Ben Savage breaks down the Colts win over the Tennesse Titans by focusing on five game-changing plays.
Huzzah! And just like that, ignominy is avoided. After a year of torturous survival, Colts fans finally had something to cheer about on Sunday afternoon with a suitably cathartic win against the Titans at home. A revitalized running game under the stewardship of Donald Brown combined with passable play from Dan Orlovsky allowed the offense to compete, but the real transformation was on defense. Crucial turnovers at opportune moments in the game were forthcoming from the unit, with maligned cornerback Jacob Lacey and the rising young leader defensive leader Pat Angerer crucial in their respective roles. The much-feared fate of failing to win a game avoided, we can reflect on a game of positives with the occasional blip. As a result, I’ve chosen 5 plays today that are all positive from a Colts perspective. They changed the game and were obvious selections – and while the Pierre Garcon fumble in the first half was an obstacle to overcome, it doesn’t fit with the theme so will not be included.
Thanks go to Peyton for President, pierrezombie, matt_has, Dr. T and mshah9008 — alongside the other regular commentators. Special mention for jtgolfer who didn’t hesitate to make corrections which I appreciated. Thanks chaps. And so, in an uplifting mood, we begin. Play #1 – 2nd and 6 from the TEN 18 – 9:45 in the 3rd Quarter – Colts 3 – Titans 6. Quick detour from uplifting moods – the Colts are still in prime position to throw petrol onto the brewing Luck-Manning controversy. One man that I consider most likely to leave, regardless of scenario, is Reggie Wayne. A late first-round pick, Reggie stands as a true example of value at the latter end of the first round, and against those who rail against Polian’s drafting. The following play stands as a monument to his route-running skills, alongside a formidable pair of hands. The Colts line up in a 2WR, 1TE, 2RB set. Reggie is split wide left, Pierre Garcon out right. Brody Eldridge is attached to the right side of the line as a blocker, with Jerome Felton in at fullback behind him, also stacked to the right. Donald Brown is 8 yards deep, and will take a play-fake before running a short route to the marker. Thus, the Colts have 7 blockers to deal with what ends up being a 4-man rush from the Titans, who go into full Cover-2 mode. The routes are designed to beat such coverage, as we will see. As Orlovsky turns around for the play-fake, the Colts have done an excellent job in pass protection. A clear pocket is available for Orlovsky to utilize, in part due to the excellent job done by Anthony Castonzo at LT. Having had some very rocky days in recent games against speed pass rushers, he fares well here against the versatile Jason Jones (#91, DE/DT) out on an island. Felton roams the backfield for additional rushers in vain. The pocket continues to remain intact through the progression of the play, as the Titans drop into their zone coverage responsibilities. Orlovsky has time to survey and decipher the coverage, and ultimately sees Reggie Wayne on a zone-buster to the side of the endzone. The fact that he can step into the pocket significantly improves the accuracy and power on the ball, without which the play would undoubtedly fail. Looking past his safety valve Brown on the underneath route, he aims for a precise spot. As the ball arrives, Reggie is very close to Michael Griffin in coverage, who has come over from the Free Safety spot to cover. Concentration and precise coordination required. Fortunately enough, Reggie is — in my opinion — the best route-runner in the NFL, and his fantastic hands aid him in his role as veteran receiver. He taps his feet down as he makes the catch, and the Colts take a 4 point lead in the 3rd quarter. We can see here as the route develops that Reggie crosses the face of Cortland Finnegan at the corner position, dragging him towards the middle of the field and away from the anticipated area of the throw. As he moves out of the eye-line of Finnegan, he rounds his route off to take himself away from the attention of Michael Griffin in the deep center. Finnegan doesn’t immediately realize what Wayne has done, and has to remain in position because of Donald Brown’s underneath route to his side of the field. Had the ball been delivered truly on-time from Orlovsky, it would’ve been a much simpler touchdown – and had this been a Peyton Manning throw, it would’ve arrived around now. Instead, we’re forced to wait. Griffin ends up having adequate time to close the gap between himself and Wayne, but it isn’t enough. A well placed ball from Orlovsky allows Reggie to make the catch in bounds, and hands the Colts the advantage. These skills are what Reggie brings to the table, and will have to be considered in detail before any move is made to let him walk. His contractual requirements will be an interesting storyline to follow in the inevitably tumultuous off-season ahead – his age and declining production have been perpetuated by awful quarterback play this year, so it’s truly anyone’s guess as to how much he’ll want in negotiations. We’ll have to see. Play #2 – 1st and 10 from the TEN 29 – 6:42 in the 3rd Quarter – Colts 10 – Titans 6. One of the primary reasons for the Colts decline this year has been the play of the