When these two teams met in week 9 of the 2012 season, it was billed as a match-up between two up-and-coming, yet over-achieving teams, with many pundits and prognosticators speculating that the winner of that game would make the playoffs. Those geniuses were right! The Colts would win the game 23-20 and go on to make the playoffs as the #5 seed in the AFC.
A year later, and not much has changed: both teams are young, led by sophomore QBs, and though both teams made significant free agent acquisitions, neither team is expected to win their division. While it's hard to say any week 2 match-up has playoff implications, it's not hard to imagine the outcome of this game playing a significant role during December's playoff chase.
Will Andrew Luck and the Colts continue to uncork magical endings? Or will the Dolphins exact revenge and take a step forward in their organizational development? I honestly have no clue, but we'll spend the next 3000 words faking it. Together.
Tale of the tape
How do the Colts and Dolphins measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. NFL.com conventional rankings are listed first, with FootballOutsiders.com advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis.
|Passing||29th (10th)||11th (8th)||16th (7th)||15th (2nd)|
|Rushing||6th (2nd)||31st (29th)||32nd (30th)||3rd (23rd)|
|Total||26th (4th)||20th (20th)||25th (17th)||10th (2nd)|
When the Colts have the ball
|Indianapolis Colts Offense||Miami Dolphins|
|87 WR R. Wayne||91 DE C. Wake|
|80 TE C. Fleener||94 DT R. Starks|
|74 LT A. Castonzo||96 DT P. Soliai|
|66 LG D. Thomas||50 DE O. Vernon|
|64 C S. Satele||52 OLB P. Wheeler|
|75 RG M. McGlynn||59 MLB D. Ellerbe|
|78 RT G. Cherilus||55 OLB K. Misi|
|83 TE D. Allen||21 LCB B. Grimes|
|81 WR D. Heyward-Bey||30 SS Chris Clemons|
|12 QB A. Luck||20 FS R. Jones|
|33 RB V. Ballard||24 D. Patterson|
If you had to describe the Colts offensive performance on Sunday in one word, it would be: hard to gauge due to the abnormally low (7) number of drives that had.
On one hand, the Colts offense was incredibly efficient, averaging 3pts per drive (7 drives, 21pts, 21 divided by 7 = 3. Come on people, it's just math), which would have lead the league in points-per-drive efficiency last year. To go along with that, QB Andrew Luck's efficiency numbers (completion percentage, yards-per-attempt, 3rd-down conversion rate) were all spectacular: Luck completed 78.3% of his passes, had a 7.74 YPA, and lead the Colts to a 60% 3rd-down conversion %. All of those numbers are very good (or better, in comp% and 3rd-down).
On the other hand, there were some definite problems: the vertical aspect of the Colts offense, which made the 2012 Colts one of the most-dangerous offenses in the NFL, was non-existent except for two 4th-quarter bombs to TY Hilton. And let's talk about Hilton's usage: last year's big play threat was on the field for just 24 of the offenses 55 snaps (44%) while FB Stanley Havili was on the field for 26 of 55 snaps (47%).
Finally, and most important, the Colts made it clear during the off-season that one of the organization's primary focuses would be improving the protection of QB Andrew Luck, who was pressured on 38.1% of his 703 regular season drop backs in 2012. If a one-game sample is meaningful, the protection actually got worse, as Luck was pressured on 38.7% of his 33 drop backs against the Raiders.
So what does this all mean for Sunday's game against the Dolphins? It's hard to say. As I mentioned earlier, the Colts had only 7 offensive drives. That's a stunningly-low amount. The league average in week 1 was 12 offensive possessions. It's hard to get into a rhythm, to get all of your players involved on offense, when you're only running 55 plays.
