Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

ThomasEar10.jpg

» 2013 Play-Action Defense

Are the best defenses against play action the best against regular passes too? How much impact does play action really have in an NFL game, and does it correlate from year to year?

05 Jan 2007

Too Deep Zone: Running Against the Colts

by Mike Tanier

The Colts run defense is really awful.

That isn't exactly news. It doesn't take Football Outsiders-level statistical analysis to see that the Colts allow 5.3 yards per attempt, or that opponents like the Jaguars and Texans were able to beat them simply by running the ball right into the teeth of the defense.

But why is the Colts run defense so bad? There's only one way to find out: by breaking down the film. We combed through three full Colts games looking for plays in which the run defense looked terrible. That didn't take long. We then analyzed those plays to see what went wrong.

So what did we find? Do the Colts have a problem with their personnel? Their scheme? Their execution? Yep, they sure do.

Beyond Size and Scheme

Before we get to the play diagrams, let's examine the two most common theories about the Colts run defense.

1) The players are too small. There's a kernel of truth to this. In the examples to come, we'll see some instances where a bigger, stouter defender would have stopped a long gain before it started. The Colts defensive linemen are generally small for their positions (only one starter is listed at 300 pounds), and the linebackers are downright tiny.

Remember, though, that defensive linemen are almost always smaller than offensive linemen, and that every defense is at a size disadvantage at the snap. If it were impossible for small defenders to hold their own against massive blockers, there would be no such thing as a 3-4 defense. When it comes to run defense, it is not the size of the dog in the fight that matters. Smaller linemen must use initial quickness and good leverage to shoot gaps and occupy blockers. Smaller linebackers must use speed to their advantage when avoiding huge offensive linemen. And all defenders must anticipate plays and beat blockers to their gaps in run defense. Tape study shows that the Colts do a poor job of anticipating plays and defeating blockers.

2) The scheme isn't designed to stop the run. Again, there is some truth here. When a coach calls a Cover-2 or Tampa-2 defensive play, he is all but spotting the offense a four-to-five yard run on the ground. The linebackers and safeties are too far from the line of scrimmage to stuff ball carriers.

But no coach calls a Cover-2 or Tampa-2 defense on every play. The Colts' system is labeled a "Cover-2 Scheme," but it's just a label. Tony Dungy calls lots of two-deep zones, but he also calls plenty of one-deep, three-deep, and four-deep zones, plus all manner of man-coverage schemes. And the Colts run defense isn't bad because they allow five-yard gains as they drop into coverage. It's bad because they allow 20-yard gains when they are stacked to stop the run.

In the examples to come, we'll see some plays where the Colts appeared to be in the wrong alignment or just called a bad defensive play. But don't blame the whole system on a few lapses.

It's time to go beyond the broad explanations and oversimplifications. Just what are the Colts doing wrong? And how can they get better?

Delayed Reaction

The Colts have done a terrible job defending draw plays and delays. The Jaguars, Titans, and Eagles all had success running basic draw plays, and not just in third-and-long or two-minute situations. By lining up in the shotgun or in a multi-wideout package, these teams forced the Colts to switch to their nickel personnel and deep zone philosophy. They also took advantage of the Colts' over-aggressive pass rush. As stated earlier, a team that drops its safeties deep and tees off on the pass rush is conceding a short rushing gain on a draw play. But these weren't short gains.

Diagram 1: MJD for 17 yards

Diagram 1 shows one of Maurice Jones-Drew's 17-yard scampers in the second quarter in Week 14. It's second-and-3, a natural down to take a shot with a deep pass, so the decision to use nickel personnel and a two-deep look in reaction to Jacksonville's three-wideout set makes some sense. The Jaguars execute a simple draw: the two tackles drop into pass protection to sell the fake, Jones-Drew squares to block (sort of) for a split second, and the tight end, slot receiver Matt Jones, and center Brad Meester all fire out to block the linebackers and strong safety on the second level.

On a play like this, it's imperative that defenders read quickly, react, and shed their blocks. That doesn't happen on this play. Gary Brackett is blocked easily by Meester. Cato June is engulfed by the tight end. Left tackle Khalif Barnes follows Dwight Freeney on a wide pass rush and barely has to engage him: Freeney is going right where the Jaguars want him to go. The right defensive tackle (it appears to be Booger McFarland) is easily single-blocked, creating a big hole on the left side. Jones-Drew glides through the second level, then starts dodging and breaking tackles. If the strong safety or Brackett sheds his block, or if either defender reads the run action in the middle of the offensive line and shoots his gap, Jones-Drew goes nowhere.

The Eagles ran a similar delay in Week 13, only they ran it from the shotgun. On that play, left tackle William Thomas was able to take Freeney wide, turn, and climb out to help block safety Kelvin Hayden on the second level. Brian Westbrook gained just four yards on that play because Hayden made a great individual play to beat two blocks. Bob Sanders, the Colts' regular strong safety, can make those kinds of plays, but he shouldn't have to. Unfortunately, Colts safeties and linebackers are always playing with a hat in their faces, and all of them struggle to shed those second-level blocks.

Diagram 2: Westbrook shovel pass

The Eagles also used a shovel pass to exploit an over-eager front four. It's a pass in name only, so the play belongs in this discussion of run defense. This play occurred in a two-minute situation, and the Eagles were in a passing formation, with three receivers, Jeff Garcia in shotgun, and both Brian Westbrook (marked "RB") and Correll Buckhalter in the backfield. Again, Tony Dungy has to go with nickel personnel under the circumstances. At the snap, both Buckhalter and Westbrook veer right, and left guard Todd Herremans pulls. Right tackle Jon Runyan down blocks an interior lineman, leaving the left end (Josh Thomas on this play) to charge straight upfield at Garcia. Garcia shovels to Westbrook, who slips past Thomas and finds himself with a two-blocker entourage. Herremans takes out Brackett, Runyan peels off his block and nails June, and Westbrook runs for 19 yards before Thomas chases him down.

The Colts defense didn't anticipate on this play. There were plenty of indicators that the Eagles were going to run some kind of draw, screen, or shovel pass. There was a pulling guard, a down block by a covered tackle, a two-halfback backfield. Thomas should have squeezed and flattened toward the quarterback when he saw that he was unblocked (he may have reacted to Buckhalter slipping into the flat, but Buckhalter wasn't his responsibility). The linebackers, reading the flow of the play, should have been able to beat the blockers to the hole. And while Westbrook isn't easy to bring down in the open field, the Colts could have given a better effort.

The Colts' problems go far beyond their difficulty with draws and shovel passes. They have trouble with basic, early-down runs as well. Even when they appear to have a play stopped, they sometimes beat themselves by forgetting their fundamentals. That will be a major problem against the Chiefs.

Cutback Blues

The next example is from the Colts' loss to the Titans in Week 13. Diagram 3 shows a 21-yard run by LenDale White on first-and-10 midway through the third quarter. The Titans lined up with two receivers to the left side. The Colts countered with a man coverage look: Safety Marlon Jackson and cornerback Nick Harper are head-up on the receivers, with cornerback Jason David acting as the deep safety. Safety Bob Sanders is the Colts' best run defender, and he's in the box. The Colts clearly expect the Titans to run to their left, and they have two safeties in position to stop a play to that direction.