secondary – with Kelvin Hayden released, Jerraud Powers was supposed to be the glue for the unit, complemented by Justin Tryon and Jacob Lacey. Tryon was exiled for telling the staff what he thought of not playing (a stance I am sympathetic to, I thought he was a very good corner in our system), and Lacey regressed in immediate showings, which — alongside issues at strong safety — allowed for terrible pass coverage in all areas. This game was the first in which I can say that the bleeding was staunched – and it bodes well for our next encounters, against TJ Yates on Thursday and Blaine Gabbert in Week 17. So begins the redemption of Jacob Lacey. In an attempt to wrest back the initiative on the back of the Reggie Wayne touchdown, the Titans attempt to run a higher tempo offense to put the Colts off-balance. As they shuffle the pack, Chris Johnson changes from runner to receiver, and attempts to run a slant route on the outside in the empty set. His inexperience in the role is painfully illustrated, as he is shoved aside on a competitive throw for an interception return for Lacey. Initial protection for Hasselbeck is good, and his three step routine is in full flow. At this point, Johnson has made his initial cut for the slant route, and Lacey has noticed it. From here, it’s all about competing in a drive for the ball, and Lacey does a good job in having his way with Johnson. When the ball is thrown, Johnson has to be the favorite. He has inside position on the ball and can utilie his body to take advantage. Perhaps Lacey’s aggression has been augmented by the criticism he’s had come his way so far this year – it’s certainly easy to see in this play as he forces Johnson aside and stretches to make a great interception. He sets off with the ball, leaving Johnson on the ground humiliated. He has the angle to the corner, and he takes full advantage. Touchdown, and a massive advantage. Watch here how Johnson’s route isn’t as concise as you’d like, with an impact on how the play develops. As Johnson makes the initial cut, the read-and-react skills of Lacey become the pivotal influence, and Johnson isn’t prepared for the match-up against a corner. Lacey’s faithful stretch brings dividends in the form of the ball, and he uses Johnson’s lack of toughness and intensity against him, forcing him to the ground. The encounter was a mirror of the day itself, as this was the moment the Colts initially shrugged the Titans off in pursuit of the win. They would make another go of it, but from here it was an uphill battle. Play #3 – 1st and 10 from the TEN 35 – 12:31 in the 4th Quarter – Colts 20 – Titans 6. One of the few bright spots on defense shined on Sunday – Pat Angerer, who seems to be assuming the mantle of leader in the front 7. He’s undersized, tough and has a knack for finding the football, and stands as the ideal for the rest of our players who ‘suffer’ with similar impediments. As in the previous play, the Titans are going to heavy receiver sets in order to make an impact on the Colts defense. Again, a play is going to be made. I’ve circled Angerer in green – he’ll be dropping into a deep center field zone in a Cover-2 package. As such, he has the responsibility to roam within that area of the field to the detriment of the Titans. Hasselbeck’s protection again stands up reasonably well, and he notices Jared Cook matched up on Ernie Sims – a match-up they have exploited previously. Sims over-pursues in trademark fashion, and Cook receives the ball with no Colts defender within 5 yards. He takes the catch and proceeds to run upfield. Angerer notices and begins his pilgrimage of doom. He jumps and wrenches Cook’s arm as he runs upfield, flying wildly in the process. Cook fumbles the ball in mid-air, with only Colts defenders in the vicinity. Chris Rucker eventually falls on the ball and is promptly taken down after the damage is done. Great football play from Angerer. In similar fashion to Jacob Lacey in the last play, Angerer’s click and close abilities show up in positive terms. He adjusts to Cook as the target from an early stage, and it frees him up to make plays. Whether it’s a straight up bulldozer or a more athletic play such as this, it’s all gravy. The technique works, and drives a further nail into the coffin of the Titans. Play #4 – 1st and 10 from the IND 25 – 7:28 in the 4th Quarter – Colts 20 – Titans – 6. If Pat Angerer had been our first round pick in 2010 and Jerry Hughes a second rounder, the criticism heading of the direction of Bill Polian with regards to recent drafts would be diminished significantly. Unfortunately, history cannot be erased or changed at our convenience, and we’re left with the current situation – one in which the first rounder looks to be a total bust, whilst his second round colleague is an accomplished centerpiece on an NFL defense. Guess what? The Titans go to a receiver-heavy set with a backfield dump-off in an attempt to enforce their will on the Colts. Big deja vu. Again, the Colts simplified Tampa-2 defense results in a turnover, in a magnificent fashion for the Colts. The Colts Tampa-2 is augmented by the use of stunting on the D-Line, something which has been working with success in recent weeks. The black circles are Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, pushing the roiling mass of the Titans offensive line backwards, for the