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Colts, Raiders think defense first with coaching decisions

With the Colts, Chuck Pagano will be a head coach for the first time in his career. (Doug Kapustin/ZUMAPRESS.com)

This was the Year of the Quarterback in the NFL ... not to mention the Year of the Tight End and the Year of the Next Generation at wide receiver. Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, seven finished in the top 10 in total yards and points scored this season.

But both the Raiders and Colts apparently have decided to buck the trend toward offense. Oakland, reportedly, is on the verge of hiring Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen as its head coach; the Colts have a Thursday news conference scheduled to announce the hiring of Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

Maybe this is the influence of old-school Jim Harbaugh having so much success in his first year at San Francisco. Maybe it's the realization by a pair of franchises that they don't have the firepower to hang with the Packers and Patriots of the world.

Whatever the reasoning behind Oakland and Indianapolis' moves, it's a clear signal that defense is far from dead in the NFL.

Neither decision is all that surprising in principle, even if Allen and Pagano were not the first names off people's tongues when coaching vacancies came up. The Colts and Raiders finished 28th and 29th, respectively, in points allowed this season, right alongside fellow bottom-feeders Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Buffalo, Carolina and St. Louis.

If Allen is indeed the choice in Oakland, he'll be the first coach with a defensive background hired to be the Raiders' head man since John Madden. And even though Oakland finished 8-8 this season, it makes sense that the franchise would want to head back toward that hard-nosed, in-the-trenches style of football.

This is just Step 2 of many for Indianapolis, on the other hand. Step One came when Indianapolis hired Ryan Grigson to be its new general manager.

Together with Pagano, he'll be tasked with re-establishing the Colts as an elite team in the NFL. Will that future include Peyton Manning? Andrew Luck? No matter the pieces on offense, Thursday's expected hire signals big changes for the other side of the ball.

Of course, hires that break the mold a bit don't come without some degree of risk.

Allen has never been a head coach, jumping to the NFL with Atlanta as a defensive assistant in 2002, then climbing his way through the ranks. Same goes for Pagano, who's jumped back and forth between colleges and the NFL for more than two decades, but was the Ravens' defensive coordinator for all of one season.

There are no guarantees when it comes to coaching hires in the NFL, and neither team went looking for any with these moves.

For both the Raiders and Colts, this will be a roll of the dice -- an attempt to get back on track by swimming upstream against the league's current of offensive firepower.

That's not to say that neither team will be able to score points. Oakland will return a plethora of talented weapons in 2012, and Indianapolis ought to have at least one ultra-talented quarterback on its roster.

But neither team wants to linger at the bottom of the league's defensive rankings any longer. The onus now falls on Allen and Pagano to change the cultures in their new homes.

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