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Re-evaluating the Colts defense

I'm going to quote myself, because that's the kind of narcissistic guy I am:

So, before people start pressing the run defense panic button, just know that a stout defense like the Giants got run over as well. Yet, like the Colts, they still won. Indy has good DTs, excellent coaches, and a strong system. Their run defense will improve.

Well, on the road, after a short week of preparation, the defense comes up with yet another stellar performance in a big, primetime game. This time, they did it without Kelvin Hayden, Gary Brackett, and Bob Sanders. Next man up, indeed.

The Cardinals were held to 2 yards a rush. They finished with 24 total rushing yards, were forced into three very costly turnovers, and failed to keep Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis from tattooing their helmet logos on Kurt Warner's face. This kind of performance one week after allowing the Dolphins to run for over 200 yards and hold the ball for 45 minutes is what you call serious bounce back.

While much of the credit for this bounce back should go to the players, who were roasted by fans and media after the Miami game, and to the overall match-up with the Cardinals (Arizona is a bad running team that prefers to throw) two people who also deserve some early props are head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. I'll echo these comments from 18to88:

I'm astounded at the job Caldwell did to get this team fresh and healthy enough to go out there and dominate last night.  That'll buy him a few punts on fourth and inches in my book any day. 

Caldwell is quickly showing why he was tapped to replace Tony Dungy. Like Dungy, Caldwell runs a calm, collected ship. He does not panic. He does not seem to waiver. He simply goes about his business and expects his team to follow suit.

After reading so any of your comments in the game threads (we had well over 5,000 for the day folks... you all are ANIMALS!), Caldwell is the kind of man this team needs to succeed right now. Unlike many of YOU, he does not freak out when Mike Pollak whiffs on a block, Tim Jennings gives too much cushion, or Adam Vinatieri misses a 32-yard FG. He simply calls on his big money players to go out there and pick up the slack, which they are more than willing to do. And so far, those big money players play on the defensive side of the ball.

For the defense as it stands now (after just three games):

  • Colts rank #5 in yards allowed per play (4.6)
  • Colts rank #3 in points allowed (15 per game)
  • The Colts hot up to 20th in the league against the run (128 yards a game); the Dolphins and the Cardianls games being two extremes on both ends of the run D spectrum
  • The Colts have allowed only one passing TD so far; rank 10th in pass defense
  • Opposing QB rating against the Colts: 66.7
  • Colts are ranked #9 in sacks (7 sacks total)

I'll leave it to shake n bake to provide DVOA stats and to mgrex03 to find us some stats on QB pressures and hurries, but after a small three week sample, it seems pretty clear that the Colts do indeed sport a much improved defense over last year's bunch. Now, with all small samples, there are wild cards, X-Factors, and nick-knacks galore:

  • We do not know the extent of Dwight Freeney's leg injury, which happened late-Sunday night against the Cardinals. Freeney said he felt something pop with his quad, which does not sound good. He was seen limping slightly off the field and into the locker room in the fourth quarter with a smile on his face, but that means nothing. An MRI is scheduled for today. Losing Freeney for any length of time would be a big blow to this defense.
  • The possible bad news on Freeney needs to be off-set with some good news: The Colts are ranking high in several defensive categories despite playing without Bob Sanders. Look no further than the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers to see what happens to defenses when they lose an impact safety. Troy Polamalu going down in the first game of the year has radically altered Pittsburgh's defense. The Steelers have one turnover in three games, with Polamalu getting the turnover in the first game before he got hurt. Pittsburgh is 1-2. The fact that Indy has played this well without Sanders is a testament to the coaches and Bill Polian. Melvin Bullitt might have been the steal of the 2007, and he went undrafted that year.
  • The interior of the Colts d-line is developing some very good rush up the middle. Eric Foster has played excellent football when he has lined up in the third down pass rush fronts. Daniel Muir has also shown some good push up the middle as well.
  • Last night, we saw Indy use SAM backer Philip Wheeler as a three-point stance pass rusher, and he looked good! He got immediate pressure on Warner, which resulted in a Marlin Jackson INT. We also saw Larry Coyer flip Freeney from RE to LE on a few plays, resulting in confusion by the Cardinals (and pressure on Warner). More "Wrinkles" like this are welcome to an improving and oftentimes unpredictable defense.

So, after having to deal with all the freaking out over the Miami game, it's time to give a little love to the defense for getting back to what we all know they can do: Hit people in the mouth. Hopefully, we'll see it on a more consistent basis.