Still, there are some things the Colts could do better. The first goal would be get their playmakers involved earlier. WR Reggie Wayne is going to get his targets and catches – he's too good (and Luck is too locked in on him) for him to have a quiet game – but the team also needs to find a way to get WR TY Hilton and TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen (assuming he plays) involved in the passing game. All 3 players have the ability to exploit defenses and create big plays, and getting them involved early will open things up for everyone else, as the defense makes adjustments for them.
Along the same lines, the next goal for the Colts should be allowing Luck to take more shots down field early on. One of the best ways to open up the running game (a clear focus of the Colts) and the higher-percentage passing game (also a focus of the Pep Hamilton offense) is to stretch the defense vertically, forcing the safeties to play deeper, allowing Wayne, Allen, DHB and the running backs to work the underneath routes.
My final goal (and wish and hope and dream) for the Colts offense? Ditch the fullback. Look, I understand why they like having one, and the truth is, I'm not opposed to using one, but 47% of the time? That's "Blaine Gabbert is our starting QB" levels of insanity. Use the FB at the appropriate time: short yardage and goal line situations, and let your playmakers dominate the rest of your snaps.
What I'm watching for, offense:
1) Is Dwayne Allen Healthy? So much of what the Colts do is affected by Allen's presence (or, conversely, his absence). When he left the game early on Sunday, the Colts struggled to find their way. Luckily, they were able to regain their footing just in time to score the game winning touchdown, but if he's absent on Sunday, they'll need to find a way to do better than 1 TD on 5 drives without him.
2) Thank You for getting TY involved! I don't subscribe to the notion that Hilton is too small to be an every-down player. I do subscribe to the theory that he's a unique talent, the kind of player who gives defensive coordinators fits. You cannot teach his speed, his quickness, and agility. The Colts should be shining a spotlight on him, not hiding him on the safety of the bench.
3) Got Protection? Miami blitzed Browns QB Brandon Weeden around 50% of the time on Sunday. Andrew Luck was pressured on 38.7% of his drop backs against the Raiders. You can see where this is going, right? Let's hope it's not straight to the I.R.
4) You're full(back) of it! Pagano has talked about knowing he needs to get different players involved. He said in his Sunday post game press conference that the players overcame some mistakes from the coaches. Let's hope one of those coaching mistakes was acting like the fullback was a key position. 10 plays a game, in goal line and short yardage? OK. 47% of the time?
When the Dolphins have the ball
Indianapolis Colts Defense
Miami Dolphins Offense
|90 DE C. Redding||82 WR B. Hartline|
|97 NT A. Franklin||71 LT J. Martin|
|99 DT RJ. Francois||68 LG R. Incognito|
|93 OLB E. Walden||C 51 M. Pouncey|
|51 ILB P. Angerer||74 RG J. Jerry|
|50 ILB J. Freeman||77 RT T. Clabo|
|98 OLB R. Mathis||42 TE C. Clay|
|28 CB G. Toler||11 WR M. Wallace|
|30 FS L. Landry||17 QB R. Tannehill|
|41 SS A. Bethea||40 FB T. Clutts|
|23 CB V. Davis||26 RB L. Miller|
While I spent most of my Colts-Raiders post-game analysis complaining about the offense, most analysts and fans turned their attention to the Colts defense, which struggled all day to contain Raiders' QB Terrelle Pryor. For their part, the Colts have, while acknowledging the need to get better, mostly dismissed Sunday's issues by saying the Pryor offered a unique set of problems they won't face again. Colts DE Cory Redding described the game as "backyard football", something he hadn't played "since I was seven years old."
Perhaps the the Colts are right. They did hold RB Darren McFadden to just 48 yards on 17 carries (2.8 YPC) and most of Pryor's rushing damage came on scrambles, not read-option plays (which the Raiders had all-but-abandoned by the 2nd half). Still, the fact that Pryor completed better than 65% of his passes with a 7.5YPA has to be troubling: on paper, the Raiders offense – which lacks any big-play threats at the WR or TE position – should have been a great match-up for this revamped Colts defense.
