The NFL Free Agency as commenced with the acquisition of ILB D’Qwell Jackson and DE Arthur Jones. I started to noticed that we are getting the right personnel for the type of defense Head Coach Chuck Pagano wants to run and they all are good scheme fits , but these guys might not end up being used the correct way due to Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky. Sure this is Pagano’s defense but we have to realize that it is Manusky who is calling the plays, drawing up the schemes, and giving out all the assignments to our defensive personnel. Please allow me to explain why I feel that Manusky is not a real ideal fit to be the Indianapolis Colts defensive play caller.
Lets begin with the previous DCs and personnel and how they performed when playing under two different schemes and philosophies to give us a much brighter picture at hand.
Ron Meeks: 2002-2008
Meeks had great knowledge in zone coverage schemes and was quite favored by then Head Coach Tony Dungy due to them both having a shared vision of how the Cover-2 should properly be implemented. It was speed over size, finesse over strength, and football intelligence over football techniques. The Cover 2 can be considered a "Thinking Man’s Defense" cause players under this scheme had to be smarter than their opponent and quicker as well. They had to know when the QB was going to throw the ball, where the ball is going, and the person who is the intending target all before these actions took place. This defense was created to combat smart QBs with very high football IQ who can outsmart an entire secondary.
The flaws within the Cover 2 are that you can’t abandon certain philosophies in favor for others. If your opponents are big and fast, you can match them in speed but not in size, if your opponent is strong and finesse, you can match them in delicacy but not in strength, if your opponent is smart and skilled, you can match them in intelligence but not in technique. This being said and done; created mismatches all around the board for our defense.
The Colts defense was less than stellar under Meeks, but really got better in 2005 when former Colts General Manager Bill Polian used 1st Round (29th Overall) and 2nd Round (60th Overall) draft selections on University of Michigan CB Marlin Jackson and University of Illinois CB Kelvin Hayden, respectively. Jackson and Hayden both formed in my very own OPINION; the most underrated CB tandem in the NFL. With guys like Antoine Bethea and Bob Sanders backing them up in the Free Safety and Strong Safety spots, respectively; Our secondary was quite talented with guys that were big, strong, fast, and smart. But the front 7 was still quite undersized and heavily mismatched.
Larry Coyer: 2009-2011
Coyer IMO, was a very underrated Defensive Coordinator. I say this because he used a perfect blend of size and speed, strength and finesse, skills and smarts and distributed all over the defense where it needed to be. Looking back at the personnel he had and how he used them indicated that he used Man-to-Man coverage CBs with a FS that can roam and watch the deep ball while SS watch the intermediate routes and offered run support if needed. Coyer used a "hybrid" 4-3 Front 7 with 2 DTs big and strong enough to play 3-4 NT and 2 small but quick DEs who can get to the QB. The WILL LB watched the flat and hook zones in pass coverage, was the 5th Blitzer and set the edge on run downs; The MIKE LB was the QB spy against mobile QBs but rushed up the middle on pass downs and offered run support on run downs; The SAM LB was the guy that played man coverage against TEs on pass plays and occasionally watched the flat and hook zones. Under Coyer, the Denver Broncos fielded year in and year out a TOP 10 defense in many terms such as pass coverage, yards per game, and run stopping.
When Coyer came to the Indianapolis Colts, he didn’t have a shutdown CB like Champ Bailey or a big, fast hard hitting SS like John Lynch or a well-rounded LB trio like Elvis Dumerveil, Al Wilson, and DJ Williams. For that matter, he did not even have enough of the correct secondary personnel to run the scheme he wanted. Here are the following Cornerbacks he had under his tutelage:
Jackson got hurt and put on IR earlier on but take a look at Hayden and Jennings. Hayden was a pretty good CB under Ron Meeks playing in his zone scheme but he repeatedly got burnt and beaten badly playing under Larry Coyer in the man-to-man scheme after signing a 5-year $43 Million ($22 Million Guaranteed) deal . Tim "10-yard cushion" Jennings was always the whipping boy for Colts fans playing for Meeks from 2006-2008, but under that one season playing for Coyer, everyone saw how good Jennings was as a man-to-man coverage CB. A 5‘ 9‘’ guy like Jennings actually managed to keep guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, T. J. Houshmandzadeh, Michael Crabtree from doing any damage.
The DTs he used were severely undersized for his scheme, guys like Eric Foster (270 lbs) and Raheem Brock (274 lbs) were big enough to play RUSH OLB in the 3-4 but no where near the size of DTs that were ideal for Coyer (315+lbs). The only pieces we had that he could use were DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis
Despite Coyer not having the ideal personnel for his scheme, our defense was still good enough to get us a Super Bowl appearance in Coyer’s first year on the job. Polian’s inept ability to take insight and advice from his coaching staff caused the secondary to get worst as injuries plagued the 2010 season and Superstar QB Peyton Manning was side lined with a neck injury in 2011 and couldn't cover the already existing flaws on the team, namely the defense. Thus making Coyer the lone scapegoat for the blighted and dark season that took place.
