FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - 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."
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