Whatever the case, the Colts will face a more-traditional offense when they take on the Dolphins on Sunday. And while Ryan Tannehill can run – he has 54 carries for 214 yards in his 17-game career – there's a better chance of a fullback making a game-changing play than there is of Tannehill and the Dolphins turning Sunday's context into a game of "backyard football." So for all of you who wanted to freak out over the Colts' week 1 performance, but didn't want to seem like you were jumping to conclusions, mark September 16th on your calendar! If the Colts suffer from the same breakdowns, lack of pass rush, and inability to set the edge, your freaking out will be fully warranted.
So what should we expect from the Dolphins? Though their core remained relatively intact this year, the Dolphins have done a nice job of putting together an offense that can attack opposing defenses in a variety of ways. In the backfield, they have a pair of running backs with great media value [media value: these two running backs were both recent draft picks (Miller 4th-round, 2012, Thomas 2nd round, 2011) so despite the fact that neither has proven to be a legitimate NFL running back, they are said to be a good tandem! And who am I to argue with that logic?] in Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Though the duo combined for only 17 yards on 18 carries against the Browns, the Dolphins are expected to use them heavily throughout the year to help provide the Dolphins with a balanced offensive attack.
Beyond the backfield which I just spent 100 words mocking, the Dolphins have put together a pretty varied and formidable WR corps with the trio of Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson. Though all three have the ability to attack defenses down field, Hartline and Gibson do their best work catching underneath passes and creating after the catch, while Wallace excels at attacking opposing defenses vertically.
This is where the Colts must focus their defensive energies on Sunday. Tannehill is a one of the good, young QBs in the NFL, but he's not great. If the Colts can force him to lead long drives, rather than allowing the Dolphins WRs to turn small gains into big plays, they'll likely find themselves in a good position. And while this should go without saying, we feel like it's important after Sunday's scare: the Colts' defense MUST get off the field on 3rd-and-5+. No team is going to find long-term success if it can't get stops on 3rd down.
So the "first man in" making the tackle is important. Also important: finding a pass rush! The Colts preseason struggles in that department boiled over into the regular season opener as Terrelle Pryor, playing behind a patchwork offensive line, had as much as 4.5seconds in a clean pocket before he was forced to scramble. Yes, Pryor's ability to move his feet hurt the Colts, but don't be fooled: his legs weren't responsible for the lack of pressure. That was all thanks to (UNCALLED HOLDINGS! OMG, THROW THE FLAG) the Colts lack of a consistent pass rush. While it's important for them to find a way to pressure Tannehill on Sunday, this will be a theme all year. Mathis, Werner, Walden (I'll wait for you to stop laughing) – SOMEONE has to get to the quarterback, or it won't matter how good the secondary is, opposing quarterbacks will have more-than-enough time to pick them apart.
What I'm watching for, defense:
1. You WILL like him when he's Angerer – Part of the Colts' problems on Sunday were injury-related. With ILBs Kavell Conner and Pat Angerer on the shelf, Jerrell Freeman and Kelvin Sheppard seemed lost for much of the afternoon. The good news is Pat Angerer seems set to return this Sunday, barring a "that's so Colts" setback that sidelines him for the rest of the year. The upgrade from Sheppard to Angerer would be comparable to having someone who actually knew what they were talking about writing this column. Just THINK of the possibilities.
2. What's the rush? QB is the most important position in the NFL. Stopping the QB is the defense's most-important job. If you can't pressure the QB, hit him, sack him, make him feel uncomfortable, even the most average QB will look good. Note: this doesn't include Blaine Gabbert. He's not average. He's not even bad. Blaine Gabbert is now an adjective. "How's your dysentery? It's Blaine Gabbert."
