The primary issue with the Colts as a team last year was ineptitude on defense, and the inability to sufficiently provide turnovers and field position for the surprisingly proficient offense. Clear weaknesses at S; CB; OLB were supplemented by concerns over quality at ILB and on the DL. To redress this situation, the Colts had a full set of draft picks (minus the 2nd rounder – Vontae) along with approximately $45m of cap room.
The additions over the summer – Werner; Walden; Jean-Francois; Landry; Franklin; Toler et al were heralded as potential difference-makers, with some of the aforementioned list more prominent than others. The simple fact at this point is that the additions have done little to stimulate any positivity regarding the unit this year. Is there a period of time in which new players have to settle? Sure. Is it fair to rail on the current defense for historic failings with Peyton Manning on D? Possibly not. However, fair or unfair, the simple fact is that barring a Luck-related miracle, the Colts will be handily beaten by any team possessing a middling-to-good passing offense.
I guess i'll illustrate what I'm talking about..
The play in question is a 1st and 10 from the IND 18 in the 1st Quarter. The score is 0-0, and the play immediately prior to this was a short slant inside for Mike Wallace, opposing Greg Toler. I've highlighted Toler and Wallace in yellow, with Pat Angerer and the motion receiver highlighted in red to show how the Dolphins clear out the area pre-snap. It's an empty set from the Dolphins, which automatically sets off alarm bells in my head when I'm watching this defense.
As Tannehill takes the snap, the motion man removes Angerer from the play by moving to the opposing side of the formation. This leaves the TE and RT on assignments to block the WR screen downfield – and the Dolphins blockers do very well, to their credit. Wallace begins his route as normal, moving off the line of scrimmage and eroding the large cushion afforded him by Toler.
I've circled the two safeties here to simply show their position on the play – as much for myself as to illustrate, given the flexible arrangements we've been seeing at safety. Bethea is closer to the play here and eventually gets blocked by the emerging Dolphins C – another tick in the offensive scheme box for Philbin. As you can see, Wallace changes his position to be able to receive the ball, and any move behind the line of scrimmage has to be 'screen alert' for corners in the area. Particularly when they possess the YAC ability of Mike Wallace.
The Dolphins blockers do a great job – quick to the area, the C is able to seal off Bethea and the RT is able to seal off Jerell Freeman. These aren't blocks that you'd necessarily expect the defenders to elude – executed well, with severe advantage for the offensive players in terms of size. This is where Toler's input becomes crucial – he's lined up opposite Wallace and thus has to have some responsibility on what he does on the play in question. He's being blocked by a TE – Charles Clay – however, he's definitely got the best matchup when considering his defensive colleagues.
My problem with Toler starts at the snap – I don't see why he's giving such a cushion to an elusive, weak receiver like Wallace. If anything (and as Toler alluded to after the game..) you want to press a guy like that. That could however be a coaching issue, so i'll let it slide for now. My real problem with Toler in the play is in his effort and attempt to get to the ball after Wallace has made the reception. As you can see here, Clay is firmly matched up against Toler at this point.
Here's the issue – Toler absolutely has to be aware of the fact that Wallace is going to run into the space behind him. If he hasn't realised that at this point, he doesn't have the mental acuity and awareness to be playing starting corner in the NFL. I absolutely don't understand his apathy towards disengaging and getting to the ball carrier – I don't see how it's physically possible for Clay to block Toler from making an impact here, unless he's quite blatantly holding. I don't feel that's the case.
For me, there are two possibilities here. The first is that Toler isn't seeking contact and deliberately extends the 'block' from Clay on the outside to appear occupied. The second is that he's simply obtuse and doesn't recognise what's in front of him. Either way, it doesn't pass the eye test for hustle and determined defense.
Landry – the new Colts clean-up man – eventually makes his way over from the opposing side of the formation. Unfortunately, it's too late to make an impact and Wallace is able to stroll into the endzone. Toler disengages when Wallace is already past him. Rack up 7 to the Dolphins.
The second play I've chosen comes from later in the 1st Quarter, with the Colts having pulled 3 back for a 7-3 score. It's a 2nd and 7 from the MIA 23 with roughly 3:30 to go in the 1st Quarter.
From what I can tell, it's straight 2 man under coverage with the Colts sending 4. I've colour-coded the coverage to indicate who's covering who – the matchup we're interested in is in orange, Charles Clay vs. Pat Angerer.
