Originally posted on The Colts Authority  |  Last updated 1/17/12

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 03: Head coach Steve Spagnuolo of the St. Louis Rams looks on during the preseason game against of the Kansas City Chiefs at the Edward Jones Dome on September 3, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Greg Cowan looks at Steve Spagnuolo's coaching history and tells us what Colts fans can expect from the teams new Defensive Coordinator.

One of GM Ryan Grigson's first moves towa 

 

Steve Spagnuolo's NFL coaching career would start in 1999 with the Philadelphia Eagles. There, under the tutelage of one of the best defensive coordinators in recent history, the late Jimmy Johnson, Spagnuolo would begin to develop his defensive philosophy. Like Johnson, Spagnuolo employs an aggressive defense that features multiple blitz packages.  

For Colts fans that were hoping to see a switch to a 3-4 base (3 down linemen, 4 linebackers) defense in the off-season, you will likely be disappointed, as Spagnuolo prefers to run the 4-3 base defense that Colts defensive coordinators have used for many years. Also similar to recent Colts defensive philosophies, Spagnuolo also tends to favor a smaller defensive line with an emphasis on stopping the pass over stopping the run.

Let's take a brief peak at Spagnuolo's coaching record as a defensive coordinator and head coach (we are excluding the Eagles defenses, as it is just too hard to discern what, if any, input Spagnuolo had in their success):

 

New York Giants, 2007-2008:

Prior to Spagnuolo's arrival, the 2006 Giants were 25th in total defense, including 28th against the pass and 14th against the run. They did fare slightly better in advanced metrics, as FootballOutsider's DVOA had them ranked as the 13th best defense, with specifics of 18th against the pass and 11th against the run.

2007:

The Giants defense saw immediate improvement under Spagnuolo, jumping up to 7th in total defense, 11th in pass defense, and 8th in run defense.

Their overall ranking in DVOA was slightly worse, as they fell to 14th, but their individual numbers were better, as they rose to 15th against the pass and 9th against the run.

Digging a little deeper is where it gets exciting. According to FootballOutsider's numbers, the Giants had the best pass rushing defensive line in 2007. They lead the league in sacks and adjusted sack rate (both numbers are explained in the link). For comparison's sake, the Giants ranked 19th in pass rushing numbers the previous season (2006).

Here's a great piece by FootballOutsiders.com on the scheme Spagnuolo employed with the Giants.

2008:

The Giants once again improved, moving up to 5th in total defense, 8th in pass defense, and 9th in run defense.

In DVOA, they were the 8th best defense in 2008, including 11th against the pass, and 12th against the run.

Unfortunately for the Giants, when your numbers are the best, there's only one way to go. Their 2008 pass rushing numbers suffered a slight dip, dropping from 1st in 2007 to 7th in 2008, but some of that can probably be explained by Michael Strahan's retirement after the Giants victory over the 18-1 New England Patriots. For those that don't remember, the Patriots spent all of 2007 running up the score on teams, earned an 18-0 record, and then fell to the Giants in the Super Bowl after putting up a mere 14 points.

 

St. Louis Rams, 2009-2011

After his success with the Giants defense, Steve Spagnuolo was tabbed to do the impossible: fix the St. Louis Rams' franchise. For this exercise, we'll ignore the Rams offensive struggles and focus solely on their defensive numbers.

Once again, let's take a look at how the Rams did prior to Spagnuolo's arrival. The 2008 Rams 28th in overall defense, 19th in pass defense, and 29th against the run. In DVOA, the Rams were 30th in overall defense, including 27th against the pass and 32nd against the run.

2009:

In Spagnuolo's first year, the Rams ranked 29th in total defense, including 25th against the pass and 27th against the run. They didn't fare much better in advanced stats, where DVOA has them 31st in overall defense, 29th against the pass and 32nd against the run. 

In the pass rushing department, the Rams ranked 27th in Spagnuolo's first year. 

2010:

The Rams made strides in Spagnuolo's second year, jumping up to 19th in total defense, including 19th against the pass and 17th against the run.

In advanced stats, the Rams improved to the 20th overall defense, while posting the 21st best pass defense and 20th best run defense.

The Rams also saw significant improvement in their pass rushing numbers, where they imrpoved to 18th in adjusted sack totals.

2011

In 2011, Spagnuolo's final year as Head Coach of St. Louis, the Rams defense was a mixed bag.

They ranked 22nd in total defense, a slight dip from the previous year's ranking, while posting the 7th best pass defense and 31st "best" run defense.

Their advanced stats tell a similar story, as the Rams had the 22nd overall defense, with the 15th best pass defense and 29th best run defense.

In the pass rush department, the Rams once again showed improvement, this time jumping to 8th in adjusted sack numbers.

 

While there may be some worry over the poor run defense the Rams posted in 2011, the Rams were hit hard by injuries. That they continued to show improvement in both pass defense and pass rush should be seen as a very positive sign.

 

Steve Spagnuolo has improved every defense he has had control over. His next task, while daunting, should prove no more difficult than his previous charge of righting the St. Louis Ship. The key to the success of the Colts defense will be getting Spagnuolo and GM Ryan Grigson on the same page.

Colts fans saw what happened under the previous defensive coordinator, Larry Coyer, where DC Coyer and GM Bill Polian appeared to have different ideas of how defense should be run. The result was a mess. If Spagnulo has the ability to install and run the defense he wants, and Grigson provides him with the players he needs, the Colts defense should see immediate and dramatic improvement.

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