09-20-2005, 12:39 PM
Colts have improved athleticism in front seven
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<!-- firstName = Gary --><!-- lastName = Horton -->By Gary Horton
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<TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD vAlign=top><!-- begin leftcol -->In an ordinary NFL week, both of these teams have such explosive offenses that they can usually afford to play mediocre defense and come away with a win. But in the first two weeks of the 2005 season, these teams have relied on surprising production on the defensive side of the ball to help them jump out to 2-0 starts. Let's look at the revamped D's in Indy and K.C. and see if they can sustain their early season success.
The Colts really upgraded their defensive front seven in the offseason and they have perhaps the most athletic, range-type group in the NFL. In Week 1 against the Ravens, the most visible upgrade was their linebacking, led by new starting MLB Gary Brackett (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?statsId=6632). </TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
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09-20-2005, 01:55 PM
"Updated: Sep. 20, 2005
Colts have improved athleticism in front sevenBy Gary Horton
In an ordinary NFL week, both of these teams have such explosive offenses that they can usually afford to play mediocre defense and come away with a win. But in the first two weeks of the 2005 season, these teams have relied on surprising production on the defensive side of the ball to help them jump out to 2-0 starts. Let's look at the revamped D's in Indy and K.C. and see if they can sustain their early season success.
The Colts really upgraded their defensive front seven in the offseason and they have perhaps the most athletic, range-type group in the NFL. In Week 1 against the Ravens, the most visible upgrade was their linebacking, led by new starting MLB Gary Brackett.
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
18 14 4 0 0 2
In the Colts' patented Cover 2 defense, the corners squat on the perimeter with each safety playing a deep half of the field. This puts a lot of pressure on the MLB to get depth over the middle, usually the vulnerable area of the defense. In the past several years, Rob Morris started at middle linebacker, but he was basically a two-down run defender and a huge liability in the passing game. With Brackett and OLBs David Thornton and Cato June, the Colts can match up in the passing game and use their speed to make plays on the perimeter. Also, now they won't give up the big edge-run plays they did over the last several years.
Last year saw some improvement up front, especially in the pass rush. Defensive line coach John Teerlinck is a pass-rush specialist, and his motto is "we play the run on the way to the QB." It sounds nice, but it can lead to some inside holes against power run teams. However, the acquisition of former Philadelphia Eagles DT Corey Simon may be the missing link to a better power run defense. One area of concern, though, is that Simon's power and strength at the point of attack doesn't really mesh with the rest of the team's one-gap, penetrating, attacking group. That said, Simon can be a force on first and second downs and in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
The Colts have nine sacks in two games, including six against the Jaguars. But what you love about the defense is that all nine have come from their defensive front four, and most of the pressure the Colts get on opposing quarterbacks comes without blitzing. This allows Indy to rush four and drop seven on a regular basis, a critical component of the Cover 2 defense. Quarterbacks are forced to make tough throws into zone coverage under pressure.
What you have to love about this defensive line so far is that not all the plays are coming from all-world RDE Dwight Freeney. Of the Colts' nine sacks, Freeney has only one, but he has been involved in almost all of them because of the attention he gets. The Jaguars rolled their protection to Freeney's side, with double- and triple-teams, meaning the other three defensive linemen were single blocked most of game. This allowed RDT Montae Reagor to ring up three sacks.
It's a good sign for the Colts when they can get production from their pass rush without Freeney's posting great numbers, and when you break down this group on film, it's really interesting how they are working in concert with each other. They work well in duos, and it really makes it difficult for offensive lines to find the right pass-protection schemes -- they are unable to slide and create double-teams, because the Colts have four legitimate guys who can rush the quarterback. This is a defense to watch, and it may be the final piece of the puzzle for Tony Dungy and his Super Bowl run.
It's easy to like the Chiefs through the first two weeks of the season because they have made key defensive stops in both games, giving the impression that they are dramatically improved. But it may be a little early to anoint them as a top-tier unit.
What you like in the first two weeks is their hustle, athleticism and passion. However, they are vulnerable in the secondary and all their corners need safety help over the top in coverage, compromising their man-to-man cover schemes.
Kansas City Chiefs
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
17 15 2 1 1 0
Their defensive line is active, and they can penetrate, but they may struggle against a power-run game with a big, physical offensive line. The Chiefs' defensive line is not built to take on blocks and stack and shed at the point of attack. They do have an emerging playmaker in OLB Derrick Johnson, and he is a definite upgrade to this unit's production, but he may not be enough. The best recipe for success for the Chiefs' defense is to hope that the offense continues to run the ball effectively and eat up the clock, keeping it off the field and fresh.
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham seems to have finally imposed his will on this group after a frustrating 2004, but the improvement may be a little up and down. But with the Chiefs' offense, this defense doesn't have to be great. It just has to be adequate and not give up a lot of big plays.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN Insider.
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