Diagram 3: White for 21 yards

The Titans do intend to run left. At the snap, their entire line slants hard to the left, and the Colts line responds. The fullback (it may be H-back Ben Hartsock on this play) lead blocks left, and White starts left after taking the handoff. But Dwight Freeney blows up the play by beating left tackle Michael Roos off the snap and eating up both Roos and the fullback in the backfield. White cuts right to avoid the Freeney pile and briefly disappears into the trash along the line of scrimmage. This is where the Colts' problems begin.

Linebacker Gilbert Gardner is the player marked as a linebacker on the far right side of the diagram. He is the "force" defender. His responsibility is to stay outside in run defense, forcing any run to the offensive right back inside. As soon as the entire offensive line slants left and the tight end blocks, Gardner's job is to prevent a cutback or a reverse. He must "stay at home," but he doesn't. He follows the flow of the action, drifting into the backfield. When White cuts back, Gardner is in no position to make a play. He lunges at White, who easily escapes him, breaking the defensive containment. Gardner's mistake is compounded by the fact that Sanders and the other Colts linebackers get trapped in the trash along the line of scrimmage and cannot pursue White.

The Colts were pressing on this play instead of minding their assignments: they clearly wanted to stuff White for a loss, so no one was in a position to stop him for a two-yard gain after he reversed his field. The mental lapse was particularly inexcusable when you realize that the Colts were facing Vince Young, a quarterback who could easily beat you by bootlegging after a play-action fake. The Colts had to have drilled about containment during the week before facing the Titans. By this play, they forgot.

Maurice Jones-Drew executed a similar cutback against the Colts the following week for a long gain. Once again, the Colts appeared to be pressing to stop the run. Once again, they forgot about containment, allowing Jones-Drew to cut back into the middle of the field. Larry Johnson has a reputation as a straight-ahead runner, but he is excellent at reversing his field and keeping plays alive. And if the Colts ever face the Chargers, they're in deep trouble. Not only do the Chargers run a lot of end-around plays to punish opponents who key on LaDainian Tomlinson, but they also execute some of the best-designed counter plays in the league. If Gardner and his teammates think they can defend the run by ignoring their responsibilities and chasing plays from behind, they are in for yet another rude awakening.

System Failure

At times it seems like so many things are going wrong with the Colts run defense that it is impossible to assign blame to any one defender. Diagram 4 shows such a situation: a simple eight-yard run by Travis Henry in Week 13 that should have been stopped after a yard or two.

Diagram 4: Henry for 8 yards

The Titans lined up with two tight ends to the right of the formation and two receivers (not shown) to the left. Their goal was to create extra gaps for the Colts to defend along the line. Typically, the Colts would respond by putting Sanders in the box, and Sanders does stem down to the weak side of the formation before the snap. It appears that Sanders is responsible for the backside C-gap (outside the left tackle), Cato June has the backside B-gap (outside the guard), Gary Brackett has the strong side C-gap, and Gilbert Gardner is the force defender outside the tight ends. The interior gaps are vulnerable; if the Titans run up the middle, it's up to June and Brackett to pinch and the defensive tackles to either occupy or blow up the center and guards.

The Titans don't do anything fancy at the snap. The center, guards, and right tackle double-team the Colts interior linemen. Henry takes one step left and cuts right. It's a simple counter play with no trap blocking or other trickery to sell the misdirection. But the Colts linebackers either severely overreact to Henry's first step or they all have backside gap responsibilities. Freeney takes left tackle Roos wide, and June shoots his gap. Brackett charges into his backside gap. Henry runs into the big hole that Brackett vacated. Gardner is cut off by Hartsock as he tries to fill. To compound the Colts' problem, Nick Harper is dragged several yards while trying to tackle Henry.

It's easier to list the players who did the right thing on this play than to mention everyone who did something wrong. Both defensive tackles had to engage double teams, but neither ate up the blockers. The left defensive tackle in particular did a poor job occupying right guard Benji Olson and right tackle David Stewart; Stewart was able to climb out and block Brackett before he could make a play. June and Hackett overreacted, or else the coaches put them in a position to fail by making them shoot backside gaps. Gardner gave a half-hearted effort of escaping Hartsock. Robert Mathis beat a Bo Sciafe block and nearly tripped Henry at the line of scrimmage, but nobody else won a battle on the line. And the defensive call effectively made Bob Sanders a bystander.

Diagram 5 shows yet another defensive system collapse, this time against the Eagles in a third-and-3 situation. The Eagles are in a three-wideout formation with a tight end (the split receivers are not shown). The Colts respond with a nickel personnel package. Third-and-3 is a neutral down for some teams, but the Eagles generally threw in these situations at this point in the season. Dungy lined up safety Kelvin Hayden against slot receiver Hank Baskett, giving him some extra run-stopping power in the event of a handoff.

Diagram 5: Westbrook for 10 yards

As soon as the ball is snapped, it's clear that the Eagles are running the ball. Right tackle Jon Runyan pulls left: a dead giveaway. On the left side of the formation, tackle William Thomas mirrors Freeney on one of his usual long-distance pass rushing excursions. Left guard Todd Herremans takes on Booger McFarland one-on-one, and it's a mismatch: Herremans pushes Booger back about three yards. Freeney's wide release and Herreman's block create a big hole for Brian Westbrook to run through with Runyan as an escort.

Gary Brackett is marked as "IL" in the diagram. He does all he can to stop the play, but Runyan crushes him. Westbrook is sprung.

Give Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg some credit with this call: it went against the Eagles' tendencies, and the play was well designed to attack a nickel defense. If Westbook gained four or five yards on the play, it would be a typical example of good offensive execution. But Westbrook picked up 10 yards because no Colts defender was in position to clean up the play after Brackett got pancaked. Hayden found himself wired to Baskett and couldn't shake loose. Deep safety Antoine Bethea took a horrible approach angle. But Cato June made the biggest mistake. Lined up across from Runyan, he saw the pulling action, he saw Westbrook moving left, and he saw the tight end stay in to block. June had no one attacking his gap and no receivers to cover. He should have flowed with the play, or perhaps shot into the hole vacated by Runyan. But instead he just drifted up to the line of scrimmage, then tried to trail the play, making him easy pickings for Eagles center Jamal Jackson on the second level. It's as if his role in the play was to stand there and get blocked.

This play was similar to the shovel pass that we diagrammed earlier, one that occurred later in the same game. If anything, this should have been an easier read for the defense. But they blew it. And it's hard to find anyone on the defense who really took care of his assignment on this play.

How to Fix It

The Colts have a problem. They have several inadequate defenders playing on defense, particularly at linebacker. Gilbert Gardner and Cato June aren't bad run defenders because they are too small. They are bad run defenders because they negate their speed by reacting slowly and allowing blockers into their bodies. Garner and June won't get any better this season. The best thing Dungy and Ron Meeks can do is to play to their strengths by calling some run blitzes. When Colts linebackers attack aggressively, whether from the outside or through the gaps created by Freeney and Mathis, they can blow up some running plays. Dungy and Meeks may decide that they must live with the risks involved with a run blitz if they don't want to give up rushing yardage in 17-yard chunks.

Freeney himself is part of the problem. After writing the first draft of this article, I flipped through The Sporting News and found a blurb stating that opponents have figured Freeney out and were taking advantage of his one-trick pass rush. And there I was, with a computer full of diagrams showing Brian Westbrook and Maurice Jones-Drew running right through holes created by Freeney's outside rush. Dungy and Meeks may call more stunts on neutral downs, allowing Freeney to work inside while gumming up the B and C gaps. Or they may try to force him to use his inside pass rush more. At the very least, they must aggressively protect his gap, because that's the one running backs are exploiting.

