INDIANAPOLIS – One glance at Indianapolis Colts defensive Cory Redding on the big screen during warm-ups would motivate anyone. Might intimidate a few, too.
Call it a game face in NFL business attire. Describing it won't do it justice. But think of an angry dad looking at a teenager coming home after curfew with a dent in the car, and multiply that by five.
It's intensity personified, and the face of the new Colts defense.
The Colts under coach Chuck Pagano haven't abandoned a love for offense. They drafted quarterback Andrew Luck and a slew of tight ends and receivers. But there's a different feel with the defense now.
It's an equal partner to the offense.
An angry, equal partner.
“First and foremost, it's to stop the run, period,” Redding said. “I don't care who we play, at the top of the list is to stop the run. We held him (Minnesota's Adrian Peterson) to 16 carries and 60 yards, period. That's two games without a 100-yard rusher. That's tough to do in this league.”
It'll be even tougher to make it three in a row, since the Colts (1-1) face the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) and Colts nemesis Maurice Jones-Drew at 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
“He's going to come in and he's going to bring it and we know that so we have to gear up for that,” Redding said. "Just like last week, we need to have five, six, seven hats to the ball, 11 if we can.”
Redding, brought in from Baltimore by Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson to help the veterans assimilate to the 3-4 defense, keeps playing through pain. He sets an example of body sacrifice to go with his intensity. It's something that others seem to feed off of, most notably outside linebacker Robert Mathis.
Mathis switched positions (as did currently injured Dwight Freeney) to play more in a stand-up linebacker spot. Some veterans with Mathis' track record as an All-Pro caliber defensive end would balk at moving. He's embraced it. He's matched Redding's intensity from Day One, and it's paying off. Mathis has three sacks in two games, so he hasn't slowed a bit in his new role.
We shouldn't be surprised by the defensive emphasis, considering Pagano was a defensive coach and coordinator in all of his previous years in the NFL.
But the progress by the defense seems to be ahead of expectations to this point.
The Colts rank 20th in total defense, 14th in rushing defense, and 25th in passing defense. The run defense has been the biggest surprise, given the team's history of being porous vs. the ground game.
Newcomer Jerrell Freeman has excelled at inside linebacker in place of injured Pat Angerer and safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Jerraud Powers have played well. Defensive linemen Fili Moala and Antonio Johnson have adjusted well to their new responsibilities.
Pass defense is a bit troubling, although some of that could be due to Freeney's absence with an ankle injury and the secondary's work in progress. Playing shaky Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the Colts need to step up with some big pass-defense plays.
The decision to trade a 2013 second-round pick and conditional late-round pick for former Miami cornerback Vontae Davis has yet to pay off. But it's still early. Davis has potential, everyone seems to agree. It hasn't translated to big plays on the field. This is a critical week, since he'll have had a solid three weeks of work with the defense. It's better to judge newcomers (and old guys, for that matter) with more of the season to measure.
The same goes for Colts safety Tom Zbikowski, another player brought in from Baltimore. He hasn't played poorly, but he hasn't made any memorable plays yet either. It could be just a matter of time.
The fact the Colts defense has shown some overall life – and intensity – remains a positive to build upon.
“We have to go out and do our job,” Redding said. “If we do that to the best of our ability, we'll be that team we talk about and visualize in December. If we continue to have this success early and learn how to harness it, learn from our mistakes and keep growing as a team, sky's the limit.”
Two games is too soon to make definitive statements about anything in the NFL. But the Colts defense has the look of a decent unit, starting with the look on Redding's face.