I'm very curious to see Matt Grecco's The Winning Stats this week, especially those dealing with pass defense. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Colts have one of the best pass defenses in the NFL (ranked No. 6 overall using conventional statistics), and it's due, in large part, to their secondary.
A big part of that secondary is Darius Butler. In fact, he might even be the linchpin.
As FOX Sports 1's Mike Garafolo noted in his Monday column recap, it was Butler who, in essence, sealed the Colts' victory Sunday over the Seahawks. Butler's interception of Russell Wilson on 4th-and-15 with 1:31 left in the game meant that Andrew Luck and the offense could just take a couple of kneel downs, kill the clock, and walk off the field as victors.
But, that pick wasn't the only impressive play Butler made on Seattle's final drive:
Two plays prior to his pick, the Indianapolis Colts cornerback made an outstanding play to lay out and knock away a pass from the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson to Sidney Rice near the sideline. Butler had one hand on Rice's hip, though he didn't pull his jersey or yank his hip around. Thus, there was no flag for interference.
On the interception, which came on a fourth-and-15 from the Seahawks' 37 with 1:31 to play, Wilson's brief scramble was contained within the tackle box and not out to the edges. Wilson, who was a nightmare for Colts pass rushers all day because of his scrambling ability, also was hit hard by Indy linebacker Jerrell Freeman after he threw.
The Colts use Butler as their slot corner almost exclusively. In fact, when the team needs to pull starters Greg Toler or Vontae Davis off the field, Butler has remains as the slot corner with either Cassius Vaughn or Josh Gordy stepping in to play outside.
The results of Butler's new role are telling. He has 6 INTs since he signed with the Colts in October 2012, returning 3 of those 6 for touchdowns!
All this from a guy who Bill Belichick gave up on just two years after drafting him with the 41st overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. After Butler was sent a drift by his second team, the Carolina Panthers, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson brought him in for a visit last season and explained to him that the Colts were his last chance to avoid being labeled "a leper."
Here's Grigson in an interview last year [emphasis mine]:
When [Darius] came into my office, I showed him my actual college report. I'd never done that with a player before. But I really felt he was a talent as well as did Chuck [Pagano]. Chuck was like, when I first brought his name up, he was like, "Heck yeah. He was one of my highest rated guys coming out of the '09 draft." So, I just basically broke it down for Darius that, you know man, you don't make it here - and this was a time where everyone still thought we flat out stunk, and we had no chance, and a terrible secondary, blah, blah, blah- I told him that you don't make it here, we're talking doomsday scenario for you, Darius. We're talking UFL. We're talking other leagues because if you don't make it with the Colts as a corner, you're gonna basically be a leper. So, he took that to heart pretty well because [sic] that day at practice, the first day of practice, he had two picks. We hadn't had any hands on balls for, like, a week prior to that.
Butler's resurrection has given the Colts and their defensive coaches several options to scheme against offenses with strong three-receiver sets. His solid tackling also makes him reliable when teams run the ball out of a three-wide set.
Overall, of all the free agents that Grigson has signed - and the man has inked a whole bunch of them - Butler might be his best one. That's not to demean or dismiss great pick-ups like Cory Redding or the before-mentioned Greg Toler, but Butler was brought in last season for peanuts, and he re-signed in the offseason for two years, $4 million. To get this kind of production out of such a small contract is excellent work by Grigson.
And for Butler, he benefits too. If not for the Colts, he's probably playing in the CFL right now. Or, as Ryan Grigson called it, "doomsday scenario."