One of the most notable and drastic changes that will be implemented in the great Regime Transition of 2012 is the defensive shift. Not only with the defense likely become much more of a focus under new head coach Chuck Pagano, but the scheme and philosophies of the defense will be drastically different.
Under Bill Polian and Tony Dungy (and his successor, Jim Caldwell), the Colts ran a Tampa-2 defense, a Cover-2, 4-3 base defense. This defense was designed to value speed and sound tackling, and is known as the "conservative" defense. The two deep safeties were designed to prevent the big play, and the reliance on the speed rush by the defensive ends allowed the defense to conserve leads built by the explosive, Manning-led offense.
New head coach Chuck Pagano brings a completely different philosophy from Baltimore, where the 3-4 defense and chaotic, unpredictable schemes rule the day. This drastic change has brought up some very critical questions in transitioning, mainly concerning the players that will make the transition effectively.
So, what is the difference between the Colts defense of 2011, and the Pagano-era Colts defense? Well, to start, check out the types of defenses the Colts put out in 2011, versus the schemes that Pagano's Ravens ran (via ProFootballFocus):
While most have realized that the Ravens ran a hybrid 3-4/4-3 last season, it's astounding that they used four down linemen 58% of the time. Of course, when compared to the Colts, who were in a 4-down set for over 97% of the time, this doesn't seem like much. However, for a team who has been known for its base 3-4 defense, this use of four linemen is good news for the Colts.
Coach Pagano knows how to use four linemen, which should prove beneficial for players like Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Drake Nevis, all players who have had questions about their place in a 3-4. But, with Pagano's experience in using four linemen, he should be able to translate that to being able to use these talented players in beneficial way. Contrastingly, Pagano brings a knowledge of the 3-4 that hasn't been seen in Indy in years, which should be a good fit for players like Fili Moala, Jerry Hughes, Cory Redding, and Brandon McKinney. The knowledge of different schemes (and the ability to use them) is one that fueled the unpredictable nature of the Baltimore defense, leaving the offense confused and guessing.
Another positive point on the defense is Coach Pagano's willingness to commit to stopping the pass. One of the most disturbing pieces of rhetoric to come out of the Colts' facilities has been the mantra of "stopping the run and running the ball." While there is innumerous evidence of the folly of that statement, it doesn't keep people from believing it.
However, Pagano had more than the base of four defensive backs 54% of the time last season, showing a willingness to, at the very least, use extra defensive backs to put a premium on stopping the pass.
So, how will this affect the Colts' decisions on players? Well, like I said, it should put off the notion of certain players fitting the system, especially on the defensive line. The Colts need talent on the DL, and the coaches should be able to figure out how to use that with their schemes. They don't need a true nose tackle right away, and reaching for one (whether it be by overpaying a free agent or reaching in the draft) isn't necessary.
The Colts definitely need talent at the DT spots, but should have enough to hold the fort down while the front office looks for true long term solutions. The Colts arguably second biggest need is cornerback, where they absolutely need to grab some viable bodies in the NFL draft. The Colts have Jerraud Powers who will likely start the season as one starter, and then they have three developmental players in Rucker, Thomas, and Johnson. A safety is also necessary, but there isn't much available out there.
Overall, the Colts just need talent on the defense, and if Pagano is who we are all hoping he'll be, then he'll make it work.
The best part of that graph is that the Ravens only went to a traditional 3-4 6% of the time! That is incredible! There will be a lot of nickel, and a lot of odd looking stuff, and I am excited about that!
Very good article, I think I'm with the majority here with a collective "phew." This is a big relief, I felt 'okay' about a 3-4 transition with our holdover players but even then felt I was being pretty optimistic. Much more comfortable after reading this, especially about not reaching or overpaying for another NT.
I hate drafting corners high (they're all 5'11, 190 and run 4.4's, only true difference makers are worth high picks imo) but outside of Powers we dont have any players worthy of starting. I do feel pretty comfortable about our defensive linemen though, in particular its refreshing that we dont 'need' to take a 3-4 NT high and that it looks like Nevis will have a chance to be a contributor.
I think you said it in summation; the Colts just need talent on defense. I expect some size at LB in the later rounds and a corner fairly high, a NT in the middle rounds would be nice too. Still, as much help as the defense needs we cant completely throw Luck to the wolves and they cant ignore the offensive needs in the draft. Here's hoping we can trade down once or twice...
