Jaguars Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith says the Indianapolis Colts defense is doing the same things they've always done, just doing them a lot better.
"They're fitting (playing assigned gaps) better and tackling better; much better job of tackling," Smith said of the Colts defense, which limped into the postseason with a dead-last ranking in run-defense but has since turned in dominating performances in wins over Kansas City and Baltimore.
So, coach, how have they done it?
"I think Bob Sanders makes a difference. Since he's been back, he's solidified their run-defense," Smith said of the Colts' star safety.
What about scheme? The Colts loaded the tackle box with eight and nine players on first down against the Chiefs and Ravens, yet, both teams ran head-first into the pile, instead of throwing against a defense stacked to stop the run.
"That's the way Tony's defense is designed," Smith said of Colts head coach Tony Dungy. "They load the box on first down and try to get you into second and long and third and long and go to their 'cover two.' Maybe teams are being stubborn in trying to run against a loaded box."
"Cover two" is a defensive alignment that favors pass-defense because it employs four pass-defenders and only seven against the run. It is Dungy's base defense.
In beating the Colts in last year's playoffs, the Steelers threw early and often in getting out to a 21-3 lead. Last December, however, the Jaguars rushed for 375 yards against the Colts, despite the Colts' strategy to load the box against the run.
What strategy will the Patriots employ in this Sunday's AFC title game in the RCA Dome? Will they try to run the ball on the early downs against a loaded box, or do what the Steelers did a year ago?
"Both offenses are going to have opportunities to make big plays," Smith said in analyzing the game. "I think it'll be a chess match between the two quarterbacks, and I think there will be a decided advantage for (Colts quarterback Peyton) Manning because he'll be playing at home. He'll be able to use the advantage of being to able to communicate his pre-snap reads. I think New England will have a chance to use their multiple personnel groupings and see how the Colts decide to defend that, and that could be an advantage for New England."
Smith would not predict which team would win, but clearly believes the site of the game will be a major advantage for the Colts.
"The crowd will be a factor against Brady because he's going to have to make a lot of decisions post-snap instead of pre-snap," Smith said.
San Diego was the AFC's number one team going into the playoffs but lost to the Patriots this past Sunday in a stunning upset.
"It looked like they had the best personnel," Smith said of the Chargers. "It was a game of breaks. They had two bad breaks: the fumbled punt and the fumbled interception. Those were the two crucial plays in the game."