Five Plays – Analysis from the Colts 12th Regular Season Game of 2011

How very encouraging. The team showed a lot of heart to fight back from a 31-3 deficit to make it a 7 point game, and the game was ultimately decided on a last minute onside kick. Even at 31-3 down, I wasn’t disheartened.

Perhaps it was my mind adjusting expectations for my eyes, but I didn’t think the defense was as bad as people were making out. Injuries combined with a lack of talent in the secondary are going to make any defense look bad against Tom Brady, but I take heart from the fact that our run defense was very solid, and that the issues in pass defense are at least rectifiable.

The first thing that stood out for me was the total lack of pressure up the middle from the Colts DTs. Freeney and Mathis had a reasonable amount of success against the tackles outside, but when the QB can consistently step up, you’re going to have issues. Drake Nevis, please come back strong next year, unharmed by your foray to IR.

The second issue is as aforementioned, the lack of talent in the secondary. This is something which can be rectified, namely with the investment of draft picks and perhaps a foray into free agency at the end of the year.

And this optimism is without even getting into the encouraging performance of Dan Orlovsky at quarterback. Whilst some individuals within the blogosphere (Nate Dunlevy being one, a guy who I respect a ton) think that he’s a bad quarterback and that a showing in garbage time against the Pats is worthless, I drew something different.

Regardless of opposition and time on the clock, I saw NFL throws being made for this football team for the first time in weeks. Pierre Garcon continued his upward progress, and he’s certainly making a case that he’s the best WR on this football team – he absolutely must be re-signed.

Before proceeding, I’d like to say a little thank you to etid5353, lil2twins and pierrezombie. Whilst it’s not the type of piece to encourage much reader feedback, I absolutely crave it – thank you for commenting last week. It makes doing these pieces much easier, knowing that people out there read on a regular basis draw something from my work.

Onto the analysis. . .

Play #1 – 2nd and 5 from the IND 11 – 3:02 in the 2nd Quarter – Colts 3 – Patriots 3.

The following play is significant in terms of the game itself, and it serves to illustrate the issues I’ve mentioned regarding poor quality on the back end of the defense.

The Patriots line up in a power formation, with Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis at full back. He motions out to the left, and we’re left with a regular 2WR, 2TE, 1RB formation.

Green-Ellis and Welker are out left and right respectively, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are to the left and right respectively too, and Stevan Ridley is in the backfield. The Colts are lined up in the regular 4-3 base formation, with AJ Edds replacing the ever present Pat Angerer at MLB, and the Colts are going to utilize zone coverage over the middle.

The route concepts for the Patriots are fairly simple – attacking up the seams with the TE’s, with comeback routes from the three other receivers past the first down marker. Attacking the seams usually occurs when a team feels it can have it’s way with the safeties in the middle of the field. Unfortunately for the Colts, David Caldwell is one of these marked men.

The play develops in a reasonably straightforward fashion. Jamaal Anderson (#90, DE) gets good pressure from the LE position, though with a lack of push up the middle, Brady has all the space in the world in which to step up. Attacking the seams either side of AJ Edds requires appropriate reaction from the two safeties on the play.

And as you can see, David Caldwell takes it upon himself to cover Aaron Hernandez, despite the fact that he’s fairly tightly bracketed by Phillip Wheeler and Antoine Bethea, his partner in the secondary. In doing so, he leaves a cavernous gap in the end zone. Not an opportunity that a player of Tom Brady’s caliber is going to miss.

Sure enough, it’s a touchdown.

From the higher angle, we can see the play develop in it’s entirety. You can see that Bethea is closer to the line than Caldwell as the ball is snapped, and you can also see the close coverage that he plays on Hernandez. The route of Hernandez certainly raises a few issues for the zone coverage over the middle, but in this situation David Caldwell simply has to trust his partner to take his assignment, and get on with his own job instead of trying to match wits with Tom Brady. Instead, he takes a wasted step which costs the team a touchdown.

Look at the spatial distance between Bethea & Hernandez. On the opposite side of the scale, look at the gap between Caldwell & Gronkowski. I’m not suggesting that Hernandez isn’t a threat – indeed he is, and a fairly big one, too. However – Gronkowski is the primary red zone weapon for the Patriots, and he simply has to merit more of a look than this.