Unfortunately, there's only so much scheming you can do when you don't have the right personnel. It's hard to imagine the Colts beating the Chiefs, Ravens, or Chargers unless Peyton Manning has a five-touchdown day. In the off-season, the Colts will have to find a way to upgrade their run-stopping personnel. They need a better option than Gardner. June, despite his high tackle totals, is a nickel safety. There's no true 1-technique nose tackle on the roster, and the 240-pound Mathis is on the field an awful lot.

And Freeney, a free agent, may have to go. That may solve more problems than it causes. In NFL economics, you can acquire a couple of good run defenders for the price of a top pass rusher.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 05 Jan 2007

76 comments, Last at 08 Jan 2007, 5:37am by Dave

Comments

1
by dryheat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 12:42pm

Great, great job Mike. For the sake of accuracy, the second diagram shows a pulling guard and the text describes a pulling tackle, but I love the analysis.

2
by Bob Cook (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 12:52pm

Great analysis. Freeney, especially, has become an Achilles heel. He's got to develop an inside move. Right now, tackles play him way to the outside, knowing that's the only direction he'll go. If he ever spun inside, he might hit somebody.

The only thing I would add to this discussion is how these problems are compounded by the Colts' lousy tackling. Phil Simms made a good point last Sunday when he said it seems like the Colts either stop runners in the backfield, or let them go for 15-yard gains. Some of that is scheme, but some of that is tackling -- June, in particular, is often around the ball, but often can't finish the play.

3
by joel in providence (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 12:57pm

great stuff. it makes you wonder if freeney's liability against the run would be mitigated if the players alongside him were better than brackett, june and gardner.

also: as an eagles fan i'm getting a wee bit randy just thinking about a future of herreman, andrews and jackson in the center of the offensive line.

4
by bsr (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:09pm

Are their any games where the Colts actually did stop the run? I know I have seen them stop it on occasion. On those times when they do stop it, is it because they did something right for a change or is it poor execution by the offense? I would be interested to see if there were certain run plays that they could stop or specific teams that they were effective against.

All in all, however, nice article. P.s., isn't the nose tackle usually 0 technique? Or does the nose tackle typically play 1 technigue in a 4-3 alignment?

5
by Gerry (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:10pm

Mike, great job as always.

After my Giants lose this weekend, I hope you can do a similar analysis of why there were always receivers running wide open and free well past the sticks on us on third and long, as I am sure will happen (since I see no reason for this weekend to be any different than the rest of the season).

Although I suspect you'll choose a team still alive in the playoffs. Maybe we'll squeak it out barely and get the nod...

6
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:15pm

A 5 TD day for Manning isn't unreasonable against the Chiefs. And Jamal Lewis isn't a cutback runner. Against the Chargers, though, the Colts are screwed.

7
by Gerry (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:15pm

Wow, I just played for the first time with the Premium DB Beta. Very very nice.

So back to my plea. My Giants are 9th in defensive DVOA on first down at -9.4%. We are 13th in defensive DVOA on second down at -2.3%. But we are an awful 22nd at 13.1% on third downs.

Why is our third down defense so atrocious?

8
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:24pm

#7: if it makes you feel better, that's a prime indicator that the defense will be better next year.

9
by Brandon (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:29pm

Maybe sometime this offseason you could compare this year's defense to last year's? What changed, other than personell, that made them so much worse at defending the run? Obviously the absense of Corey Simon and and Larry Triplett is a difference on the line, but what about linebackers? Was David Thornton the ONLY linebacker worth a crap on the team, and therefore made guys like Cato June and Brackett (well, Brackett has never looked THAT good) look better than they were?

10
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:31pm

GREAT article, thanks.

As an aside, I think people are sometimes a little too tough on Freeney.

He is what he is: a very quick, very agressive, high motor pass rusher. He does that job very well. If everyone else on his team did their jobs, we wouldn't be talking about Freeney's weakness against runs designed to shoot through his recently-vacated gap, because the linebackers/safeties fill it.

11
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:33pm

Isn't Ben Hartsock on the Colts, or was there a release and a pickup by the titans I was unaware of?

Thanks.

12
by Manan Shah (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:38pm

What an excellent article.

13
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:40pm

11: According to Wikipedia, he was put on waivers by the Colts and picked up by the Titans in October.

14
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 1:45pm

Thanks B.

On the Freeney as a liability thing, I blame the Linebackers for poor play. Although I would not have Freeney pass rush so heavily on 1st down which always seems silly when they run right through the gap.

I mean think.. If we would have found a way to keep Mike Peterson, and David Thorton and (wasn't there one more)...

And, aren't there some decent free agents out there right now at linebacker?

What are Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper doing right now? They'd have to be an upgrade if they aren't injured for the year, or picked up that I didn't read.

15
by Jake (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 2:09pm

That was a great article... I loved the diagrams. Seems like the Colts are kind of doomed, doesn't it?

A question: you seem to think Bob Sanders is the only competent defender on the team. Just how good is he?

16
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 2:13pm

Jake: The thing that makes Bob Sanders so good is that he can dead stop anybody out of sheer will.

Now, he won't tackle the guy. But when you defense is entirely fast, having someone who will dead stop a runner so others can make the tackle is great. He's short, so blockers don't see him. He's fast.

He's just a beast like that. If only he could keep that up for a full career, which the way he plays seems very doubtful.

17
by Lou in Cincy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 2:17pm

Great coverage! i like the x's and o's diagrams.
you should find somebody good w/ flash and animate them! Make it part of the"premium package!

BTW, why couldn't Rudi Johnson exploit these guys?

18
by C (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 2:19pm

Re: #5
It is almost impossible to judge a passing offense (or defense) from standard TV angles- you really need the all-11 to see who is trying to do what and who screwed up. That's why EPC and TDZ mostly do front seven and OLine analysis- you can judge that adequately from the normal feed. QB, WR, or secondary you can't.

19
by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 2:24pm

The problem isn't that Freeney is a high-motor pass-rushing specialist. The problem is that he's a high-motor pass-rushing specialist with only one move. If he had an inside move, a lot of these problems would be mitigated, as he could at least partially help fill the gap his rush creates, or at least get in the way. As it is, all he does is spin, spin, spin, and people have figured out you can just push off him and he'll go flying way to the outside of the play.

20
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 2:38pm

He doesn't just spin. He does just go upfield. The spin is really more often his way of stunting. He stunts by spinning recklessly into the center line.

But even if he doesn't spin, he always goes outside and upfield, which is a problem.

21
by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 2:38pm

#7:

Anecdotally?

Inexperience, youth, and a lack of talent in the secondary. All of which will be addressed in the draft. Next year we will all be talking about the monster NYG pass rush.

22
by dbt (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 3:11pm

#21: You can address inexperience and youth in the draft? :)

- dbt the nitpicker.

23
by Al 45 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 3:13pm

Re: Freeney

I'd actually take it one step further. I think Freeney's problem is that he's just not big enough or strong enough to be a truly multi-dimensional DE. I mean, he's 6'1, 268lbs. He's a one trick pony. He speed rushes the QB.

