What success will look like for the Colts defense
The Indianapolis Colts are hoping to improve on last year’s 8-8 record. While they didn’t make too many major moves on defense this offseason, the team has a few new players and a mostly new coaching staff in 2016.
Despite common belief, the Colts weren’t a complete train wreck on defense last season. Part of that stems from a fairly easy schedule in 2015 and the rest from a weak division that barely featured one competent quarterback. Whenever they faced a competent offense, it resulted in a blowout loss.
The Colts ranked 26th in yardage last year 25th in scoring, giving up 25.5 points per game. Football Outsiders paints a different picture, with the Colts being 13th in defensive efficiency (12th against the pass and 15th versus the run).
New defensive coordinator Ted Monachino is focused on putting players in a position to succeed. In his words, that means simplifying the defense. Monachino wants his defense to be fast and physical this season. The Colts have plenty of physical players, but the speed will be an issue this season.
This clearly isn’t the most talented defense the Colts have had in recent memory, but the do have a few promising young players. They will also get a number of key players back from injury to help bolster this side of the ball.
Here is what will constitute a successful season from each unit on the defense:
Robert Mathis repeats his 2013 performance.
The Colts had just 35 sacks last season, and as we learned, a great pass rush can win a championship. Asking the 35-year old Mathis who has a 10-times operated on Achilles to repeat his 2013 campaign (that may have been fueled by steroids) is likely a fools game. While Mathis says he feels great (do players ever say they feel terrible in OTAs?), the odds are against him.
Having Mathis healthy for a full season will certainly bolster the pass rush, but this is going to be a group effort. Erik Walden and Trent Cole will be leaned upon for extra pressure, and an “attacking” defense certainly sounds like one that will blitz a lot.
The defensive line looks to be very talented and deep. That unit may very well lead to quarterbacks moving off their spot and right into the loving arms of Mathis and others. An improved secondary will also give the pass rushers extra time to strike home this year as well.
Vontae Davis repeats 2014, Mike Adams leads the NFL in turnovers, Clayton Geathers turns into baby Bob Sanders, and Patrick Robinson is better than Greg Toler.
Davis returning to form and not giving up a single touchdown could happen, if he stays healthy. He clearly had some nagging leg injuries in 2015 and the Colts would due well to keep him on one side of the field next season.
All four things are not a fantasy. All of the them happening in the same season might be. Adams is overdue for a regression and can’t possibly continue being in the right place at the right time (right?).
Geathers is likely going to start and at times looked like a great in-the-box safety last year (just watch the Atlanta game). If he makes a big leap from his rookie year, the Colts safety tandem will look very nice (shades of Sanders and Antoine Bethea nice, even).
The secondary would have been better had the team just let Greg Toler go, but they went ahead and added a very good cornerback in Robinson. With Darius Butler in the slot, the Colts have a nice trio of corners and should D’Joun Smith develop (and stay healthy) the team will have some good depth too.
D’Qwell Jackson gets faster and one of the other linebackers emerges as a viable starter.
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This is easily the weakest part of the defense, but not the most important (pass rush is). The Colts would have done themselves a lot of favors by cutting Jackson and re-signing Jerrell Freeman, instead of letting him walk for a reasonable amount.
Jackson hasn’t been a very good signing and while he’s a tone-setter in the box, he’s not very good in coverage (which is pretty important in this passing league). The problem is that the Colts don’t appeared to have a viable third down inside linebacker heading into the season.
The bigger issue is which formerly injured linebacker will replace Freeman: Nate Irving or Sio Moore? Those are the two with the inside track based on experience. Irving is a lot like Jackson, but faster and Moore is better in coverage. If only the two could be combined into one, versatile linebacker.
Henry Anderson comes back stronger than before, Kendall Langford improves on 2015, David Parry and the depth chart get better, and Art Jones ankles don’t turn to dust again.
This is easily the strongest and deepest unit on the entire roster. If healthy, the Colts will be able to rotate six very talented players in 2016. Even if Jones doesn’t come back (or gets cut before the season, which is possible) the Colts still have a great looking line. Frankly, the Colts can’t even miss Jones on the field because he’s never really been on the field with them.
Anderson was a dark horse candidate for defensive rookie of the year before his ACL injury against the Broncos. Despite being a great pass rusher in college, Anderson’s greatest skill was stopping the run.
Langford was a great free agent signing last year (one that Ryan Grigson doesn’t get much credit for, because he failed on a few others). Pro Football Focus actually gave him the second highest grade on defense last season, just behind Anderson.
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The depth is great too and the addition of Hassan Ridgeway, another pressure nose tackle, the Colts line is something to get excited about, especially considering how bad it was just two years ago.
A lot will have to go right for this defense to have success in 2016, but an improved secondary and defensive line will mask a lot of this team’s deficiencies.