Five Plays – Analysis from the Colts 11th Regular Season Game of 2011

Against my better judgment, I decided to stay in on Sunday to watch the game – and despite my expectations, I was encouraged by what I saw. I expected an atrocious passing game and to an extent, that’s what I watched – with a couple of reasonable plays down the field to augment my flagging enthusiasm. A revitalized running game behind Donald Brown combined with some reasonable plays on defense was enough to keep me entertained, though the conclusion of the game was somewhat disappointing from an execution and play-calling standpoint.

The renaissance of the veterans in the Colts locker room in this game also perked me up – a lot of rubbish has been spouted suggesting that the Colts are tanking, the Colts aren’t trying, etc. That is a falsehood propagated by people that don’t know what they’re talking about, or have an ulterior motive for saying so. Perhaps some don’t want to see the team sport of football shown up for what it has grown into – overly dependent on one position.

The simple fact is that the Colts have been getting dramatically sub-par performances from the QB position, which combined with a small amount of talent concentrated in the DE spots on defense has resulted in eleven straight defeats. It is what it is, let’s not start making things up. Props to Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, and Robert Mathis.

Perhaps given the circumstances of the defeat this week we can expect to see Dan Orlovsky have a chance in New England and beyond — the team officially announced that Orlovsky will get the start on Tuesday. It’s clear at this point that Painter isn’t suitable and shouldn’t be allowed to continue, for simple reasons of accountability, at the very least.

This same accountability should result in the removal of Larry Coyer, Clyde Christensen, Jim Caldwell and Ray Rychleski — it did result in the removal of Larry Coyer on Tuesday. For too long our coaching has been subpar, and there will be no better time to clear out than the end of this season.

In any case, it’s time to move on to the analysis.

Play #1 – 3rd and 5 from the IND 25 – 2:57 in the 1st Quarter – Colts 0 – Panthers 3.

I’ve chosen the following play not for significance, rather to illustrate questionable decision-making from Curtis Painter in an aspect of the game we haven’t so far addressed this season. The poor impact of Joseph Addai is also worth showing.

The Colts are lined up in a 3WR, 1TE, 1RB formation on a 3rd and 5 situation, with Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie wide left, Pierre Garcon wide right, Dallas Clark stacked on the line in pass protection, and Joseph Addai doing the same from the backfield. The Panthers are playing man coverage on the outside, and will blitz Charles Godfrey (#30, S) from the slot. He’s circled in black.

My issue on the play is this – I think Curtis Painter should see the alignment from the Panthers and adjust accordingly. He has Dallas Clark stacked to the right side of the line, so why Addai is over there I’m not particularly sure. Adjusting the protection by moving Addai to the left hand side would remove any issues with maneuvering and create a more orderly sequence of events.

As Painter takes the snap, Godfrey comes hurtling into the pocket. Addai moves from his position on the right hand side of Painter to come and counter the threat. Dallas Clark ends up single blocking Charles Johnson (#95, DE) whilst Linkenbach does nothing. The rest of the line is solid.

Addai sets himself too wide to chip Godfrey adequately, and as a result is somewhat off-balance. Painter doesn’t inspire confidence with his stance and awareness.

Godfrey pushes Addai away with a rudimentary shove, and despite adequate protection elsewhere, the play begins to break down.

Godfrey launches himself onto Painter as the latter decides to throw, and the ball flies into the air – Addai can only watch.

It’s a good heads-up play by Addai to jump on the ball and prevent a turnover, but I’m left feeling that his actions in the play were inadequate.

You can see here the stance adopted by Addai is to prevent an outside rush, and the shove and move inside surprises him. Perhaps Addai has noticed Painter’s penchant for dropping 10 yards deep and set himself to prevent a repeat – but I don’t think that should be his focus. He should do his job according to what should happen, and the QB should step up in the pocket.

The ease with which Godfrey dispatches Addai is somewhat disconcerting, and I suppose the lesson to draw is this – whilst we’re all aware that Addai is an above average blocker, which is important in the traditional Colts offense – we do far too much in terms of building people up, both in terms of skill and importance. Addai is undoubtedly Peyton’s comfort blanket at the RB spot, but if we’re moving on from that era (or even if we aren’t), I think Addai’s salary and roster spot needs to be examined at the end of the year. His durability is questionable, and I’m not sure he’s the best runner on the team any more.

