“He's like a rolling ball of butcher knives,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.
The Colts have the cuts to prove it.
In 12 games vs. the Colts, Jones-Drew has rushed for 1,212 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. His 13 touchdowns (nine rushes, three receptions, one kick return) are the most by one player against the Colts since 2006. Second is Houston's Andre Johnson with five touchdowns. Only Curtis Martin (109.7 yards per game) has done more rushing damage to the Colts than Jones-Drew (101 yards per game).
Consider this: Jones-Drew has 6,991 career rushing yards, so nearly a fifth (17 percent) have come against the Colts.
Some say Jones-Drew – a player Indy considered drafting in 2006 before selecting Joseph Addai – ended his contract holdout because he wanted to be sure to be in prime shape for Game 3 in Indianapolis on Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
“The guy is who he is,” Colts defensive end Cory Redding said. “You know he's going to get the ball at least 30-40 times so you just have to gear up, and when he's coming downhill the first guy to hit him must hold on and everybody else rally around.”
Hitting Jones-Drew and rallying around him are easier said than done. He's that rare combination of solid and slippery, power and acceleration.
Jones-Drew carried 50 times for 283 yards in two games against the Colts, and the Jags won both games. While he missed training camp in a failed contract dispute, he has rushed 31 times for 137 yards in the first two games this seasons, losses to Minnesota and Houston.
The Colts defense, meanwhile, has shown some run-defense tenacity in dealing with Chicago's Matt Forte and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson in the first two games. The Colts have allowed 104.5 yards per game in two games, short of Pagano's goal of keeping opponents under 100 yards, but good enough to rank 14th in the league. That's not bad for a remodeled defense.
“The whole team's approach is different,” Jones-Drew said of watching Colts' video. “Obviously, in the past it was to get to the (quarterback). Now their focus is to stop the run, be physical.”
Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky both have been pleased by the Colts' progress as a defensive unit, but both feel there is ample room for growth. It's not a completely healthy unit yet, with Dwight Freeney questionable for Sunday and Pat Angerer still out with a broken foot.
The Jaguars (0-2) will likely predicate their offense on Jones-Drew's legs. Given the success Jones-Drew has had against Indy, Jacksonville would be foolish not to rely on him early and often to try to set up the rest of the offense, including quarterback Blaine Gabbert and wide receiver Laurent Robinson.
Pagano doesn't dispute slowing Jones-Drew is the top priority.
“We've got to gang-tackle this guy, but he's strong as heck and he breaks a ton of tackles, and he's quick and he's got good vision,” Pagano said. “I said the one thing that's the same on all these backs is their ankles. So if you wrap him up, you slide down and you get his ankles and you get them together, you've got a good chance of bringing this guy down.”
There are a lot of ifs in that assessment of slowing Jones-Drew.
The best thing the Colts have going for them is that this is an a new defensive scheme, with new players such as Redding and linebacker Jerrell Freeman (18 tackles vs. the Vikings last Sunday).
“One thing we'll harp on this week,” Colts safety Antoine Bethea said, “is 11 guys have got to get to the ball.”
Jones-Drew will have that football in his hands more often than not.
How far he goes with it could determine whether the Colts can win for a second week in a row.