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INDIANAPOLIS – There's no overstating how free D'Qwell Jackson feels to be playing for a contender.
While his former team, the Cleveland Browns, continues to flounder, and not just with their underachieving, gesturing quarterbacks, the Indianapolis Colts appear to be putting the defensive pieces together for a first-rate unit.
The Colts stifled the New York Giants first-string offense in the second preseason game, allowing no points, forcing four punts and two three-and-outs. They held Eli Manning to 1-for-7 passing for six yards and one sack. Jackson had the sack.
“We've got confidence in every guy on the defensive side of the ball,” Jackson said. “We got some guys back. Vontae (Davis) was back, (LaRon) Landry was back. We had our solid group together. This was one test. We have an even bigger test next week with Drew Brees.”
The Colts will play Brees and the New Orleans Saints in their third preseason game at 8 p.m. Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
One of the areas of concern for the Colts on defense is their ability to contain the run. The addition of Jackson and defensive end Art Jones were among the moves to try to improve the run defense. The first team held New York to 41 yards on the ground in the first half.
“We knew they were pretty good running the ball,” Jackson said. “They were going to try to establish the run and get their quarterback in tempo with quick, short throws. We got them off tilt a little bit and we were able to stop the run early on, and open things up, pin our ears back and get after them a little bit.”
The first-team defense played well in limited time in the opening preseason game at the New York Jets, too. The Colts have yet to play all their expected defensive starters in one game. Outside linebacker Robert Mathis and inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (thumb injury) did not play against the Giants. Mathis is suspended for the first four regular-season games, although he is eligible to play in the preseason. The team also played without safety Delano Howell, who is out indefinitely with a neck injury.
Jackson cautions against overconfidence or satisfaction in the defensive play so far.
“It's still too early,” Jackson said. “It's still preseason. It still matters, but we have a long way to go. As long as we keep the mindset of where we are at right now, there's going to be bumps in the road at times, but I've got faith in the guys that we're going to do whatever we can to make this defense better, and ultimately the team.”
Brees has yet to play in the preseason but is scheduled to suit up against the Colts. He has been sidelined since Aug. 1 with a strained oblique.
“I think the expectation is a half,” Brees told reporters. “If we go out and score on the first three possessions, then it might be less than that. If we go out and we don't score at all, then it's going to be more than that.”
Players on both teams have used the phrase “dress rehearsal” for the third preseason game. Typically, starters on both teams play into the second half.
Jackson's goal is to keep making plays. He has been one of the standout defensive players in both preseason games so far.
“When the defense or offense or special teams needs to make a play, you want to be that guy,” Jackson said. “That's why you work as hard as you do in the offseason and in practice, so when the opportunities presents themselves, you're able to capitalize on them.”
Jackson says he feels like he fits into the Colts defense more every day.
“I've still got a ways to go, just learning the guys in front of me, learning the guys behind me, just knowing every single detail and nuance of the defense,” Jackson said. “It's going to take time. I feel comfortable right now. …I'm settling in, but we've still got a lot of work to do.”