Chuck Pagano and his coaching staff cannot play the same scheme as last year if they hope to survive the first four games of Robert Mathis’ suspension. The Indianapolis Colts‘ defense last year was nothing special, and losing their best player from a season ago doesn’t help them at all. Things are going to have to change in order for them to get off to a good start. The Colts have to do three things in order to survive the first quarter of the season. They have to focus on the running game, they have to trust their front seven to stop the run game and they have to play more press coverage with their corners.
The first way of survival comes with the running game and more specifically Trent Richardson. The Colts are going to have to have longer possessions to give some relief to the defense. Last year the Colts were ranked 22nd in average time of possession according to NFL.com. The Colts are going to have to control the ball a lot more if they want to survive against teams like the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles. This means there is going to be more stress placed on the offensive line and Richardson. The good news is that Dwayne Allen is coming back from a hip injury and the Colts could use his blocking ability. Expect the Colts to use the 31 (three wide receivers, one tight end) personal more often, with Allen being used more as a blocker in the open space on a safety for example. This would mean wider running lanes for Richardson because the defense is more spaced out and longer drives for the Colts. The longer the drive, the less stress is put on the defense.
The second way the Colts can survive is trusting that their front seven can fill the gaps in the running game. The additions of Arthur Jones and D’Qwell Jackson should help along with the development of third-year player Josh Chapman. If the Colts can stop the run effectively with Jones, Chapman, Cory Redding, Jackson and Eric Walden they can put the opposing offenses in third and longs.
Finally the Colts are going to have to commit to using press coverage with their cornerbacks. With press coverage the corners are able to re-route the wide receivers and give the pass rush an extra second to get to the quarterback. Also on third-and-long they can keep Jackson on the field and use him as a blitzer. This is going to give the quarterback less time to throw and the press coverage should in theory take away the quick slant. The safeties also have to be disciplined enough not to look into the backfield, because the corners are going to need support at the back end of the defense just in case the wide receiver gets a step on the corner. Lucky for the Colts their cornerbacks excel at press coverage, so this shouldn’t be as big of an issue compared to the first two adjustments they need to make.
The Colts are going to have to make some adjustments in the wake of Mathis’ suspension, but they shouldn’t be dramatic ones. Pagano has stressed throughout his time with the Colts that their top priority should be to run the ball and stop the run. They have to be committed to this more than ever now with Mathis missing the first four games of the NFL season.