I´m adding my voice to the chorus of thanks, Kyle. That´s indeed a very good breakdown. I´m moderately excited for the defense, as long as there is no strong emphasis on stopping the run as the primary concern. I think Pagano should be really competent at bringing out the best out of his defensive players, and there are enough nice pieces there that I can envision something special (in two years, because the holes at CB and S are too much to overcome right now). My fear is more linked to what Ubeor points out. Investing more resources into the defense might be counterproductive, especially knowing defenses are less consistent on a yearly base, and given the way the NFL has become a passing league. Any thoughts on that?
My concern is about how much talent the new system will require, and how much competition there is for that talent. The real advantage of the Tampa-2 is that it could be run on the cheap. Except for the pass rushers, most of the defensive roster could be filled with mid-to-late round picks, freeing up the early rounds to draft offense. Plus, with so many other teams adopting the 3-4, the players we needed were less valuable to other teams, which helped us draft more efficiently.
Long-term, will the Colts have to invest more (and better) draft picks on the defensive side to maintain the 3-4 than they did on the Tampa-2?
@Ubeor I think they definitely will for at least 1-2 more drafts.
However, I believe we've already found our rocks for this 3-4 style. We've got Mathis locked up long term to bring pressure, plus Angerer is going to be one of the best ILBs in the league. Using high draft picks to grab that necessary NT of the future along with some semblance of a talented secondary and we could be destroying offenses by 2013.
Let's hope guys like Rucker (who was supposed to be a man coverage specialist) and really show what they're made of with more coaching that utilizes press man. Personally, I'm very excited for this defense. By week 3 of this year, they should be already showing signs of gelling and working cohesively.
Good points, I agree that's worth a lot of consideration. That was the nice thing about the cover 2, we found effective starting LB's and DL in the middle rounds. 3-4 is in vogue and there will be enough teams eyeballing the according college personnel. The chart is comforting though, I actually believe we have enough guys on the roster right now who will be worth keeping... but of course, remains to be seen.
Good stuff Kyle...
I've been reading here and there that Mckinney could be a solid option at NT at least for this year. You see that in him at all? It's somewhat hard to tell from the limited PT he got behind Ngata... but the dude's huge and played behind some of the best. My inner-optimist really makes me wanna believe in him.
You think it's something we could avoid in the draft if nothing spectacular drops in our laps? Maybe a free agent this year or next?
@coltsjunkie44 Baltimore fans liked him a lot in his limited playing time. In my opinion, he's a decent stop gap. Next year's draft class is supposed to have some very good talent.
I think when Pagano talks about emphasizing the run he is speaking of run defense/offense as a foundational thing. If your base personnel and scheme is effective in the running game, it makes the passing game much easier. And it allows you to control the game because a good running game brings a greater certainty of success on each play. It isn't how often you run or even how many yards - a 50 yard rushing game is good if it was 9 1st down runs of 4-6 yards and 4 3rd and short conversion. Conversely, a team that rushes 20 times for 100 yards will have a busy punter if 80 of the yards were on one play. That team will win some games on breakaway runs, but it won't win a championship because it can't consistently control the line of scrimmage.
The comparison I'd really like to see is running efficiency and Super Bowl success. While recent Super Bowl champs have tended to throw more than run, they have also had the ability to run.
@ECB As far as stopping the run, the emphasis should be stopping the run at key times. The biggest problem the Colts have had in recent memory is being awful at third and short. You have to have the ability to stop the run when you need to. We don't need backs tearing us up for over two hundred yards, which has happened a few times in recent y ears.
This is a very good breakdown. I admit I had no idea that the Ravens ran a 4 man line so often. Nice work!
Now *THIS* is good perspective, Kyle. It's needed, especially since so many fans are talking - and some are even drooling, for some odd reason - over this whole notion that defenses have to have a big fatty NT plus a 4-down blitz-Blitz-BLITZ philosophy to win. Even Pagano, a guy who stands in stark contrast to Dungy's way of doing things, recognizes the need to stop the pass. Baltimore understood the need for pass defense, and the numbers show it.
Perspective. It's what's needed to properly analyze this team.
Thanks for the column. It's a good piece of clarity in the muddled pre-season blogging world.
I still think big, fatty NT is necessary for base 3-4 looks esp on early downs but at the end of the day it is what it is, in today's NFL you need to cover and rush the passer. I might only be speaking for myself but I for one am drooling for some size on defense, if only to not see our defense get bullied around in the running game (cough, Arian Foster)
I think more importantly than a 6'2 340 pounder though is an elite safety, Ravens typically got by without great cb play but we need as close to Ed Reed as we can get asap
Nice breakdown Kyle. I wondered what % he used what D last year. It's also good to note that he used 3 down line men less than 30% of the time when he had probably the best pure NT in the NFL. I love a flexible coach