You could drive a bus through that gap in coverage. I haven’t been impressed by David Caldwell so far this year at all. He has stone hands as evidenced against the Buccaneers and Panthers, and he seems unaware in coverage. Safety is a position that absolutely must be addressed in the draft, come hell or high water. Look for a safety in rounds 2 or 3 – failing that, a free agent addition.

Play #2 – 2nd and 5 from the IND 21 – 12:21 in the 3rd Quarter – Colts 3 – Patriots 17.

Another from the ‘what on earth was this’ school of pass defense. Having watched this play 20 or so times with an eye for detail, I have absolutely no clue whether this was a blown assignment or an absolutely awful call. I’m leaning towards the latter, which is absolutely inexcusable.

The Patriots line up again in a 2WR, 2TE, 1RB formation. The twist here is that it’s being run in the no-huddle – Stevan Ridley and Deion Branch are split right and left respectively. Wes Welker is in the slot to the left side, whilst the 2 massive weapons at TE are lined up to the right – Hernandez tight to the line, Gronkowski in between Hernandez and Ridley.

Time for another seam attack. The Colts are in their 4-3 base, though they also now have a twist – David Caldwell slides down to oppose Wes Welker (?!), whilst AJ Edds is between the DTs on an A-Gap blitz. Antoine Bethea is the deep safety in the middle of the secondary, off-screen. From what I can deduce, the following was a 5 man blitz, with shallow zones across the field around 5 yards deep. Bethea then must effectively be responsible for the entire endzone, in that scenario.

Robert Mathis gets good pressure from the LE position, but due to the absolutely hideous coverage, it’s negated. Notice the lack of push from the DTs, again.

Seriously? I mean, seriously? My previous deductions are primarily due to this angle – there seems to be no interest on the part of the relevant players to play man coverage on Welker & Gronkowski, which means it has to be zone.

As you can see, Bethea is then left on an island all by himself to deal with the problem. I mean, really? Look at how open Wes Welker is on the play – Brady had the total choice to pass to either player. I cannot fathom the defensive call.

Sure enough (deja vu), it’s a touchdown.

Watch Phillip Wheeler opposite Gronkowski. If this is man coverage, it’s the laziest man coverage I’ve ever seen. Bethea is effectively useless on the play, aside from potential routes which converge to the center of the end zone.

If you could drive a bus through the previous hole in the coverage, this one is fit for a London double-decker. Bethea’s forlorn attempt at coming over is always going to be in vain, and so it proved.

Play #3 – 3rd and 2 from the IND 49 – 8:22 in the 3rd Quarter – Colts 3 – Patriots 24.

After Delone Carter fumbled a few weeks back and was subsequently benched, I took a stand for the guy. I didn’t believe that the benching was necessary, and I felt that the sample size of fumbles was inadequate to justify removing a promising rookie from the picture. After the following play, I don’t want to see him on the field for the rest of the year.

The designed run is a simple one – inside the RT, who will attempt to seal off the LE. Ryan Diem at RG will collapse inside to create a running lane, and in theory with good blocking throughout, it’s a convert-able chance on 3rd and short. The Colts are in 3WR, 1TE, 1RB with the usual personnel.

It’s tough to identify the defensive personnel given Belichick’s penchant for varied formations and putting guys in strange places, so I’ll talk about the offense. Pierre Garcon locks up his man (as usual), Austin Collie does the same. Jeff Linkenbach gets a terrific seal block on the outside, and the mash-up in the middle is dominated by Ryan Diem. Adequate running room, to say the least.

Carter takes his first contact at about the first down marker, with a smaller safety coming up to make the tackle. Carter bulldozes his way through.

He makes an additional 3-4 yards before the Patriots defenders converge on him. Love the tough running style.

By virtue of the weight of numbers around him, he’s tackled and ends up being flipped onto his back. At this point, he’s holding the ball like a hot potato.

And as frequently happens in the NFL, the ball comes loose. Love the tough running style, hate the fumbling. Despise it. This isn’t the NCAA any more. The Patriots recover at their own 35.

All looks fine here, as he’s contacted by Jerod Mayo, and Matthew Slater comes in for the secondary hit.

You can see here in further detail just how bad his attempt at ball retention is. There are a lot of defenders, sure. But that’s absolutely no excuse for such wanton waste of a possession.

