INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Colts cornerback Vontae Davis watched most of last year’s game at Pittsburgh wishing he could have helped.
A knee injury in the first quarter never gave him the opportunity.
Now, after watching the 51-point debacle all over again on tape, Davis and his teammates will have another chance to get it right Sunday night.
“It’s a new season, and all we can do is try to get better as a group,” Davis said. “This is probably the best receiving corps we’ve faced this year.”
Indy’s defense went into the 2014 game playing its best ball of the season. It wasn’t giving up many third-down conversions, had just shutout Cincinnati and had held four its previous five opponents to 17 or fewer points.
This year, the AFC South co-leaders have won three straight to match a season high and allowed just 19 points per game since the start of November to four teams in the playoff hunt. Last weekend, they shutout Tampa Bay in the second half.
The Colts defense has held the last six quarterbacks it has faced –Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and Jameis Winston — to these combined averages: 57.0 completion percentage, 261.2 yards, 12 TDs and seven interceptions for a rating of 81.99.
Next up is an old nemesis in two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger, who gouged them for 522 yards and six touchdowns last season.
There are questions about Roethlisberger’s health after he left the game last weekend complaining of concussion symptoms, but he might have a more talented supporting cast this year. The Colts (6-5) have one clear mission.
“We’ve got to get as many guys to him, wrap up, roll, do whatever it takes because he somehow seems to shake guys off,” defensive end Kendall Langford said. “He’s strong enough to throw the ball as he’s going down, which he’s done numerous times as everybody knows.”
Indy’s resurgent offense and 40-year-old quarterback Matt Hasselbeck should give Indy a fighting chance at Pittsburgh (6-5). But the Colts’ secondary faces the biggest challenge of all.
Not only must it contend with Roethlisberger’s improvisational skills and speedy receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, Indianapolis could still be playing short-handed.
Davis hasn’t quite matched his Pro Bowl season from 2014 and Indy’s other starting cornerback, Greg Toler, missed the first four games this season with a neck injury. He has been susceptible to giving up big plays since returning Oct. 8.
Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams missed the last two games with a left ankle injury and it’s still unclear if he’ll be available Sunday night.
“I feel like we’re playing good, but I don’t feel like we’re playing as good as we can be playing,” nickel cornerback Darius Butler said. “We have to put two halves together, we have to get off the field on third downs and hold teams to field goals instead of touchdowns. Once we do that, we’ll be where we should be.”
And this week’s game will give the Colts a chance to see how they stack up and whether they’ve learned anything from last season’s game.
“Of course you want to be out there, but I couldn’t be. I’m going to be happy to play this game,” he said. “I think we’re getting better, but we’ve still got a lot of room for improvement.”