Given the location of the matchup relative to the All-22 frames, we can monitor the route from the narrow angle.
Charles Clay is a Swiss army-knife of a player – able to receive and block in the backfield, along with carrying the ball on occasion. Similar to Marcel Reece in Oakland, he's the type of player to easily create mismatches. He releases straight up the field at which point Angerer unsuccessfully tries to jam and make contact.
Angerer's unsuccessful bodycheck puts him behind in the scheme of things – he's playing catchup with a faster man, who has position in the centre of the field. In 2 man under coverage, the safeties are deep precisely to deal with this sort of developing situation in the passing game.
Back in the panoramic angle, you can see Landry positioned very deep, while Bethea has adopted a shallower position to impact the play across the middle. He sees Angerer struggling in coverage, and makes his move towards the ball.
Caveat – I've watched this play at least 20 times from a variety of different angles, and I'm still not sure as to whether Antoine Bethea deserves blame. In a historically anaemic defense in terms of turnovers, I don't think I have a problem with him going for the interception here. In fact – and there isn't any way to tell easily in terms of Tannehill making an adjustment – I think that if the ball is thrown where the route intends it to be thrown, it's a pick and it's great anticipation.
In the event, the ball manages to zip into the only location where severe yardage is the result. If it's Peyton Manning, i'm giving the QB the credit for the adjustment. With Tannehill, I don't know whether it's inaccuracy and luck or a top notch adjustment in ball placement, given that he might've seen and taken account of Bethea's intentions.
I'll let you make your own judgements on that – moving back to the play, Bethea is completely hung out to dry by the ball's arrival, and Clay has a lot of open field ahead of him as he turns. Fortunately, the clean-up man possesses adequate speed to prevent it going all the way for a touchdown.
..Clay is brought down at the 10 for an absolutely colossal gain of 67.
The following play takes place immediately after the preceding gain, with no change in context. It's a 1st and 10 from the IND 10.
The play in question is a simple run up the gut for the Dolphins, a test of the Colts run defense credentials after the preceding large pass play. Developing circumstances in the play force Miller to bounce the run outside.
My problem starts here – Vontae Davis on the outside has an absolutely perfect view of Tannehill's handoff to Miller. As in, perfect. No players in the line of sight, with his body ahead of the receiver. He seems to be looking right at the QB, as i've indicated.
Miller's run up the gut forces LaRon Landry to crash inside, which he does effectively and forces the play elsewhere.
..despite it being a goal-line situation, and despite his birds-eye view of the handoff, Vontae continues to shadow the receiver as if it's a pass play. The entire defense has reacted to the handoff by this point, so his failure to grasp the situation is a very costly one.
..belatedly, Vontae seems to realise what's going on.
By the time he's able to pursue Miller, it's over. He's beaten to the corner for a TD.
Vontae clearly possesses the physical tools to make an impact in the run game – we've seen him make some excellent tackles since he's been here, and he's clearly able to be physical when he wants to be.
The problem lies in his head, which is ultimately why the Dolphins shipped him. He doesn't possess a natural feel for the game, and his ability to contextualise and assess what's going on in front of him certainly raises questions at this point. Hence the importance of coaching – which doesn't seem to be of a particularly high standard in the secondary at this point in time.
The following play comes from the 3rd Quarter, with Mike Wallace again matched up on Greg Toler. It's a fairly simple double move to the outside that fools Toler, and to save ridiculous amounts of frames being posted I'll try and condense this to the Toler disaster.
Again – Toler mentioned after the game in specific relation to this play and how he got suckered. He mentioned the fact that Wallace is a diminuitive, slight receiver who if pressed can perhaps be contained. There doesn't seem to have been much of an attempt when possible to press him, so I'm left fairly confused. In this case, it's a 10+ yard cushion on the snap.
If you look at Wallace's feet, you can see him beginning the stopping motion for the double move. This triggers Toler's response, which is to go for the interception. I suppose it's a positive that one of our corners actually goes for interceptions, given the anaemia of the secondary regarding turnovers.
You can see by Toler's body position here just how bad the route jump was. Wallace emerges into full stride and leaves Toler stationary.
Toler desperately tries anything to try and bring Wallace down, and yet he's still unsuccessful.
If Tannehill is anything other than middling, this is a ridiculously easy touchdown. In the event, Wallace doesn't get the throw in stride and has to wait.
