Much has been made about the Colts run defense recently, and that is because it was very bad in 2013. But if you were to ask me which area of the defense I would be more concerned with Chuck Pagano at this point, I would say the pass defense and not the rush defense.
Why? Well, Pagano is considered one of the best secondary coaches in football and that is where he has worked quite a bit. Also, the Colts had more pieces in terms of pass defense than in run defense when Pagano first arrived. And even since Chuck Pagano arrived in Indianapolis, the Colts have invested much more in pass defense than they have in run defense.
So how has the pass defense done? This year they ranked 13th in the NFL in terms of passing yards allowed per game with 231.9 yards per game, an improvement on last year's total of 236.8 yards per game. They were tied for the 7th fewest touchdown passes given up, allowing just 21 all year. The pass defense as a whole wasn't great but it wasn't terrible either, and there were definitely positives.
The most important corner on the Colts roster and the most important player in their secondary was acquired by general manager Ryan Grigson in a trade before the start of the 2012 season. Grigson sent the Colts second round pick in 2013 to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for Vontae Davis. Davis wasn't great in 2012 and struggled early on, but he finished the season on a hot streak and was no doubt going to be one of the most important players for the Colts in the 2013 season. For the first part of the season, he was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. His performance against the Denver Broncos was perhaps the best individual performance by a Colt this season and was one of the best single game performances by a corner that we have seen in a while. He struggled a bit in the slump that the whole team had following their bye week, but he began playing better toward the end of the season again. All in all, I thought Davis had a good season but he was inconsistent.
Signed last offseason to replace Jerraud Powers as the team's number two corner was Greg Toler, an injury prone but talented cornerback. We saw the former much more than we saw the latter, as Toler struggled for much of the season with an injury and missed pretty much the entire second half of the season. Inexplicably, he was thrust back into the starting lineup in the playoffs against the Chiefs and he was terrible, getting torched repeatedly before exiting the game with an injury (maybe to his ego) and he was placed on injured reserve the following week. Even when he was healthy, Toler wasn't great and got burned quite a bit. He was solid, however, and if he could stay healthy for an entire season I think he could become a decent number two corner. But he hasn't given us much reason to be confident in him being able to stay healthy, and that was absolutely the case in 2013.
The most consistent corner that the Colts had in 2013 (other than Greg Toler consistently being injured) was Darius Butler, who the Colts re-signed last offseason. He had a good season and has become a good slot corner. When he was forced to play outside he looked shaky at times but in his best spot he was good and he wasn't terrible outside either. You knew what you would get week in and week out from Butler, and that's important. He also led all Colts corners in tackles with 54 and led the team in interceptions with 4, returning one for a touchdown.
Cassius Vaughn played well this year too and was asked to play more while filling in for Greg Toler. Vaughn picked off 3 passes on the year and had some good moments but also showed limitations, and the upcoming free agent is not what you'd call a priority to re-sign. Josh Gordy also saw some playing time this year and is an upcoming restricted free agent, and it remains to be seen whether he will be re-signed either but he is not a huge priority either.
I probably am higher on the secondary than most, and that is because of a variety of reasons. First, I thought Vontae Davis had a very good year and while he needs to get more consistent he showed me enough that I believe he can be a top-tier corner. Secondly, consider that the Colts pass rush was terrible for the most part in 2013, and a bad pass rush can make even a good secondary look much worse than they really are. Was this the case for the Colts in 2013? I'm sure it did, but to what degree I'm not sure. But it's something we have to consider when evaluating the cornerbacks - that they were often left to cover longer than they should have been because of the lack of a pass rush generated by the team (outside of Robert Mathis). Thirdly, I thought they improved. It might not have been as significant of an improvement as you would have liked, but they improved nonetheless.
The Colts have decisions to make coming up with the position. Vontae Davis and Cassius Vaughn are both unrestricted free agents and Josh Gordy is a restricted free agent. Greg Toler is injury prone and there are some fans saying the Colts should cut him (hint: they won't). If they let some of the aforementioned free agents walk, then they'll need to add some players at the position. They've got work to do, and it should begin with Davis - should the Colts re-sign him? I think they should and I think they probably will, but it's not a sure thing.
Greg Toler was the one glaring blemish for the position this year. Ryan Grigson signed him last offseason to be a starter and paid him significant money, even though Toler had always struggled with injuries. In 2013 that was no different, as Toler wasn't great in the 7 weeks he played and then after that hardly played at all. I can't see the Colts cutting him at all, but he will be under scrutiny this year. If he can't play well and stay on the field this year, the Colts might make a move after the season.
Overall, however, I thought the position had a lot of positives and I was pleased overall with them. They need to get more consistent and they can still improve, but I thought the cornerbacks were pretty good in 2013.
CORNERBACKS GRADE: B
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2013 season by position, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews: