Freeney again making big impact on Colts' defense

Updated: November 3, 2003, 6:05 PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dwight Freeney expected opponents to try anything to slow him down this season.

They haven't had much luck.

When running backs and tight ends chip Freeney, he frequently spins away.

When he's double-teamed, he still manages to blast his way into the backfield. And if an opponent dares block him one-on-one, quarterbacks best beware. Just ask the Miami Dolphins.

Freeney, who emerged as one of the NFL's top young pass-rushers last season, has gotten more attention, but he hasn't stopped making plays for the Indianapolis Colts.

"It's why the organization brought him in here, for the constant speed off the end rush," three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Anytime you have a guy like that, he can be a real difference maker in the ballgame."

Freeney has played a pivotal part in the Colts' success and the defense's quick turnaround. Indianapolis is 7-1 for the first time since 1977.

His seven sacks rank among the AFC leaders and if that pace continues, Freeney could become the Colts' first defensive Pro Bowler since linebacker Duane Bickett in 1987.

Not everybody believed Freeney would make such a huge impact.

After the Colts took him with the 11th pick overall in the 2002 draft, some critics complained the Colts chose him too early, suggesting he was too small to play in the NFL and labeling him a pass-rush specialist.

But in his second pro season, it's clear Freeney is the Colts' defensive catalyst and a player teams must increasingly game-plan against.

"We were trying to block him, trying to double," said Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt, whose team lost Sunday's battle with Freeney. "At the end of the game we were doing a bootleg rolling away from him. We didn't get it done."

Freeney knew it would be like this long before the season opened. That's why he spent the offseason refining moves and working against extra blockers.

And when the Dolphins put rookie tackle Wade Smith one-on-one against him Sunday, Freeney made Miami pay. He finished with three sacks, two forced fumbles, created an intentional grounding call and made two game-saving plays in the final two minutes.

The play that will be remembered came when he blew past Smith, sacked Brian Griese and chopped the ball loose. Teammate Raheem Brock recovered to preserve the Colts' 23-17 victory.

The one few will discuss occurred on the previous play, when Freeney bolted across the field and caught Ricky Williams from behind for a 2-yard gain. Williams was trying to get around the corner, and if Freeney hadn't made the tackle, Williams might have scored.

"Somebody had to step up and my team needed me," Freeney said after the game. "When I saw an opening, I hit it and that was it."

Freeney finished with six tackles and five quarterback pressures, but by coach Tony Dungy's count, Freeney was just a few steps from having five sacks.

The only mistake he made was covering tight end Randy McMichael one-on-one in a blitz. McMichael caught a 46-yard pass to set up the Dolphins' first touchdown.

After that, it was classic Freeney.

"It was one of those games where he got singled up some," Dungy said. "He was close to having a great day."

Already, Freeney has had more than his share of big days.

Despite starting just 14 of his first 24 games, Freeney has 20 sacks, been credited with 50 pressures, and his equally quick chop move has created 12 fumbles.

If teams dare to block him without help, Freeney could soon be chasing Reggie White's NFL record of 31 sacks in his first two NFL seasons.

The scary part is Dungy believes Freeney's still improving.

"I think he's understanding the game and how things are going now, when he can come inside, when he can go up the field and set a guy up," Dungy said.

For Freeney, it's all about speed -- and technique.

"Everyone's talking about you have to be 6-5 and 275. I'm happy to be 6-foot, 6-1, 6-2 or whatever you want to call me," he said. "I'm 265, but it's all about leverage."

These days opponents don't have much leverage. They can try to slow down Freeney with extra blockers or risk getting beat by his speed. The choice is theirs.

"He's doing a lot of different things," Dungy said. "I think he's rushing better and using more moves than he did last year. He's still getting better."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index