Quick note: Andrew Ross and I wanted to analyze what made the Colts offense tick against the Seahawks after seeing them dismantle the Broncos. My method of breaking down plays would have made this a 5,000+ word post, so I relied heavily on Andrew's insightful but concise work with GIF images. I think you'll like it. – MD
Andrew: The Legion of Boom. What comes to mind when you hear that? For most people, it’s Drew Brees not being able to do anything, Peyton Manning and the record-breaking Denver offense getting shut down, and all the other offenses they brought horror to. There was one offense – however – that was not a victim to this legion; they were the predator..
Marcus: No team scored more against Seattle in 2013 than the Indianapolis Colts, against a defense with an overall DVOA of -25.8% – first in the league by a wide margin. Only two other teams, Arizona (22) and Tampa Bay (24), eclipsed 21 points against them, and they both lost.
Andrew: When the Seattle Seahawks ran into the Indianapolis Colts, they ran into something that can beat them: a remarkable quarterback that can make plays while moving from pressure, a young receiver fast and skillful enough to have a field day and a veteran receiver that was able to put on a clinic with his routes and wasn’t afraid to be physical against a physical team.
With all of that, the Colts were able to put up 34 points against the Seahawks (counting the Delano Howell's blocked FG return) – the most points Seattle gave up all year. Andrew Luck completed 55 percent of his passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. T.Y. Hilton was electric in catching five passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Reggie Wayne made huge catches all day to finish with six receptions for 65 yards.
Hilton’s 73-yard Score
Andrew: Colts started off rough – they are down 12-0. The offense has been stagnant to this point, but all of that changes at the 1:15 mark in the first quarter. Luck runs a play-action to Trent Richardson and throws a bomb to Hilton who takes it a full 73 yards for the touchdown. Oh, and it was all over Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas – the leaders of that secondary.
Hilton is lined up tight so Sherman can’t press him exactly how he would like to. Right before the play starts, Sherman is still trying to communicate to Thomas, and when the ball snaps Hilton is already blowing by him. Thomas is too busy watching the middle of the field, and when he finally realizes what is happening, it’s already too late. Thomas could have ended up making the tackle to prevent the touchdown, but Hilton shows everyone that he can put on some moves when needed. This is just Hilton showing off what speed can do.
Beating the Rush with Fleener's Catch in the Flat
Marcus: This wasn’t a spectacular play, but it was a badly needed first down on a scoring drive, and it shows how the Colts were able to neutralize Seattle’s pass rush.
Down 19-14, in the second quarter, it's 2nd and 2, and the Seahawks are generating some very disruptive pressure (Luck was sacked on the second play of the drive). The Colts lined up in Pep’s old-timey power run formation with a fullback, two tight ends left (Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle) and Reggie Wayne split out to the right. All it was missing was an extra offensive lineman. Luck sent Fleener in motion to Wayne’s side:
Here's a look at the routes. Reggie Wayne has single coverage on the right while Doyle will draw a linebacker and safety over the middle. Fleener is preparing to get to know the outside linebacker a little better:
At the snap, Luck fakes the handoff to Trent Richardson and rolls right. Fleener sells the fake by throwing a nasty block at the outside linebacker, who stumbles about three steps backward, while Luck's fake freezes the two inside linebackers and a safety playing up in the box (The guys with red arrows are about to be non-factors):
Luck’s head is already turned upfield as Fleener runs into the flat. Luck can see that Richard Sherman has stayed with Wayne on the outside (where Sherman is getting away with freaking murder), leaving Fleener open underneath, while Doyle, a most unlikely decoy, draws coverage away from his fellow tight end. Even with a defender coming in unblocked, Luck’s rollout buys him just enough time to see if Wayne can get open:
Waiting until the last possible second, Luck decides on the safe throw, and Fleener makes the grab right at the sticks:
It wasn’t spectacular, but against an elite defense, every first down matters. This one, along with a nice conversion by Hilton, led to a field goal to make it 19-17 at the half.
