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Inside the matchup: Colts at Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  December 3, 2011 12:00 PM

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In an effort to get a little bit more inside the game, Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, will give us his insight on the intricacies of the game. Look for his analysis before each game.

BREAKING DOWN THE COLTS' OFFENSE

The Colts offense is not the same one that we’ve seen in years past. Led by quarterbacks Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and now Dan Orlovsky, it is not as potent because of the limitations of the aforementioned quarterbacks. The former struggled entirely picking up the offense while the latter two have some mobility, which is a plus, but struggle with accuracy and decision making, which plays into the hands of the Patriots defense.

However, despite having a different signal caller under center this year, the offensive philosophy hasn’t changed. The Colts still primarily work out of 11 (1 back, 1 tight end) and 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends) personnel. They they will also turn to 21 personnel (2 backs, 1 tight end).

Much like the lack of change in the personnel groupings from years past, the Colts still spend their time using forms of zone blocking, such as “area” blocking in pass protection, along the offensive line. The offensive line has taken a step back this year, as they’ve struggled to protect Painter. The two offensive tackles, Jeff Linkenbach (right) and (left) Anthony Castonzo, have had issues with getting their hands off their hips, consequently allowing pass rushers to get into their chest and gain the leverage advantage. Although they have had their issues, they also haven’t gotten much help either from Painter because of his excessively deep drop backs, which benefits the Patriots pass rush. To put it kindly, former offensive line coach Howard Mudd, now with the Eagles, would not be proud.

Moreover, although the Colts running game has had some success this season, it is still lacking consistency. It consists mainly of the zone run concepts, inside and outside zone. They heavily rely on these two concepts to develop their play action passing game. Also, Indianapolis will run Lead Draw, which is commonly seen on third down and long.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment this season has been the passing game. The receivers have gotten separation from defensive backs, but the quarterbacks haven’t been able to get them the ball. Some of the concepts -- to go along with their various screen passes, that they have used over the years and still today --are horizontal passing concepts that set up vertical ones. Horizontal passing concepts are used to attack defenses by stretching them horizontally and putting a single defender in a ‘bind’ by pitting him in a 2 receivers on 1 situation. One of the concepts that they use is the Flood concept.

flood_uh.gif
(Flood concept can be seen on the right of the diagram, with the 3 pass catchers flooding one side of the field.)

To attack defenses vertically, they will turn to their 3 and 4 Verticals concept. This is something that I’ve written about in the past, like last week’s matchup report against the Eagles.

The four verticals concept is one of the best concepts in all of football, in my opinion, because it attacks the defense deep, which puts added pressure on defensive backs. They tend to give cushion to wide receivers to be able to better cover them and see their route through, but a “Go” route from the four verticals concept eats up that cushion quickly, thus forcing corners and safeties to react quicker. This concept can be classified as a vertical stretch or a horizontal stretch of the defense — it all depends on the defense, and how they defend the concept.

It is a vertical stretch concept because it puts pressure on defenders vertically. It attacks all the deep levels of the field by sending four vertical routes down it. It can also be viewed as a horizontal stretch because it stretches out the safety by sending two vertical threats in his direction. An example of this would be four verticals against a one-high safety coverage (Cover 1, Cover 3). The single high safety would see two vertical threats to each side of him while he is backpedaling down the middle of the field. In that case, the quarterback would throw where the safety doesn’t go, based off of leverage. All of this makes it a very fascinating concept.

BREAKING DOWN THE COLTS' DEFENSE

Indianapolis’ defense has had similar issues this year to years past. They’ve struggled to stop the run as well as defend the pass. Despite this, their defensive philosophy hasn’t changed; they still rely on a few coverages and mainly the front four for pass rush.

Although Colts defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney don’t have the sack numbers that they’ve had in years past at this point, they are still one of the better duos in the league and apply pressure on quarterbacks. Their front seven consists mainly of Over and Under fronts.

An Over front has a 3 technique (outside shoulder of the Guard) to the strong side, while a 1 technique (outside shoulder of the Center) on the weak side of the offensive formations strength. Meanwhile, the linebackers in the Over front are aligned inside of the tackle box.

over.jpg

In an Under front, the two techniques of the interior defensive lineman are flipped, with the 3 technique being on the weak side while the 1 technique is on the strong side. In this front, the strong side linebacker (SAM) or a safety, which is often the case in Indianapolis’ defense when they go to a Nickel (5 DBs) package, is in a 9 technique (outside shoulder of Tight End).

BILLS4-3UNDER-thumb-500x196-51366.jpg

They will also go to their Even front, which means the Center of the offense is uncovered. When they go to this front, their defensive tackles are lined up in 3 techniques (outside shoulder of Guards) while the defensive ends are in 5 techniques (outside shoulder of Offensive Tackles).

The Colts do not blitz much, although they will frequently show a double A gap (areas between Center and Guards) blitz before dropping back into coverage at the snap of the ball. Instead of blitzing, they will use their quick defensive ends in pass rush “games,” which are stunts and twists. One example of their stunts is commonly called an ‘ET’ stunt, which is an (defensive) end- (defensive) tackle stunt.

As noted earlier, the Colts like to go to their Nickel package, which consists of five defensive backs. When they do this, they like to frequently walk up their safety into the box. In this Nickel package, they stick with their four man front and play various coverage behind it.

The coverages that their defenses is made up of are Cover 1, Cover 1 Robber, Cover 2/Tampa 2 and Cover 3.

Robber_medium.PNG
(credit to shakinthesouthland.com for the image of Cover 1 Robber out of an Even front)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Colts QBs vs. Patriots Secondary - Dan Orlovsky has been named the starter, but its possible that we end up seeing Curtis Painter as well because Orlovsky struggles mightily with decision making and accuracy. Regardless, the Patriots secondary will have their opportunities to create turnovers, as they did against the Eagles and Chiefs.
  • Colts LBs and Safeties vs. Patriots Tight Ends - The Patriots tight ends have obviously been a problem for defenses this year, and it could be the case once again in this game. Although the Colts linebackers have been one of the few bright spots at times for the team, they still have had some issues in coverage because they are very aggressive and consequently undisciplined. The same holds true for the safeties of the Colts, as they have let tight ends and slot receivers attack the seams with success this year.
  • Patriots Pass Rush vs. Colts Tackles - LT Anthony Castonzo and RT Jeff Linkenbach struggle getting their hands off their hips. This is a significant tendency that the Patriots pass rushers will likely take advantage of, especially end Andre Carter. Carter’s relentless motor and experience will likely be a problem for rookie Anthony Castonzo.
  • Patriots Run Game vs. Colts Front 7 - The Colts have not done well defending the run this year, simply put. The interior defensive lineman of the Colts struggle anchoring while the defensive ends take themselves out of plays with their aggressiveness. A run concept like the Draw could be a success for the Patriots.

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For more on the Patriots defense, read Alen's blog post at The Score. Follow Alen on Twitter at @Dumonjic_Alen.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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