After a very short wait, that has felt like forever, Colt Fans have survived Free Agency. Yes Yes… there are many of us that are preaching the misery to everyone that will listen. And, there are those that have been accused of blindly following Grigs due to their approval of what occurred. Nevertheless, it is time to put Free Agency on the back burner until OTAs begin, and decide what to do until the draft. The simple answer is… Let’s get back to some football.
Defense has been something of a sore spot for us Colt fans. We have survived the “Coyer Cushion”.. Jacob Lacey… No run defense… Zibs as a starter.. the Saint’s playing Madden against us (62-7)… and countless other *FACEPALM* moments. But, our trial and tribulations are over.. We have a Head Coach that is a defensive mastermind, and a puppet pushing the pieces in Manusky. The Colts made the switch to a hybrid 3-4/4-3 last season; and, finally after a year of waiting, the Monster is taking form. Our defensive identity is becoming more recognizable.
Our defense has not had an identity since the days of Bob Sanders. And, that identity was only present when he was on the field. He truly shifted our defensive into a formidable force; if not a brick wall of stopping power. However, what exactly do I mean about “defensive identity”? And, “the Monster is taking form”? It simply has to do with a foundation that we can build upon. I’m not talking fancy lingo or defensive principle. I’m not talking who covers the B gap when we call a slant backside trick nor when our safety calls out press coverage on the solo side of trips. I’m talking about the heart of the defense. I’m talking about the blazing fire that gets lit as the ball gets snapped. I’m talking what happens when 11 slightly insane guys walk onto that football field to irrationally throw their bodies into others just to prove who the bigger men are.
Let us start the analysis with what is known. We know that Pagano is a Defensive Back guru. He has worked with (probable) Hall of Fame DBacks, and we know that the majority of DBacks he has taught have become quality starters. Next, I think it is safe to assume the following as fact: Our starters will be Vontae (CB1), Toler (CB2), Butler (CB3), Bethea (FS), and Landry (SS). And, when you combine Pagano’s specialization with those 5 guys, it lays the foundation of the Monster’s Identity.
The 5 DBacks listed above have a similar quality. They each are extremely physical players. They go from the snap of the ball to the first whistle. Each is willing to risk their health to make the heavy hit. Furthermore, each of the 5 has an ego, a thirst to prove themselves, and the slight insanity to do so. They are players that Pagano desires and knows how to utilize. They are a band of middle tier players that will be given the tools for greatness by Pagano; and, their hunger will make them a dangerous unit. It is my belief that they will submit to the identity which Pagano will infuse into them; they will become the monster.
What’s next? Now, we have the foundation, let’s add some meat. Our Dbacks are ball hawking hitters. Therefore, we don’t need crazy pass rushers on the DLine. They are nice, but not necessary. We need average pass rushers that are great run stuffers. However, we must once again take a step into the land of assumptions. Let’s assume our starters in a 3-4 base will be Redding, Chapman, and RJF. Redding is a run stuffer with the occasional heart stopping pass rush. Chapman is rumored to be a block eater, and rumored to be able to toss 300 lb Linemen around. The final member of the trio, RJF, is also more proclaimed as a run stuffer with moments of pass rushing potential. Nevertheless, if our secondary is our foundation, then why are we focusing our DLine as run stuffers instead of pass rushers to support our DBacks? Because, the Colts want the opponent’s offense to have to play into our strengths; and, not just shift to our weakness. By minimizing the impact of the run, the QB is forced to pass.
When the QB has to pass, it allows for our Secondary to become impact players. How so? Well we all saw flashes of Vontae towards the end of the season and he was able to pick Schuab off twice; and, while one game does not dictate his image, it helps illustrate the potential. Next up, we’ll have Bethea becoming our ball hawking coverage safety. And, I know that many were less than thrilled with Bethea last season, but I simply ask this. If you had Zibs playing SS next to you, would you be a top notch FS? My opinion is that it is impossible to do well at an NFL level if you have to compensate for your counterpart(s). The clearest example is Offensive Line, but the same holds true throughout each component of the team.
As for our new/resigned arrivals, we have Toler who excels in being a physical coverage corner. Both Toler and Butler were ranked among the lowest for allowing opposing QBs to complete passes. If that doesn’t say enough, then let’s take a moment of silence for Lacey and the Coyer Cushion (11+YPA if I remember right)… Right… Back to real football, last up is our heavy hitter Landry. He excels at being a center field ball-hawking hitter. He does well in the box, but allowing him to play the QB instead of playing the run is essential. While I don’t think he’ll get many picks, I can see a lot of force fumbles (and, a lot of defenseless receiver calls). But, receivers don’t have amnesia. They’ll remember, for the rest of the game, what happens when they made a grab for the ball. Receiver hesitation allows for our boys to play the ball; one of the things Vontae did well against Johnson during his 2 pick game. Combining these 5 Dbacks is why our secondary is forming our defensive identity. And, it is why we overpaid to get the two pieces we need in order to allow the monster take shape.
Cool idea.. yeah?.. But, still not convinced? Well let’s take a look at our bruisers. The Colts Linebackers are solid run stuffers. In 2011, we had two of the top run stuffing Linebackers in Conner and Angerer. Freeman joined the club in 2012 and he brought punch to the party; making a trio of solid run stuffers and decent enough pass coverage Linebackers. Nevertheless, I’ll take a moment to talk about Angerer. I know plenty of people are calling for Angerer’s head due to his performance in 2012. However, if you broke your foot, do you think you can be an effective bruiser? Something about having a 220+ pound RB running full speed at you - and having a healing foot to plant on - doesn’t really make sense on why we expect him to be in his 2011 form. So, my verdict is delayed until this season. If he comes back strong, he’ll be our top bruiser once again. If he lost confidence in being able to plant off of that foot and stick it to RBs, then it is a shame to see another star not meet his potential…
Dare I say Walden’s name so close to Free Agency? Unfortunately he brings an insight to our OLB situation. Walden is an edge setting run stuffer. He has been brought in to be a starter. He is just another piece of the puzzle to help show that our defensive identity has been found in our secondary and supported by our DLine and Linebacking core. None of our Linebackers are great in coverage, they are space fillers that can lay the wood; but, will look like deer in headlights if they pick a ball off (AKA Mathis’ INT last season). The key point is that no one will get behind them or our Dline. Allowing for our DBacks to focus on playing the QB and not the run. How did Bob Sanders get hurt? He was a box safety that hit so hard he went through blockers into the RBs. That is what causes injuries. That is what will decimate our DBacks due to their physical nature. That is what is being prevented by stocking our DLine and Linebackers up against the run. It is a truer attempt to make a balanced defense then the majority of other NFL teams.Combining our Mammoths, Bruisers, and DBacks finally forms the monster. Pagano has electrified our Frankenstein. The pieces have been placed, and in a couple months time, Colt Fans are in for a hell of a football season. Our Offense is primed to play the mismatch, and our defense is itching to finally become relevant again. And, while there is always room for improved… The Monster has been built.