Now we get to our current defensive coordinator Greg Manusky who has been with the team since the Pagano/Grigson regime took over.
Unlike Coyer, Manusky doesn’t have any excuse for a lacking defense. We have the same type of personnel he utilized when he was coordinating defenses for the San Francisco 49ers from 2007-2010 and the lone season for the San Diego Chargers in 2011. The thing is, he was never a good DC to begin with. The 49ers defense was almost short of abysmal in 2007 despite great LB play from guys like Patrick Willis and Tully Banta-Cain. The preceeding years didn’t see the defense get any better albeit not getting any worse either with the defense under Manusky always finishing in the bottom 20 of the league in numerous categories. His 2011 campaign was so horrid that the FO decided to fire him and promote LB coach John Pagano to defensive coordinator than to retain his services. It seems like secondary players always regress under him instead of getting better while having the uncanny ability to make average LBs good, and good LBs great.
Bethea’s "bad" years seem to have coincided with the arrival of Greg Manusky due to him not being a scheme fit but not even being used correctly (which Larry Coyer did). Bethea is good no doubt about that but he doesn’t have the skills to match up against pass-catching TEs or trying to jam slot WRs at the line. He’s a ball-hawking FS that knows how to play the ball once it’s in the air. Due to the bad run stopping by our front 7 over the past few seasons, he has been inclined to more of a run support role over a role he is best utilized in.
Bethea has been one of the most underrated players in the NFL since being drafted in 2006, and perhaps the only other player I can think of that is just as underrated as him is Tampa Bay Buccaneers Safety Dashon Goldson, When Meeks was our DC, Bethea was a very gifted Safety who managed to outperform and take over the FS spot from a 2nd Round veteran in Mike Doss while being a small school 6th Round rookie. Bethea’s 2007 campaign showed him progressing as a football player being named to the 2007 Pro Bowl and having a team high 4 INTs.
Once Larry Coyer took over and succeeded Ron Meeks in 2009, Bethea ideally didn’t fit the defense of Coyer schematically but Coyer knew Bethea’s strengths and weaknesses and used him accordingly as we witness Bethea once again leading the team in INTs with 4 including a game-changing INT against NWE and a game-sealing INT against MIA while being voted to his 2nd Pro Bowl. His 2010 and 2011 seasons saw him as the lone and healthy bright spot in a blighted and weak defense.
CBs Vontae Davis and Greg Toler were both known for their press coverage abilities and slowing down the develop of plays by the opposing offense. Davis might be immature and slightly inconsistent, but he is very talented and does have shutdown corner potential by holding his own against the likes of Randy Moss and Reggie Wayne as a rookie when elite QBs like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning tried to test him. Toler might be injury prone but he’s real physical and can keep WRs in check depending on their talent level. Below average WRs are shutdown by him, mediocre WRs have a hard time making plays, but he struggles heavily against above average to elite WRs. I have noticed a slight change in their playing styles since becoming Colts. They are not as aggressive as they once were and their man coverage skills seems to be lacking.
Landry has always been known for his lack of ball and deep coverage skills since I have watched him at LSU. But he’s a solid built SS that’s fast, aggressive, and very physical that punishes anyone carrying the ball. He’s good in keeping things in check but Manusky likes to use him more in deep ball coverage, now this might be to due to Landry’s ability to cover a good amount of ground and his range on the field, but he lacks awareness and instincts to be utilized the way Manusky does so.
Remember Tom Zbikowski? He wasn’t an All-Pro guy by any means, but under Pagano in Baltimore from 2008-2011; Zibby was a well-liked and respected guy on the field and was quite solid taking over for an injured Ed Reed or Dawan Landry. Pagano liked the guy enough to have Grigson sign him to be our starting Strong Safety, but under just one season with Manusky as DC, he wasn’t no where near as good as advertised compared to his days as a Raven and was released shortly.
One of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen in my life is when Manusky gave out an assignment that made a 340 lbs. NT drop back in coverage. I had to scratch my head and ask myself? "Who in the hell is Josh Chapman going to cover and who can he actually run down if they have the ball?
Manusky’s blitzing scheme is some of the weirdest and most complexing things about this defense, I’ve seen guys run all the way on the other side of the line before they attempt to blitz the QB. His coverage shells are quite flawed as well since he has man-to-man coverage CBs playing zone coverage far too often than they should. He shows no form of creativity and tries to use "illusions" to trick QBs into making a mistake but they’re not even good enough to fool guys like Terrell Pryor, Case Keenum, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, they sure in hell won’t work against above average and elite QBs.
It seems to me like LBs get better under him but secondaries under his command become flawed and under-performs alot. To be honest, I’m quite glad we didn’t go after high profile and very talented guys like Jairus Byrd, he would have costed a pretty decent penny to be utilized in a manner which he isn’t accustomed to.
Right now decent guys like Wade Phillips are currently unemployed, a guy who was the last man to take the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs and with a few drafts and free agents, transformed the Houston Texans defense from laughing stock to a unit that shouldn’t be taken lightly.