In 2006 the Indianapolis Colts rode safety Bob Sanders to the AFC Championship game. All season the Colts run defense was awful with Sanders sidelined, but dominated the run in the first two rounds of the playoffs with Sanders fully healthy.
The following season Sanders won the Defensive Player of the Year award, only to get injured in the Colts divisional round game against the Chargers. When Sanders came out of the game the Colts were winning. The Colts ended up losing in the fourth quarter though.
Since that game Bob Sanders has not been the same, and while Sanders started the 2009 season hurt, many expected him to return and give the Colts a boost of energy in stopping the run. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, Sanders 2009 season consisted of two games, three tackles, and an interception off of 49ers QB Alex Smith.
Fortunately for Indianapolis the Colts run defense has stepped up in Sanders absence, with players like LB Clint Session making a name for themselves this year.
While the Colts have done well this season against the run, they could still use Sanders as a lights out run defender this week when the Colts host the Jets in the AFC championship game. The Jets may not have the physical running machines that the Colts have gone up against this year like Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and of course Chris Johnson, but the Jets do have a solid back-tandem of Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene that has the NFL's first ranked running attack.
The Colts are familiar with teams trying to "shove the ball down their throats." Every year teams like Jacksonville, Tennessee, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh attempt to run, run, run, on Indianapolis. More often that these Colts win those games (since 2006 the Colts have a combined 15-3 record against those four teams). Since 2006, many, if not most of those games were played without Sanders.
The one team who may have put out the recipe on how to beat Indianapolis are the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers have traditionally used a balance of short passing, lots of running, and blitzing 3-4 defense to beat the Colts. The Chargers have also manipulated field position in the past to beat the Colts. If the Jets intend on beating the Colts, they're going to have to do those things. If the Colts intend on beating the Jets, they're going to have to prevent those things.
That would be a lot easier done with a healthy Bob Sanders.
Still, the Colts intend on moving forward without Sanders and they have gotten this far without him for 15 games. In the past, where the Colts defense would play less confident without Sanders, now the Colts defense is fine on their own. A big part of that is likely because most of the defense starting on Sunday wasn't there for the 2006 run.