For the first time in recent memory, the defense actually enters the season with few question marks than the offense. In 2008, the defense was the Colts stronger unit, buoyed by the remarkable play of Freeney and Mathis. Despite a crippling wave of injuries, the secondary put together possibly the best 16 game season of any in history, allowing only 6 TD passes on the year. Let’s look at the team’s prospects for 2009:
IF Brackett and Marlin Jackson return from serious injuries to their previous level of play, the Colts defense will be formidable.
BUT if Jackson is not the same player, and Brackett has lost a step, Indy may well struggle in pass coverage. Marlin Jackson was in the process of taking the leap as a corner last year, and his injury left the Colts thin in the secondary. Tim Jennings improved steadily as the season went along, and as a nickle back, might well prove outstanding. I certainly would feel better with Jackson/Hayden as the starters.
Brackett is the exception to the ‘fungible linebacker’ the Colts generally employ. Perhaps the most underrated member of the Colts D, his coverage ability shuts down the middle of the field. Losing him for the playoff game against San Diego doomed the Colts as Antonio Gates ran wild in the middle of the field (something we predicted would happen). The Colts need GB to lead the defense and shut down the seam routes. Without him, the team will be vulnerable to the TE.
IF the new DTs and the return of Ed Johnson can slow down the oppositions’ run game, the Colts will have a top 5 defense.
BUT if the new DTs play like rookies, Johnson takes another tote, or the curse of Corey Simon strikes, expect more 8 yard gashes up the middle on first down. Don’t be fooled by people who don’t know what they are talking about. The Colts have fielded top flight defenses several times in recent years, but almost always when they had strong tackle play. They have tried to employ big tackles, only to have each one meet some bizarre and untimely end. The influx of fresh beef to the middle of the line bodes well for a defense that was already formidable last year. Still, there are a lot of question marks. We could have another Pitcock (pre-retirement) or another Sweet Pea Burns. Only time will tell.
IF new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer is up to the task of replacing one of the great defensive minds of the last 20 years (and no I don’t mean Ron Meeks), there is no limit to how good the Colts D can be.
BUT if he is over-aggressive, incapable of teaching as well as Dungy, and generally not up to the task, Colts fans might finally realize what they’ve lost when the best coach in the history of Indianapolis walked away. Honestly, this is the one that most worries me. I loved the defensive philosophy the Colts have had for the past several years. The only problem with it was the lack of DT help, and they did everything possible to correct that. I frankly don’t want more blitzes and ‘chances taken’. I want the same Tampa 2 that has worked so well for the past several years. Forget Ron Meeks, it’s Dungy that Coyer is replacing. He seems like a capable replacement, but I expect to see a drop off on the defense due more to the loss of Dungy than to his arrival.
Don’t be fooled, Colts fans. It’s possible the turnover in the coaching staff won’t affect the team on the field. That’s the best case scenario. Still, overall these changes are NOT a good thing. At best the Colts will march on as they always have. At worst…we all realize how great Dungy and company were. I’m good with Caldwell (Oehser has been very convincing), but I have no faith in the rest of the staff. They haven’t earned it yet. I’m just hoping they stay out of the way. We have the players to compete for a title, but don’t be surprised if coaching keeps it from happening. Don’t be fooled with comparisons to the Pats, who have also turned over coordinators like flap jacks. They kept Belichick. That’s all that matters. We lost Dungy. It’s NOT the same thing at all. Indy could well have won the last two titles if not for massive injuries. That coaching staff held things together and got double digit wins from a collection of second stringers. They will be missed.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
Finally, IF Mathis and Freeney are healthy, all is right with the world.
BUT if we have a repeat of the end of 2007 when both battled injuries…God help us all.
Ok, so this is more like a note:
How incredible was the end of Lost? There is no way to even guess how the last season begins. Brilliant. By the way if anyone cares: What lies in the shadow of the statue? He who will save us all.
Here’s an incredible interview with Tony Dungy on Atlanta radio. There are a few Vick questions, which Tony basically avoids. This is a great listen.
Tony also has a new blog. He really is an incredible man.