The NFL's manner of categorizing "big plays" is to keep track of gains of 20-plus yards. Indy allowed the Manningham catch (54 yards) and an inconsequential late touchdown to Hakeem Nicks (31 yards), and that was it.
So with that kind of lead up, 10 guesses as to what team's defense led the NFL in fewest big plays allowed last year ...
It's surprising that Ryan's defense gave up more big plays than the little-engine-that-could Colts. What's not surprising is that it wasn't just those two teams that benefited from keeping a lid on plays of 20-plus yards. You'll notice that the third- and fourth-ranked teams in this quirky defensive category did pretty well too ... that is, if you think 13-3 and 10-6 are good.
When defenses perform adequately but have a propensity to give up the big play at inopportune times, they lose. It's just like peanut butter sandwiches. You put too big a chunk of peanut butter on the knife, and it won't spread evenly. The bread tears, your sandwich is ruined, and the day is shot.
By contrast, in 2009, the Colts didn't give up their fifth play of 20-plus yards until late in Week 3.
Why were they so good at that last year, as well as Sunday night? It's because Coyer's philosophy is an extension of former Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meek's style, which was an extension of Tony Dungy's Tampa 2: Schemes that bend, but don't break.
This is not to say Coyer's defense doesn't play aggressively. They just don't always have to send the kitchen sink to get pressure (SEE: Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney). The secondary is excellent at taking away the deep ball and keeping the yards after the catch down with sure-tackling. Playing Cover 2 with safeties splitting the field and defensive backs keeping everything in front of them is often called a "bubble" defense, and limits the gambling coaches can do.
"It's interesting to see how the bubble defenses like the Colts did in allowing big plays as opposed to those really aggressive teams," NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said. "A lot of times, the attacking defenses end up not doing too well in that (category.)"
Exhibit A of Mooch's point is last year's Super Bowl Champs. New Orleans gave up 59 plays of 20-plus yards a year ago, which was tied for 20th in the league. That said, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is as aggressive as they come, and how many times did you see Darren Sharper and Co. create points after gambling in coverage or running blitz?
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