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vel

Rise Up...or Get Gone! Scouting the Opponent: The Indianapolis Colts

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How the Colts defense is thriving without elite talent

Quick, can you name three starters on the Colts defense? If you can’t, well, that’s precisely the reason why I’m writing this article. The job Matt Eberflus has done with Indianapolis’ defense this season has largely flown under the radar because they’re still a fringe top-10 unit. But when compared to expectations, it can be argued that no unit in the entire NFL has outperformed expectations as much.  

The Colts are fresh off a shutout of the Cowboys this past week – one of only five shutouts in the NFL this season. While we can debate the merits of how impressive that is given Dallas’ offense this season, what is impressive is that the combined cap hit of the Colts’ starters in the game is over $15 million less than what the Cowboys pay their offensive line. At a shade over $25 million for the Colts’ defensive starters, they have nearly the same cap hit as Andrew Luck alone ($24.4 million). Yet, even with that mix of young players and castoffs, the Colts defense is eighth in the NFL in terms of points per drive at 1.84.

IND_Fewest-Deep-Passes-Faced-by-Team-RS1

How have they done it? It’s been a combination of talent recognition by General Manager Chris Ballard and a masterclass in coordinating from Matt Eberflus. The former is obvious, in players like rookie second-round pick Darius Leonard, who’s currently the fifth-highest graded linebacker in the NFL and a strong possibility for rookie of the year. The latter isn’t quite as evident from a highlight reel.

One of the core tenets of a good coach is adjusting their scheme to the talent on the roster, and not forcing talent into their scheme. An objective look at the Colts’ roster would tell you that they should not have a good pass defense with their corners. Their number one corner, Pierre Desir, has already been waived by three NFL teams since being drafted in 2014. Opposite Desir is Kenny Moore II, who was an undrafted free agent out of Valdosta State last season and played all of 382 snaps as a rookie.

Instead of letting each take their lumps against top wideouts, Eberflus has eschewed man coverage altogether this season. Indianapolis has lined up in man coverage on just 13% of their passing snaps this season, the second-lowest percentage in the NFL. Instead, they’ve turned into the poster boys for the ‘bend but don’t break’ mantra. Opposing offenses are completing an absurd 71.0% of pass attempts against the Colts this year. Only the hapless defense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been worse. All of this, though, is by design.

If you’re an opposing quarterback traveling to Lucas Oil Fieldhouse, chances are this is what you’ll see when you line up behind center.

ColtsPreSnap.png

This isn’t hyperbole. Nearly every single snap, the Colts come out with walked up corners and split safeties. And nearly every single snap either one of the two safeties roles down into spot drop cover-3 or both safeties retreat into cover-2. That’s it. They barely blitz (19% of the time, the third-lowest rate in NFL), and employ the same two coverages virtually the entire game. In the open field, 32% of the time they’re running cover-2 (second-most in the NFL) and 37% of the time it is cover-3. It’s either this:

ColtsC2.gif

Or this:

ColtsC3.gif

The big secret to the league’s most overachieving defense? They run arguably the simplest scheme in the NFL.

However, the simplicity only applies to the defensive side of the ball. With the static look, opposing quarterbacks can’t get any sort of presnap read on the defense and the route concepts that beat cover-3 don’t often overlap with the concepts that beat cover-2. It’s also a defense that can’t be ‘schemed’ into busted coverage. There are no complex rules about how to pass off crossing routes or how to alleviate the mass confusion that’s caused by presnap motion. Each defender drops to their spot and has the freedom to watch the quarterback’s eyes as well as the routes developing in front of them. They’re easy to define roles that the defenders have executed hundreds of times before.

The result is a defense that plays as fast as anyone in the league. Whether it’s reacting to checkdowns or breaking on routes, the defenders are allowed to play off instinct rather than rules. It’s why Darius Leonard is second among all linebackers with 22 coverage stops, and why Kenny Moore is fourth among all corners with 17. It’s why teams have only attempted 44 deep passes on them this season, the fewest in the NFL. With defensive coordinators losing sleep all over the league trying to keep up with everything modern offenses are throwing at them, Eberflus has shown that simplicity can be the best option.

https://www.pff.com/news/pro-how-the-colts-defense-is-thriving-without-elite-caliber-talent

Will be interesting to see if this is how they choose to defend the Falcons Sunday. They can't match up in man. It's just no feasible. This limits big plays but gives up a ton of yards underneath. It works on lesser QBs, but if the rush isn't getting home, Matt will light them up. 

You saw Mahomes do it to them, putting up 24 points in the first half on that group in the playoffs last year. 