Wallace has to turn back to the QB to make the reception, and the clean up man and Toler are able to force him down at the 1. Miami ultimately converted on a 1 yard run.
My view on the secondary at present is this – it's going to stop us progressing past the first round of the playoffs in the very best case scenario. We simply can't stop offenses when our back end is so terrible, much as was the case last year. Brutal losses to the Jets, Patriots and Ravens all ruthlessly exposed our limitations at corner, and sadly we haven't managed to improve the position beyond minor tweaks. Anquan Boldin's notable performance in the Wildcard certainly looks set to be repeated on Sunday when we play the 49ers, and that's without getting into the run defense issue with Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick.
I'm sick and tired of watching ridiculous talent at QB wasted by the accompanying cast, whether it's players, GM or coaching. I don't necessarily blame the players so much as the talent acquisition and coaching at this point, and given Andrew Luck's ridiculous nature, it's not unreasonable to expect him to patch over their inadequacies for a year or two.
I do feel it's however important to highlight positives when they're displayed, so on that note – the pass rush. After an atrocious showing in Week 1 against Terrelle Pryor, the pass rush looked much more stout and able to pressure the QB on Sunday. Jerell Freeman ended with two sacks and Pat Angerer with half a sack – which shows to me that the coaches finally acknowledge where the strength of the Front 7 might lie if the scheme is right. Pure pressure.
The following play shows what the Colts are doing on the DL to camouflage and disguise their lack of outright talent. Here we have a Colts formation in which there are no down linemen – Jean-Francois and Redding are both in upright stances at the snap. It's essentially man-on-man blocking, with 6 rushers and 6 blockers. Jerell Freeman (squared in yellow) faces up against Lamar Miller, the RB in pass protection.
Watching this play transpire in hindsight did make me smile – Freeman's mini-Mathis technique of arcing the body and going around the outside of the blocker.
Jerell shows great determination in reaching Tannehill to impact the throwing motion.
He's able to stick an arm in and force a very questionable fumble.
This is what irritates me about the Colts defense – on the one hand, we have Vontae Davis with all the physical tools in the world, who is unable to adequately process what's going on in front of him to take advantage of his speed/strength combo. On the other hand, we have Jerell Freeman – largely ordinary in his physical gifts, he makes up for it with heightened awareness and hustle. I'd rather we actually had a defensive identity, but there we are.
This is my favourite play of the day for defense – Angerer and Werner are circled in yellow, with Robert Mathis in red. The Colts are bringing 6 against 7 blockers, so the Dolphins should in theory possess an advantage.
It starts here – instead of Mathis rushing, he stalls and drops back into coverage. Angerer in the center moves laterally, given that he and Freeman are designed to stunt on the play as they blitz. Werner meanwhile tries the usual RT rush around the outside.
Mathis' retreat into coverage results in a double team on the left side of the OL – make that 6 on 6 as a result of deception, with Mathis still usable on the play. Angerer's stunt allows him to uproot the C with lateral blocking, creating chaos in the interior.
Mathis is by this point waiting for a RB to emerge on a short route. Angerer's clear advantage in being able to block sideways pushes the C out of the play, while the RB is forced to block the stunting Jerell Freeman. Werner is still doing a good job on Tyson Clabo on the outside.
Freeman ends up joining the pile on the left side of the offensive line – however, due to the aforementioned deception and chaos in the centre of the OL, Angerer is a free runner. Werner ultimately gets past Clabo, and it's a race to the QB.
..I think it ends up as a joint sack for Werner and Angerer, though that's irrelevant to me. What the previous does show is an attempt to disguise and obfuscate on blitzing, which is absolutely required given our present levels of talent on D. The fear of Mathis' rushing ability resulted directly in a pointless double team from the Dolphins, which skewed the balance of protection from the off. Combine it with Angerer and Freeman stunting successfully and moving blockers, and we could perhaps have a recipe for success in the Front 7.
Ultimately, we face the 49ers as huge underdogs on Sunday, and I fully expect us to lose by 30 in a painful game. It isn't so much about our performance on Sunday, though – it's more about how we're able to move on from the loss and move forward – hopefully with more evidence of attempted coaching on the defensive side of the ball. In the mediocre AFC, coaching really does matter.
Apologies for the quantity of frames (I wanted to cut down this week, if anything, but the plays conspired against me). I'm hoping the piece won't be beset by ads as it was for the first time last week, though if it is, I apologise in advance.