Hitchhiker’s Guide to Colts vs Seahawks, NFL Week 5


On Sunday, two of the best teams in the NFL will meet in Lucas Oil Stadium. Those two teams will be lead by two young, talented, stars-in-the-making quarterbacks. On one sideline there will be a coach who inspired a nation. On the other… a <expletive deleted>. One team fighting for a division, the other fighting for the conference. On paper, it may be the best game of the entire weekend.

To celebrate, FOX has sent superstar announcers Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch to commentate this week's Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts showdown. Oh FOX, that's so Blaine Gabbert of you.

Who will win? Who will lose?! WE'LL FIND OUT AFTER THE JUMP.


Tale of the tape

How do the Colts and Seahawks 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. 


Indianapolis Colts


Seattle Seahawks

  Offense Defense   Offense Defense
Passing 23rd (14th) 7th (6th)   25th (5th) 4th (1st)
Rushing 4th (2nd) 16th (26th)   5th (11th) 18th (10th)
Total 9th (4th) 8th (13th)   12th (9th) 5th (1st)


When the Colts have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Offense Seattle Seahawks Defense
87 WR R. Wayne 79 LDE R. Bryant
80 TE C. Fleener 99 DT T. McDaniel
74 LT A. Castonzo 92 DT B. Mebane
69 LG H. Thornton 91 DE C. Clemons
64 C S. Satele 53 OLB M. Smith
75 RG M. McGlynn 54 MLB B. Wagner
78 RT G. Cherilus 50 OLB K. Wright
81 WR D. Heyward-Bey 25 CB R. Sherman
12 QB A. Luck 31 SS K. Chancellor
39 FB S. Havili 29 FS E. Thomas
44 RB A. Bradshaw 39 CB B. Browner

Last week, I mentioned that the Colts faced a must-win against the winless Jaguars. My reasoning was, after their weekend trist with the SEC's elite, the schedule would get significantly harder. Well, the harder starts now. On Sunday, the Colts will face their toughest offensive task of the season: trying to score enough points to win against a Seattle Defefense that ranks 5th-overall in yards-per-game, 1st-overall in DVOA, 2nd-overall in PFF's stats, and 2nd-overall in scoring, allowing a meager 11.8ppg.
What makes Seattle's defense so good? It starts on the outside where Richard Sherman (6'3, 195lbs) and Brandon Browner (6'4, 221lbs) have the size, strength and athleticism to lock up any WR in the league in man coverage. As Colts' HC Chuck Pagano said on Wednesday, "…everybody is looking for that guy (with size), they have two guys like that, Browner and Sherman, they get up in your face."  The "get up in your face" is the important part. Sherman and Browner are known for this physical play, and they will rough receivers up as much as the officials will allow.  (Spoiler alert: they allow a lot)
To go with those big, physical corners, the Seahawks have every head coach's dream: a disruptive defensive line capable of creating pressure without blitzing. Some numbers: Seattle has blitzed on only 25% of their plays this season, but  has pressured the opposing QB on 44% of all drop backs. This allows the Seahawks defense to play tough, physical man-press coverage across the board while using their safeties to play over-the-top to protect against the deep ball. The result is incredibly tight windows for opposing cornerbacks, which often end in incompletions or, as we saw in Seattle's match-up vs. Houston: interceptions.
On Sunday, I explect the Colts to employ a strategy similar to the one they used against the 49ers: a passing game that spreads out the defense paired with a variety of 3-step drops designed to negate the pass rush combined with a heavy dose of the running game. Here's where the conversation gets interesting. On Monday's edition of Colts Authority Radio, I compared Pep Hamilton to Superman from Superman III. In that movie, you'll recall Superman going on a bad trip from synthetic Kryptonite laced with tabacco tar (there's a lesson to be learned here, kids) which results in Superman splitting in two: good Clark Kent and evil Superman.
[writer's note: for reference, please read this piece by Mike Tanier. Please note who the running backs are in his diagrams: Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown. Richardson isn't running the same kind of plays]
How does this relate to Pep? There's good Pep Hamilton, who uses a creative mix of route combinations to create simple completions in the passing game, and a mix of formations, pulls, and misdirection to create space in the running game. Then there's evil Peppper, who uses formations including 2 TEs, a FB, and 1 WR with tight OL splits, offering very little room for his RBs to operate as well as a heavy-dose of 5-wide formations, with his FB and blocking TE split wide, with overlapping routes with similar depth. Good Pep creates an offense I love. Evil Pepper creates an offense that confuses me. And makes me sneeze.
He's still figuring things out in the NFL, I get that. But I can't, for the life of me, understand the extremes of his offense (the 1-WR sets and the 5-WR sets). But it's not all negative: I do like that he was more aggressive in the 2nd half against Jacksonville. The Colts had a comfortable lead, but he didn't settle for comfortable and made it a blowout. I do like seeing him move the pocket for Luck. I do like seeing the way he's created big plays for Brown and Bradshaw. I hope that Richardson gets a chance to run out of passing formations on Sunday.