Play #2 – 3rd and 2 from the IND 14 – 14:10 in the 2nd Quarter – Colts 0 – Panthers 3.

The following play illustrates just how difficult it is to defend dual-threat QB’s, particularly in the red zone with small distances to go. Instead of being a conventional 10 vs. 11 arrangement where the QB hands the ball off and takes himself out of the play, the Panthers are able to bring in extra blocking help and utilize Newton as a RB. Consequently, it’s much more difficult for the defense to stop, even in the right alignment –  as we’ll see.

The Panthers line up in a 3WR, 2TE set. The receivers are going to each run to the corner to take the Colts CB’s out of the play, given it’s a man coverage alignment. Legedu Naanee is attached to the line as a blocker on the right side, whilst Jeremy Shockey is alotted Dwight Freeney on the play, and Greg Olsen is in the backfield, with his assignment being Joe Lefeged. The real kicker on the play is the pulling lineman, Geoff Hangartner (#63, G/C). He’s assigned to block Antoine Bethea, and it’s ultimately his block that springs the play open.

As Cam takes the snap, he’s already scanning the field for running room, as it’s a designed QB run. Olsen begins to break out to block Lefeged (who takes a wide-ish angle, given the potential for a sneaky pass), and Hangartner begins his pilgrimage from RG to deal with Bethea. Freeney is effectively blocked outside by Shockey.

With great blocking all round, Newton doesn’t have much work to do, aside from some slight dodging through the blocks.

Cam breaks through the line, and is home free. It’s curtains.

He swaggers into the endzone in customary fashion.

From this angle, we can evaluate the play from a better perspective. The Panthers are clearly playing a heavy formation to the left, and the Colts match up with man coverage. Hangartner is going to move from RG and seal the deal, and it’s worth following his progress. It’s also worth watching Pat Angerer, who’s lined up across from Travelle Wharton (#70, LG).

Angerer, who’s circled in yellow, gets swallowed up and lost amidst a pile of bodies. He’s out of the play. Lefeged (red) takes a wide angle on Olsen, presumably given the potential for a quick pass. This has a big effect on the development of the play, given the space it frees up. Hangartner is coming over ominously.

Hangartner gets a great block on Bethea, and there are a couple of open running lanes through which Newton can run for the touchdown. As it is, he selects the right hand lane and takes it to the house.

I don’t have any particular issue with the execution from the defense on the play. Lefeged could admittedly have taken a narrower angle to deal with Olsen, but there are real difficulties in matching up against the threat of Newton in this situation. When one involves pulling guards as the Panthers did in this scenario, it becomes nigh-on impossible to deal with. It’s just a good football play from the Panthers.

Play #3 – 1st and 10 from the CAR 17 – 12:15 in the 2nd Quarter – Colts 0 – Panthers 10.

The following play is another from the collection we seem to be gathering from Donald Brown this year. He’s been excellent in recent games, running the ball with speed and authority, and he’s making idiots like me regret castigating his retention earlier on in the season.

The play is a simple run off tackle out of the 2WR, 1TE, 2RB formation. Wayne and Garcon are out left and right respectively, TE Anthony Hill is stacked on the line in a blocking capacity and Ryan Mahaffey (#47) is installed as a fullback, having been plucked from the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad recently.

As Brown takes the hand-off, Hill has already engaged and locked up Antwan Applewhite (#93, DE) on the right side. Jeff Linkenbach is proceeding to the second level to block James Anderson (#50, LB), whilst Ryan Diem commences what will end up as a fantastic block on Terell McClain (#97, DT) inside.

We can thus name the four crucial blocks which spring this play into a positive one. Hill on Applewhite, Diem on McClain, Linkenbach on Anderson, and finally, Ryan Mahaffey on Charles Godfrey, the second in from the right in terms of black circled blocks.

Thanks to the great blocking, Brown springs it to the second level into open space. At this point in any running play, the blocking from the receivers becomes pivotal. Thankfully, we have one of the best in the league in Pierre Garcon. It astounds me the regularity with which I examine these plays and Garcon has his guy locked up for the entire thing.

