INDIANPOLIS – Adjectives to describe the Seattle Seahawks follow a common theme. Pick one or pick them all: Cocky, brash, physical, intense, opportunistic and tough.
Some would throw “irritating” into the mix.
From the yapping of cornerback Richard Sherman to the over-the-top demonstrative body language of coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks come across as a strutting bully out to knock teams down and steal their lunch money. That style has worked well enough for a 4-0 start and stature as the best team in the NFC if not the NFL through the first fourth of the season.
The Indianapolis Colts ought to be happy to see them Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium for one primary reason: The Colts were built for this.
When general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano set about to establish the direction and makeup of the Colts, they veered significantly from the offensive-heavy, quarterback-centric approach of the Peyton Manning era.
They looked toward balanced, tough, physical and – this goes unsaid – a little brash. If you're making a team in the mold of the vintage Baltimore Ravens, only with a better quarterback, brashness is part of the package.
“In order to build a program for sustained success, win a lot of games and then have the opportunity to win multiple championships, I think you've got to have balance and you've got to be sound in all three phases,” Pagano said. “You've got to be rock solid in all three phases. That's what we're trying to be. We want to be tough and hard-nosed and physical on both sides of the ball and special teams.”
All of those attributes will be crucial when the Colts (3-1) play the Seahawks at 1 p.m. Sunday in the biggest game for the Colts so far this season.
It's tough to say which part of the Colts' toughness will be most needed against the Seahawks, but Seattle's secondary is a popular place to start.
The ability to punch and counter-punch, in a figurative sense, will be critical against a secondary that has seven interceptions and finds ways to disrupt offensive passing games in all aspects. Sherman and fellow cornerback Brandon Browner and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor operate as one unit as well as any secondary in the league.
It'll take a combination of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's accuracy and his receivers' reliability to conquer a unit no team has mastered yet.
“They're all big, physical fast,” Luck said. “They have all the attributes. Not just fast, they can also catch the ball. They're also big. They do a great job in press (coverage). We've got our work cut out for us. We've got our work cut out for us. We're excited about the challenge. As football players, as athletes, that's what you want to do. You want to face good players, great players.”
The next level of toughness comes from Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. He enters the game averaging 79 yards per game at 3.9 per carry. Modest numbers, to be sure, but Lynch is capable of breaking big runs. He has three runs over 20 yards, with a best of 43 yards, this season.
The Colts have been sporadically successful against the run, burned primarily by some scrambles by Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor and a brutal series by 49ers running back Frank Gore. The Colts rank 16th in rushing yards allowed per game, two notches better than the Seahawks.
“You have to be able to run the ball and stop the run because it sets everything else up,” Pagano said this week, last week, last month and last year.
It seems likely the Colts offense will try to be physical with their running game, despite the absence of Ahmad Bradshaw, who is getting more opinions on his neck injury and could be out for the season. Trent Richardson carried 20 times last week, and that was a relatively pass-heavy game. He could get 25 carries against the Seahawks. Donald Brown will chip in, and the recently signed Robert Hughes may have to take some spots for hobbled Stanley Havili at fullback. The fullback is primarily a blocker, not a ball carrier, in this offense, of course.
Richardson averaged a modest three yards per carry last week, but Pagano feels he was on the verge of breaking several longer runs.
Look for the Colts offensive line and Richardson to try to make a statement on control and toughness with the ground game Sunday.
“We've had the good luxury, in the past couple games, of being able to run the ball in the fourth quarter. For us, that is our ultimate goal,” Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “We want to finish the game running the football. That's just really acknowledgement that we have a lead in the fourth quarter and we have an opportunity to finish a game and keep our defense off the field.”
Colts cornerback Greg Toler characterized the Seahawks this week as a team that expects opponents to “tuck their tails.”
The Seahawks like to impose their will on teams, both offensively and defensively. The Colts were built to deal with those types of teams. The team packing the last punch wins Sunday.