Coyer’s aggressive style gives Indy ‘D’ new look

Larry Coyer had one question when he took over the Indianapolis

Colts’ defense, and he didn’t have to wait long for an answer.

“We always wanted to attack,” defensive linemen Raheem Brock

said Wednesday. “(Ron) Meeks and (Tony) Dungy had a system that

worked for a long time, but Coyer has changed it up and I think

it’s worked out for the better.”

Actually, the style fit perfectly the players’ hopes.

Coyer has allowed the squad to blitz more often, getting his

speedy ends into more one-on-one blocking assignments and allowed a

unit often overshadowed by Indy’s high-scoring offense to create

its own identity.

The result: Indy is a perfect 16-0 this season when its starters

finish games, and Sunday, the Colts will play for their second

Super Bowl title in four years.

Although critics contend not much has changed in terms of

numbers – Indy ranks No. 14 against the pass, No. 18 overall and

No. 24 against the run – things are clearly different:

– Indy finished No. 8 in points allowed, a ranking that slipped

after Indy pulled its top players for most of the regular season’s

final six quarters. Opponents wound up scoring 56 points, nearly

one-fifth of the overall total, during that span.

– The Colts didn’t give up a touchdown after a turnover until

Week 15, at Jacksonville.

– When the offense struggled, the defense kept Indy in the game

until Peyton Manning finally figured things out, and when Indy

needed to close out victories on defense, it did.

No, they’re not Dungy’s Colts any more.

“They had a plan in place for a number of years and when you

win that many games, you want to communicate with the players,”

Coyer said. “I feel like we helped them become a little more

aggressive, and they were very outspoken about how they wanted to

play, so we tried it.”

In some NFL corners, that would warrant being labeled a

“player’s coach.”

Coyer does not exactly fit the profile.

Outsiders see the 65-year-old like a genteel grandfather –

soft-spoken, spinning yards, puffing on a pipe.

Players and coaches know better. They call Coyer a bundle of

energy, who insists on perfection and uses his experience to find

weaknesses in any opponents.

He also brings another valuable commodity to the sideline –

perspective.

After graduating from Marshall in 1964, the West Virginia native

spent three more years at his alma mater as an assistant coach. He

spent three years in the defunct USFL, made NFL stops in Denver,

Tampa Bay and with the New York Jets. He’s been at high-profile

college programs like Ohio State and UCLA and non-BCS schools such

as East Carolina and Houston, and lost friends and colleagues in

the 1970 Marshall plane crash.

But it was at Iowa where Coyer inspired one of his prized

pupils, Jim Caldwell. The defensive back was so impressed with

Coyer that decades later when Caldwell had six interviews for NFL

head coaching gigs, he insisted Coyer would be his top choice for

defensive coordinator.

On Feb. 6, 2009, Caldwell finally hired Coyer.

“He was tough,” Caldwell said. “You see him today, he’s got a

lot of energy for a guy that’s 65 years of age. He’s still got a

lot of grit and he still communicates awfully well.”

Coyer also understands how to get the most out of his

players.

With what may be the fastest defense in the NFL, Coyer began

using stunts and an array of blitzes to let Pro Bowl ends Dwight

Freeney and Robert Mathis to cause even more havoc. Defensive

captain Gary Brackett understood how to put players in the right

spots and big-hitting safeties Antoine Bethea, Melvin Bullitt and

Bob Sanders could clean up any mistakes.

So Coyer gave the aggressive approach the go.

“We’re attacking and challenging offenses to make plays,”

cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. “We’re not just going to sit back

and let the quarterback pick us apart. We’re going to dictate and

force quarterbacks to make plays.”

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees sees the difference.

“I don’t think there are any holes, but you hope that you can

catch them from time to time and be able to get a big play,” Brees

said. “You always want to feel like you have the upper hand and

that you are setting the tempo for the game.”

As does the Colts defense.

If they succeeds one more time, the Colts could be going home

with the second Lombardi Trophy in the Indianapolis era.

“I’ve been coaching since 1965, and this is the most

pleasurable group I’ve been around,” Coyer said. “Not because

they’re in the Super Bowl but because of how they do things. They

have personality, they really play hard, they focused and

consistent. It’s just been a joy.”