Garcon still has his guy locked up, and it provides enough room for Brown to squeeze in for the touchdown. Honestly, a ridiculously good job from Pierre there.

Donald lowers his head and goes in for the touchdown. Great job all round.

From the angle behind the formation, one can examine the play in more detail and see just how good the blocking was on the play.

Diem’s block is crucial, as it gives Linkenbach enough space to push to the next level where he has a favored match-up against a linebacker. Hill’s block is even more integral, given the kickout room it gives Mahaffey, who can then deal with the safety.

It all becomes a bit confused, but behind Hill’s block, you can see Mahaffey lowers his shoulder and takes Godfrey out of the play. It’s not particularly great use of leverage, but it’s a ‘right place at the right time’ sort of block against someone who’s inferior on a physical level.

You can see just how important Pierre’s block is on the play – he even manages to get inside leverage which allows Brown adequate running room. It’s a 5 yard gain because of the work by Diem, Mahaffey and co. It’s a 17-yard touchdown because of Garcon. Excellent job.

And on a run blocking note – I don’t feel enough has been made of Ryan Diem’s performance on the inside. Granted, it’s an 0-11 season, but he’s done a very good job kicking over to guard. His performances last year at RT were frankly hideous, and at least one loss (Patriots) was attributable to his turnstile blocking. He deserves props for the transition.

Play #4 – 1st and 10 from the IND 25 – 9:21 in the 3rd Quarter – Colts 10 – Panthers 10.

As I said previously, I wasn’t overly distraught with regards to the play of the D on Sunday, though the following play is really disappointing from an execution standpoint. Typical over-pursuit on the back end cost us a touchdown at a crucial point in the game – and the performance of the Defensive Line was just horrific on the play.

The Colts line up in their base 4-3 defense, with Kavell Conner lined up close to the line, matching the opposing TE at the top of your screen. Kevin Thomas is in close, trying to mirror the TE on the left side of the line. It’s important to note that the reserve DE’s are on the field at this point, making the line from right to left – Jerry Hughes #92, DE; Fili Moala #95, DT; Antonio Johnson #99, DT; Jamaal Anderson #90, DE. Moala and Johnson in particular should be ashamed of themselves for this one. The Panthers line up in a 2WR, 2TE, 1RB formation.

I’ve highlighted two chunks – one is Moala & Johnson, with the former in particular guilty of being pushed around like a child’s toy on the play. Williams doesn’t even have the ball in his hands, yet look at the size of the hole that’s opened up. Kevin Thomas is blocked adequately by Jeremy Shockey, and to be honest that’s a match-up he isn’t ever going to win. Important to note just how badly Moala does on the play, though.

Moala gets destroyed by Travelle Wharton (#70, G), leaving a huge hole in his wake. Jerry Hughes gets upfield as one would like from the DE, and it’s unlikely that he’s  going to have the awareness to stop the play at this point in his career. At this moment in the play, the angles taken by the secondary become pivotal, and initially they look to be positioned adequately to stop the play. Bethea has the inside lane, Thomas should have contain due to his knowledge of where Bethea is.

Thomas unfortunately over-pursues on the inside lane, leaving a cutback lane for DeAngelo Williams. Bethea’s anticipation is clearly on a higher level compared to Thomas’, as you can see here he begins to turn around.

By the time Thomas gets around, it’s too late. DeAngelo is too quick, too agile, and he has the angle.

Touchdown. David Caldwell can’t get over to stop Williams, and it’d be unfair to expect him to.

From the back side of the formation, you can see in more detail exactly what transpires. I’ve highlighted Hughes’ path to the QB (in his eyes) which takes him out of the play and helps create a large hole, but I’ve also circled Moala.

Where’s he gone? Oh, there he is, already 5 yards to the right. Just look at the size of that hole – an absolutely irresistible cutback for Williams. Pat Angerer follows the TE in at FB on the play, and consequently takes himself out of it too.

This is the angle that I feel best illustrates that the responsibility is Kevin Thomas’. DeAngelo is clearly going to run it north and south if Bethea didn’t have the inside responsibility, and given Thomas’ position on the relative periphery, he should be aware of his teammates and have confidence in Bethea’s ability to tackle by himself. Instead, he moves inside, and the rest is history.