Beyond that, he has no ability to tie up multiple defenders on the line to allow the second level to come up and make plays.

If he could just simply hold his ground on most plays and tie up a couple of blockers, it would become a little more difficult to run to that side of the Colts DLine.

In fact, I'd like to see a breakdown of where opponents are most effective at attacking the Colts defense. This year, it appears it doesn't really matter. But if you factored in the past 3 years (including this year), I'd be willing to bet that teams have a much higher success rate running at Dwight Freeney than at the other side of the line.

24
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 3:14pm

Thanks a load, Tanier, for giving Indy's playoff opponents a clear blueprint for what to do. This is patently unfair!

What's that, they knew all this already? Uh, never mind.

Nathan, you're thinking Marcus Washington who went to the skins the year after Mike Pete went to Jax.

I am curious, Mike T, if you saw in your three games what I noticed when I watched Indy this year. A stop for no gain. A stop for two. Then a 15-yard gain. You've highlighted what fails when they get gashed, but what works when they get those stops. After all, if they average 5.5 YPC against and you highlight a lot of 10-17 yard runs, there must have been a fair amount of low yardage runs. How and why? Luck? Poor offensive execution? Run blitzes working?

I remember one discussion of the Redskins game (Aaron mentioned it in relation to Freeney's freakishly high rating against outside runs), in which Portis foolishly tried to run outside to his left, was blown up by Freeney and lost yardage. But the sample size is small because clever OCs know not to run that play anymore. I think changing Freeney's angle from an outside pure speed move to an in-the-gap bullrush (which he can do. not all the time, but he has done it in the past) would solve some of these problems and, more to the point, catch the offense unprepared. ("Oh shit, everybody knows he just runs upfield. now what do we do?")

Finally, about trading or not re-signing Freeney. Wow, I think it's a bit extreme. Their D worked okay last year with him there, so I can't imagine pinning all the blame on him (unless you include his likely salary as part for the blame for starving other positions). And if their O works right (getting early leads, which they have done in years past but not so much this year), they should be facing, roughly, 25% more passing plays and 25% fewer run plays, increasing his effectiveness. It's been a low sack season for him, but his pressure is always there.

And their DL has been decimated by losing Raegor, Simon, and Triplett (who isn't exactly reinventing the wheel in Buffalo), essentially their center DL from last year's relatively well-performing group. They're thin on "talent," no doubt about it. So not only are they small, but they're playing without their best guys AND with fewer guys, there's less rotation, meaning they get fatigued all the faster. Small and fatigued--nice combination, eh? Imagine where they'd be without Booger.

Combine that with the fact that at least half of the year they started safeties numbered 5 and 6 on the depth chart (presumably slower and pooorer tacklers?) and the rookie Bethea. If 2/3 of these personnel issues are fixed next year, add in a decent LB from the draft, I suspect Freeney won't be so glaring a hole and they may even be respectable once more.

Gosh, am I becoming a Freeney apologist like I was a Vanderjagt apologist for years? Or is it just because I bought my 6 year-old a Freeney jersey for X-mas and don't want it to be obsolete so soon?

25
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 3:23pm

Bobman, as always very insightful.

I don't think you're being a Freeney apologist, but I think you may be overestimating his ability to bullrush through the center.

It's not from a lack of trying, he's just not very good at it, and stops.

26
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 3:27pm

#23 Al45, if you look at the "just the stats" second here, their DL is porous all around. The best position is wide right (runs to the left) because of Freeney's speed and penetration and a low N. But the gap he leaves behind is immense. Hell, it would be huge even if he stood still because he takes a position so wide.

Not sure if he's to blame. I mean, if the coaches wanted to change that, they have had 16 games and innumerabe practices to do so. And still, each play he lines up on the outside shoulder of the OT. At some angles it looks like he's closer to the WRs. Okay, I'm kidding on that one.

I wonder if he'd be a decent OLB in a 3-4, or if he's no good in space.

I'd love to see some stouter bodies in the middle, Raheem Brock moved back to left DE, and Mathis coming in for passing downs once more (and playing special teams again). A 240 lb DE? I think this season has proven that it is not a workable situation.

27
by Al 45 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 3:35pm

Oh, I agree. I think this year the Colts D is just plain porous all over. I just wonder that, should you look over the course of the past few years (where they haven't been historically bad like they are this year) if you find a trend of teams having a great deal of success running towards Freeney.

I do think that based upon his speed, size, and overall athleticism he may be better suited for an OLB. However, as you noted, it's very likely he's useless in open space.

28
by Al 45 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 3:39pm

Nathan:

That's a good point. I don't think Freeney has the ability to bull rush any OL he faces. He doesn't have the size or strength.

You look at guys like Seymour, Warren, Peppers, Strahan, etc... they all can just bulldoze a guy in front of them. Now, I realize Warren and Seymour are really DT's but, playing in the 3-4, they're often the main outside threat when rushing only 3 or 4.

If he could do that, then Freeney would force the running back to have to cut on way or another, which is worth a little bit of time when linebackers (especially fast ones like the Colts have) are attempting to get to the back.

I just don't think his style of play fits well in the Colts system.

29
by Spike (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 3:54pm

RE: 23

Didn't a FO on Fox blog entry address that Indy is much better against runs to the left side? That probably follows from how easy it is to run right up the middle and the right. There was a breakdown not too long ago, though.

30
by Ilanin (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 4:00pm

Add me to the list of people who wonders if Freeney might have made a good 3-4 linebacker. Hey...maybe there's a way to find out.

Peyton Manning picks up a season-ending injury when he is hit as he completing a 45-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Clark on the third play of the Colts' first regular season game. Jim Sorgi steps in and predictably leads them to a 4-12 record as everything that plausibly good goes wrong and the run D fails to improve. Dungy is fired at the end of the season due to a mixture of massive fan irritation and Irsay/Polian being fed up, and Indianapolis outbids everybody for Bill Cowher's services in 2008, who comes in with instructions to blow the D up and start again...

OK, so perhaps not.

31
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 4:05pm

Peyton Manning picks up a season-ending injury when he is hit as he completing a 45-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Clark on the third play of the Colts’ first regular season game.

At this point, I stopped reading due to a heart attack.

32
by jdb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 4:19pm

It makes you a feel just a little bad for Peyton (however bad you can feel for someone making kajillions of dollars as an NFL QB) that the Colts will indubitably finally put a decent defense together right around the same time his skills begin to go into decline.

32
by jdb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 4:19pm

It makes you a feel just a little bad for Peyton (however bad you can feel for someone making kajillions of dollars as an NFL QB) that the Colts will indubitably finally put a decent defense together right around the same time his skills begin to go into decline.

34
by Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 4:51pm

Just as a note, Gardner was benched after the second Jags game for backup MLB Rob Morris. Morris had a good game against the Bengals, but the problems he had shedding blocks as a MLB resurfaced in later games.

The DL is certainly bad at stopping the run, they do a rotten job of soaking up blockers. But, the real weakness is the linebackers. For cap reasons, they jettisoned Mike Peterson, Marcus Washington, and David Thorton (who was not as good as the other two, but serviceable). Trying to plug in low cost LBs every year has finally caught up to the Colts.

35
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 4:53pm

Old criticism of Peyton Manning: he sucks up so much cap space (for himself and his offensive entourage) that there's nothing left for the defense.

