I don't think I've ever read anything bad about Rick Gosselin, the columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Maybe Kissing Suzy Kolber once wrote something (likely comparing Gosselin to porn fluffer, with Jerry Jones starring as Dirk Diggler), but that doesn't count. They'd do a hit piece on Ghandi naked with a goat if it would get anyone to laugh.
While self-important scribes like Peter King all rightly bashed for their lack of objectivity in analyzing the NFL, Gosselin is one of the very few writers who does a magnificent job breaking down the game and business of football, but without the slightest hint of bias or favoritism.
So, when Gosselin writes an article about how the "shutdown corner" no longer exists in football, and how the Colts have been ahead of the curve defensively (at a time when other meatheads have wrongly stated the Tampa-2 is "quickly disappearing" in the NFL), it's one of those "required reading" articles all informed NFL fans should take the time to digest.
The Indianapolis Colts have long been ahead of the curve in their approach to pass defense. Playing the Cover Two scheme that Tony Dungy brought with him from Tampa Bay in 2002, the Colts give up yardage. They rank 20th in the NFL in pass defense this season.
But the premise of the Cover Two is to deny the big play. Do not allow receivers behind you. Keep the ball in front of you. So offenses can complete passes as the Colts sit in their zone coverages. Quarterbacks have a completion percentage of 64.3 against Indianapolis this season.
Cornerbacks are evaluated by the NFL based on coverage ability. But the Colts also place a premium on tackling ability. They want cornerbacks who can close on the ball, attack the receiver and deliver him to the turf.
This style of defense has been the cornerstone of the Colts Tampa-2 scheme since 2002. We've talked about it countless articles. I personally bring it up every time someone starts bashing fan-whipping boy Tim Jennings. Remember the days of David Macklin, allowing big play after big play to happen down the field? Say what you want about Tim Jennings. I agree, he isn't a great player, and probably not worthy of second round status. But is he a decent Tampa-2 corner? Yes.
Tampa-2 defensive philosophy was on full display this past Sunday against the Broncos, and the astute Gosselin was on hand at The Luke to witness it. Gosselin saw what I saw, but unlike me, the dude actually had the stones to write down what he saw:
Brandon Marshall's 21 catch performance wasn't anything to terribly amazing.
Yes, catching 21 passes in one game is a feat. There is a reason they keep records like that. However, one of the reasons Marshall had 21 receptions was because of how the Colts defended him.
Brandon Marshall caught an NFL record 21 passes against the Colts last Sunday for 200 yards — but he averaged less than 10 yards per catch. Thirteen of his catches covered fewer than 10 yards and seven went for five yards or less.
When Marshall caught a pass Sunday, he was tackled. There were no big plays to be had — no turning a seven-yard catch upfield into a 70-yard touchdown. That’s why the Colts were able to withstand Marshall’s onslaught and claim a 28-16 victory over the Broncos.
Indianapolis also limited Pro Bowl wideouts Larry Fitzgerald to 10.9 yards on nine catches and Andre Johnson to 10.3 on 10 catches this season. That’s how the Colts play pass defense — if you catch it, they will tackle you. The play ends at the reception.
"Tackling is important," Colts general manager Bill Polian said of his defensive backfield, "and we’re pretty good at it."
Again, the point Gosselin makes is not one that dismisses Marshall's catching 21 balls. He is simply stating the obvious: Marshall caught 21 balls because the Colts kept tackling him after every catch. Down 21-0 after a little more than a quarter's worth of play, the Broncos had to use 28 total plays and well over 13 total minutes of clock time to score at total of 16 points on their three scoring drives. That is far to long, and far too many plays, when trying to overcome a 21-0 hole.
Again, vintage Tampa-2.
At some point in the ball game, the Broncos needed to take a shot down the field. Dinking and dunking and slanting to Marshall all day is not going to beat a team like the Colts. For whatever reason, the Broncos didn't take any shots. Thus, a win for the Colts.
Gosselin also points out the absurdity of "pass defense" ranked by total yards per game. Limiting, or at times nullifying, the big play is often the difference between winning and losing.
Again, for those who think the Tampa-2 scheme is out of style, kindly look at the Steelers, Giants, and Patriots. All run heavy blitz package schemes. All have given up huge big plays this season due to poor or blown coverages. and while Brandon Marshall is receiving a lot of love for snatching 21 passes Sunday, the fact that not one of those receptions resulted in a big gain is likely THE reason the Colts are still undefeated.