Colts Defensive Tackles to choose their gaps and rush the passer. Antonio Johnson (#99, DT) chooses his gap well, opting for an outside lane to flush Hasselbeck. As it is, Hasselbeck is rolling to the left and grants Johnson immediate pressure on the throw. It’s a questionable release from Hasselbeck, and it only gets worse. He slings it right into the zone of a marauding Pat Angerer. It’s an easy interception, and with it disappears yet another opportunity for the Titans. Hasselbeck’s posture at release clearly isn’t desirable, and obviously came about due to a lingering injury which he had been playing with. Antonio Johnson’s pressure adds an element of urgency to the throw, too. He throws it right into Angerer’s bread basket. The deep route also has coverage from Joe Lefeged. It’s a simplified Tampa-2 which can have benefits in the right situation – and part of the problem with Coyer revolved around how befuddled his players looked when executing his play-calling. There have been improvements since Coyer’s removal, so fair enough for that move. Angerer takes the opportunity, and the Titans are again batted away by a resilient Colts defense. Play #5 – 1st and 10 from the IND 20 – 3:43 in the 4th Quarter – Colts 20 – Titans 13. At the start of the season, I was one of many clamoring for the removal of Donald Brown from the roster in favor of other running backs. He had contributed nothing up until the start of the season, and there was little indication he was a viable starter at the position for us. Thankfully, I’m not in charge, and we have a front office who by and large knows what it is doing. He has been our best runner this year, and has shown that he requires retention heading into the future. He’s been tougher and nippier at the spot since being introduced, and has been one of the sole bright spots on the year. The Colts line up having conceded a touchdown on the play previous. They are in the 2WR, 2TE, 1RB formation in which Reggie Wayne splits out left, and Pierre Garcon, Jacob Tamme and Brody Eldridge combine from outside to inside in the bunch formation to the right of the offensive line. Donald Brown is in the backfield. As he takes the hand-off, the blocking proves to be inadequate on the outside, with the much lauded Pierre Garcon at fault. Akeem Ayers (the Titans’ first round pick) blows through and should have Brown dead to rights. He walls off the right side of the offensive line, and the game plan is in tatters. Instead of running behind the team’s strongest asset in the run blocking game, a 5 yard loss looks likely. Brown shrugs off an attempted wrap from Ayers and makes the improvised decision to reverse field. He reverses, and is ultimately aided with a block from his fellow U-Conn alumnus Dan Orlovsky. He wedges himself in between Brown and Michael Griffin, which allows Brown to get the edge and have the angle. It’s an unorthodox block, but it’s crucial. From here, Brown has the field in front of him and can step up and work his magic, with the aid of Reggie Wayne. Wayne does enough to take care of Cortland Finnegan on the play, and as a consequence Downtown Donald goes 80 yards and ties a franchise record for a touchdown run. Jacob Tamme also hustles upfield on the play to assist, but in truth it didn’t matter. Brown zips on past. Touchdown, ballgame. Brown seems to get to the endzone without facing too much opposition, after he makes the first escape. The reason for this is the 8-man front employed by the Titans, which collapses in on itself and occupies the vast majority of the defense. The run to the right shifts the center of gravity of every player in the front, from which it is very difficult to readjust. The seething mess of the pocket becomes Brown’s significant advantage. If he can get into position with the angle, he can turn it into a big run. With the aid of Orlovsky, he does this. Reggie Wayne’s mosquito-like blocking on Cortland Finnegan is enough to turn it into a big one. With that, the Colts get a win and lose the stigma which had been attached all year. There is a God. Conclusions: The Colts were impressive in all phases – they shut down Chris Johnson with relative ease as seems to be traditional, and succeeded in getting after an injured Matt Hasselbeck, forcing turnovers in the process. Not utilizing the passing game as much as in previous weeks was a solid component which succeeded primarily to 161 yards and a touchdown from Donald Brown – a continuation of his improvement this year. I was drinking during the game due to the expected defeat, so by the time of our turnaround I was fairly squiffy and even more receptive to a change in fortunes. It was really pleasing to see the team stand up for itself like that against a divisional rival, particularly with strong defense and explosive offense. Having 5 plays to work with which display the positive aspects of our football team has been thoroughly enjoyable, and I hope we can continue in future to have such opportunity. Game Ball: Donald Brown/Pat Angerer. Can’t separate the two of them – they both played an integral role in our success this week and can be proud of their performances this year, in contrast to the rest of the team. As always folks, we move on. This week, it’s a home game against Houston on Thursday Night Football. Hopefully we do a credible job of turning up. Go Colts.