INDIANAPOLIS -- So much has rightfully been discussed about the Indianapolis Colts offense this offseason, because they have the necessary pieces on that unit to lead the NFL in a number of categories next season.
But the Colts' success next season could hinge on the unit that has shown flashes, but has been way too inconsistent to be taken serious.
One week they’re getting pressure on Peyton Manning and blanketing his receivers in the secondary in the AFC divisional round playoff game. The next week they’re getting steamrolled on the ground by New England’s running backs in the AFC Championship Game.
The Colts can get away with that approach playing AFC South teams, but that doesn’t work in the playoffs.
That’s why owner Jim Irsay sat in his air conditioned suite at the league owners meetings in Phoenix in March and talked (unsolicited) about the need to improve their defense next season.
It was an order from the owner.
Coach Chuck Pagano, who is a defensive coach, knows it. General manager Ryan Grigson knows it, too. And defensive coordinator Greg Manusky definitely knows they have to be a better unit next season.
It’s time for the defense to close the gap with the offense.
"I think what we have to do is we have to do a better job at executing it," Manusky said. "I said sometimes I put them in situations. I think it’s coach-related and player-related when you go back and forth. We have to execute the plan the way that it should have been done. At times I should have had better calls in there as well. So it’s not just the players’ fault, it’s my fault as well.
"I told them all the time, I said, 'I don’t care what defense we are playing as long as we are all on the same page.' When there are breakdowns in those pages or that spoke is not on that wheel it’s going to come loose and that’s happened."
Indianapolis finished 11th in the league overall in defense last season. The secondary was their strength, and Pagano called their run defense an Achilles' heel. The Colts were 18th in the league at stopping the run last season.
The Colts believe they upgraded their defense in the offseason by signing linebacker Trent Cole, defensive end Kendall Langford and safety Dwight Lowery, all projected starters. Five of their eight draft picks were used on defensive players.
"Well I think right now the personnel that we have is, from a foundation of overall stuff, I think is the best that we’ve had here since we’ve been here," Manusky said.
Indianapolis had 41 sacks last season, which was just one fewer than it had in 2013 when Robert Mathis led the league with 19.5 sacks. But the difference with last season’s sack total is that 24 of the 41 sacks came off blitzes compared to 19 of the 42 sacks coming off blitzes in 2013. They want to be in the position of having the defensive player beat his man without Manusky calling a blitz.
The Colts have the personnel to be able to mix-and-match players together. Cole, Mathis (when he returns from his torn Achilles), and Jonathan Newsome, who led the Colts in sacks last season, are pass-rush specialist Manusky could pair together at times.
"If you’re going to have four guys that can really rush the passer, and then all of a sudden you’re playing a little two-man underneath, it’s a better situation for you because you are protected a little bit more," Manusky said.
None the improvements they made during the offseason will matter if they don’t tackle and communicate better, Manusky said.
"Communication is one of the biggest things defensively that we need to do across the board," he said. "That’s what we’ve been focusing on across the board. If that means taking less out or putting more in, it depends on the players that you have."