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The most dangerous thing the Falcons will have to overcome is assuming the Colts game will be easier than the first two.  It won't.  

ps- I was in Atl-Fulco the day (85?) the 0-13 Colts came into town, overcame TWO double-digit deficits, blocked a Falcons punt and left town 1-13.  My point being, I'm always sick to see them going against the Birds because I know the absolute worst can happen. 

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13 minutes ago, ya_boi_j said:

Interested to see Brissett for a full game, hasn't looked that impressive on highlights

I'm not impressed by him. In the slightest. Too safe and conservative and really no threat to run. People who said the Colts wouldn't miss a beat with Luck gone were fools and ignorant to just how big a drop off this is. It's like going from Rodgers to Kizer in Green Bay. Luck overcame a ton of scheme limitations to make it work. Brissett doesn't. 

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1 minute ago, vel said:

I'm not impressed by him. In the slightest. Too safe and conservative and really no threat to run. People who said the Colts wouldn't miss a beat with Luck gone were fools and ignorant to just how big a drop off this is. It's like going from Rodgers to Kizer in Green Bay. Luck overcame a ton of scheme limitations to make it work. Brissett doesn't. 

That's an accurate comparison. After they gave him that money I wanted to see if he was really that dude. Like you, i'm not impressed at all

Drew4719 and vel like this

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Just now, JD dirtybird21 said:

@vel, what is your actual thoughts on Dan Quinn's struggles against the AFC during his tenure? It's pretty bizarre.

I think it's just totally random. That Bills game for example. That incomplete pass that was a fumble was the difference between a win and loss. The Chargers game was so weird. The Dolphins game was as well. Losing to the Chiefs was one of the craziest ways to lose a game. 

I don't put much in it. Beat HOU, TEN, and JAX in 2015. Beat OAK and DEN in 16. Beat the Jets in 17. Putting any stock in the 2018 season games is looking for a reason to think they struggle vs AFC teams.

No.11, falconidae, Vandy and 5 others like this

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26 minutes ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

I think it's random as well. But it's so weird that it always happens to happen against the AFC. Even in 2015, we lost to the Colts, at home, with Hasselbeck at QB. 

Man don't remind me lol

But I think this is the beginning of a statement run. They can lay claim to the South and a deep NFC run while Brees is out and Cam is hurt. They've got the Colts, Titans, Texans, and Cardinals the next month. If they can build a 4-2 record through that, they are in great shape going into that Rams game. From there, it's Rams, Seahawks, and then the NFC South gauntlet. This is the easiest part of the schedule until December. They have to capitalize. 

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5 hours ago, vel said:

However, the simplicity only applies to the defensive side of the ball. With the static look, opposing quarterbacks can’t get any sort of presnap read on the defense and the route concepts that beat cover-3 don’t often overlap with the concepts that beat cover-2. It’s also a defense that can’t be ‘schemed’ into busted coverage. There are no complex rules about how to pass off crossing routes or how to alleviate the mass confusion that’s caused by presnap motion. Each defender drops to their spot and has the freedom to watch the quarterback’s eyes as well as the routes developing in front of them. They’re easy to define roles that the defenders have executed hundreds of times before.

This is a pretty fascinating tidbit.  They're out there spot dropping in the modern NFL?  Wow.  I know Seattle used to change up and do a fair amount of this mixed with their over C-3 stuff, but the Colts have taken it to another level.

It so annoying playing teams like this, especially if they can get a pass rush going.  I remember a few years ago, Carson Wentz, right before they played a Sunday night game in Seattle talked about all the stuff they had the strip out of the gameplan that week because Seattle does one thing on defense, and there's only so much stuff that beats Cover-3.

You go in against these teams that run these complex schemes and all these different coverages, it's fun to gameplan for the week.  You'll have your Cover-4 beaters in, your Cover-6 beaters, Man-2 beaters, etc. You go in against a team like this, my goodness.  Playsheet must shrink up like a raisin.  

Drew4719, Cole World, vel and 4 others like this

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Nice write-up Vel.

On 9/17/2019 at 1:27 PM, vel said:

Will be interesting to see if this is how they choose to defend the Falcons Sunday. They can't match up in man. It's just no feasible. This limits big plays but gives up a ton of yards underneath. It works on lesser QBs, but if the rush isn't getting home, Matt will light them up. 

You saw Mahomes do it to them, putting up 24 points in the first half on that group in the playoffs last year. 

Nice write-up Vel. Is this all your original stuff? Impressive. 

As you know, Hooker’s a good one back there at FS. 

The first key for me is Matt’s gotta quit throwing balls up for grabs. I know the OL has been getting crushed, but his play ......even with the OL issues.....has seemed off to me. 

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Since we're going in against a Cover-2 team this week, thought it might be cool to take a brief look at some of the concepts we might see to attack them.

