Will Gus Bradley’s Colts defense dominate, or will he “Gus it Up”?
Gus Bradley is the new defensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts, but should Colts fans be excited? Many Colts fans were calling to replace Matt Eberflus due to his conservative defense, playing to bend, not break, and believing Bradley would be a breath of fresh air. On the contrary, though, this air may bring back a strong sense of deja vu as Bradley is one of the most conservative play-callers in the NFL.
Much like Eberflus, Bradley doesn’t blitz much at all. Both play-callers run a base 4-3 defense, four defensive linemen, and three linebackers, depending on those front four to create pressure on their own. Bradley has been at the bottom of the league in not only blitz percentage but also the bottom in the league in generating sacks and pressures throughout his career. On the bright side, Bradley has been able to keep explosive plays pretty under control with his scheme over the years.
Bradley’s scheme is predicated on the “cover 3”, dividing the field into thirds. We saw this come to life during the “Legion of Boom” era of the Seattle Seahawks, and the Colts have many fits on the roster to set off this defense; Julian Blackmon controlling the middle of the field, Darius Leonard in the Bobby Wagner role, Nick Cross playing in the box as the robber, and new addition Yannick Ngakoue at the edge as the LEO. The most worrisome part of Bradley’s defense is its simplicity and unsustainability.
Not only did Bradley coach the start of the “Legion of Boom,” but he also coached the beginning of the legendary “Sacksonville” defense of the Jaguars. It has to be said, though: both defenses got better after Bradley left. The “Legion of Boom” wasn’t truly itself until the seasons following Bradley’s departure, and after Bradley’s boot from Jacksonville, the “Sacksonville” defense carried Blake Bortles to the AFC Championship game. The single high safety defensive shell has quickly been phasing out of the league due to offensive schemes like the wide zone abusing it (ex. Tennessee Titans offense) and with remarks from former players like Jalen Ramsey telling us Bradley runs the same plays all year with very little to no adjustments or wrinkles to keep offenses guessing; this could be disastrous over the term of the season.
Disaster may seem just over the horizon for the Colts, but don’t raise the white flags yet. Bradley usually brings an immediate impact to his teams’ defense, raising them quickly through the ranks of the NFL. He states that he wants the defensive line to be penetrating and to “play in the backfield.” We saw the type of players he coached Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby into being in Las Vegas, and Bradley will be well worth his stay if he does the same with Kwity Paye. While we may see quick results and development of players with Bradley at the helm, Colts fans should be prepared for a quick decline playing both the Titans and Jaguars series within the first six weeks.