INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 25: Robert Mathis #98 of the Indianapolis Colts sacks Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half of their game at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Now that the Colts have found their man to lead the newest phase of the 'shoe, we can expect the defense to receive a significant makeover.
Chuck Pagano's vision for the Colts defense is far from crystal clear, but he certainly seemed to be excited about the opportunity to work with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis (if he re-signs) in 2012.
On Thursday, Pagano gave both of the Colts defensive ends a ringing endorsement:
"I was talking to Mr. Irsay, if Wade Phillips can go to the Houston Texans and install the 3-4 with no offseason and make Mario Williams an outside linebacker and stand him up on early downs, that the two explosive, great athletes, the great pass rushers that we have on the edge here, I don’t see an issue."
Does this mean we can expect Freeney/Mathis to flirt with a role similar to Mario Williams? Maybe. It's exciting to think about, at the very least. I've always pondered about the damage Mathis and Freeney could do if they were utilized properly in a hybrid scheme. Heck, if Jerry Hughes sticks around, maybe we'll even see Pagano get some worth out of him in the Joker role.
In addition to Pagano's comments, Mathis was clearly excited when he learned that the former defensive coordinator would be interviewing for the then vacant head coaching job.
Ravens coach Pagano interviews for Colts job.....— Robert Mathis (@RobertMathis98) January 24, 2012
While Pagano didn't reveal too much about his ideas during his presser, he did specify that he would like to build the Colts new defense to be "flexible" (variations of the 3-4 and 4-3), simple to execute, but not simple to attack.
Our motto is simple me, complex you. To say I’m a 3-4 guy, we want to build a defense that is really flexible. It’s going to be really simple for our guys to execute, but when the offense prepares for it and they see it on Sunday, it’s going to look very complex to them. Just because we may line up and they say ‘Hey, look, they’re a 3-4 team,’ we could be a 4-3 team on first down, we could be an odd 3-4 look on second down and the Lord only knows on third-and-7-plus. That’s our goal. That would be my answer to that."
Coincidentally enough, Chuck's brother John, who is the defensive coordinator in San Diego, made a similar set of comments during an earlier conference call.
When asked about what to expect from his brother as a head coach, John compared the similarities of their defensive philosophies:
"It’s funny because I got the same types of questions when I took the [job] in San Diego," John Pagano said. "They said I was a 3-4 guy, but I’ve coached in a 4-3 and a 3-4. We do multiple fronts and we have multiple looks. Baltimore was a 4-3 and a 3-4. They play those different types of hybrid defenses that really are game-changing types of defenses. Whatever your personnel suits you, you’re going to be in certain types of fronts and certain types of coverages whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3.
"When you have an impact rusher like Robert Mathis, you can see the presence he brings off the edge," John Pagano said. "In anybody’s defense, in anybody’s scheme, Robert Mathis would make a difference. To be able to have him coming off the edge, I think [Chuck] would most welcome that."
John won't be teaming up with his brother in Indianapolis, but that didn't stop him from acknowledging Mathis' ability and Chuck's possible willingness to utilize that ability. It's clear that John knows his brother pretty well and he knows that Mathis is an impact player with high reward.
However, money could likely be the largest obstacle standing in the way of Mathis' future as a Colt. How much will Ryan Grigson value him? I don't think we can expect him to give the Colts a hometown discount, but you can't rule it out with a high-character guy like Mathis.
Another factor for the four-time Pro Bowler will obviously be his emphasis on the pursuit of another ring. With the Colts in total rebuild mode, Mathis might find that it's time to take advantage of his free agency elsewhere.
But with Mathis' excitement about the new head coach and Chuck Pagano's admiration for the pass rusher, it seems like he has a pretty good shot to stick.