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Road doesn’t look any easier for Colts (3-4)

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are quite aware of the road ahead of them over the next few weeks.

It’s not an easy one.

Indianapolis will face two teams that are currently undefeated, Carolina and Denver, in back-to-back games and then will take on once-beaten Atlanta on Nov. 22.

The Colts (3-4) have lost back-to-back games at home to New England and New Orleans.

With that as a backdrop, along with continuing rumors about head coach Chuck Pagano’s job security, Indianapolis will go on the road to face Cam Newton and the Panthers in a nationally-televised Monday night matchup.

Those three teams are a combined 18-1 this season.

“It’s frustrating,” Pagano said this week. “We’re just finding ways to shoot ourselves in the foot. When we do have some success, no matter what phase we’re on, we’re finding ways right now (of) shooting ourselves in the foot.”

“It’s all about consistency. It’s about sticking to your fundamentals, your technique, communication, making great decisions, all those things. Doing your job and playing at a high, high level.”

Getting off to a quicker start offensively this week is crucial. The Colts have often sputtered through the first two quarter this season, falling behind early and then forced to come up with a rally.

Those rallies have come up short the last two weeks.

“You can’t dig yourself into a hole because then you start pressing and trying to make plays and trying to get yourself back into it,” Pagano said. “Sometimes it becomes worse and you get one-dimensional.”

Much of the talk, especially after the New Orleans loss, has been about the play of quarterback Andrew Luck. He struggled against the Saints for most of the first half, throwing two costly interceptions.

“You get down and you get behind and then you start, like everyone else, pressing a little bit and try to make things happen, which all great competitors do,” Pagano said.

“You can’t force things. You’ve got to take care of the football. You’ve got to make great decisions and everything has got to be working together.”

Which brings us to Monday night’s game against a talented Carolina team. Offensively, it all starts with quarterback Cam Newton.

“Because of Newton, they can even run the ball with eight in the box,” Pagano said. “That’s tough to account for. One man can’t get him on the ground.”

The Panthers will come into Monday night’s game as the National Football League’s No. 1 rushing offense.

“(You) gotta deal with Newton as an option guy, a running quarterback and certainly as a thrower,” Pagano said. “(His) ability to extend plays is outstanding. You have to be disciplined defensively to stop that attack.”

Carolina’s defense, with linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis along with defensive tackle Kawann Short, is top-rate too.

“Defensively, they’re big time,” Pagano said. “Kuechly is as good as it gets at middle linebacker. And the guy from just up the road (Purdue’s Short) is good.”

Carolina’s strengths are big reasons why Indianapolis opted to practice on Wednesday instead of taking Tuesday and Wednesday off as most teams due before a Monday night game.

“No off day on Wednesday because this team needed to get back to work,” Pagano said. “No better medicine (after two straight losses) than getting back to practice.”

SERIES HISTORY: Fifth regular season meeting. Panthers lead the regular season series, 4-1. The Colts’ only win in the series (31-7) occurred on Oct. 28, 2007, at Bank of America Stadium as former Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns. RB Joseph Addai had 100 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. Indianapolis is 0-3 vs. the Panthers in home games and 1-1 on the road. The Colts do have a winning record in Bank of America Stadium. Indianapolis’ only other trip to Charlotte was on Dec. 3, 1995, at Clemson Stadium, with Carolina posting a 13-10 victory. The Panthers won the last meeting between the franchises 27-19 on Nov. 27, 2011, at Lucas Oil Stadium . Carolina QB Cam Newton passed for 208 yards and ran for 53 yards and a touchdown.

GAME PLAN: Finding consistency on offense, which has eluded Indianapolis for most of the season, is crucial against a team like the Carolina Panthers.

Getting the running game going and staying with it even if the Colts fall behind will be a key. Indianapolis got away from the run in last week’s loss to New Orleans after falling behind 27-0.

The Colts aren’t looking for a 50-50 balance between the run and the pass. But, instead, what they want is to be able to keep the Panthers’ defense honest in order to open up passing lanes downfield.

Defensively, Indianapolis has to stop, or rather, slow down Carolina’s running attack. That means keeping an eye on the Panthers’ athletic quarterback, Cam Newton, who can and does make plays with his legs if things break down. His ability to scramble and keep plays alive allows the other Panthers’ running backs room to run as well.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

–Colts QB Andrew Luck vs. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechley.

Two of the National Football League’s best will go at it. The problem is that Luck is going through a funk on the field, struggling to develop more consistency this season. Kuechley has won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award once and is closing in on winning it again this year.

–Panthers QB Cam Newton vs. Colts run defense.

Newton caused all sorts of havoc the last time that he faced Indianapolis in 2011. And that was when he was a rookie. Newton has gotten a lot better since then. Indianapolis has shown signs of improvement against the run, but still ranks among the bottom half of the NFL teams. The Colts will need to step up their game on Monday night.


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