Dungy wastes no time putting stamp on Colts' defense

Updated: October 5, 2003, 3:13 PM ET

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tony Dungy sold his defensive philosophy to the Indianapolis Colts rather quickly. All he had to do was turn on some film of his old team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The coach helped mold the Bucs into Super Bowl champions. Now, he has the Colts on the verge of climbing among the NFL's elite.

An offensive juggernaut before Dungy's arrival in 2002, the unbeaten Colts (4-0) are off to their best start in seven years thanks to an improved defense that runs the same scheme that's been instrumental to Tampa Bay's success.

"For my first three years here, we had a tough time on defense and we took all the heat. We were the stepchild," defensive end Chad Bratzke said. "You just can't compare. He just turned things around. We feel now like if we have to go out there to make a stop, we can make the stop."

"It's amazing how, of the defenses I've been in, this by far is the simplest, and it has been the most effective. I think sometimes coaches can make things too complicated. It's not rocket science. It's football."

Dungy built Tampa Bay's defense on speed and discipline and stressed the importance of each player being accountable for his responsibilities within the scheme. The Bucs drafted players to fit the coach's philosophy, and Dungy's patience was a key to developing promising prospects like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch into perennial Pro Bowl selections.

The Colts look at what he accomplished in Tampa Bay, turning around a franchise that had struggled through 13 consecutive losing seasons, and envision themselves someday ascending to a championship level.

"If you look at (Tampa Bay's) defense, they just continue to play better every year the more they have guys in the system. The more guys know about what they're doing, the less mistakes you make," said Dungy, who returns to Raymond James Stadium as coach of an opposing team for the first time when the Colts face the Bucs (2-1) Monday night.

"I think you always feel like you're going to get better. We're in year two, and I think we're playing better than we did last year. But we have a ways to go."

Dungy was fired after the 2001 season and replaced by Jon Gruden, who made changes on offense to help transform Tampa Bay into a Super Bowl team last year. The Bucs led the league in total defense and are ranked No. 1 again this year.

"Clearly, Tampa Bay's defense has proven itself as one of the elite defenses in the league," Indianapolis linebacker David Thornton said. "We should be striving to get to that level. They've proven themselves year in and year out. We're just in our second year. We're not where they are by any means, but we're making quick adjustments and we're getting more productive as a group.

"They laid down the ground work for this type of defensive system, and our team knows that when they look at that defense, we can be as good as they can be. It's just going to take a while."

Indianapolis was eighth overall in total defense in its first season under Dungy and has dramatically improved in perhaps the most important defensive statistical category -- fewest points allowed.

Through four games this season, the Colts are allowing 11.8 points a game, fourth-lowest in the league behind Tampa Bay (7.3), Seattle (11.0) and Carolina (11.7). Since Dungy took over, Indianapolis has held opponents to 13 or fewer points eight times in 20 games, compared to eight times in 80 games the previous five seasons.

"It's hard to compare defense to defense. The great thing about them is they don't really give up a lot of points, don't give up a lot of yards, don't give up the big, big play," Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson said. "But if we don't turn the ball over and we play our style, we should be fine."

The impact Dungy has had on the Colts defense is undeniable. But quarterback Peyton Manning said the coach -- never noted for his expertise on offense -- has provided critical input on that side, too.

Indianapolis is second in points scored (120), mostly on the strength of putting up 55 in last week's 34-point rout of the New Orleans Saints.

"I think people sometimes think that Tony just comes in here and talks to the defense," Manning said. "But in the year and a half that he and I have been together, he spends just as much time in our meetings talking to me about, `Here's what the defense will do versus this play,' or `This play could be really good versus this defense,' because he's an old quarterback.

"I think the biggest thing so far this year is everybody's understanding what his philosophy is about and what he wants. I think any time you have a new boss, sometimes it takes a little time to understand what he expects from us. I think guys are starting to catch on."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index