Pep Hamilton likes running play action on second or third and short and having Fleener feign a blocking assignment. Sometimes, he’ll act as though he's looking for someone, and other times, he’ll just try to blow up a defender, as he did on this play. The result typically is a wide open 6’6” tight end. Well done, Pep. Well done.
Hilton’s first down catch on Third and Nine
Andrew: The offense quieted down after Hilton’s big touchdown. The Colts added more points, but it was off a blocked field goal return. Getting points to end the half is always nice, and this Hilton play lead to a field goal.
This play is more about Luck’s ability to escape pressure to still make a play, but Hilton does a great job of beating the press off his man and hitting the open part of the field.
Marcus: I wince every time I watch that scramble, so close to disaster. A statuesque pocket quarterback would've had to hit the deck there. Luck's mobility saves the day again.
Wayne Beats Sherman on Third Down Against a 6-Man Rush
Marcus: It’s 3rd and 4 at the 'hawks 38, Indianapolis trails 25-17. If the Colts don’t convert, it’s a 55 or 56-yard field goal attempt and the strong possibility of giving the Seahawks the ball back in good field position. The whole game could have changed right here.
Andrew: This was such a big play due to how the drive ended – which we will get to later. The Colts are driving down the field to try to answer Seattle, again, and they go to Mr. Reliable.
Sherman is usually acting very animated after a play, but after this one, he acts like nothing happened. As good as a corner Sherman is – and he is arguably the best – Wayne shows how deadly a perfect route can be. Wayne takes Sherman to school the second the play starts. It’s beautiful.
Marcus: Pep and Luck dialed up a beauty. It’s shotgun with DHB (who sadly was 0 for 6 on the day), Hilton, and Fleener in trips left and Reggie Wayne all alone on the right. Seattle is blitzing, rushing six with one safety deep.
On the left, Heyward-Bey and Hilton are going vertical, with Hilton initially faking slant route. If the protection is good, one of them will be single covered. With the heavy rush coming, however, Luck is going to look for the two players running inside slants and hit one before the safety can be a factor:
Here comes the blitz. Samson Satele and rookie guard (and aspiring bulldozer) Hugh Thornton pick up a stunt in the middle, while Fleener is held on his route (seems to be a theme in this game). Luck knows the safety is watching the two deep routes on his left, and he looks toward Reggie singled up on Richard Sherman:
Sherman watches Luck’s eyes, and then proceeds to try to annihilate Wayne off the line. Wayne breaks hard to the outside, and Sherman lunges in for the jam, trying to grab his arms. But the crafty receiver effortlessly hits the brakes, using Sherman's momentum against him and sort of slapping his arms down, then gives a little shove as he turns inside (Can we call this a slap and go? It sounds cool). In an instant, Wayne returns to a dead sprint, leaving a frustrated cornerback in his wake:
Luck throws a dart, right on the numbers, which Wayne easily reels in, because that's what Reggie Wayne does. Without this conversion, a long field goal is typically about a 50/50 proposition, and the complexion of this game could have changed radically giving Seattle the ball at the 38. They converted, however, allowing for this:
Hilton’s 29-yard touchdown
Andrew: Ultimately, this is why Wayne’s first down on Sherman became such a big deal. Hilton was able to end the drive in style.
This is more evidence to Hilton killing a defense with speed. The corner is too busy watching Luck – who is looking at the opposite side of the field – and when Luck finally looks to Hilton, the corner has already been burned. Magnificent throw by Luck and a nice job fooling the defense, but it’s still a great play on Hilton’s part.
Hilton’s first down on Sherman
Andrew: This was a huge play. It kept the drive going for what would be the go-ahead touchdown.
Marcus: The Seahawks are rushing six here. Luck's scramble averts a would-be disaster as no less than three different defenders have a shot at sacking him – one even managed to grab his jersey. Meanwhile, Hilton is working in single coverage because DHB's deep route and Wayne coming over the middle draw the attention of the lone deep safety away from him.
