The 2009 Indianapolis Colts are projecting a new defensive image that dares opponents to run the football.
Last season, the Colts finished 24th in the league against the run, giving up 123 yards a game on the ground. Opponents stuck to clock-eating, run-heavy game plans, which kept Peyton Manning on the sidelines.
This year, Indianapolis will no longer allow opposing offenses to follow that approach.
Not long after Jim Caldwell took over as head coach, the Colts added Larry Coyer as the new defensive coordinator. Since Coyer's arrival, the Colts have added more size to their linebacking corps and picked up bigger bodies at defensive tackle.
Team President Bill Polian has indicated that they have focused on "getting better against the run up front, particularly at the tackle position."
To that end, three of the four defensive tackles who joined the team since 2008 are over 300 pounds. The fourth is 20 pounds heavier than either of the starting defensive tackles a year ago.
This new defensive composition allows Coyer to make some changes. Expect the linebackers to run around more, no longer having to face up offensive linemen barreling through under-sized Colt defenders.
Coyer will use this freedom to blitz linebackers, generating even more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, whose offensive lines already have to focus on neutralizing Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Expect defensive backs to get involved in blitz packages as well, as the linebackers will be able to drop back into coverage.
Don't expect to see Bob Sanders coming up into the "box" as a fourth linebacker as often. Hanging back will allow Sanders to use his speed to cover a greater portion of the field, delivering punishing blows to his opponents after he has a full head of steam.
The additional bulk on the inside of the defensive line will allow the Colts to generate more pressure up the middle of the field, instead of relying solely on the edge rushing abilities of its tandem All-Pro defensive ends.
The new defense will look significantly different, but don't be fooled. The coaching staff has already clarified that minor tweaks to the Tampa-2 defensive scheme will make a big difference on the field.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Colts stuck to the same run-centered theme by adding running back Donald Brown. Do not be surprised to see more two-back sets, more of Dallas Clark in the slot, and tight ends Tom Santi and Gijon Robinson playing a larger role as run blockers.
The Colts have made it clear they are tired of teams trying to run the ball down their throats and dominating the time of possession to keep Manning off of the field.
Opponents who think they can get the Colts on the run in 2009 might not want to be jumping to those old playbooks so fast.