One of the real joys of each preseason is the release of the FOA Almanac. The Football Outsiders expansive look at the NFL is full of great nuggets and insights. I heartily endorse the book, and encourage everyone to buy it. Typically, the book comes out just before training camps, giving me a week's worth of material when it's desperately needed. Because of the lockout, the Almanac just released last Friday.
The Outsiders projections often under-project the Colts (and over project the Eagles), but even given that caveat, the Outsiders don't foresee great things for the 2011 Colts. This year's recap was written by Ned Macey, an Indy native and Colts fan. It certainly reads with the kind of insight an angst that someone well familiar with the Colts can have.
The numbers don't favor a strong season from Indianapolis, with the Colts posting as good a chance of being a terrible team (4-6 wins) as being a playoff team with 9-10 wins. Macey sees the Colts as a team at the cross-roads, and encourages them to rethink their 'draft only' mentality.
Especially interesting are his assertions about the way the Tampa-2 fits with Larry Coyer's coaching style:
Yet Coyer seems to want to continue developing his own defensive identity. The problem is not the Tampa-2 scheme itself; the problem is that the team feels compelled to run it, rather than developing an approach that the current coaching staff feels most comfortable running. The new additions in some way only further cloud this conundrum, and how Coyer incorporates the new pieces will be crucial for returning the defense to the respectability it maintained throughout the Dungy era.
He goes on to assert that Coyer seems to want to call plays for a different group of players than the ones he actually has on defense. The numbers show the Colts are still near the bottom of the league in blitzes, and ranked 31st in sending both 5 and 6 men.
Defensively, the team continues its uneasy transition from the Tony Dungy era. Dungy and his defensive coordinator, Ron Meeks, played a pure Tampa-2 defense with almost no blitzing. New coordinator Larry Coyer has spent two years hinting at wanting to move away from the Tampa-2 and has incorporated more aggressive rush packages. Unfortunately, despite increasing the number of looks the defense shows, the results are not better. Last year’s unit was worse than all but one under Dungy (interestingly, the Colts’ Super Bowl season). It was by far the team’s worst pass defense since adopting the Tampa-2. The problem is that the team continues to acquire players for Dungy’s system, but Coyer is coaching as if the players are more versatile then they are.
In all, Macey compares the Colts to the Dolphins toward the end of the Marino era. Good, but largely decomposing.
The article posed certain problems for me. On one hand, I don't necessarily disagree with Macey's assessment of the 2011 Colts as a whole. I think they are likely a 10 win team saddled with what could be a horrible defense. Obviously, if Manning doesn't play early in the year or is severely limited, that projection will drop. I don't agree that the Colts need to rethink their philosophy of team building. I think they've hit a natural ebb in the age/talent level of the team at certain positions. The young linebackers probably aren't ready to be top line players yet. The D line is still maturing, and the team has a glaring hole at the safety spot where I don't trust Bullitt to play 16 games, nor play them well if he does stay healthy.
Offensively, I think the Colts problems are overblown. If Manning is healthy, I think we'll see massive improvement from an offense that was pretty good last year despite massive upheaval. Additionally, I think people are missing just how much the new kickoff rule will help Indianapolis as a unit.
Macey's essay on the Colts is reasonable and his position is defensible, especially regarding this iteration of the team. I don't agree that the 'master plan' needs to be assessed, however. I think the any degradation in talent on the Colts is the natural result of picking at the back of the draft for so many consecutive seasons.