The Colts' secondary has seen some key additions this offseason, namely LaRon Landry and Greg Toler as starters.
With the additions, many Colts fans have a lot of confidence, or at least excitement, in the new secondary in 2013. But it's important to remember that there are still a lot of questions left with the unit. Just like everything else in the NFL, questions remain.
So with that, here are the respective arguments for and against the defensive backsin 2013.
The Colts' defensive backs are going to be All-Pros in 2013
- Vontae Davis is a stud. He struggled last year in the beginning of the year, but really came on strong during the second half. Davis posted a +6.8 grade at PFF from Week 14 on, and should be even better in his second season in this defensive system. He's looked great in training camp with numerous interceptions and pass deflections, and has the potential to be a lockdown corner.
- Greg Toler: another stud. He was underrated in Arizona, was one of Pete Prisco's top free agents, and has impressed everybody with his activity in training camp. He flies all over the field and has the potential to have as many pass breakups in his first season in Indy as Jerraud Powers did in four years.
- The Colts haven't had a true strong safety since Bob Sanders, and LaRon Landry as as true of a strong safety as they come. He's an intimidating hitter, and will bring a physical element to the defensive backfield that has been missing since Sanders.
- Antoine Bethea may have had a down year in 2012, but he was playing out of position in a strong safety role and was stretched too thin with poor talent around him. Bethea was Pro-Bowl player with Sanders next to him, and he can return to that form with Landry. The two already have strong chemistry, reportedly, and are going to be one of the league's best pairings in 2013.
- Improvement should occur in a lot of young players in their second year in Pagano/Manusky's defense, especially guys like Davis, Vaughn and Butler. That improvement will cause the defensive backs to look much better than last year, especially if they stay healthy.
The Colts' secondary is going to be another bottom-10, maybe even bottom-five unit
- Vontae Davis was incredibly inconsistent last year. He may have played better at the end of the season, but he also played against horrible quarterbacks last year. Look at the QBs he had positive grades against: Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden, Jake Locker, Matt Schaub, Matt Cassel, and Joe Flacco. Not exactly the cream of the crop there. Plus, Davis allowed a concerningly-high passer rating of 93.5 throughout the season. That's not what you want from your No. 1 corner.
- Greg Toler may have potential, but he can't stay on the field. He's missed 26 games in four seasons, and already has been sidelined at training camp with a concussion. Toler basically is replacing Jerraud Powers in the cornerback rotation, but there's no evidence that he'll be any more durable than Powers was while he was in Indianapolis. If Toler goes down, the Colts' CB rotation looks the exact same as it did last season, and nobody is excited about that.
- LaRon Landry may be a strong run supporter, but he's never been good in coverage. Everybody is assuming he'll be an upgrade over Tom Zbikowski, but there's a lot less difference between the two players in coverage than anybody in Indianapolis wants to admit. It's completely possible that Landry will be worse in coverage than Zbikowski was.
- Antoine Bethea could just be getting older. Of course, no one wants to think about that, but the fact is that he was a much worse tackler last season than he ever has been. Bethea was fourth and sixth in the league in tackling efficiency in 2011 and 2010, but dropped down to 26th among safeties last year. If he's starting to break down, it spells doom for Indianapolis. With Landry at SS, Bethea may have more room to cover than he did last season.
- The Colts are relying on health and improvement from guys who have struggled with injuries (Davis, Toler, Landry) and have failed to improve much in their first few years in the league (Davis, Butler, Vaughn). It's not a safe bet in the least.
This potentially could be one of the most exciting units the Colts have had in the secondary in years, but it also could be very disappointing. As fans, we want to assume the best from these players, but let's also be realistic. The secondary has multiple, critical concerns right alongside all of its potential.
You can be optimistic, but be cautious about it.
Kyle, this was a really cool and original way to write this post. Thoroughly enjoyed it!
(Any optimism I have for the secondary stems more from my faith in Coach Pagano to coach them up than the players themselves.)
You can't evaluate the DB's out of context in the overall defense. Last year the DB's were under heavy pressure all season, routinely facing 1st or 2nd & short situations where they had to choose between coverage or run support on a dime. There was no effective run defense or pass rush from the front 7. All that has changed with the overhaul of the D-line and LB's. This year, expect to see the opponent under a heavy rush as the number of 3rd & long situations increase dramatically. This will improve the DB's focus on pass protection and add to the number of interceptions and pass breakups. Go Colts!
@JohnTemple1 Actually, that's not true. The Colts faced an unusually low amount of 2nd/3rd and shorts. They only saw 91 plays on 2nd/3rd down of less than 5 to go, which was the 7th lowest amount in the league. They were about average on 2nd/3rd and longs, seeing 270 such plays (15th most)
@Kyle Rodriguez @JohnTemple1 Actually, I said 1st & 2nd and short, not 2nd & 3rd and short. I clearly remember the defense having to face numerous first & short situations, particularly in the games we lost, because we couldn't stop the run. I agree there were fewer 3rd & short situations because we were giving up too many 1st downs. My point was that by focusing on stopping the run, the Colts would find ourselves more often able to tee off on 3rd & long downs.
@Kyle Rodriguez @JohnTemple1 That's true. Still doesn't invalidate my original point. You have to look at the DB's in the context of the whole defense. They will play very differently when the front 7 is forcing the opponent into 3rd & long than they will if we are giving up first downs or allowing them 2nd and short. I agree that injuries can change the whole scheme of your defense and stats can tell you past tendencies of a particular player, but stats can't predict with any accuracy how any one player or group of players who have not played together as a unit will perform. For instance - will Landry's pass defense be better if he is surrounded with other talented DB's and a D-line that puts heavy pressure on the opposing QB. Common sense says yes. All I'm saying is the whole is the sum of its parts and I'm suggesting that we have much better parts this season. Therefore, I'm on the side of your argument that is optomistic. Of course, until we see them play, this is all just idle speculation. Thanks for the interesting article.