clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Super Bowl Analysis: Colts Defense

Here is the first breakdown from John Morgan, our friend from Field Gulls. This one is looking at the Colts defense.

Are Bears fans worried that the Indy run D has suddenly gotten stouter than a pint of sun-warmed Old Style on an August day at Wrigley? Even though New England scored 34 points in the AFC championship, their running game was stifled. Laurence Maroney was especially bad, posting a sophomore A-Trainesque 1.6 YPC with a fumble. How has one man, wider-than-he-is-tall, reversed Indy's see-through defense and suddenly made the Colts of 06-07, what the Colts of 05-06 were supposed to be: Contenders?

Meanwhile, when your left leg is on fire, you might not notice that your right leg is in a bear trap. The same could be said about the Colts, who have been so bad defending the rush, people have ignored that they are below average defending the pass too. One game is far from predictable, and it is possible that Indy's offense is held in check, but for Chicago to have any reasonable chance of winning they must be able to score, and perhaps score big. The talking-heads will no doubt say that Chicago will need to avoid a shootout with Indy on Sunday, that they must avoid a "track-meet" competition, but if Chicago can't score, don't expect Indianapolis to return the favor.

Let's see how the two units match-up.

Bob Sanders: Bear fans might be familiar with a player scouts compared Sanders to pre-draft: Mr. 46, Doug Plank. It was the in-game loss of Sanders in week 2 that cued Indy's defensive collapse, and it was his return against Kansas City that sparked Indy's defensive renaissance in the Wild Card Round.

Sanders is fast, strong, alert and mean as hell. Despite playing DB, Sanders is strongest against the run. He fills holes up the middle, patrols side-line to side-line and is an intimidating tackler in the open field. But don't be fooled, as impressive as Indy has looked defensively the last two weeks, Sanders has not fixed all of the Colts defensive problems.

Need proof? Last year, Sanders didn't miss a game; Indy's D was much stronger, but it was the pass rush that made the biggest difference. Sanders has never recorded a professional sack, and however much fire or leadership he might add to the Colts D, losing him didn't cost Indy 21 sacks from 2005.

As a safety in the Tampa 2, Sanders plays strangely close to the line, and though he features strong recovery speed, this fact still weakens the Colts soft shell on the right side. If the Bears want to reduce his presence in the run game they must pass deep, a couple early Berrian bombs should do that. Rex Grossman may be second-string in a couple years, but I think his "Dr. Jekyll" shows up on Sunday.

Dwight Freeney: Freeney is awesome in Madden. Maybe EA gets their ratings from sports journalism's rank and file, because most gush openly about their man love for Mr. Spin Move. TV announcers pack their diaphragms and moist towelettes when they cover Indy games, because that level of man love gets sticky. However, to those of us without flies in our eyes, Freeney is almost impossibly overrated.

Freeney is a good pass rusher. He has likely the fastest first step and best speed move in the NFL. I say good, but not great, because Freeney attempts the sack on every play. He is essentially a glorified pass rush specialist, who, given his playing time should be expected to post 10+ sacks a year.

Freeney's thirst for the money numbers comes at a heavy cost to the Colts. Since Freeney's rookie year in 2002, Indy has been in the bottom half of the league at defending runs behind left tackle. In 2006 the Colts ranked a dismal 26th. Watching him, it is easy to see why: Mr. Spin Move often takes himself completely out of the play attempting the sack, subsequently leaving a gaping hole for the opponent's rusher.

For the Bears this presents a real solid and exploitable match-up. Left Tackle John Tait's strength is stopping the pass rush. After a down year in 2005, Tait allowed only 4 sacks in 2006. Tait is not a powerful drive blocker, but he is agile enough to seal off the back-side on a speed rush. So, strength vs. strength, you say. Not exactly, Freeney is still a better pass rusher than Tait is a pass blocker, but more importantly Freeney is so weak at Run D that Tait should be able to blast Walter Jones size holes through the B gap. In other words while Tait's pass blocking will largely neutralize Freeney's pass rush, Freeney's pass rush will do wonders for Tait's run blocking.

The Colts have played very well recently on defense, but despite Sanders presence--this is not a great or even good D. More than Sanders, Dungy deserves credit for the Colts sudden defensive resurgence in the playoffs. Against KC and Baltimore Dungy committed early to taking away the opponents rushing attack and neither could establish the deep pass to force Sanders back. In the first half of the AFC championship New England completed four passes of 10 or more yards in just four drives. The running game benefited, recording 85 of their 93 yards rushing. In the second half New England completed only two passes of ten or more yards before their last second desperation drive, and the running game stifled.

For Chicago to score Grossman must be able to stretch Indy's defense deep, thus mitigating Sanders role against the rush. That means good, or at least adequate Grossman must arrive at Miami-Dade County Airport. I think he will. I'll tell you why, and how a blown draft pick might win Chicago the Super Bowl tomorrow in part 2.