That last sentence, sorry for turning this into a stream-of-conciousness, but I think a key word in really all strategy games is "balance."  I talked about balance last week with regards to going deep more often, but there's another kind of balance, one that's even more important. In poker, it's called "balancing your range" – playing such a variety of hands in such a manner that your opponent(s) don't know what you have. This applies in football, as well. You want to "balance your range" by being able to run out of your passing formations and pass out of your running formations. Or, even better, being able to do everything out of 1 or 2 formations. This is obviously a bit of a dream right now, with the injury to Dwayne Allen, but that should be the "end" goal for this offense: the ability to run everything out of their base offense.  RIght now, I still feel they are too reliant on "run" and "pass" formations.
All that said, right now, the offense is working. There is a lot of good there. It's just… there's some bad, as well, and I'm not sure they have any room for error over their next 4 games. So let's hope good Pep and evil Pepper are hanging out in a junkyard on Saturday, working out their issues, and that Sunday, we're treated to 60minutes of SuperPep.

What I'm watching for, offense:

1. Rich man, poor man – I was against the Trent Richardson trade. I'm not a fan of drafting a RB in the 1st round and I'm certainly not a fan of giving up a 1st-round pick for a RB 18 games into his NFL career. That said, I don't think the Colts are putting TRich in the best position to succeed. Brown and Bradshaw have both found more success because they are running out of formations that better suit the Colts OL. They aren't good enough to push defenses around. They have to exploit angle, momentum, and misdirection. They need the defense to think pass when it's a run, they need the defense to think left when it's going right. Lining up with 6OL and a FB on 1st-and-10 is just letting the defense hone in on the running game. Not only is it bad for Richardson's stats, it's not great on his body, either. Let him take that punishment on the goal line, not every down.

2. Be quick, like ninja – I love the deep passing game. I think TY Hilton is being used poorly. I think he should DEMAND a trade to Arizona so that Bruce Arians can fix my fantasy teams. But in this game, quick is where it's at. Design routes that get the receivers open quickly and let Luck get rid of the ball before the pass rush can reach him. Not only will this help extend drives, but it will frustrate and tire out the pass rush out. They did it against the 49ers, I expect them to do it again this week.

When the Seahawks have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Defense Seattle Seahawks Offense
90 DE C. Redding 18 WR S. Rice
97 NT A. Franklin 67 LT P. McQuistan
95 DT F. Moala 77 LG J. Carpenter
93 OLB E. Walden 60 C M. Unger
51 ILB P. Angerer 64 RG J. Sweezy
50 ILB J. Freeman 68 RT B. Giacomini
98 OLB R. Mathis 86 TE Z. Miller
28 CB G. Toler 81 WR G. Tate
26 FS D. Howell 3 QB R. Wilson
41 SS A. Bethea 40 FB D. Coleman
23 CB V. Davis 24 RB M. Lynch

Seattle won't be the best offense the Colts face this year – please don't hurt us, Peyton, we still love you – but they will present the Colts' defense toughest with their test so far. A dominant OL (when healthy), a tough, powerful RB who punishes defenses as much as defenses punish him, a variety of receiving targets, and a young, talented QB who can make all the throws, all the reads, and, if the pass rush makes one mistake, has the mobility to make them pay with his legs. The Colts defense has allowed 10pts in their last two games, but they will require their best effort of the season on Sunday if they are going to win.
For me, the entire focal point of Sunday's game from the Colts perspective will be the safeties. [writer's note: As I'm writing this (Wednesday afternoon), there's at least a little reason to believe that your starting safeties will be Antoine Bethea and Joe Lefeged. Not the end of the world, I just thought I would let you know.] What are the Colts going to do with their strong safety? Is he going to be in the box in an effort to stop the run, leaving them vulnerable in the passing game? Or will they play two deep safeties, leaving the job of stopping the run to the front seven?

