By George Bremer CNHI News Service
If you can't beat them, join them. Or, at the very least, follow their blueprint.
The Indianapolis Colts eventually did beat the New England Patriots — most notably and memorably in the 2006 AFC Championship Game — but owner Jim Irsay said Friday he's using his rivals' past success as a model for his own club's future.
Specifically the 2004 team that won the franchise's most recent Super Bowl title and finished as the NFL's fourth-highest scoring team and second-best defense in points allowed.
"It was one of the most complete teams that there was, and there wasn't humongous offensive statistics and (Tom) Brady didn't throw 50 touchdown passes," Irsay said. "But it was such a well-balanced team in all areas, and it was a tough team to get past. That's what we're looking for."
Those Patriots twice beat Irsay's Colts — 27-24 in the season opener and 20-3 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game. Brady had nice numbers — 3,692 yards and 28 touchdowns — but nothing like the eye-popping totals he put up in later years.
And therein lies Irsay's point. Brady didn't have to be superhuman because New England had the league's seventh-best rushing offense and ninth-ranked total defense.
That's the kind of balance he wants to see in Indianapolis, and he believes general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano took a step in that direction this offseason.
"We really targeted guys (in free agency) that we felt could really help us," Irsay said. "That's not always the big-name player that makes the big splash. You don't want weak links. Sometimes you can have a play where 10 players do the right thing and one player doesn't, and it looks like the play completely was a disaster when you just had one person break down."
Irsay said he's grown tired of the inconsistencies on defense — noting the breakdown in the rush defense at Jacksonville just weeks prior to the team's Super Bowl championship in the 2006 season — and he's even targeted improvement on special teams.
"We want to have greatness and toughness on defense and be bigger and more physical," he said, "and special teams, we want to cure that, particularly coverage and some of the breakdowns everyone knows we've had in the past that we never really got solved."
The Colts addressed those issues by adding defensive linemen Aubrayo Franklin (6-foot-1, 320 pounds) and Ricky Jean Francois (6-3, 297), outside linebacker Erik Walden (6-2, 250) and strong safety LaRon Landry (6-0, 226) and hiring Tom McMahon as their third special teams coordinator in the past three years.
None of which should be misconstrued as Irsay turning his back on the passing game. He made his confidence in quarterback Andrew Luck abundantly clear Wednesday.
See Saturday's Lebanon Reporter for more on this story.