3. Money well spent? Over the past year, GM Ryan Grigson has traded a 2nd-round pick for CB Vontae Davis, signed Greg Toler to a 3-year, $14.25MM deal, and signed S LaRon Landry to a 4-year, $24MM contract. While the Dolphins won't be confused with the 2004 Colts or 2007 Patriots, the trio of Wallace, Hartline, and Gibson will provide some challenges. With the Colts likely to blitz to supplement their pass rush, and the Dolphins likely to lean on their running game to keep the Colts off-balance, the secondary will be asked to play a lot of man-coverage, often without safety help. This is where they make Ryan Grigson look like a genius.
4. All I want for Chapmas is a CHAPNADO! I feel like my love affair with Josh Chapman is losing steam. He played 23 defensive snaps on Sunday. He was fine. Not bad. Not great. Just fine. Look, JOSH. All I want is for you to jump through an opposing lineman with a chainsaw. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?
Keys to the game (Besides outscoring your opponent)
1. Protect Luck – During his Wednesday press conference, Head Coach Chuck Pagano made protecting the quarterback a point of emphasis: "As long as Luck is upright and on his feet" – it would be weird if he was upright and not on his feet, I must say – "we've got a much better chance (of winning)". And "We'll exhaust everything to keep him clean."
Keeping him clean will largely be a two-layered problem. The first layer is stopping LDE Cameron Wake. Said Pagano on Wake, "We are going to know where he's at. It's one thing to know where he is, it's a different thing to block him." Pagano went on to note that Wake's mixture of power and speed would make stopping him a tough assignment. Drawing that assignment falls on the Colts RT Gosder Cherilus. Cherilus joined the Colts in the off-season when he signed a FA contract that paid him as one of the top-3 RTs in all of football. Sunday will be his first opportunity to prove he was worth the money.
The second issue for the Colts pass protection will be dealing with the Dolphins fierce, relentless pass rush. Against the Browns, the Dolphins sent 5-or-more pass rushers on 26 of 53 drop backs. Browns QB Brandon Weeden struggled under the pressure, going 12-of-24 and an interception against the blitz. On the other side of the field, Andrew Luck faced a healthy dose of blitzes from the Oakland Raiders and went 11-of-12 for 99 yards when the Raiders sent extra pass rushers.
If the Colts can keep the Dolphins pass rush at bay, it will give Luck the time he needs to exploit the 1-on-1 match-ups waiting for him in the secondary. And if that happens, the Colts will have a chance to win by more than 3pts this time around.
2. Get the ball to the TEs – It's hard to draw too many conclusions about teams after one week, but we'll try anyhow! Against the Browns, the Dolphins were stifling: they held Brandon Weeden to 289 yards on 26/53 passing, with 3 INTs to 1 TD. They also held RB Trent Richardson to 47 yards on 13 carries. And while your first glance might lead you to believe the Dolphins defense was without weaknesses, a closer examination shows us the Browns were able to exploit one key area: the linebackers. Browns TEs caught 10 passes on 14 targets for 117 yards and a TD. And make no mistake: the Browns lack any real threat at WR that might have forced the Dolphins to shade coverage to one side of the field, allowing the TEs to exploit openings. This was just a great performance by Jordan Cameron (with a cameo by Gary Barnidge).
The good news for the Colts? On paper, they have two TEs who should be able to exploit this weakness. The bad news? Getting the TEs involved has worked out better in theory than in practice. The Colts can probably win on Sunday without finally figuring out the magical formula for involving Fleener and Allen, but doing so would make Andrew Luck's job significantly easier.
3. Score touchdowns in the red zone – Last year, the Colts proved they could move the ball against any defense, averaging a respectable 3.0 red zone trips per game. Unfortunately, their biggest weakness in 2012 was their inability to finish off those drives, scoring touchdowns only 50.98% of the time. If week one was any indication, the Colts have taken major steps in correcting their RZ issues: though they only had 7 drives on the day, they entered the RZ 2 times (note: the Colts scored their 3 TDs from 20, 19, and 12-yards out. NFL.com and Pro-Football-Feference.com both define the red zone as 19-yards-and-in ) and scored TDs on both occasions. While 100% success in the RZ is not sustainable, they will have to continue to build on Sunday's performance if they are going to have a successful year.
