Speed kills: Well-rested Colts' D delivers playoff gem vs. Ravens

INDIANAPOLIS -- Colts coach Jim Caldwell put a premium on speed for the playoffs.

He wanted his defense to play faster -- even if it meant giving up a shot at perfection, taking a few extra days off and perhaps missing a couple of assignments.

Mission accomplished.

Indianapolis' defense dominated Baltimore on Saturday night, limiting the run-first Ravens to just 87 yards and two first downs on the ground while keeping them out of the end zone.

"That was one of our goals," Caldwell said Sunday when asked if the Colts looked as fast on video as they did in person. "I really believe in speed, particularly at a time of the year when maybe you can gain a step or two. I'd rather give up a little in preparation if you can pick up a step or two because you can make up for a mistake."

For the Colts, it went against all expectations.

Indy (15-2) finished the regular season ranked No. 24 against the run and No. 18 overall in defense. The Ravens (10-8) were supposed to play ball-control against the Colts, a week after running for 234 yards at New England.

Instead, the Colts had a nearly eight-minute advantage in time of possession.

It was a major improvement over last year, when San Diego's Darren Sproles shredded the Colts for 328 all-purpose yards and almost single-handedly beat them in overtime.

The reason for the change, Caldwell believes, is a shift in philosophy.

When Caldwell met with players last March, he said he wanted them fresh at the end of the season -- no matter the cost.

So when the Colts wrapped up the AFC's No. 1 seed with three games still to play, Caldwell decided to give his players more rest over the 28-day span between meaningful games while increasing the intensity of practice to stay sharp.

The result was evident even before the Colts stepped on the field Saturday night.

"I remember last week (assistant head coach) Clyde (Christensen) and I were talking at practice and I said, 'Did that (practice) seem fast out there today?"' Caldwell recalled. "He said, 'I think so.' I think the practices we had gave them a taste of what was going to happen on game day."

Things went so well that Caldwell is sticking with the plan this week.

He gave the Colts a day off on Sunday, as they waited to see which team would visit Lucas Oil Stadium next Sunday.

They'll get a rematch with the New York Jets, a 17-14 winner over the Chargers and the team that ended Indy's league-record 23-game regular-season winning streak.

The Jets won that game 29-15 after the then-unbeaten Colts yanked their starters with a 15-10 lead with about 6 minutes left in the third quarter on Dec. 27.

Caldwell also is giving Indy off days Monday and Tuesday, as the team has regularly done following victories in November, December and January since Tony Dungy arrived in 2002.

"It was such a late game, night games take a lot out of you," Caldwell said. "You're up late; most of us were up until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. So to come back Monday doesn't make a lot of sense, so we gave them some time off. But our guys are using it wisely. They're in here lifting weights, watching film."

And getting ready for the second AFC title game ever held in Indy.

"I told them we wanted to end the regular season fresh, ready and well prepared," Caldwell said. "I believe we did. It doesn't give you any guarantees. It's what you believe in and your convictions and playing well when it comes time."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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