Are large scale schematic changes coming to the Indianapolis Colts this year? As casual and serious football fans will probably agree, quite frankly, no.
The Colts have won at least twelve games in six consecutive seasons so why ruin a good thing or change a wildly successful franchise?
Even if Tom Moore is not coordinating the offense, things should stay basically the same. I do not expect a switch to the west coast offense or heavy use of the “wildcat” formation.
I do predict, and this is no bold prediction at all, that there will be some defensive scheme changes. The Colts hired Larry Coyer as their new defensive coordinator to replace the mostly successful Ron Meeks and one would think that if the head coach was happy with his defense he wouldn’t change coordinators.
Ron Meeks was hand picked by Tony Dungy and resigned earlier this year; he is now defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. Meeks resigned but most close to the organization feel he was given a chance to resign before being shown the door.
Now it is up to Larry Coyer to put his stamp on this defense and given his history as Broncos D-Coordinator, Tampa Bay assistant head coach and extensive college coaching career including a lengthy stint at Iowa during the time new head coach Jim Caldwell was a player, he’s nobody’s clone.
While the Colts won’t be switching to the 3-4 defense, it is reasonable to expect that a more liberal use of the blitz and man-to-man coverage will be utilized.
Coyer was defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos from 2003-2006. While at Denver, he was blitz-happy and very fond of the “show blitz” scheme. The show blitz system tries to confuse the offense with pressure and deception.
The linebackers, safeties, and even corners “show blitz” and try to confuse the quarterback. It is typified by lots of movement to keep the offense guessing if the blitz is coming or not.
In the show blitz based defense, the secondary can either drop into man or zone coverage. Coyer more times than not used man coverage in this system during his stay in Denver.
Coyer will also have a new toy to play with in second year linebacker Philip Wheeler. Wheeler, 6-2 240, starred at blitz happy Georgia Tech in college and was a fearsome pass rushing force and bad dream for any quarterback who held the ball for too long. Wheeler made sure quarterbacks enjoyed a taste of the turf nineteen times during his career at Tech.
It is totally unrealistic to believe the Colts will switch to this defensive philosophy exclusively, and Coach Jim Caldwell has already chimed in on this subject on Colts.com. “I don't anticipate a whole lot of difference in terms of what we've been doing,” Caldwell said.
“Our scheme is going to stay the same. You're not going to see a blitz-happy team. We're going to do the things it takes for us to be effective. I'm not saying you're not going to see any more blitzes than normal, and I do think you'll see just a little bit of an adjustment in flavor.”
Even though the Colts are labeled a cover-two zone team, this is somewhat of a myth. The Colts are based out of the cover-two or “Tampa two”, named for Coach Dungy’s tweaking of the system during his days in Tampa, but they also apply liberal use of the cover-three and even man-to-man coverage.
The Colts also blitzed more last season and Bob Sanders could often be found prowling near the line of scrimmage to provide run support.
The running game was a sensitive topic in Indianapolis last season as the team gave up 122.9 yards per game, good for a spot near the bottom of the barrel statistically.
The good news is Larry Coyer’s defense in Denver was among the best at stopping the run, ranking in the top four in yards-per-game in consecutive seasons and the Colts have stocked up on big bodies at the defensive tackle position through free agency and this year’s draft.
The Colts drafted 6-4, 303lb Fili Moala from USC in the second round, and 6-0, 319lb Terrance Taylor in the fourth in an effort to get bigger at the defensive tackle and boost the run defense.
They also feature 300-plus pound Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson added through free agency last year, undrafted free agent Adrian Grady and recently resigned 296 pound Ed Johnson.
The defensive tackle position, last season an area of weakness, seems to be a team strength on paper at least. The Colts almost appear to be jinxed at the position.
They spent a ton of money on Corey Simon who turned out to be a major disappointment, “Booger" McFarland helped the team win a Super Bowl only to have his knee blown out the following year, Monte Reagor suffered serious injuries in a horrendous crash while driving to practice, Quinn Pittock unexpectedly retired last year, and Ed Johnson was dismissed for disciplinary reasons.
If the DT’s can stay healthy and trouble-free off the field, Colts fans should expect to see marked improvement in the run game and the defense as a whole.
Larry Coyer might turn out to be the perfect fit to coach this defense. His resume certainly is impressive and the Colts could use a little bit of tweaking defensively, but fans will remember that it was Coyer’s defense who faced the Colts twice during the playoffs in 2003 and 2004 and were thoroughly torched by Peyton Manning and crew, giving up a mind numbing and frightening 90 points in those two games.
Coyer received a lot of criticism for a perceived lack of ability to adjust his schemes during games and over the course of a season, possibly a major factor in his dismissal from Denver despite having one of the statically better defenses in the league.
One thing is for sure, the Colts will play the 13th toughest schedule in the NFL and quarterbacks will not be showing any mercy to the new coordinator, especially when Mr. Brady pays a visit on November 15.
Coyer will get a second chance to be an NFL Defensive Coordinator with the Colts but don’t expect to see wholesale changes in the defensive scheme. The fact that Coyer spent the past two seasons in Tampa Bay is huge flashing sign that reads “I am well versed in the cover-two.”
The Colts will again rely on defensive team speed with plenty of zone coverage, but fans can expect Larry Coyer to put his own stamp on this defense, mixing in little flair with blitzes and man-to-man coverage while improving the run defense.
I think most Colts fans can live with these changes while the thirty one other teams in the league will hope they fail or otherwise self destruct, the Colts are plagued by a rash of season changing injuries and an “old school” defensive coach has run out of fresh ideas.