How the Colts Defense Will Change in 2009
This is the only opinion piece I have written that is 90 percent opinion and 10 percent facts.
The nature of the topic forces it to be this way. The only people who really know what the Colts's D is going to look like this season are in Indianapolis, not my house. I'm just being up front about it, unlike other writers I have seen who act like they know for a fact what the defense will look like.
Here are the following things I am basing my theory on: 1) Larry Coyer's background detailed in Part I of this series. 2) Statements made by the Colts organization. Whatever they say, just take the exact opposite, and you will have the truth. 3) The players the Colts acquired through free-agency and the draft this year.
Where I would like to start is with the firing of Ron Meeks and the hiring of Larry Coyer. The former a Tampa 2 disciple, the later a base 4-3 defensive coach who likes to blitz.
Next let's look at a few of the guys that the Colts picked up in free agency and the draft.
The two most significant pickups the Colts made in free agency were linebacker Adam Seward and defensive tackle Ed Johnson. I like both of these moves for different reasons.
Adam Seward is 6-3 and 250 lbs. He is expected to play linebacker as Gary Brackett's backup. There is nothing of note from his playing time with the Carolina Panthers. That means nothing to me. A guy can be a bust in one system and flourish in another.
The Colts primary goal on defense this year is going to be to shut down the run. I think Seward will see a decent amount of playing time at the Mike along with Phillip Wheeler at the SAM.
The only undersized linebacker in this package will be Clint Sessions, but make no mistake, Clint is a fast and he brings the pain. I've seen him knock down some pretty big backs.
Clint Session actually has the perfect requirements for a Will backer: He has to be fast, because he is often in pass coverage, covering the flat or the hook/curl areas of the field. He also must be agile because he usually attacks from the backside of the play.
This means maneuvering through traffic. If the play flows his way then he has to be able to tackle the back in man coverage. Not only does Clint excel in these areas but he is a great blitzer who can shoot a gap and get a sack. As you guys can tell I love this guy.
Bringing Ed Johnson back was another great move. Ed was starting to develop into a good DT who could run block and penetrate his gap on passing plays.
If the starting lineup on the interior of the D-line is Antonio "Mookie" Johnson (who will be battling Terrance Taylor for the starting NT position) and Ed Johnson we should be pretty stout in the middle. This should force the backs to the outside where the Colts speed and strength should result in very little yards gained by the opposing team.
The other off-season free agency acquisitions that I liked were the Colts resigning Tyjuan Hagler and Freddy Keiaho. These guys give the line-backing core some nice depth, and will allow Larry Coyer to put some interesting packages together.
Both are a little undersized for run-stopping LBs, but they are fast, and they can tackle well. They will be very useful in pass coverage and blitzes.
The biggest clue that the Colts are switching to a base 4-3 is the drafting of Terrance Taylor. That is one big difference between the Tampa 2 and the 4-3 defense. The Tampa 2 would never have a NT in the interior of the line.
In the Tampa 2 they want smaller faster guys who can penetrate their gaps. Under Tony Dungy the Colts would never have drafted a true NT.
For those of you who don't know the different between a DT and a NT let's spend a minute going over it. In the traditional 4-3 the NT is bigger than the DT. He is usually lined up on the weak-side of the offensive formation.
His job is to take on the center and possibly the weak-side guard so that the smaller, faster DT is one-on-one with the strong side guard.
It both guys are doing there jobs the interior of the offensive line should be pushing back towards the quarterback on a passing play; on a running play the back should not have any hole or gap to shoot through on the interior of the line. He should be forced to bounce the play outside.
Another player of note is Jerraud Powers taken in the third round of the draft. Assuming all goes well, the Colts will use him as a cover corner in nickel and dime packages. Expect to see him playing man coverage lining up over the slot receiver.
He is undersized for a cover corner but he also isn't intimidated going up against taller receivers, and showed in college that he could play man coverage.
Larry Coyer likes to run man coverage when blitzing, but the Colts really don't have the personnel for that. Powers might give them a little flexibility in that area.
So What Kind of Defense Are We Going To Have?
First and foremost, this is going to be a run stopping defense. Make no mistake, Larry was hired for that reason. One only has to look at what he did in Denver, and how his defenses ranked, to understand why the Colts hired him. His time with the Buccaneers helped too because he got to learn from the master, Monte Kiffin, about the Tampa 2.
The Colts are going to be big in the middle and fast on the outside. I actually expect to see Gary Brackett as the starter in this system even though Adam Seward is a much bigger linebacker.