New criticism of Peyton Manning: he's so good that they can win twelve games with volunteers from the audience at linebacker, and thereby keeps the team from necessary retooling.

36
by Kachunk (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 4:58pm

Re 28: That's clearly not true, because he does it a couple times a game. Or at least he used to, I haven't seen as much of the colts this year. But in the past it worked mostly when it was unexpected, so if it was his regular move I doubt it would work, because he's clearly not as strong as Peppers (who is though?), but he can, on occasion take guys on straight up.

37
by hwc (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 5:46pm

You look at guys like Seymour, Warren, Peppers, Strahan, etc… they all can just bulldoze a guy in front of them. Now, I realize Warren and Seymour are really DT’s but, playing in the 3-4, they’re often the main outside threat when rushing only 3 or 4.

I don't blame Freeney. He's just doing what the coaches tell him: run hell-bent for leather upfield on every play.

Seymour and Warren are coached to stay home and maintain their lane discipline. The OLBs are coached to contain the edge no matter what and turn plays back inside to Seymour and Warren. The downside is that Seymour doesn't post the kind of flashy sack numbers he could if he played with no discipline.

The Colts front seven plays the only way it can -- trying to get into the backfield on every play. Would displine even work when all seven guys give up 30 to 50 pounds each? I mean, Cato June is a converted college safety playing linebacker. Even if he stays home, he's going to get obliterated by the blockers, so he might as well run around like a chicken with its head cut off. Same with Freeney.

38
by Ilanin (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 6:00pm

35 - there's probably something to that criticism, though it really ought to be a criticism of Polian (both of them), not Manning. The Colts scored 427 points this year and allowed 360 - this is a pythagorean projection of 9.7. If we take Manning's 179.6 DPAR for this season at face value, then with a replacement-level quarterback the Colts would be expected to score 248 points, for a Pythagorean projection of 4.68. Now, the real Colts outperformed their projection by 2.3 games, but arguably that might have something to do with the speed of the Manning-led offense and its ability to drive the field rapidly in order to win close games. So I'll subtract one game from that and claim that this was a 6-10 team without Manning. The NFL has three actual 6-10 teams - Minnesota, Miami and Houston, who are all heavily engaged in rebuilding at least one side of the ball. I don't sense the same urgency about the rebuilding project which I think is required in Indianapolis.

39
by Mike T (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 6:24pm

I was a Freeney apologist, at least among the FO crew. After watching the film, I am convinced that he is over-rated and that teams are really exploiting him. That is not saying that he is terrible or that he can not or does not help a team. But if some team offers phony baloney money for him in the off-season (call it SnyderBucks), then the Colts should let him walk and spend the money on some less flashy players.

40
by hwc (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 6:57pm

But if some team offers phony baloney money for him in the off-season (call it SnyderBucks), then the Colts should let him walk and spend the money on some less flashy players.

I don't think the Colts would allow Freeney to walk. Polian seems to value flash over post-season success. He won't sacrifice big stats at marquee positions to build a more effective tournament team. Freeney is the "Peyton Manning" of the defense.

Frankly, Polian might be right. Without the cap resources to build a real defense (which requires quality depth), the Colts are destined to have a poor defense. Imagine what it would look like if they DIDN'T pressure the QB when playing with a lead?

41
by Frick (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 7:04pm

My one hope is that Polian will let Freeney walk if he is shown big money by some other team, I really, really hope they don't franchise him (unless another team will give up 2 #1s)

If Freeney is being told to fly upfield, is it his fault if they run through the gap he created? Or is the coaches' fault for not making some type of adjustment at some point this year.

42
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 7:38pm

Without the cap resources to build a real defense (which requires quality depth), the Colts are destined to have a poor defense.

No, they're not - you can build depth on the cheap, too. Through the draft. The Colts have been picking near the bottom of the league each year - every single draft pick they have is just free money. Great cost/value on every pick.

For the most part, they've been doing that: their last three drafts have been almost two-thirds defense. There's just two problems with that: 1) they basically never draft defensive linemen (they haven't drafted a DT since 2002), and 2) they suck at drafting linebackers. They've drafted 6 in the past four years. Two are starting - and both are called out in the article (Gardner and June). The other four are suspended, cut, and two are barely playing.

So I don't think the problem is that they can't afford a good defense. I think the problem is they really suck at scouting defense (at least, front-seven defense), and for some reason, they've felt this incredibly bizarre desire to draft three defensive backs per year for the past three years.

(Seriously, if you look at the past Colts drafts, it's like they forgot that the front seven even existed.)

43
by hwc (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 8:45pm

No, they’re not - you can build depth on the cheap, too. Through the draft. The Colts have been picking near the bottom of the league each year - every single draft pick they have is just free money. Great cost/value on every pick.

Yeah, but they are drafting STARTERS. The rest of the defense is built with street free-agent stiffs.

I don't believe you can play good defense in the NFL without a core of veteran leaders. The schemes and recognition required for good defense in today's NFL are just too demanding.

44
by Jeff (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 8:49pm

RE: 42

Dead on analysis Pat. The Colts biggest personnel problems have come because Bill Polian has seemed to forgotten what makes a
Cover 2 defense ( or any great defense ) sucessful. The defensive line.

If you look at past cover 2 defenses that were sucessful you will find good to great players at the tackle position. Reference Dungy's Tampa teams ( W. Sapp/B
McFarland) Dungy's Minnesota teams as DC ( J. Randle/K.Millard ) and look at Lovie Smith's Bears ( T. Harris/T. Johnson ) in fact the Bears D has been struggling since Harris injury and Johnson's suspension. For the cover 2 to work at either run defense or pass defense those tackles have to make an impact. Or else the goose is cooked. Bill Polian has never either drafted or acquired through trade or FA an impact tackle. And his inane drafting of several defensive backs
is mind boggling. DB's in my opinion are the least important unit of the three defensive units.

Like Pat states until the Colts get the front seven fixed all of Tony Dungy's coaching will go for naught.

45
by Blaise (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 9:10pm

Wow...i never really thought about it that deeply: good job!

I'm 16, and play madden 06 as the colts. Until i discovered the wonders of the 'create your own playbook' feature, i could never win unless i used the game's '42 Bear' Defensive package. It worked amazingly well.

Basically, 42 Bear is 3 DB's, 3 LB's, and 3DTs with 2 DE's. The key was, as you said, anticipation of the upcoming play. if the opposing team came out with only one tight end, i would send make the DE on the other side (preferably Freeney) come down hard, and maybe even send a LB. This, and my 3 DB's, was my "pass Defense", and the rest of the crew were totally focused on run stopping. The idea was simple: give up the first, but don't give up the homerun. My highschool football team did the same thing and won. if you can blitz effectivly, you can get to the QB before he can unleash anything long. This leaves so many players avalible for either short coverage or run stopping.

Preferably, i would suggest run blitzing, as you did. run or pass, the pressure still hits home, so it's not like you are wasting players by having them drop back into coverage and just 'get blocked'.

I really hope that the return of Bob Sanders will bolster the Colts enough to pull out a win on Saturday, just for Payton Manning's sake, but i must admitt the defense doesn't deserve a Superbowl ring the way they have been playing. :(

Go Colts!!!!

46
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 9:33pm

Yeah, but they are drafting STARTERS.

Actually, no. They've been drafting ungodly numbers of defensive backs, and now virtually every defensive back except Nick Harper and Dexter Reid is a draft pick from the past three years (i.e. still under rookie contract, i.e. f'n free).

