While the Colts defense certainly did become more consistent in 2014 by playing well in the games that they were expected to play well in, they still had plenty of struggles and that left many Colts fans looking for a scapegoat, particularly after the embarrassing 45-7 loss they suffered at the hands of the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Naturally, that scapegoat became defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who many fans wanted fired after the season. This was a big overreaction, however, and in fact Manusky did a pretty good job in 2014 when looking at the big picture.
Over the past few weeks we've been going position by position and looking at the 2014 Colts season, just like we do every year, and today we wrap the series up by taking a look at Manusky. Finishing his third season with the Colts, the team didn't rank as the best statistical unit under Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky, but it was their best defense yet in the new era.
One of the biggest questions that must be answered in order to get an accurate view of Manusky's season is this: were the defensive problems more of a result of coaching or construction? Were the defensive issues really because of Manusky's coaching or because of the lack of talent playing on the unit?
Throughout this series, we've given fans the opportunity to vote on a grade for each position, and more often than not the grade was right around a "C" - average. That's exactly what the talent level of the defense is. Vontae Davis was elite in 2014, and Mike Adams stepped up and was a good player. Other players, like Darius Butler and Cory Redding, played above average for much of the season as well, as did Erik Walden and Jonathan Newsome. But other than that? It was a whole lot of average for the Colts defense, and often times it was worse than average.
Take the pass rush, for example. In 2013 the Colts were utterly and completely dependent upon Robert Mathis, who not only led the NFL with 19.5 sacks but also accounted for close to half of the Colts' sack total. The star outside linebacker didn't play a single snap in 2014 due to a torn Achilles. That's not Greg Manusky's fault, and the Colts played for the entire season without a true consistent pass rusher. When looking at it that way, it's pretty remarkable that the Colts won 11 games, won the AFC South, and won two playoff games to make it to the AFC Championship game. If I had told you before the season that the Colts would do all of that without Robert Mathis playing a single snap, odds are you would have taken that in a heartbeat. I think that, for those complaining about the job that Greg Manusky did in 2014, the importance and impact of Robert Mathis entering the season is either diminished or forgotten.
In many ways, you can attribute the pass rush the Colts did get to Manusky, as he dialed up the third-most blitzes of any team in the NFL in 2014. Without the blitz, the Colts were the second-worst team in the league at generating pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. Manusky called a number of different blitzes and called them often, and that's because he knew the Colts couldn't get pressure on the opposing quarterback without it. He trusted his cornerbacks in man coverage (which was his defense's strength) and tried to compensate for talent issues.
We saw the defensive issues on full display in a number of games, such as week one against the Broncos, week eight against the Steelers, week eleven against the Patriots, week sixteen against the Cowboys, and then the AFC Championship game against the Patriots. That's one way to look at things: by always viewing the negative games. But instead, think of it this way: considering the talent level of the defense and the fact that they were playing without Robert Mathis, it's just as impressive that they put together so many good games. The Colts defense really played well in the games that you expected them to play well in, and I think that's a testament to Greg Manusky considering the issues that they had.
The defense wasn't perfect in 2014. Greg Manusky wasn't perfect in 2014. And I'm not saying that he's one of the premier defensive coordinators in the league, nor am I saying that I was happy with the defense this year. But we have to remain objective and rational, and when looking at it that way, the issue with the defense was primarily about the talent level and not the coaching. Because in actuality, Greg Manusky did a fine job last season with the defense he was dealt.
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2014 season, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews: