Not any better

I’m putting this link up on the front page because I think it is important.

The next time someone takes a pot shot at Tony Dungy or praises Larry Coyer too much, remind them that our D isn’t that much better than it was before.

Sometimes the story simply writes itself. The Indianapolis Colts, long an offense-first team with a history of early playoff flame outs, make the Super Bowl after their new head coach jettisons the long-time defensive coordinator to bring in a more diverse and aggressive scheme. The players fill up reporters’ notebooks with quotes about how they are finally attacking opposing defenses rather than passively playing their previous coach’s antiquated Tampa-2. Thus, the defense must be better. The problem is that, objectively, the Colts defense under first-year coordinator Larry Coyer is no better than it has been in recent seasons

Again, though, this theory fails to survive objective examination. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA, the Colts defense under previous coordinator Ron Meeks had been “above average” in six of the seven playoff games it has played since 2005. The one exception was the loss to San Diego in the 2007 postseason, when Dwight Freeney was injured. This year, the Colts defense dominated the Baltimore Ravens, but it played a very bad first half against a mediocre New York Jets offense, leading to the second worst defensive performance by a Colts’ defense in the playoffs since the 2005 season. Even their dominating performance against Baltimore in this year’s divisional round does not have a single-game DVOA rating quite as high as the 2006 defense’s domination of those same Ravens.

This conclusion is hard to reconcile with certain preconceived notions we have about the relative merit of variety. It seems self-evident that defensive variety is a virtue, leading to increased preparation time by opposing coaches and increasing the likelihood of confusing the opponent’s quarterback. For instance, in 2002, after Dungy left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that defense diversified its scheme a little bit and moved from very good to historically great. The Colts, however, have not improved despite the diversification.

The article goes on to point out that the Colts really haven’t altered their core philolsophy radically.  In fact, I’d say what improvement there is stems from having better players than last year.  Though the Colts have struggled with secondary issues this year, Tim Jennings has mostly been relegated to the second or third corner.  Clint Session is a full year better as are the DTs. On top of everything else, McAfee has added touchbacks to the arsenal which greatly help the defense.

Better players not better coaching are what have made the difference this year.

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