I don’t believe you can play good defense in the NFL without a core of veteran leaders.

Third and fourth year players are veterans, and they're still in their rookie contract. If you recognize them quickly and extend them early, you'll get them for reasonable prices for the long term, too.

Indy's been doing exactly the right thing to build a cheap defense that'll be half decent - except they forgot that "defense" involves things other than the secondary (and they suck at drafting linebackers).

If they'd drafted just half of the DBs they did, and replaced them with DTs/LBs, they'd be doing a heckuva lot better.

47
by birk (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 10:26pm

I saw it earlier this season on Football Outsiders, and I see it here again. It's Bo Scaife, not Sciafe.

48
by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 10:45pm

Dwight Freeney is the most overrated player in the NFL. Any little league coach will tell his defensive ends to NOT turn your back on the play with those spin moves. Every play is either a loop around the LT, or a spin move that works sometimes, but usually doesn't.

Freeney is the by product of a measuring tool called the "sack". The casual fan mistakenly judges a DB by the number of interceptions he has, and a Defensive end by the number of "sacks" he has.

Freeneys sacks are a beta for his big plays, but they don't take into account all of the rushing yards the colts give up as a result of his unusual tactics.

NFL runningbacks made a living of running off tackle plays, draws, and cut backs against the colts ( and right at Freeney).

Freeney is a one trick pony and doesn't even deserve to be mentioned with the Peppers, Strahans, Taylors, Kampmans, or Burgesses of the NFL. It is a shame that some fool ( Dan Snyder) will pay Freeney in the same ballpark as Julius Peppers.

Nobody else mentioned it, but Tony Dungy is highly overrated as well. He never won the big one in Tampa, (but Gruden won the following year). Dungy and Marvin Lewis made their reputations with superior talent, but when given average talent they are nothing special. I am suprised people don't call out Dungy the same way they call out Martyball for not winning the big one.

49
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 10:58pm

This is what I came here for. Outstanding.

Regarding the "Dwight Freeney is undersized" conversation. I'm not sure I buy it. The newly-crowned Defensive MVP, Jason Taylor, is 6'6 but listed at 255 lbs.

So Taylor significantly taller than Freeney, but is lighter. Taylor is not just a great pass-rusher, but very, very good against the run. Longer arms than Freeney, better leverage, but he's lighter, with a higher centre-of gravity.

As a unit, the Colts front four (or front seven) might be undersized. Objectively, that doesn't seem to be Freeney's problem. He's either told to ignore the run (badly coached), or lacks the ability to stop it. How long before he gets the KGB treatment and only sees the field on third & long?

50
by hwc (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 11:03pm

Third and fourth year players are veterans...

Not veteran enough for the anchor positions of a good defense. Third year players are just starting to figure things out.

Because he plays such inexperienced guys on defense, Dungy has to play very vanilla. Picking apart a standard-issue Cover 2 defense is child's play for the better AFC offenses.

But, let's say for the sake of argument that 3 or 4 years is a veteran. The Colts don't keep any of those guys, either. I suspect they'll keep Freeney (flawed game and all) and continue the revolving door at LB and DB.

51
by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 11:14pm

I've always said that KGB AND Freeney are overrated. I am glad you brought the 1st and 2nd down banished KGB into the disccusion as well.

If Deacon Jones didn't figure out a way to MEASURE success of a DE ( the sack), players like Freeney would have to wait until sabermetrics, moneyball, Football Outsiders, and geeky guys like us to measure their value.

Your right that Freeney isn't undersized. Cato June is though. June is listed at 227 pounds, but even Phill Simms was talking about how he's really about 210. A 210 pound LB! Even if you want to spit the difference and say he's 220 that is still WAY undersized to play linebacker in the NFL.

Remember the Saints WR Colston is listed at 6'4, 231. The Jacksonville Jaguars first 3 WR's all outweight the colts LB June!

Imagine what kind of matchup hell that COULD create for the colts. Imagine if your wide receivers outweight the opponenets OLB. You could crack back a bigger receiver against a smaller LB ( it shouldn't be that way). Your usually asking a smaller receiver to sneek up on a LB and "CRACK BACK". Jones, Wilford and Williams are all bigger than June!

I think the most underrated aspect of run defense that most people don't think of is a teams safeties. People only consider it the " front 7's" job to stop the run.

If you will watch NFL Replay and take a look at the huge open field tackle wiff or redskins Safety Vernon Fox on a long Tiki Barber run, you will realize that safeties are part of a run defense as well. ( Fox wasn't even in the box). It is the safeties job to read the play as well and run up and make open field tackles. I've noticed that Rodney Harrison and Roy Williams are very good in that run support ( although Roy is often toasted against the pass).

52
by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 11:20pm

50-

I disagree with you. A 3rd year defender is MUCH different than a 3rd year QB, WR, TE or offensive lineman.

Offensive players say that " the defense has the messy lockers" for a reason.

Offenses ( and particularly passing games) are so complicated now a days....

When a play is called in a huddle, the receiver isn't told to run a GO, or a stop, or a slant, in many offenses the receiver is given a READ and an OPTION route depending on the defense. A press corner receives a different assignment as opposed to a corner 7 yards off the ball.

Offense is very complicated, but defense is't. The back 7 basically gets man or zone ( most NFL teams run zone). It isn't that hard to understand that a Safety has "Deep half" in cover 2, or " Deep third" in cover 3 etc. Man to man coverage is also self explainatory. Learning the different " sky, spy, robber" and other variations aren't that complicated either.

A 3rd or 4th year defender IS a veteran because a defense can be picked up in a year or less. That is why I am amazed at the things Marques Colston has done in his very first year. He picked up an entire offense instantly.

53
by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 11:24pm

The colts will beat the Chiefs tommorrow, but they will get run over in Baltimore in round 2...

Everybody will blame Peyton for being a choak artist, and Tony Dungy will avoid the criticism yet again after failing to win the big one.

Count on it.

54
by Al 45 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/05/2007 - 11:59pm

RE: #36

Well, I think you're making my point. It's clearly true 'now'. You're right, at times in the past, Freeney could bull rush the unsuspecting defender as part of his tactics. However, the offensive lineman have gotten used to his moves and, when they're ready for it, he has no chance of bull rushing a 300+ lbs. left tackle. Not going to happen. He just doesn't have the power to do it.

Yes, as someone mentioned, Jason Taylor is actually listed as being lighter than Dwight Freeney (however, at his 6'6 to Freeney's 6'1, I doubt it)... but, as was also mentioned, his longer reach gives him the ability to keep blockers from getting in to his body and locking him up (blockers usually try to get their hands in at the chest plate of the guy they're blocking). Freeney has shorter arms so, when he gets locked up with a guy, he just doesn't have the ability to consistently shed the block and get to the rusher or the passer.

I really believe that Freeney is being misused and would possibly be much more effective as an OLB in a 3-4. I don't know how his coverage skills would be, but he strikes me as a guy who could possible fall into a Colvin style player. I could be wrong, but if I was a team that had a good enough DLine to run the 3-4, I'd take a chance on him and convert him to an OLB.

55
by stan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 12:37am

I have to think that Freeney has some kind of injury. Last year, we saw him bull rush Ogden and kick ass. This year, he just has no push. And he seems to lack the speed and quickness of last year. Wonder if he has a dinged up ankle or knee that he can get on the field with, but can't be really effective.