Andrew: The play starts with Luck being responsible for everything. He, again, avoids pressure to keep the play going and give his receivers a chance. Sherman is playing good coverage on Hilton at the beginning, but Hilton is able to shake him off after Luck starts scrambling. The throw wasn’t perfect – he was getting knocked out while he let it go – but Hilton makes an athletic play to catch the ball.
Wayne’s big gain off fake to Hilton
Marcus: And now, Pep Hamilton gets points for running a favorite of Madden NFL gamers everywhere: the deep throw on a fake screen. Enjoy watching Wayne and Hilton, but don't forget revel in the bewilderment of the league's number one pass defense. It just goes to show how much the Seahawks respected the threat of T.Y. Hilton on any given play.
Andrew: Hilton may have not caught the pass on this play, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a lot to do with it. The Colts fake a screen to Hilton, and all of the Seahawks bite on it – and you can’t blame them. This freed up Wayne to get an easy gain.
Donald Brown's Go-Ahead Touchdown Run
Marcus: Although they didn't have the best day running overall, Indy had success out of the shotgun against Seattle. Naturally, spreading the field tends to open up space against an aggressive run defense. Donald Brown, for example, helped set up a field goal with a 16-yard run in the second quarter, and late in the game, Trent Richardson's 10-yard rumble on 3rd and 5 helped Pep Hamilton and Chuck Pagano play keep away to preserve the win (isn’t that the real reason to be able to run the ball anyway?).
On this play, Hamilton combines the spread shotgun look we Colts fans know and love with his unusual affinity for extra offensive linemen. That's right, it's a shotgun three wide set with…six offensive linemen.
Seattle counters by playing press man on the outside (surprise, surprise) and putting seven men in the box. Naturally, the extra defender was on the right, where Joe Reitz is lined up as the, um, right-right tackle.
The Colts use some misdirection here. At the snap, Thornton (69) pulls from the left guard spot all the way into the space between the right guard and right tackle (err, right tackles). As the defense crashes the right side of the unbalanced line, Brown runs to the middle behind Mike McGlynn (75).
McGlynn gets held up at the first level though, and the hard-charging Brown has to take on the defender at the second level himself. He doesn't try anything fancy. He just flat out collides with the guy as hard as he can and sort of bounce-dives out of an ankle tackle into the endzone for the touchdown and the lead.
Wayne’s two-point conversion
Andrew: After the go-ahead score, the Colts needed to go for two to make sure a field goal could not beat them. The play doesn’t appear to go anywhere in the beginning, but Luck buys some time for Wayne to make a play.
Marcus: Cornerback Brandon Browner spends the first half of this play attempting to slow dance and cuddle with Reggie Wayne before committing defensive holding. Meanwhile, the player covering Fleener flat out tackles him. Nevertheless, Browner hilariously begins to petition for offensive pass interference after the play. Not happening, buddy.
Andrew: Wayne does a great job at embracing the physicality of Seattle. While fighting through a lot of contact, he frees himself up by being physical himself.
Marcus: Colts used a variety of fakes, rollouts and quick passes to negate Seattle's relentless pass rush. They threw deep out of running formations and ran out of the shotgun, avoiding the predictability that seemed to plague them early on as players learned Pep Hamilton's offense.
Aside from the surprising frequency of vertical routes, another thing stands out from this game: Richard Sherman. Luck directly targeted his old college teammate 5 times, hitting on 3 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown (PFF) and drawing a huge third down pass interference penalty on another. Luck knew when to attack Sherman and when to stay away, and finished with a 143.8 QB rating against him, well above the 41.4 the rest of the league averaged when throwing his way.
The Colts took it to the best secondary in football, matching their physicality and killing them with speed. They drew up the blueprint for scoring on the “Legion of Boom.” Ironically, a certain blue and orange team may find themselves watching film of this game for their 2014 rematch with Seattle.