Over the past-two weeks, the Colts have gone with an aggressive press-man and a single-high safety look. This has worked for two reasons: 1) CBs Greg Toler and Vontae Davis have done a great job at not only getting a good jam at the line of scrimmage, but of providing extremely tight coverage and 2) the 49ers and Jaguars didn't have enough receiving weapons to make them pay. So the question is: are WRs Doug Baldwin (3rd DVOA, 18th PFF), Sidney Rice (25th DVOA, 37th PFF) and Golden Tate (29th DVOA, 33rd PFF) good enough to make the Colts pay if they employ the single-high safety?
I'm not sure, but I believe we will find out. I think DC Greg Manusky will start out practicing what his head coach preaches: stop the run. They will play their tight press-man on the outside and there will be a safety in the box. They will focus on shutting Marshawn Lynch down. They will stay in this look unless/until the Seahawks make them pay (probably more than once). If the Colts can stop the pass with the single-high safety, they'll probably win the game, because I believe they'll be good enough up front to keep Lynch to a respectable number (he's running for 3.9ypc on the year, anything short of 5ypc on Sunday should be good enough).
If the Colts can't stop the pass, and they are forced into more coverage-based looks, things get dicey. Can the front seven stop the run? I don't like their chances.
Outside of how the Colts deploy their safeties, the next biggest question is whether or not the Colts can get to Russell Wilson. Despite a bad camp/preseason, the Colts currently have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Part of this is certainly based on the QBs they've faced, but give the Colts (and Robert Mathis) some credit, too. They've been disruptive, they've been chaotic, and they did it against the 49ers and Jaguars without blitzing all that often. Their season average blitz% is 32%, but they've only blitzed 22% of the time (total) in the last two weeks. They notched 7-total sacks in those two games.

If they can get that kind of pressure while maintaining their gap discipline (keeping Wilson in the pocket), they will get to the Seahawks' QB. If they get to the Seahawks' QB, the numbers (we'll get to them later) show that he will make mistakes. If he makes mistakes, I'm tellin' you right now: the Colts will win! 
We're going to San Francisco! We're going to Jacksonville! And then we're going to Indianapolis and beating the Seahawks! YEAAAARGHHHHHHAHGGGGGGGGGGH!

What I'm watching for, defense:

1. Where's Walden  –  Last week, Erik Walden had his best game of the year. Unfortunately, it came against the Jaguars. But it was a good game. I watched him closely, especially after the injury to Werner, to see how he held up. There were a couple of really nice plays in there, and no glaring mistakes. Was this Walden getting his act together? Or a byproduct of playing one of the worst offenses in NFL history? Definitely a lot of the latter, but let's be optimistic and not rule out a little bit of the former. With Werner out until after the bye week, the Colts are going to need Walden to continue to play well.

2. WILLLLLLLLLLLLLLSON Wilson has been good this year, but he hasn't been perfect. You probably don't know this, because no one has told you, but Russell Wilson has 3 interceptions on the year and 4 (FOUR) fumbles (2 lost). If you can pressure him, he WILL make mistakes. The Colts must be able to do to Wilson what they did to Kaepernick. While Wilson has a few more weapons than Kaepernick, his offensive line is hurting. And as everyone should know by now: neutralize the QB and you neutralize his weapons. Or, as Terry Silver said in Karate Kid III, while teaching Daniel-san his patented Quicksilver Method: IF A QB CAN'T SEE, HE CAN'T THROW. FEAR DOES NOT EXIST IN THIS DOJO. HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIYA.  I need a vacation.

Keys to the game (Besides outscoring your opponent)

1. Protect Luck (For the fifth-consecutive week!) – No jokes this week. The Seahawks – on the strength of their dominant defensive line – are one of the best pass rushing teams in the NFL. The foursome of Bryant, McDaniel, Mebane, and Clemons are able to create havoc in the offensive backfield without any assistance via blitzes. This pass rush, in tandem with an aggressive press-man philosophy in the secondary, robs opposing QBs of time to think and windows to throw into. If the Colts are going to have success in the passing game on Sunday, it will start up front with the offensive line.

If Luck can get time, the numbers suggest that he should be able to make plays: Seattle is 29th in the league at covering #1 WRs per DVOA. The rest of their coverage numbers (vs WRs) are pretty favorable, as well: 18th against #2 WRs and 15th against "Other".  Where they do shine, however, is against the TE: Seattle ranks 1st in DVOA in covering TEs. So while there's been a lot of love for Fleener in recent weeks, I'm not sure I expect him to have a big day catching the ball.

Seattle has a great defense, but it can be scored on. If Luck has time in the pocket, he's good enough to exploit every possible opportunity. If the OL fails to protect him, expect to see throws similar to the interception(s) thrown against Jacksonville last week.

Extra stat note: the Colts may want to use the shotgun formation sparingly this week: Seattle is tops in the league against the shotgun formation (by DVOA) while "only" 14th in the league against non-shotgun plays. Maybe we're taking these stats things too serious.

