Larry Coyer's Colts defense falters in second half of Super Bowl: Sound familiar, Broncos fans?

Yesterday's Super Bowl featured a few Colorado touches -- Focus on the Family's canny ad featuring Tim Tebow and his mom, as well as the sight of Broncos legend Floyd Little standing with fellow NFL Hall of Fame inductees during the opening coin toss.

But for me, the biggest Broncos flashback occurred during the second half of the game, when the Indianapolis Colts defense proved incapable of shutting down Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints' offense when it really counted. And who was the mastermind behind this strategy? Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, who pretty much perfected this approach during his time doing the same job for Denver.

The stats racked up by the Broncos' defense during Coyer's 2003-2006 stint as defensive coordinator were consistently impressive. But when the Broncos were in the lead, Coyer frequently opted for a lay-back-and-let-the-other-guy-try-to-beat-us approach that backfired against the best competition, and eventually led to his ouster in early 2007.

Yesterday, Colts fans got a taste of his methodology, and it was mighty bitter. Bob McGinn, writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, got it right in this excerpt from his game summary:

Missing three starters (safety Bob Sanders, cornerback Marlin Jackson and linebacker Tyjuan Hagler), the Colts' defense basically fell apart in the second half behind first-year coordinator Larry Coyer's conservative approach.

"They ran Cover-2," Saints running back Reggie Bush said. "It gave Drew some holes, and he picked it apart."

Yes, Coyer was short-handed. But he had plenty of good performers at his disposal (including defensive lineman Dwight Freeney, who gave the Colts more than they could have expected given his injury status) -- and instead of using them aggressively, Coyer was overly cautious. He played not to lose -- which is a pretty damn good way of doing precisely that.

Is Coyer solely responsible for the Colts coming up short? Of course not. But his safety-first defense was precisely the wrong way to stop the bold, go-for-broke Saints. Here's hoping new Broncos defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale was taking notes.

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