Colts hope defensive makeover produces super result

Ravens will face unit with five new starters

September 08, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Shootouts were all the rage last season in Indianapolis, where quarterback Peyton Manning's barrage of 49 touchdown passes obscured the generosity of the Colts' defense.

The Colts had a Super Bowl offense and a dollar-store defense.

Coach Tony Dungy's pride, if not his joy, was trampled in the offensive flow on any given Sunday. What Manning took with his prolific passing game, the Colts' defense gave back with largess.

"We have some things that need to be fixed," Dungy said, "but it's not yards. I'm not a big yards guy."

The Colts were 29th in total yards allowed, 24th in rush defense and 28th in pass defense.

Perhaps the more relevant numbers were those posted by opposing quarterbacks, who completed a lofty 65.4 percent of their passes for 7.60 yards per pass attempt and 26 touchdowns.

Or these: the Colts surrendered 30 points or more in four games last year - and won two of them. They gave up 24 points or more eight times, and won four of those.

Part of the problem, Dungy pointed out, was that the Colts often had a comfortable lead and gave up lots of passing yards protecting it. Still ...

"We gave up too many big plays when it counted last year," he said. "And one thing we have to do is get a little more consistent on our rules and not be out of position; limit some of those big plays. And then we've got to be more physical."

It was the mantra of the offseason for the Colts, who arrive in Baltimore for Sunday night's opener with a distinctly different defense than the one that helped beat the Ravens, 20-10, last December.

There will be five new starters and at least two new players in reserve who could play a significant role. Since final cuts, the Colts added Pro Bowl defensive tackle Corey Simon and linebacker Rocky Calmus.

Simon missed training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles after he refused to sign the contract tender as their franchise player. When the Eagles withdrew the offer, he signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Colts.

Calmus, injured most of the past two years, came in a trade with the Tennessee Titans.

"We're going to work with them and try to get them up to speed on what we do," Dungy said. "They're both pretty smart guys, so I think they'll be available to play."

If the Colts are going to fulfill their Super Bowl quest - twice denied by the New England Patriots - they need a short learning curve.

The Colts also will count on rookie cornerback Marlin Jackson. The team's first-round draft pick delivered on his reputation as a physical player in the exhibition season.

Last year, the Colts had too many breakdowns in Dungy's cover-2 scheme, and the result was a batch of big plays.

"We have the speed, we have the ability," cornerback Nick Harper said. "The only thing that's going to help us is consistency, guys ... really knowing the defense."

The Colts had 45 sacks and 36 takeaways last season, tying for third-best in the NFL in each category. The addition of Simon (32 sacks in 78 career games) will help make Dwight Freeney, the league's reigning sack leader, even more dangerous.

Simon, 28, played a two-gap scheme in Philadelphia, where his first job was to occupy blockers. In Indianapolis, he'll have more leeway to go after the quarterback and ball carrier.

"Hopefully, he gets us to a whole lot more second-and-longs and third-and-longs," Dungy said. "Hopefully, he cuts down on some of those big runs inside."

Defensive tackle Montae Reagor, a seven-year veteran, feels an urgency to win now.

"The players are being very critical of themselves ... and the coaches are being critical on us," he said. "But we're not taking it personal. We're just taking the coaching and trying to learn from it because we know what we have to do, and we know the time is now."

Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Indianapolis Colts at Ravens in season opener

When: Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13, ESPN/1300 AM, 102.7 FM

Line: Colts by 3

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