INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Coach Chuck Pagano spent the past two seasons changing the Colts’ defensive philosophy.
He wanted his players to be physical and aggressive. He wanted them to play with passion. He expected results, and he wasn’t going to let anything deter this transformation.
Now, finally, it looks as if Indianapolis may be on the verge of a defensive breakthrough.
“I think we’re better probably right now today than we’ve been at any point. We’ve been consistent. Again, it’s so early, we have a long way to go,” Pagano said Tuesday. “We all had a picture when we got here of what we wanted to be and what it should look like. We’re getting closer.”
In about 2½ quarters, the Colts have allowed just 91 total yards and no touchdowns.
Indy (0-2) has figured out how to pressure quarterbacks despite playing without reigning NFL sacks champion Robert Mathis, who will miss the first four games of the regular season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. They held two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning to just one completion for 6 yards on Saturday and have swarmed the run.
While the doubters rightfully point out the measuring stick so far has been two preseason games against teams that aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts, Mathis, the longest-tenured Colts defender, likes what he’s seen.
“I feel like things are taking shape,” he said. “The guessing is over and we’re done thinking. We can play fast now, everybody is playing fast.”
Indy could face its toughest test yet Saturday - if Drew Brees plays for the high-powered Saints.
But there’s no doubt the Colts are improving.
When Pagano arrived in 2012, he inherited a defense that had allowed 430 points, the fourth-most in franchise history, and had long been castigated as the reason Indy didn’t win more Super Bowls.
So he changed the script.
Instead of building a contender around a potent offense and a defense designed to protect leads, the former Ravens defensive coordinator scrapped Indy’s traditional 4-3 front in favor of a more aggressive 3-4 and moved bookend pass rushers Mathis and Dwight Freeney to linebacker. While Mathis flourished in his new spot, Freeney never quite looked comfortable and was let go after the 2012 season.
General manager Ryan Grigson then scoured the free-agent market for reasonably priced players who were better fits in Pagano’s system.
He came up with three starters - cornerback Greg Toler, safety LaRon Landry and linebacker Erik Walden - and added two more starters this offseason when he signed defensive lineman Arthur Jones and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.