Play #5 – 3rd and 9 from the IND 44 – 8:30 in the 4th Quarter – Colts 13 – Panthers 24.

The following play is a feel-good play from a Colts fan perspective, and it’s also worthy of a seminar on ‘how not to tackle’. Reggie Wayne does a great job of catching a ball at the marker for a first down, but it somehow ends up going 60 yards for a touchdown, largely due to the horrendous technique of the Panthers DB’s.

The Colts line up in their normal 3WR, 1TE, 1RB formation for a crucial 3rd and 9. Jacob Tamme and Donald Brown are both to the left of Curtis Painter, and both will stay inside on pass protection for the play. The 3 WR’s are to the right of the formation, with Reggie Wayne in the slot, Austin Collie to his right, and Pierre Garcon out wide. All will run routes down the field with comebacks at different intervals. The Panthers are going to bring the heat with a 6 man rush, with the additional blitzers being Jordan Pugh (#29, S), and James Anderson (#50, LB).

Upon taking the snap, Painter proceeds to drop back deep in order to survey the field, and potentially step up. Given the amount of protection on the play, this isn’t an issue – unlike in previous weeks where he’s left Castonzo on an island.

Painter holds on to the ball for a long time, and the pocket gets incredibly cluttered. Antwan Applewhite (#93, DE) has the measure of Jacob Tamme, and the rush up the middle from James Anderson is problematic. Nonetheless, Curtis gets the ball out eventually.

It’s tough to show from this angle, due to the blurring of the camera as it moves to track the ball. Reggie takes the ball in high past the marker, and braces himself for the impact – he could get absolutely lit up here, given the very high placement of the ball by Painter.

Instead of wrapping him up and stopping him past the marker, the Panthers players instead seem to throw their bodies at Reggie in the hope that it’ll work. He’s a savvy veteran, and does enough to shake them off.

He strides down the field, and Sherrod Martin (#23, S) begins to track his movements. Now, I love Reggie – but he’s not the strongest receiver you’ll ever see, and his pace seems to have somewhat deserted him. How Martin manages to mess this up in such fashion, I have no idea.

Reggie – moving at a snail’s pace – meanders his way down the field, and Martin tracks him. Reggie then makes a vague attempt at moving inside, and somehow Martin over-pursues, and has another horrific attempt at tackling. He whiffs, and it’s a touchdown from there.

Props to Reggie for a great catch and run, but I can’t even imagine the reaction if this were the Colts DB’s.

You can see here how badly Painter places the ball, in terms of Reggie getting potentially destroyed from behind. The FOX crew were effusive in their praise of Painter after the play. Sure, he hung in well. But his job is to place the ball where Reggie can catch it, and he only just about managed to do that.

That technique makes me want to cry.

And this technique just makes me thankful we have Antoine Bethea. God bless, Antoine.

Conclusions:

Yeah, we lost again – but there was enough encouragement for me to be content with the performance. Painter is awful, and it’s tough to win without a QB in this league. Our lack of presence at DT is also again making itself felt – some of the washouts experienced by Johnson and Moala were just horrific. Nevis didn’t get enough snaps whether due to coaching issues or health concerns, but it’s clear that when he’s not in there, we suffer. We need an injection of talent through Free Agency and the draft, but I feel better about our prospects than I did a week ago, and that’s what Sundays are about now.

I haven’t shown the final interception, because there isn’t really much to see apart from good play from Sherrod Martin. As others have done repeatedly, I have to question the play-calling. 1st and Goal with a minute to go, and we don’t call a run, despite our success in the game up to that point? It’s a further nail in the coffin of Clyde Christensen and Jim Caldwell. These two absolutely must leave along with Larry Coyer at the end of the year.

Game Ball: Donald Brown – great running from the 3rd year RB.

Next Sunday we have the mouthwatering prospect of a demolition by the Patriots – Belichick will undoubtedly savor the potential of a massacre, though if he runs it up, he’ll only run the risk of an angry Freeney/Mathis killing Tom Brady – which is at least something to watch. It’s not going to be overly pleasant, but we’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. There’s a whole lot more of the former than the latter this year, unfortunately.

Go Colts.

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