2. Run the ball (no, really) – But Greg you say you have to pass to win!!!  It's true, the Colts aren't going to be able to win on Sunday without a big game from Andrew Luck, but as we saw against the 49ers, a big game doesn't always have to include gaudy passing numbers. Sometimes, not turning the ball over, making the smart, efficient play, and capitalizing on the 1 or 2 chances you do get is enough. That's what Luck will have to do on Sunday.

The rest of the damage will have to come on the ground. I mention this earlier in the piece, but I hope the Colts are able to incorporate Trent Richardson into their more creative running plays, the type that Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown have been running this season. It's those plays – the ones that allow the OL to use angles, not power, and the threat of the pass, not overwhelming blocking numbers – that have really made this running game effective.

So why run? Seattle ranks 1st against the pass in DVOA, 2nd in PFF, and 4th in conventional yards-per-game. Against the run, they rank 10th in DVOA, 4th in PFF, and 18th in conventional yards-per-game. Seattle's run defense isn't a weakness, it's just not as dominant as their pass defense. That gives this Colts rushing attack, which ranks top-4 in DVOA, PFF, and conventional stats, a chance to make a difference. And who knows, maybe if the running game is effective, it gets the Seattle secondary to peak in the backfield, which allows Andrew Luck to hit a big play off of play action. In a game I feel will come down to 1 or 2 big plays, that could be the difference between a big win and a disappointing loss.

Some extra notes before we move on. Anthony Castonzo has been one of the best LT in the entire NFL this season, and he's a particularly good run blocker, so running behind him is never a bad thing, but FootballOutsider's – they chart every game, so I trust them and so should you – numbers suggest that plays to the right might be more effective (if the Colts blocking holds up, of course). Seattle ranks 1st in runs around left end and 6th on runs behind the LT, but 24th on runs up the middle, 18th on runs at the RT, and 28th on runs around the right end. This may be one of the games the Colts break out the unbalanced line and run right until the Seahawks show they can stop it.

3. Get to Russell Wilson – It's no secret that all QBs struggle when pressured, so we're not reinventing the wheel here, but Russell Wilson – especially this year – has been especially bad in the face of pressure. For the season, Wilson has passed for 787yds while completing 61.5% of his passes, with 6TDs and 3INTs, for a qbrating of 95.3. Those are perfectly fine numbers. Under pressure, however, his numbers plummet: 7 of 26 (26.9%) for 119 yards (4.6ypa), 1 TD, 2 INT, and a 26.9 qbrating.

The danger with Wilson – as it is with Andrew Luck and 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick – is that you have to create "controlled" pressure. If you get up field and do a fly by on the QB, sure, you're "creating pressure", but you're also creating a running lane. And if you give Russell Wilson a lane, he'll take it. The good news for the Colts is since their week 1 debacle against Terrelle Pryor, they've been great at pressuring the QB without creating a running lane.

Can Robert Mathis continue his torrid sack pace? Can the Colts get to Wilson without blitzing? If you answer yes to these questions, then the Colts probably win this game. On the turf, at home with the crowd noise? And against a banged up Seattle OL? I need to stop writing about this, I almost feel optimistic.

4. No soup for Lynch – Like the Colts, the Seahawks like to insulate their young QB with a punishing running game, and when it comes to punishment, no one dishes out more than Marshawn Lynch. While he's not off to the best start of his career (308 yards on 79 carries for 3.9ypc and only 3 runs of 20+ yards), Lynch is still dangerous enough to turn every carry into a highlight reel run. Unlike last week, the Colts will get no… "easy" plays against Seattle.

The key for the Colts will be stopping the run without having to bring a safety into the box with regularity. This means Erik Walden will have to build on what I consider his best game of his entire life last week against the Jaguars. If he can be THAT Erik Walden every week – nothing flashy, no WOW plays – but also not getting pushed around by 5th-string TEs who just signed Saturday morning fresh out of the CFL – the Colts have a shot. If they are forced to bring Bethea/Landry/Howell into the box, Russell Wilson and his trio of capable WRs will make the Colts pay.

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.


Indianapolis Colts

FB Stanley Havili ANKLE (I DON'T THINK SO)
OLB Bjoern Werner FOOT (OUT)


Seattle Seahawks

DE Michael Bennett BACK (PROBABLE)
DT Jordan Hill Biceps (PROBABLE)


Series note and a video

  • The Colts and the Seahawks have squared off 10 times in the regular season with the Colts holding a 6-4 series lead.



Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually): FOX

Who(Visually): Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch

Where(Audio): 1070 AM The Fan WFNI and 97.1 HANK FM

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.

Officiating Crew:  RON WINTERRRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr


Seattle – 21, Colts – 20