I won't bore you with a bunch of stats (averaged or otherwise). I'll just re-iterate that last season the Colts surrendered an average of 173 rushing yards a game. When the post-season started, Bob Sanders returned and the Colts immediately started stopping the run and winning games. Naturally, the fickle media, who watch about as much football as my girlfriend (and she hates football so much she dreads September), concluded that it was Bob Sanders alone that made the difference.
Not so, my friends. Not so.
Sanders was obviously a big part of the turnaround. He's a top 3 safety, and is almost a clone of Rodney Harrison; minus the cheap, dirty tactics. But the turnaround really started when Dungy benched SAM linebacker Gilbert Gardner (who is now tackling for the Titans; feel free to cheer) for Rob Morris. Morris had never played SAM backer in his life. Despite that, he played brilliantly; maybe some of the best football of his career. Now, Rob will hopefully have a full training camp and pre-season to get comfortable at the SAM. Thus, you have reason number one for the Colts defense getting better: Rob Morris at SAM. Now, for the other reasons:
- Stability along the d-line: Last season the Colts entered training camp with Corey Simon and Montae Reagor as the starting DTs. By mid-season, they were both on IR and I was having dry heaves. This, combined with Gardner stinking so badly the French thought him rank, was the #1 reason why the Colts were so terrible against the run during the regular season. This year, stability will hopefully settle in. Booger McFarland is a great DT, especially in the Cover 2. Stats really don't do justice to how well McFarland plays, and before you call me a homer, I thought that before he became a Colt. Raheem Brock continues to display how he is the most under-rated player in football. However, behind them on the depth chart, it gets dicey. The Colts have a lot of guys that simply haven't proven themselves. Still, if Booger and Raheem stay healthy, this is a solid DT tandem.
- Improved pass rush: With the Colts stopping the run now, this will allow Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to do what they do; eat quarterbacks. Last year, the big question was Can the Colts stop the run with Mathis starting? It was answered: Yes. Mathis was actually one of the better run stuffers on the team. In fact, he was better at it than Cato June, which is sad considering Cato was the team's leading tackler. Teams like Tennessee and Jacksonville were able to neutralize the Colts' pass rush because the ran the ball at will. Hell, Jacksonville ran the ball on a 4th and ten, and almost made it! Obviously, when you are running, you're not throwing. And you kind of need the other team to attempt to throw if you want to pressure their QB. I am a master of understatement, I know.
- Athleticism at CB: I love Nick Harper and Jason David's play. They were smart, tough, and had a knack for getting to the football. They were not, however, terribly athletic. In fact, they were downright slow at times, but made up for it with smarts and technique. Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson pushed hard for the starting jobs last year, and nearly won them. Now, they are the starters. Both bring size (6'0), speed, and playmaking ability (ask Tom Brady and Rex Grossman about that). Hayden and Jackson also bring a tremendous work ethic into camp. The only real cause for concern is the loss of secondary coach Leslie Frazier to Minnesota. Frazier was a huge reason why the Colts secondary developed into such a strong group the last two years.
- Cato is gone: I said it after the Jacksonville game. I said that after watching Cato's sad, pathetic effort, after watching him quit during the game, I wanted him gone after the season. I got my wish. In his place is Freddie Keiaho, a human dynamo capable of creating violent collusions at the point of attack. Freddie really only played in one game last year. He subbed for an injured Gary Brackett, playing MLB, at New England. The results were very good. Freddie made key tackle after key tackle in that game. While Keiaho doesn't quite have Cato June's hands, he seems much better suited for the WILL linebacker spot, because unlike Cato, Freddie can bring the ball carrier down hard.