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The Big Play Theory: How the Colts gained 55 yards on three runs

Last Friday, on Colts Authority’s “Eyes in the Backfield” post, collaborated by Nate Dunlevy, Todd Smith and myself, I made the following point: 

4.Watch for the big play. Remember the Colts’ last game against the Titans? Donald Brown does. The Titans’ run defense is 24th in run defense DVOA this season, one spot ahead of Cleveland, who the Colts’ ran over surprisingly easily last week. If Donald Brown plays this week (he was a full participant on Thursday), he could see some daylight for the first time all year.

Not to toot my own horn (okay, completely to toot my own horn), but I felt good about that one after Donald Brown had a pair of 19 yard carries on Sunday, and even Vick Ballard got in the mix with a 17-yarder of his own. 

But, we know it happened, the question I’m interested in answering is why did it happen. The short answer is because Tennessee isn’t great at run defense, and our interior line finally showed up this week. 

The long answer involves pictures. 

2nd-and-5, IND 49

Third Quarter- 8:11

After Brown gained five yards on first down, the Colts were set up with second and five near midfield. It was just the second play of the drive, the defense had forced a punt that gave the offense great field position. Unfortunately, Andrew Luck’s deep pass for Reggie Wayne would be intercepted on the next play, but let’s take a look at the play anyway. 

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As you can see, the Colts have three receivers, (Hilton came in motion from far right, but would go no further), one TE (Allen on the right side), and one RB (Brown). The Titans are in a nickel set, with just two linebackers, and both safeties are deep. 

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You can see Hilton stay behind the line of scrimmage on this play, faking a screen. The linemen don’t fire off the line like they normally would for a run, and the linebackers don’t react as quickly as they could have. You can see LG Jeff Linkenbach has pushed his man inside, and LT Anthony Castonzo will be keeping his defensive end outside, leaving a big hole for Brown. 

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Castonzo lets his man’s forward motion carry him past the play, and Linkenbach has gotten his man back behind the line and out of the play as well. You can see Samson Satele out in front, ready to block the linebacker, and Mike McGlynn (kneeling on the 50) will get up and take the second linebacker. 

McGlynn didn’t end up getting to the linebacker in time, not with the speed that Brown was moving at. The combination of having a linebacker to the inside and a corner (Avery’s man) to the right left Brown with little room to get past the waiting safety, (who should have made his move toward the line of scrimmage far earlier) but by that point the damage was done. 

The Colts used similar techniques for Ballard’s run, coming just five minutes later in the quarter. They ran a draw play, with another 3 WR, 1 TE (on the right), and one RB, but this was in shotguy. The Titans were again in nickel, with the two safeties (most importantly the one on the side the Colts would run to) deep. The Colts used a more stunts on the offensive line, but used the same strategy of using the defensive end’s speed against him, and taking advantage of a light defensive front. 

The Colts’ final big run, a 19-yarder by Brown in overtime, was once again a singleback, 3 WR, 1 TE front, with two WRs on the right. This was the only run to go to the right side (interior) of the line. On this one, McGlynn and Satele both allowed penetration, but Brown was quick enough between the tackles that they made no difference. Linkenbach and Castonzo had solid blocks, and Justice got out to the linebacker to give Brown the final block to allow him out to the third level. 

For the game, the running game was successful for the second week in a row. Anthony Castonzo and Jeff Linkenbach were the best run blockers (again), but the difference in this game was the ability of the other three to be able to get a push for most of the game as well. It’s hard to run consistently when only one side of the line blocks even semi-well. In the case of these big plays, smart playcalling in taking advantage of the Titans’ light defensive unit gives the OL a huge advantage (think the 2010 Week 2 game against the Giants). 

It was also a boost to get Donald Brown back, a huge upgrade over Carter (who did his part with two crucial short yardage runs on the game-tying touchdown drive) and Moore on a play-to-play basis. Brown and Ballard complement each other well, and we should see a healthy mix of the two for the rest of the season. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.

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