We've talked a great deal about our concerns for the Colts pass rush in 2013 because, even though he had only 5 sacks last season, teams still feared Dwight Freeney.
However, one area where I can say that I feel very secure about is the Colts run defense. I tend to worry and fret about problem areas because that's just my nature. I've spent pretty much my entire blogging career writing about how the Colts run defense was so bad it once made Ron Dayne look like Earl Campbell.
This year, things seem different. Feel different. Look different.
There's reason to be very, VERY optimistic about the run defense in 2013, and it's because the front office focused on it more than ever before.
- Signing Aubrayo Franklin and drafting Montori Hughes. Both these men are 315-plus pounds. Franklin was an extremely stout nose tackle for Greg Manusky when he was the D.C. in San Francisco, and he repeated that success along the d-line in San Diego last season. The Chargers only surrender 95 rushing yards per game last season, 6th best in the NFL. Franklin was a big part of that, and the Chargers did have a strong interest in re-signing the eleven-year vet.
- An improved outside linebackers. Jerry Hughes was utterly useless as a run defender, and barely made an impact as a pass rusher. Now, he's gone, and replacing him are players like Kelvin Sheppard, Erik Walden, and the before-mentioned Bjoern Werner. We bashed the Walden signing this offseason because it was simply stupid to sign a player of his talent to the money he got. However, that's no fault of Walden himself, and, if you watch his tape, he is a very solid run defender. Werner has also impressed coaches at OTAs with his ability to hold the edge. Werner and Walden will battle for the starting outside LBer spot opposite Robert Mathis.
- LaRon Landry. I know there is a temptation to think of this guy as a neo-Bob Sanders. Do yourself a favor and don't think that way. Chuck Pagano has called Landry a "game-wrecker," which is to say he views him as a difference-maker on defense. If Pagano is right, then improved run support from the safety spot should shutdown runners like Arian Foster and Chris Johnson.
Last season, the Colts surrendered 137 rushing yards a game. For defensive-minded coaches like Pagano and Manusky, running for over 100 yards on their team is liking walking over to their mother's house on Thanksgiving and slapping her in the face after you've spit in her turkey gravy. As someone who has longed for a better commitment to run defense, the signings and draft picks this offseason give me a great sense of optimism. I actually feel as though I won't have to write articles this year titled "What's wrong with the Colts run defense?"
From a strategy standpoint, I'm also interested to see how focusing more on run D as opposed to pass D will work. The AFC South is not exactly loaded with top-flight quarterback play. Blaine Gabbert is a bust in Jacksonville , and Jake Locker is about to become one in Tennessee. Meanwhile, Matt Schaub continues to underwhelm in big game (see Week 17 against the Colts last season as one of many examples). All three of these quarterbacks rely on strong running games in order for them to play decently.
Take those running games away, and what do you have to fear from them if you're the Colts defense?