 

SMASH:  one of my favorite Cover-2 Beaters.  Wreaks havoc on that "honey hole" between the corners and the safety.  You have hitches on the outside and the inside receiver runs a 7-route to the sideline.  You can run it out of just about any formation.  I like the adding the RB running up the seam.  Not sure we'll see that one.

smash-Randle.jpg

Very easy progression read for the QB.  He's going to pick a side of the field and read the cornerback on the outside hitch.  If the corner covers the hitch route, the QB will throw the 7.  There is no way the safety can get over there unless we're facing say Earl Thomas or someone like that.  If the corner sinks to the 7 route, then the hitch underneath is wide open.  You can wear a C-2 defense out all day with this, especially if you run it from spread which horizontally stretches the defense.

 

Flood - out of trips is another great one because it stretches them hi-lo.  Streak route occupies the safety, clearing out grass for the deep out which will come open behind the corner and the underneath hook player.  If the outside corner sinks with the streak or to cover the out route, then the flat is wide open.

Food-Concept-Mulitple-1.png

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3 hours ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

This is a pretty fascinating tidbit.  They're out there spot dropping in the modern NFL?  Wow.  I know Seattle used to change up and do a fair amount of this mixed with their over C-3 stuff, but the Colts have taken it to another level.

It so annoying playing teams like this, especially if they can get a pass rush going.  I remember a few years ago, Carson Wentz, right before they played a Sunday night game in Seattle talked about all the stuff they had the strip out of the gameplan that week because Seattle does one thing on defense, and there's only so much stuff that beats Cover-3.

You go in against these teams that run these complex schemes and all these different coverages, it's fun to gameplan for the week.  You'll have your Cover-4 beaters in, your Cover-6 beaters, Man-2 beaters, etc. You go in against a team like this, my goodness.  Playsheet must shrink up like a raisin.  

Yep and it becomes the same coverage beaters over and over again. That's why the Seahawks were so good. Sherman and ET were geniuses and the rest were crazy athletes to make up the difference. You just showed it with Rico in that thread. If I know seams are coming, you can't beat me because I already know the play. 

The Colts have started playing more man with pressure looks, but I think they go conservative and make the Falcons drive the field. Going to be fun to see what Koetter comes up with. 

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3 hours ago, Vandy said:

Nice write-up Vel.

Nice write-up Vel. Is this all your original stuff? Impressive. 

As you know, Hooker’s a good one back there at FS. 

The key is Matt’s gotta quit throwing balls up for grabs. I know the OL has been getting crushed, but his play ......even with the OL issues.....has seemed off to me. 

The OP is always my own thoughts then I post from there and try to quote the articles. That article is PFF. 

Hooker is definitely a dog. Safeties like him usually give Matt trouble too. I think Matt has just been overly aggressive and getting back used to that play style. The one he threw to Darby was a "bad throw" only because he doesn't have that kind of arm. If that was Mahomes, it's a TD. He's got to remember his limitations. Once he settles back in, it's a wrap. 

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17 minutes ago, vel said:

The OP is always my own thoughts then I post from there and try to quote the articles. That article is PFF. 

Hooker is definitely a dog. Safeties like him usually give Matt trouble too. I think Matt has just been overly aggressive and getting back used to that play style. The one he threw to Darby was a "bad throw" only because he doesn't have that kind of arm. If that was Mahomes, it's a TD. He's got to remember his limitations. Once he settles back in, it's a wrap. 

Yeah, I understood that about the article, but you have a nice writing style. 

PokerSteve, Drew4719, vel and 1 other like this

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Totally random but...

The Chiefs lead the NFL in passing yards with 811 yards

The Colts are last in the NFL in passing yards with 294 yards

That's a massive spread. The Chiefs are on pace for a 6,480 passing yard season while the Colts are headed for 2,350 passing yards. That would be very wild. 

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10 hours ago, vel said:

Totally random but...

The Chiefs lead the NFL in passing yards with 811 yards

The Colts are last in the NFL in passing yards with 294 yards

That's a massive spread. The Chiefs are on pace for a 6,480 passing yard season while the Colts are headed for 2,350 passing yards. That would be very wild. 

Colts will try and do what Vikings did, which is run the ball behind their excellent OL. RB Mack is one of NFL’s best kept secrets when healthy. 

Hines can also be dangerous catching swing passes out of backfield. 

On the other side, if Leonard is out that will be huge. We’ve got to take advantage of that by running the ball ourselves. If we continue like we have in games 1 and 2 passing 2/3 of every down, their two excellent edge pass rushers Autry and Houston will eat our two OT’s lunch. 

Every game is gonna be a grind, especially on the road...key to this game to me is running the ball effectively as well as stopping the run. 

vel, PokerSteve, rounz and 3 others like this

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