Best Colts Defense Ever Under Pagano?


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “This is the best defense the Indianapolis Colts have had under the new regime!” You probably heard it before last season…and again before 2013.

There was even a version of this line of thinking after coach Chuck Pagano took over in 2012. That time it revolved around the idea that Pagano, a former defensive coordinator, could work wonders with a number of Pro Bowlers on the roster who had fielded one of the worst defenses in the league the year prior.

It actually got worse in 2012. The Colts gave up more yards and had a worse efficiency rating, the one positive was that they gave up two fewer points per game. However, the defense has show improvement every year after 2012.

In 2013, the Colts went from 31st in efficiency to 16th. They allowed fewer points per game (over a field goal less) and fewer yards. But that was also a defense led by Robert Mathis playing like he was 25 again and leading the league in sacks.

2014 started without Mathis but saw mildly better results. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was forced to be more creative with the blitz schemes and coverage and it worked for most of the season. The Colts ranked 13th in efficiency and allowed fewer yards despite seeing points per game tick up a bit.

We can play what-if with the 2014 team and what a difference Mathis would have made, but the results are hard to argue with. The Colts got one step further in the playoffs and beat Peyton Manning along the way (yes, he wasn’t healthy but the game plan taking advantage of that can’t be discounted).

The defense hasn’t made much of a difference in the win-loss column but they have turned a corner. For the first two seasons under Pagano, the Colts would struggle against inferior teams but now they regularly blow them out (thanks AFC South!). Part of that is the maturation of Andrew Luck (a lot of that actually).

Now, Manusky is saying that this is the best personnel that the team has ever had. Its hard to argue with him as the Colts actually spent some draft picks and money getting decent players to come to Indy.

The fact that the Colts ranked 13th in efficiency is staggering considering some of the players on the field. Consider how awful some of the players were in 2014:

  • LaRon Landry perpetually whiffing on tackles (or juicing his way into the most obvious suspension ever).
  • Bjoern Werner showing the pass rush skills of an infant (although he was solid against the run) and being benched in the playoffs.
  • Greg Toler making a career out of under or over thrown passes (tight coverage be damned!).
  • D’Qwell Jackson (who did play well at the end of the season, AFCCG excluded) not being able to cover anyone.
  • Arthur Jones being out for the better part of the season and never being anywhere near 100-percent when he returned.
  • Jerrell Freeman injuring his hamstring early in the year, forcing Josh McNary into a starting role for three games and dismally failing at it.

The saving graces last season were rookie Jonathan Newsome proving to be a very talented pass rusher, Mike Adams having the best season of his career, and Vontae Davis turning into the definition of a lockdown corner. 

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Manusky has to be ecstatic with what he has to work with heading into 2015. A more competent strong safety in Dwight Lowery, a proven pass rusher in Trent Cole, decent depth at inside linebacker with Nate Irving, and hopefully the return of Mathis.

The Colts have some very interesting rookies as well, especially in the Stanford boys: DE Henry Anderson and DT David Parry. Those are two players making a natural transition (read: not having to change position) and ones who have a good chance of making an impact in their rookie seasons, especially considering the past play of the defensive line.

But forgive me if I’m skeptical about the defense. The people coming up with the game plans are the same guys who saw the Colts give up all the rushing yards to the Patriots in three straight games. Or the best QB performance in all-time to Ben Roethlisberger. Or the blowout loss to the Cowboys.

Three years in and the Colts still show up to games with a lack of urgency, and get out to slow starts on both sides of the ball. Too many games have ended in one sided losses.

The personnel looks better, but will that be enough to put the Colts over the hump? Can it propel them to the Super Bowl?