A lot of guys play with a lot of hurts in the NFL.

But the gist of this excellent piece is that the Colts are not sound in executing fundamentals of a gap control defense. And tackling.

56
by OMO (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 12:52am

Excellent, excellent article that should be etched into Polian's brain in the off season.

What's hilarious is when Polian was hired he said about 5,000 times in his first presser.

"We are going to run the ball well and we are going to stop the run."

Huh?

57
by Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 1:43am

I have said for some time that I'm counting the days until Cato June leaves for free agency.

Just have to hope in the meantime that his mistakes and inadequacies come at a minimum.

58
by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 1:50am

But, let’s say for the sake of argument that 3 or 4 years is a veteran. The Colts don’t keep any of those guys, either. I suspect they’ll keep Freeney (flawed game and all) and continue the revolving door at LB and DB.

Freeney's a 5 year veteran, not a 3rd or 4th year veteran. I think it's completely reasonable to believe you can maintain an average-level defense (remember, not great, just average - an average defense with Manning's offense would walk right over most teams) with just the draft.

You can always keep 3rd and 4th year veterans - because they're still under contract, usually for at least a few more years. And if the Colts were smart, in the second year, they'd extend some promising young low-round defenders (with short contracts) at least for a handful more years for a dirt salary.

Of course, that presumes they had promising young talent on defense. Well, non-defensive backs, at least.

59
by Vyse (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 9:53am

Remember when Peter King said Cato June was a candidate for DPOY last year?

60
by Sean (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 12:21pm

Just a thought rather than a researched idea, but do the Colts have the ammo - and the inclination - to trade up in the first round to get Alan Branch?

61
by Jason Ofthetower (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 12:26pm

With all due respect, I'm afraid the author, while well thought out, lacks understanding of the Tampa 2 defense.

The Colts run defense isn't the fault of Freeney - nor do I believe it is it the fault of June. Its the fault of their NT and UT. The author fails to fully grasp the importance of the tackles in the defense, namely, the UT.

At one point he says "When a coach calls a Cover-2 or Tampa-2 defensive play, he is all but spotting the offense a four-to-five yard run on the ground. The linebackers and safeties are too far from the line of scrimmage to stuff ball carriers.".

UH...no. The Tampa 2 is a gap based system. Each defensive lineman and linebacker has gaps to fill. The defensive lineman fill their gaps and maintain their gaps on the way to the quarterback (this is why Tampa has traditionally dominated Vick), the Linebackers have their own gap responsibility and are charged with the need to be able to read and react quickly and correctly (this is where June may be suspect).

The UT's main responsibilty is to create penetration and havoc in the opposing backfield, spilling the runner to where teammates are there to gobble them up.

The Colts lack that push and many times, the UT gets put on his arse, creating gaping holes in the middle of the defense. The linebackers and defensive ends are many times overcompensating, abandoning their gaps and creating cutback lanes.

The Colts were so desperate to fix their defense they gave up their 2nd rounder for McFarland. Dungy still believed he would be the next Sapp. Unfortunately for them, they got the same overpaid, underachiever us Buc fans have had here and the defense has gotten even worse.

June could be part of the problem, but Freeney isn't - its the UT.

62
by Jeff (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 1:49pm

RE: 48 & 53

Going to have to disagree with you on a couple of points, Chris.

Number one Tony Dungy DOES get called out for not winning the "big game". Quite often in fact. You should read the Indy Star's Bob Kravitz sometime. He has explictly called out Dungy a few times, particularly at the start of this season.

Number two: To say that Dungy is overrated based on the fact that he does not win with with average or below average talent is disingenous. Very FEW coaches win games in general, much less " big games " with average to bad talent.
A partial list of coaches who have appeared " overrated " Buddy Ryan, Mike Shanahan, Marvin Lewis, Brian Billick, Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci. One could even make a small case that Bill Belichek
sucess as New England's HC came mostly after the emergence of Tom Brady.

In the cases of Billick and Gruden. They both made their bones as offensive gurus
( Billick in particular) but both have rode two of the best defenses in league history to SuperBowl championships. God Bless em for it. But since those victories neither one of them have exactly set the football world on fire any more than Tony Dungy has. In fact, the two biggest " big game " losses in Dungy's career( 1999 NCFC and the 2003 AFCC ) came down to bad quarterbacking not defense ( in fact Dungy's defenses only gave up two touchdowns in both games combined) So if Dungy is overrated ( which may be true ) so are alot of other
coaches as well.

63
by Chris (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 2:33pm

#61

Do you even watch Colts games? Any pee wee football coach could see that teams run off tackle plays right inside of where Freeney loops around rushing the passer. Take a look at how Jones Drew had rushing lanes you could drive a truck through because Freeney takes such a wide stance. Many teams will run that play on 3rd and 7 because passing can be risky but they know they will get right to the chains risk free, with potential to bust something big.

Jeff- I unfortunatly don't get to see much written on Dungy ( I live in VA). The only things I read about Dungy are on the national level and they just praise him for being such a stand up guy. I am not saying you need a Cower temper to win the big game but he is just so damn docile on the sidelines while his run defense is getting ripped a new one.

I agree 100 percent that Brian Billeck and Marvin Lewis are super overrated. Billeck had one of the most talented offenses ever with Carter, Moss, Reed, and Smith while Marvin Lewis had the 00 Ravens with Lewis, Boulware, Mccrarey, Goose, Mccalister, Woodson.

Billecks offenses have been a joke in Baltimore, and Lewis sucked on D in washington and cincy.

Mike Shannihan is definatly not overrated, and I personally feel Gruden is a very good offensive mind and will have more success in the future. (Gruden won the superbowl with a team that Dungy wouldn't win with.)

64
by Jeff (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 2:51pm

RE: 63

Chris I agree that Shanahan is not overrated. I put him on that " overrated " list to suggest that many people have pegged him as such. In fact, there are columists in Denver that have been calling for his ouster for some time. I happen to think he is a top 5 coach in the NFL easily. Yet his sucess in the playoffs and now even in the regular season has been muted since John Elway and Terrell Davis have retired several years ago. So based on your criteria of coaches winning with excellent talent and losing with average talent, one could argue that Shanahan is " overrated ".

Gruden can be a good coach but he too will need an infusion of talent wherever he is to once again be considered top tier. As of now with mediocre talent he has become a mediocre coach. But that was my point about coaches in general anyhow.

65
by Ben (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 3:05pm

I'd actually have to agree with Jason. The Colts tackle play has been awful. The NT is supposed to suck up two blockers in the Tampa 2, but the Colts NTs are almost always single blocked. As Jason said, the UT is supposed to penetrate and force the back into the wide rushing DEs, but that virtually never happens on the Colts.

The Bears are a great example of this. With Harris out, their defense is decidedly worse. For a good Tampa 2, you need a disrupting DT, a good WILL and a sure tackling strong safety. The Colts have the last with Sanders, but not the other two.

66
by Chris (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 4:26pm

#64-

I am well aware Shanny was on the hot seat in Denver last year but he had them finish 2nd in the tough AFC before people remembered he was good. Shanny wasn't a LOSER with average talent either.

I think Tampa has maybe the worst offensive line in the NFL and Tampa addressed that last offseason. I think when that mess clears up, Tampa will be good again.

