By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — The fact that the Indianapolis Colts defense has played as well as it has so far this year is fairly impressive.
Then consider that the Colts have been without the services of Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders (knee) for the first four games and that two major parts of the unit — middle linebacker Gary Brackett (knee) and cornerback Kelvin Hayden (hamstring) — have been sidelined for the past two weeks.
And throw in the fact that cornerback Marlin Jackson has been playing with a sore knee and that Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney (quadriceps) played hurt against Seattle on Sunday, and it might be surprising that Indianapolis has been able to hold up as well as it has.
Indianapolis’s defense, though, is expected to get a major test Sunday night when the 4-0 Colts travel to Nashville to face the 0-4 Tennessee Titans in a nationally televised matchup of AFC South rivals.
“We have developed a lot of continuity [with the backup players filling in for the injured starters]. We are working together and it’s paying off right now,” defensive end Robert Mathis said after Sunday’s win over Seattle.
“[The defense is playing] at a high level. The thing is, we just can’t get satisfied or complacent. We have to keep going. Keep working on doing the little things right. [When the injured starters return] we are going to have to take it up another level.
“Those guys that are in there just have to do it down [for the missing starters].”
For his part, Freeney likes what he’s seen from the Colts defense so far this season.
“I think we are gelling together very well. Everybody is playing together. The defensive backs, linebackers and the [defensive] line. We’re putting pressure [on the quarterback] at the right time, coverage at the right time, the play calls at the right time,” he said Sunday.
“It’s going to be tough to beat us if the offense and special teams play the way they are. When we get points on the board, all of a sudden [the opponent’s] game plan starts to shrink and we start to stop the run. Then it shrinks some more. We get it to a one-dimensional game.
“We do what we do. It’s about 53 guys on the roster. Everybody has to go out there and do their job. The train keeps moving. When we get Bob [Sanders] back and [Hayden] back, we’ll just be that much better.”
n Injury report — Offensive tackle Charlie Johnson suffered a left knee injury in the fourth quarter of the Seattle game. Johnson underwent an MRI Sunday night. But there won’t be an update on his availability for this week’s game at Tennessee until Wednesday at the earliest.
“I just got tangled up in a couple of piles and got my leg caught,” Johnson said Monday. “We were ahead 31-3 at the time, so I just pulled myself out. We’ll see how I feel later [this] week.”
If Johnson can’t practice or play this week, former starter Tony Ugoh or backup Dan Federkeil will most likely take over for the Colts at left offensive tackle. Ugoh was inactive for the Seahawks after suffering some minor injuries in the win over Arizona a week earlier.
“He got bumped and bruised a little bit [against the Cardinals]. So we decided to give him a little rest [in the Seattle game],” said Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell.
n Freeney doing okay — The Colts defensive end said Monday that he felt as good as could be expected after getting extended work against Seattle on Sunday.
After suffering a strained right quadriceps in the third quarter of the Arizona game, Freeney did not practice all week and didn’t know until Saturday if he would be able to play at all. The original prognosis called for him to be sidelined anywhere from two to three weeks.
“Everybody’s different, you know. You base the time period [that somebody is supposed to miss due to a particular injury] based on average. Most guys are out for this time or that time. I don’t consider myself average,” he said with a smile.
“I’m already thinking whatever the timetable [for a possible return from injury], I’m going to be back before that. It’s all about mental. If I think I’m not going to play during the week and the weekend, then I’m not going to play. No matter what I do. If you take that mental approach at it, wake up every morning like I’m healed. You may not be healed, but it helps a lot. I feel pretty much the same thing [Monday as he did on Sunday]. Is it like nothing ever happened? No. Is it good enough to play? Yes. So that’s just all there is.”