The Indianapolis Colts will be entering the 2012 NFL under a new defensive-minded Head Coach, the last HC that was know for being a defensive guru was former Head Coach Tony Dungy, who first came over from the Buccaneers in 2002 until his ultimate retirement from head coaching in 2009. Under Dungy’s coaching and guidance, the Indianapolis Colts won SB XLI during the 2006-2007 NFL Season; the first championship for the franchise since moving to Indianapolis in 1984.
Chuck Pagano will be leading a team that has enter re-building mode this year, the Colts will have a fresh new GM, Head Coach and coaching staff, along with 2012 NFL Draft #1 Overall QB Andrew Luck. Prior to being hire as HC, Pagano was the secondary coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 2008-2010 before being promoted to Defensive Coordinator in 2011. While there, he had the opportunity to coach Ravens’ Safeties Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, and former Ravens and current Colts SS Tom Zbikowski. Pagano also developed Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams (7th Round) and Chris Carr (UDFA) into a solid, well-rounded group of CBs. Pagano’s prowess as a secondary specialist and defensive strategist might give the Colts the defensive turnaround it has needed for some time.
Changing from the 4-3 to the 3-4:
It was been speculated around the entire NFL world that the Indianapolis Colts would be fully implementing a 3-4 base defense. This shift in defensive base scheme will make the star Defensive End duo consisting of LE Dwight Freeney and RE Robert Mathis into Outside Linebackers. The question is can Freeney and Mathis both perform at an elite level in their new roles or will it hamper the quality they are known for?
In my humble opinion, this most likely will work for Robert Mathis, Mathis is 6-2 245, quite undersized for a DE but has that perfect build for an OLB. Mathis has good speed, athleticism, and lateral quickness to adjust for his new role as an SOLB (Strong Outside Linebacker) but his coverage skills will be the bigger question.
Dwight Freeney on the other hand is best utilized on the "front-lines" with his hands in the dirt, due to him being a much larger lineman than Mathis, his quickness isn’t good as an standing LB blitzer and his coverage skills is most likely non-existent.
With our current personnel in the defensive lineman unit, Defensive Tackles from the 4-3 base now become 3-4 Defensive Ends; this alignment can help some while hurting the others.
Our current DTs are Fili Moala (1-tech), Drake Nevis, (3-tech) Antonio Johnson (1-tech), Ricardo Matthews (1-tech) and Ollie Ogbu (3-tech) who are all now been repositioned as DEs. It’s possible for Moala to make the transition as a 3-4 DE since this was his original position at USC along with Ollie Ogbu. Matthews and Johnson are too large to play as a DE since they both are 315 lbs or bigger. Same as NTs Josh Chapman (316 lbs) Chigbo Anunoby (324 lbs) and Brandon McKinney (350 lbs) . Drake Nevis is the only DT who really can make a good transition if he is coached properly and understands the role and fundamentals.
Next up is the LB corps, as of right now, our starting LBs in the 3-4 base are pretty much out of position. It has been up in the air that Pat Angerer will be our SILB and Kavell Conner will be the starting WILB. The problem here is that both Angerer and Conner were terrible in pass coverage the last two seasons. Angerer should have no problem after been coached well into the roles, but the rest of the group might not mesh well as a coherent group of LBs.
So far we are looking at something like this for the 3-4 Linebacker corps:
This might be a very good blitzing corps, but when it comes to pass coverage, our only hope at being decent at this area is Angerer, that is the equivalent of saying Jacob Lacey was our best cover CB (ROFL).
Can the 3-4/4-3 "Hybrid" work?
For the Indianapolis Colts, this might be the best choice instead of going full 3-4 for the 2012 season. This Hybrid D allows us to fully utilize our "front-7" full strengths and address any weaknesses that may occur, it allows our star D-linemen to switch things up and create mismatches. Another advantage of running the Hybrid is that it also allows our defense to stay fresh and healthy just in case they have a hard time getting the opposing offense off the field.
I’m hoping to see the Hybrid D established like this come pre-season.
This gives us a balanced run-stopping/pass coverage without sacrificing pass-rushing abilities, Edds and Freeman are so far our best cover LBs; Angerer and Hickman are the type of LBs that can play man coverage on TEs running down the stretch with Hughes and Fugger being the stand up blitzing LBs.
DT (1-tech/Overtackle): Johnson
DT (3-tech/Undertackle): Nevis
This lineup is pretty much what we all have been used to except we have a bigger and more instinctive cover LB than Gary Brackett, maybe someone from our list of UDFA LBs can crack the starting lineup.
Changing from the Cover 2 to [insert coverage shell here]:
The Cover 2 used in Indianapolis relied on undersized but faster Linebackers and smaller but quicker Cornerbacks, the philosophy was "bend but don’t break" meaning you allow the offense to gain yards but prevent them from scoring. When having players that are well coached and fits the scheme perfectly, this coverage shell can be quite formidable. The Cover 2 was at its pinnacle in Indy when Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden were our starting CBs along with Antoine Bethea and Bob Sanders as our staring Free Safety and Strong Safety, respectively. These 4 men made up an underrated but very solid secondary simply cause they were all well versed into the Cover 2 scheme/philosophy
As of right now, our best player in the secondary is FS Antoine Bethea; Bethea can be considered a TOP 5-10 player at his position despite being such a late round compensatory pick (6th Round). Antoine’s ability to play well can be credited to him being a scheme fit for the Cover 2, a coverage shell he has played in during his 4 year tenure at Howard University.
Another player who have thrived well in the scheme is CB Jerraud Powers, despite missing considerate amounts of time, Powers is definitely our best cover CB on the roster. Despite his small stature of 5-10 190, he has covered the opponent’s best WR and held his own against some of the NFL's most elite WRs.
Our two best players in the secondary might be forced to play in a scheme, philosophy, and coverage shell that’s totally different from one they have been accustomed to for several seasons.
What can be done about this?
Making a scheme that can benefit both players in the long run and build around them. Jerraud Powers is a very versatile corner, having the ability to play both man and zone coverage will make his transition much easier than any other CB on the roster. Antoine Bethea shouldn’t have any problems adjusting to new schemes and coverage shells. In 2009, under then defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, Bethea was used to patrol the backfield or play center field in the Cover 1 and/or Cover 3. This allowed Bethea to showcase his ball-hawking capabilities and deep ball coverage techniques.
If Pagano switches up the front-7 base and cover schemes, our best players in their respective roles might suffer more from the changes. I have faith that Pagano will turn this defense into a unit the NFL hasn’t seen from them. I just hope he fixes the problems without creating new ones.