In my mind, there are a lot of NFL running backs that could do what Carter does. At this point, we can accurately say that he runs hard between the tackles with the potential for breakouts – but he does so because he pushes the limits more than other running backs, who have the good sense as to when they should go down.

He could have easily made the first down and continued the drive, but he continued running amidst a pile of defenders in an attempt to gain an extra 4 yards. Ride the pine, Delone. Sort out the issues and come back next year. We need to see what Brown and Addai have.

Play #4 – 3rd and 6 from the NE 33 – 2:18 in the 4th Quarter – Colts 10 – Patriots 31.

Unwittingly, I’ve made the first 3 plays negative ones from a Colts perspective – despite all I said in the initial digression. Positive time!

The Colts line up in a 3WR, 1TE, 1RB formation. Reggie Wayne is out left with Jacob Tamme on the line on a short route. Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon are out right, and Joseph Addai is in pass protection against a heavy blitz.

Orlovsky backpedals to get an idea of the pocket, and all initially looks fine. The Patriots have however sent a big blitz.

The pressure eventually comes to bear on Orlovsky, and he does something unlike we’ve seen all year at the QB position. He steps into the throw in the face of severe pressure and delivers an NFL caliber throw down the field.

Thanks to the trickery of Pierre Garcon, he’s wide open down the field with room ahead to make a touchdown grab. The safety playing deep center field is too far away to have an impact.

He jogs into the end zone after a routine catch, and the Colts are within 14, with 2 minutes to go. Let’s take a look at how Garcon managed to get that open.

At the beginning of the route, he takes an outside step as if he’s going on a deep route straight off the bat.

He then fakes an inside step and gets the corner (Sterling Moore, #29 – DB) to turn his back.

At which point he re-accelerates on a deep pattern, and leaves Moore for dead. There are very few DB’s that could keep up with Garcon in a footrace, and Moore certainly is not one of them. Note to Jimmy and Bill – PAY THE MAN.

Play #5 – 1st and 10 from the NE 12 – 0:40 in the 4th Quarter – Colts 17 – Patriots 31.

If there’s any doubt that Orlovsky can make NFL throws, a sequence of two plays should be enough to at least cloud your mind. The play before the following almost made it in – a beautiful 40 yard completion to Garcon along the sideline. However, the following just screamed ‘NFL throw’ at me, and who am I to ignore such a convincing argument?

The Colts line up in the 3-1-1, as we’ve come to expect. The route concepts are fairly simple, given the time on the clock and the situation.

Orlovsky has a clean pocket in which to work, and he sets about finding his man, a certain #85. He gets the ball out quickly, with the minimum of fuss.

Garcon has next to no separation, and yet Orlovsky tries to work the ball in to him.

And he puts the ball on a dime. Garcon brings it in for a difficult catch, but the real positive on the play is the placement of the ball. Peyton Manning could not have executed in a better fashion.

Working with a minimum amount of separation in the corner of the endzone, Orlovsky finds a way to get Garcon the football in a situation in which the Colts were not technically out of the ballgame.

From the side angle, the lack of separation is further clarified – it’s less than a yard at the point of release.

Garcon does a great job locating the football, and he has McCourty where he wants him.

And thanks to fantastic ball placement and great hand-eye coordination, he brings it in for the catch. An absolutely brilliant football play, and I couldn’t care less about the game situation or the opposition.

Devin McCourty was an All-Pro last year, and whilst he’s struggled this season, he’s still no fool. The detractors of Orlovsky might bring in the other factors, but this play succeeds against everyone not named Darrelle Revis. Great job.

Conclusions:

As I mentioned previously, I drew encouragement from the game on both sides of the ball. A stout performance in run defense and a good showing from the offense (even if primarily located late in the game) was much more than I expected from the game going in.

Pierre Garcon continued his stellar season (at least when there’s a viable QB in play), and we’ve got hope moving forward. I think we’ll record a win this year – it may not be in Baltimore, and it may not be until Week 17, but I have faith.

There’s little else to say apart from onwards and upwards – keep watching college football for draft prospects if you’ve already started, and if you haven’t, it’s a fun thing to do.

Game Ball: Dan Orlovsky/Pierre Garcon. I can’t separate the two – Orlovsky’s impeccable accuracy was complemented by Garcon’s ridiculous spectacular catch ability late in the 4th quarter, and they helped each other out. Well done to the two of them.

Go Colts.

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