The most overrated coaches are Marvin Lewis, Tony Dungy and Brian Billeck. I think Joe Gibbs isn't the same as he used to be either.

The most underrated coaches are Lovie Smith and Parcells because people think he should be gone and don't realize how elite he still is.

People have very short memeories with coaches. I've been saying that Jeff Fisher is a top 5 coach and now that they look to some what turn around that salary cap hell people are taking note of him again.

The best coaches available for the Raiders, Falcons, Dolphins and maybe Giants are Dick Vermiel and Jimmy Johnson but neither seem to likly to come back. If I had Daniel Snyerbucks I'd try and lure Vermiel back for another go around.

The Steelers will be the Steelers and stay in house with Wisenhunt, Grimm or Lebeau.

I want to rank the coaches later in this off season and share my thoughts. I did it last year on a pretty popular message board and it was a success.

67
by Mike T (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 5:22pm

61 Jason is correct in that I oversimplify to some degree. A defensive coordinator doesn't "live with" 4 and 5 yard gains every time he calls some form of the Cover 2.

What he does accept is that if a linebacker or defensive back must make a play, it will come 4 to 5 yards down the field. There's an expectation that the 1 and 3 tackles will disrupt and make some plays in the backfield or redirect some runners. But there's also an acceptance that there will be times when one or another interior tackle is doubled.

Essentially, you get a defense that stuffs some ball carriers but allows some short gains because the main emphasis is pass defense. If that's what the Colts defense looked like, there would be no article. But we have a defense that stuffs some ball carriers and allows periodic 17-yard gains.

Anyway, I think I mention once or twice in the article that the tackles were easily blocked on several plays. More often, though, I saw linebackers wired to defenders or missing tackles or blowing assignments, so I figured on focusing on those players.

68
by davis (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 9:40pm

"Unfortunately, there’s only so much scheming you can do when you don’t have the right personnel. It’s hard to imagine the Colts beating the Chiefs, Ravens, or Chargers unless Peyton Manning has a five-touchdown day."

Manning threw just 1 TD and Larry Johnson had just 32 yards in the Colts victory today.

Ron Jaworski said on PTI last week that the Colts played better against the run at home because the turf field plays to their strength.

Is this case or did Herm Edwards and Mike Solari just not attack the Colts with the right sorts of plays?

Looking forward to an update here.

69
by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 01/06/2007 - 11:38pm

#68: From what I saw, the big difference was that the Colts DTs actually were getting some penetration on run plays and clogging gaps. Normally they're just ridden right out of plays.

70
by Dave (not verified) :: Sun, 01/07/2007 - 3:00am

Well, despite what some articles would have you believe, the D did a great job today. Good for them. Hope they can keep it up against Baltimore.

Regarding Polian's drafting: He took a lot of DBs because they needed DBs, and because there was some outstanding value there. He knew from the start that Bethea could start, and when a starter is available in the 6th round, you take him. Anyway, it's a good thing he piled them all up, since at one point this year the #5 and 6 safeties were starting games. (Sanders, Bethea, Jackson, and Doss all were out.) And against the Jets minor injuries had them trotting out Jennings and Rushing as the two corners for a few plays before Hayden came back in to lead them.

One could make the argument that part of the reason all the DBs are getting hurt is because they're getting pounded by runners that elude the front 7, and one would probably be right. This then gets worse because then the remaining guys have to take more reps at practice, wearing them out more, etc. Polian himself has complained about this. So it's good that they had all those guys.

That said, I wouldn't expect that trend to continue. DT and LB are going to be addressed in this coming draft, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if every pick is spent on the front 7. There isn't really a position of need on O unless they let Stokley go, which is possible, and obviously there's depth at DB.

And to those who say they suck at drafting LBs - have you watched Keiaho at all? He hasn't played much, but when he does, he has been excellent. He stuck Johnson at the 2 today and has done similar things in other games. Hagler can hit too, though it remains to be seen whether he can do anything else. I'm looking forward to letting Cato walk (a much better decision than the other 3 they've let go) and seeing what they do to change things up this coming year.

71
by Chris (not verified) :: Sun, 01/07/2007 - 1:16pm

What if the Colts drafted Smarzha ( spelling) from Notre Dame for 3 WR sets and THEN drafted all DTs and LBs?

They need to go after LB more than DT. After the game Cato June and Reggie Wayne were walking off the field together and they honestly looked about the same size. Wayne is listed at 6' 198 pounds. Don't you think a starting linebacker should be BIGGER than an average sized receiver? Do you remember Levon Kirkland? The guy was a 270 pound linebcker that was built like a defensive tackle. I'll bet the colts really wish they got their hands on Demeco Ryans last year.

72
by Dave (not verified) :: Sun, 01/07/2007 - 4:35pm

Oh God, I really hope they don't go after Jeff Samardzija. He's not nearly as good as his gaudy TD numbers suggest. Plus he'd get snapped in half going over the middle in the NFL, which is what they'd need.

I agree with you on the LBs. It's a bigger area of need because they'll be better at tackle next year just because there'll be more guys to rotate through. Noone could have forseen the issues with Reagor and Simon this season that weakened and killed the depth at DT, and Reagor will be back next year to at least give them two guys who are actually tackles again. It'll come down to who is available at the end of the first round. They traded their 2nd round pick for Booger so I'm definitely hoping they can get a good LB in the first.

Cato is definitely small but he's bigger than Wayne. Thicker through the chest and his arms are twice as big around. He's listed at 227, which I don't think is that far off. I'm 212 and don't cast anywhere near the shadow that he does. That said, he's still better suited to be a safety, and despite his positive attitude, I can't say I'll be sad to see him go from a football perspective. Ideally, I'd like to see them keep him on and put him back at safety. But Bethea and Sanders are so good that he'd be a backup, and he can get paid and start somewhere else, just based on the strength of his interceptions last year.

73
by Chris (not verified) :: Sun, 01/07/2007 - 5:51pm

Phill Simms and Jim Nance were talking about how there is no way June weighs 227. They estimated that he was MAYBE 210. Now I agree he is bigger than wayne, but he was listed as 30 pounds bigger where as he might weight 10-20 pounds more. To even compare an average sized receiver to a linebacker is riddulous.

Many times players lose muscle and strength over the season because they are so damn beat up from games that they can't lift like they do in the off season. I know I lost weight and strength when I played.

74
by Dave (not verified) :: Sun, 01/07/2007 - 6:27pm

You're right. It shouldn't even be a question of whether he's bigger than a receiver. No LB should be getting dragged around the field by a miniature running back like MJD.

It's definitely believable that the season takes its toll. He also seems smaller than last year. And he's downright tiny when compared to Robert Mathis, who is easily the smallest defensive end in the league, but about what I'd consider to be an acceptable sized Tampa 2 linebacker.

75
by Chris (not verified) :: Sun, 01/07/2007 - 11:50pm

I love how their are Safties and Wide Receivers who are LISTED as heavier than June and he doesn't even weigh what he is listed.

I guarantee you that Sean Taylor, Adrian Wilson, Roy Williams, and Rodney Harrison would be better and tougher linebackers than June.

Do you remember that play against the Bengals when Rudi Johnson just trucked over him like a freight train? He bulldozed him and then walked right over him. Rudi should have charged him for that ride.

76
by Dave (not verified) :: Mon, 01/08/2007 - 5:37am

Just one of many similar examples, unfortunately.