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Division champion Colts seek validating win vs. Dallas


INDIANAPOLIS — While Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano is pleased with the team’s 10-4 record and second straight AFC South title, he knows there’s still a lot of work to be accomplished.

The Colts have won four straight but have not been impressive in doing so. The sticking points include slow starts offensively, too many turnovers and ill-timed penalties, poor red zone offense and inability to put teams away.

It seems as if Indianapolis is doing just enough to get wins. That’s fine in the regular season. Pagano and his team aren’t about to apologize for the team’s record or division title — or for the way those goals got accomplished. A win is a win.

That said, the Colts realize that if they want to win the Super Bowl they have to play a lot better.

“Obviously, we have things to clean up. Issues with turnovers, issues with penalties. If we want to go where we want to go, (we have) got to address those things,” Pagano said Wednesday as his team began preparing to face the Dallas Cowboys this week. “Facing Dallas is a good chance to see where we’re at before the playoffs.”

The knock on Indianapolis this season is that the team has built its record against mediocre competition. The AFC South is down and the Colts have also had wins against several other teams with sub-.500 records.

They have beaten AFC North opponents Cincinnati (27-0) and Baltimore (20-13), but the jury remains out on just how good the Colts really are.

In games against three top AFC contenders — Denver, New England and Pittsburgh — Indianapolis is 0-3 and was outscored 124-78.

So this week’s game against the Cowboys could be an indicator of whether the Colts are ready to make a long postseason run.

“Sure, it will be a great measuring stick to go on the road. We know what kind of team they have and what kind of players they have,” Pagano said.

“We’ve got to go on the road and play a darn good football team. We want to play better. Can we play better? Yeah, we can play better. Again, just because we’re sitting where we’re sitting doesn’t mean that we’re going to take our foot off the gas.”

A strong offensive start is key.

“I think we’d be sticking our head in the sand, big pink elephant in the middle of the room that we’re all avoiding and we don’t want to talk about. I think we’d be foolish not to say that it’s not. We’re going to talk about it and we’re going to address it,” Pagano said.

“We don’t shy away from anything with ourselves, with our staff and with our players. We’re going to keep grinding and keep looking at ways to improve, trying to look for the reasons why. We’ve done things in the past. We should be able to do those same things. We’ll keep looking for answers and try to get it fixed.”

In their 15th regular-season meeting, the Cowboys lead the series, 9-5. Dallas has won the last two matchups, 21-14 on Nov. 19, 2006, at Texas Stadium and 38-35 in overtime at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 5, 2010.

The Colts, then of Baltimore, and Cowboys faced off in Super Bowl V, with the Colts winning 16-13 on Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining.

With one more win, Pagano can become the second coach in league history with 11 wins in each of his first three seasons.

NOTES: Adam Vinatieri is the only kicker in the NFL not to miss a kick this season. He has made all 28 field goal attempts and all 46 PATs. … Since entering the NFL in 2012, QB Andrew Luck has 12,688 passing yards, most of any Super Bowl-era quarterback in his first three seasons. … The Colts signed OT Tyler Hoover to the practice squad. … Among those not practicing Wednesday were WR T.Y. Hilton (hamstring), OT Gosder Cherilus (groin) and CB Vontae Davis (groin).

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