Defensive makeover puts Colts in position to make playoff push

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts' defense is in the midst of a midseason makeover.

Two weeks ago, it was allowing a league-worst 28.6 points per game and flirting with a historically bad season. During a three-game losing streak, the Colts yielded 114 points — their highest three-game total since 2011.

Since then, the Colts' defense has looked dramatically different. Cornerback Kenny Moore II has scored more touchdowns (two) over the past two weeks than Indy's opponents (one), and the 20 points allowed during that span has Indy (5-5) back at .500 and in position to make a playoff push.

“I think you start playing your best football in November and December,” coach Shane Steichen said after Sunday's 10-6 victory over New England in Germany. “You kind of find out about teams in the second half of the season. So to be 2-0 (in November) and finding different ways to win and our defense has obviously stepped up the last two weeks.”

The two straight wins have rebuilt the Colts' confidence heading into a bye week. They trail AFC South-leading Jacksonville by 1 1/2 games.

Yes, Indy has beaten up on two of the league's four lowest-scoring teams and the worst teams in their respective conferences, Carolina and New England. Still, this trend could continue.

Indy faces five of the NFL's 10 worst scoring offenses over its final seven games and plays only one team that's currently more than one game above .500. With a defense ranked among the league's top six in strip sacks (six), takeaways (16), sacks (30) and tackles for losses (61), the Colts figure they're in better shape to reach the postseason than many believe.

“There was a big emphasis the past two weeks in getting to .500 going into the bye,” two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “I’m excited. The guys know we have an actual chance to make a (playoff) push.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The pass rush. One question coming into this season was whether Indy could consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks. After 10 games, the Colts are tied for fourth with 30 sacks. They had five against the Pats, including three by Dayo Odeybingbo, who doubled his previous season total.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Finishing drives. Indy's nine-game streak of scoring 20 or more points ended Sunday, though the struggles were evident earlier. The 14 points from Moore's two touchdowns against Carolina exceeded the scoring total from the entire Indy offense (13 points) in that game. The Colts have two offensive TDs in two weeks and three in the last five halves.

STOCK UP

Odeyingbo and WR Isaiah McKenzie. Odeyingbo has 4 1/2 sacks and a fumble recovery over the last four games. McKenzie's numbers haven't been quite as impressive, but Indy wouldn't be .500 without him. He's filled in nicely while rookie WR Josh Downs battles a knee injury. McKenzie caught four passes for 31 yards Sunday and set up the decisive field goal with a 42-yard kickoff return.

STOCK DOWN

RB Zack Moss. He began this week as the NFL's No. 2 rusher. But as Jonathan Taylor's workload has increased, Moss' has decreased. Steichen likes to go with the hot hand, which was Taylor early against New England, and the result was Moss got only one carry for 2 yards.

INJURIES

The most significant addition to the injury list is three-time Pro Bowl C Ryan Kelly, who entered the concussion protocol and didn't play in the second half. He's had two concussions this season. McKenzie also appeared to have an ice pack covering his left hand after the game. DEs Kwity Paye (hamstring) and Tyquan Lewis (calf) left briefly Sunday but finished the game.

KEY NUMBER

5 — Beating New England for the second time in three years not only evened the Colts' record, it gave first-year coach Steichen his fifth win, topping Indy's total from last season (four).

NEXT STEPS

Everyone enjoys the bye week whenever it comes. But the timing seems optimal after an overseas trip and a physical game in which the offense struggled again. Steichen and his staff will surely consider how they can make their ground game more consistently effective over the final seven weeks.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL