INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner sees an opportunity for the NFL’s stingiest defense Sunday.
One week after allowing Baker Mayfield to thrive outside the pocket while giving up a season-high 32 points, the Indianapolis Colts can show everyone what they learned from a loss at Cleveland. This week, they face another young, mobile quarterback, a rookie who has been sacked 22 times this season, 16 in the last three games.
It’s a combination the Colts hope to use to their advantage.
“Usually with younger quarterbacks, pressure really gets to them,” Buckner said. “ Pressure and tight coverage really gets after them. You try to do that with any quarterback you play, but especially with the young ones. You just need to do a good job up front, dominating, rushing whether it’s with four, five or six, we just have to make sure we’re affecting him.”
Make no mistake, Buckner and his teammates respect Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals (1-3-1).
The game tape provides a glimpse into how talented the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick is. He’s thrown five touchdown passes and only one interception in his first three road games and until last week’s loss at Baltimore, he’s kept the Bengals competitive.
But they also see someone who, like many rookies, struggles under duress and it’s something they hope to exploit.
“You can disguise — maybe you disguise a little bit more than you normally do,” coach Frank Reich said when asked about dialing up different defensive schemes against a rookie. “Certainly, that is in play every week so we’ll try and do a good job of that against Joe Burrow as well.”
Getting healthy also would help.
Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard missed last week’s game with an injured groin. Defensive end Denico Autry (ankle/knee) and safety Julian Blackmon (groin) left briefly during the first half, though both finished the game.
Autry, Blackmon and Leonard all missed practice Wednesday along with defensive end Justin Houston (hip). Leonard and Autry were out again Thursday while Blackmon was a full participant and Houston, Indy’s sacks leader, did limited work.
Leonard can’t wait to get back after watching the Colts give up 385 yards and 20 first-half points and failing to force a punt until the fourth quarter.
“I want to be out there in the fourth quarter when things get to crunch time,” he said. “That’s when I feel like I want the pressure on me. I have to make a play and not being able to go out there and make a play, help the defense or help this team, it definitely sucked. So, hopefully I can get right. I think I’m very close.”
Statistically speaking, the Colts’ subpar performance barely made a dent.
They’re still ranked No. 1 in yards allowed per game (266.0), yards passing (179.6), interceptions (nine) and passer rating (70.0). Indy slipped to No. 2 in points allowed (17.6) and moved up to No. 3 in yards rushing (86.4).
But it’s not merely about impressive numbers.
While Buckner knows the key to beating a mobile quarterback, like Burrow, is consistent, controlled pressure, he wants to see the Colts win more often at the line of scrimmage. Indy is tied for 15th in sacks with 11.
“It’s knowing where you’re at in your rush, how you fit compared to where everybody else is and owning your rush lane,” Buckner said. “It’s difficult because you want to win, but sometimes you know you don’t — you’re too high in your rush or little things like that and it affects everybody else.”
And now it’s time for the Colts to show they’ve figured it out.
“We just have to keep grinding, keep working to finish those plays because there is a lot that we give up individually, as a team,” Buckner said. “There are opportunities that we miss all the time, it’s crazy. We think we’re good, but we can be even better.”
NOTES: Left tackle Anthony Castonzo was a full participant at Thursday’s practice for the first time since he hurt his ribs in Week 4 at Chicago. He did not play against Cleveland, ending a 20-game streak in which the Colts started the same five players on the offensive line. ... Tight end Trey Burton returned to practice Thursday after taking Wednesday off. ... Running back Jordan Wilkins (calf) did not practice Thursday after doing limited work Wednesday and tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee) has missed both days of practice.