Gary is one of the most underrated MLB in football; this guy can play the pass, and on the next play come up and drop a running back who is shooting through the middle of the line.
The Colts have a lot of depth with their front seven now. Even more important is that the depth they have is varied. They have different sized players for different situations. This should really help Larry use schemes that will confuse offenses.
In other words I think you're going to see different types of defensive packages, with different types of players mixed together. Hopefully this will confuse the opposing offensive coordinator and QB.
For example you might see Freeney, Mookie, Ed, and Mathis lined up on the d-line. However, instead of Phillip Wheeler at the SAM, Tyjuan Hagles might be in there, with Gary and Clint.
The offensive coordinator might look at this formation and think that the Colts are thinking pass because they have Mathis and Hagler in there. So let's say he decides to call a running play.
Okay so the opposing offensive coordinator has called "I right 32 Iso". This is an I-formation with the right side being the strong side (remember the strong side is where the tight end is lined up outside the right tackle. It's strong because the tight end is another blocker.)
The flanker or right side wide receiver is lined up a yard behind the line of scrimmage. On the weak side the split-end (wide receiver) is lined up on the line of scrimmage.
The 32 means that the halfback is getting the ball and running through the A gap on the strong side.
"Iso" is short for isolation, meaning the fullback is leading the running back through and taking on the Mike linebacker in a one-on-one block. In other words he is isolating the middle linebacker.
Larry Coyer likes to use the "show me" blitz. This is where you put players in a position where it looks like they are going to blitz, trying to confuse the QB and offensive lineman. When the ball is snapped they may blitz or they may drop into coverage.
If you want a great example of the "show me" blitz go watch the first game the Colts played in the 2008 season. It was against Chicago, and for most of the game they had two linebackers filling the A and B gaps. They made it look like they were going to blitz. This made it really confusing for the young offensive line.
Remember the lineman have to figure out who they are going to block before the ball is snapped. If they pick the wrong guy bad things can happen.
Okay so back to our example. So lets say that Gary Bracket and Tyjuan Hagler come up 15 seconds before the snap, and plug the A and B gaps, and are showing blitz. Now the QB has to make a decision.
He no longer has communication with the offensive coordinator, so it's up to him to either audible out of the play, keep it like it is, or call a timeout.
The reason the QB and the lineman have a problem is that where the play is intended to go is blocked by the linebackers.
The offensive lineman have to figure out whether they are going to block the DT or the linebackers. In this situation, even if the fullback blocks the middle linebacker the other linebacker can slide over from the B gap to the A gap and make the tackle.
So as you can see from this example it really creates confusion for the offense. Say the QB audibles to a pass. Both linebackers might drop back into hook zones, or maybe one or both are going to come on a blitz with everyone else playing zone defense behind them.
This is what Larry Coyer is going to bring to the Colts
You never saw this kind of play under Ron Meeks. The Colts rarely blitzed and when they did it was really obvious. In fact all of their coverages were really obvious. Meeks never disguised his coverages in my opinion. In fact Tom Brady confirmed this in 2007 before they played the Colts. He basically said you could always tell what kind of coverage they were in before the snap.
By the way the example I used is totally made up. I have no idea if this exact scenario would ever come up. I just wanted everyone to get the basic gist of what Larry is going to do.
So this is why and how the Colts defense is going to be different. To recap you are going to have bigger, stronger guys in there to stop the run. There will be lots of Zone blitzing and some blitzing with man coverage. The defensive formations will be disguised, by using Zone Blitzes and "Shoe Me" blitzes.
My guess is that this will develop over the course of the season. The Colts defense is learning a new system and it's going to take them a while to get it. As the season progresses you will see more and more of what I am talking about above.
My only concern with Larry is whether or not he learned from his mistakes in Denver. The biggest criticism was that he was bad at making in-game adjustments. Hopefully the time he spent with Monte Kiffin helped him learn in this area.
If this defense works then every team in the division is going to have to figure out a new way to beat the Colts. For years they have relied on running the ball and converting third downs to keep Peyton off the field.
In that sense they were successful. Unfortunately for them Peyton didn't need that many possessions to win the game.
Can you imagine whats going to happen if this new defense works like it should?
Over the past four years the Colts have had the fewest offensive possessions in the league. If Peyton gets more snaps per game he may break Brady's record of 50 touchdowns in a season, and have another super bowl ring for his finger!
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