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We Should Expect More Takeaways from the Colts Defense in 2018

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The Indianapolis Colts’ new defense puts a premium on playmaking.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Indianapolis Colts Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The old Indianapolis Colts defense was about attempting to confuse the offense and to control the line of scrimmage. The new defense is about speed, swarming to the ball and making plays.

This new era of Colts defense should yield more takeaways than we’ve become accustomed to under the Chuck Pagano/Ted Monachino defenses. I won’t include former Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, because he actually did well with what he had; he just became a scapegoat.

In the six years under Pagano, the Colts struggled to make plays on the ball, ranking an average of 19th in the league. From 2013-’15 with Vontae Davis, Mike Adams and Darius Butler controlling the air and Robert Mathis getting after the quarterback, things were better. The Colts had an average league ranking of 13th in that span. The other three years were an average of 25th.

Colts Takeaways from 2012-2017

Season Interceptions League Rank Fumbles Recovered League Rank Total Takeaways League Rank
Season Interceptions League Rank Fumbles Recovered League Rank Total Takeaways League Rank
2017 13 15th 7 21st 20 20th
2016 8 30th 9 17th 17 26th
2015 17 7th 8 24th 25 13th
2014 12 22nd 14 2nd 26 11th
2013 15 17th 12 5th 27 15th
2012 12 20th 3 32nd 15 30th
Average 12.8 18.5 8.8 16.8 21.7 19.2

Now, under general manager Chris Ballard, taking the ball away is of prime importance. He has stated as much and it shows in the defensive players that he acquires, as most of them possess adequate speed and ball skills.

Under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, the Colts will return to more of a Tampa-2 scheme where there are four down linemen who are counted on to generate pressure on the quarterback, and the defensive backs will have more duties in zone coverage rather than man. The linebackers in this system will be a whole new breed as well, as bulky run-stoppers give way to rangy, athletic players who can fly around the field.

In zone coverage, the secondary will be able to focus more on the quarterback and where he’s going with the ball rather than having their back to the quarterback and reacting to passes late in the process. Overall, players will be able to play more freely and use their athletic gifts and instincts. The Colts’ projected top three corners — Quincy Wilson, Pierre Desir and Nate Hairston — all seem to be on board with the transition and mostly echo the same thoughts on how they’ll be able to play.

CB Quincy Wilson

“I can get eyes on the quarterback and see the ball and make plays on the ball a little bit more than just playing in man all the time. So, just backing off some and being able to see the ball and the quarterback and the routes and other receivers, so we’ll be able to make more plays on the ball.”

CB Nate Hairston

“Last year, playing a lot of man, you’re looking at your man. In more of a zone-base defense, you get to look back at the quarterback and break on him on the ball. So when you get to look at the quarterback and see him triggering, see where he’s looking at, you get to break and play fast as opposed to playing man and reading a guy all the way down the field.”

CB Pierre Desir

“My job changes from playing – it’s a combination but it is mainly zone and more vision. I’m able to get my eyes on the quarterback and be able to attack the ball for more potential takeaways rather than being in man coverage and not being able to get eyes on the ball and play for the ball.”

So, we can expect this new scheme to breed opportunities for the cornerbacks to make plays on the ball, but the return of free safety Malik Hooker also gives a big boost to the defense’s ability to take the ball away. Hooker intercepted a pass in his first three starts last year as a rookie, but his season was cut short halfway through after tearing an ACL and MCL. Because of his recovery there is an outside chance he may not be ready to start the season (me speculating), but it’s safe to imagine he’ll play more than seven games.

There is sure to be some growing pains in the process of switching to a new defense that features several young players — I suspect the run defense could take a dip, for example — but takeaways can change the momentum of a game in a hurry. More possessions for the Colts offense will be a welcome change on Sundays if all goes to plan.