Let's face it, the Colts defense isn't great. The Colts are going to have more games like Sunday, where they have a very-limited number of offensive drives. Being efficient in the red zone is the best way to overcome those deficiencies.
4. Attack Tannehill – Last week I told you they key to stopping the Raiders' offense was stopping RB Darren McFadden. I was dumb. I will never again write about stopping the run. It's pointless. I know it's pointless. We should all know it's pointless. Look at last year, week 16 against the Chiefs: Jamaal Charles is STILL RUNNING, but it didn't matter; Brady Quinn (DM;BQ). Sure, there will be outliers, random games won on the back of a strong rushing attack, but, by-and-large, teams win and lose based on the play of their QB.
We saw that last week: the Raiders were in the game for 60-minutes because Terrelle Pryor had a great game. They almost won because of his play. Their comeback fell short because he threw an interception to end it.
So yes, the Dolphins have two running backs, Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, the Colts will have to keep in check. But the outcome of the game will come down to how well the Colts defend QB Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins' passing attack.
The first step will be getting pressure on Tannehill without compromising their coverages with too many blitzes. Against the Browns, Tannehill was 13 of 20 for 147 yards and 10 1st-downs against the blitz. The Colts, who have struggled to find a consistent pass rush under Head Coach Chuck Pagano, will need to find a way to pressure the Dolphins' signal caller without bringing too many extra men.
The second step for the Colts pass defense is limiting the Dolphins yards-after-catch (YAC). Both of Tannehill's favorite targets in week 1 (WRs Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson) were great at turning short passes into big gains, with 41% of the Dolphins' passing yards coming from YAC. If the first Colts defender can make the tackle, it will force the Dolphins to go on longer drives, giving Tannehill more opportunities to make mistakes. But a few missed tackles leading to big gains will be just the thing the Dolphins need to keep this game close and steal it at the end.
The final step for the Colts pass defense will be keeping FA acquisition WR Mike Wallace in check. Unlike Hartline and Gibson, Wallace makes his living on the deep ball, and, after making known his displeasure with his week 1 output (only 1 catch for 15 yards), you can be sure that Tannehill and the Dolphins will try to get Wallace involved early and often. Both CBs Vontae Davis and Greg Toler will need to be at their best if they are going to prevent Wallace from having a big performance.
The injury reports
NOTE: This guide comes out Thursdays, official injury statuses are not released until Friday, the Probable or Questionable designation in these reports is based on Wed/Thur participation only.
|TE Dwayne Allen||HIP (QESTIONABLE)|
|TE Pat Angerer||CONCUSSION (PROBABLE)|
|LB Kavell Conner||ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|LB Jerrell Freeman||QUAD (PROBABLE)|
|WR David Reed||QUAD (QUESTIONABLE)|
|CB Will Davis||TOE (PROBABLE)|
|QB Pat Devlin||ANKLE (DOUBTFUL)|
|LB Dannell Ellerbe||PECTORAL (PROBABLE)|
|LB Jonathan Freeny||SHOULDER (PROBABLE)|
|WR Brandon Gibson||WRIST (PROBABLE)|
|S Reshad Jones||THUMB (PROBABLE)|
|DE Dion Jordan||SHOULDER (PROBABLE)|
|CB Dimitri Patterson||GROIN (QUESTIONABLE)|
|TE Dion Sims||GROIN (PROBABLE)|
|CB Jamar Taylor||GROIN (QUESTIONABLE)|
Series note and a video
The Colts and the Dolphins have squared off 69 times in the regular season. The Colts hold are 25-44 record in those games.
And here's a play from last year's Dolphins – Colts match-up. You'll probably remember it:
Identifying the coverage
Who(Visually): Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts
Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Jim Sorgi
Is the Game on in your area? Good question! The people at 506Sports will be able to tell you.
Colts – 23, Dolphins – 20