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Inside the matchup: Colts at Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  November 18, 2012 10:56 AM

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We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.

INSIDE THE COLTS’ OFFENSE

The Colts-Patriots rivalry has been renewed now that the Colts are relevant once again with a 6-3 record. These aren’t Peyton Manning’s Colts however, they are Andrew Luck’s. Despite it being a different signal-caller under center, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate the two because of Luck's passing ability. Luck has the total package when it comes to the quarterback position, possessing arm strength, accuracy, vision, pocket presence and mobility to attack the defense all over the field.

Although he is a rookie, Luck has a lot on his plate in a multiple offense that features the 11 (1 back, 1 tight end), 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends), 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) and 22 (2 backs, 2 tight ends) personnel groupings. Indianapolis’ offense is designed by offensive coordinator and interim head coach Bruce Arians, who previously coached Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers and has essentially brought over the entire offense.

This offense features a significant amount of stack and bunch sets with receivers and use of tight ends. It particularly works on short routes that get the receiver in space and allow him to pick up yards after the catch, such as on screens or spot routes, as well as in the intermediate and deep middle of the field. Arians’ offense uses a variety of routes in the middle of the field, such as skinny posts, deep crossing routes, curls (“all-curls” concept), option routes (“seam-read”) and dig routes. All routes, short and intermediate, are thrown from three- and five-step drops by Luck, who is often protected by five- and six-man blocking schemes that are standard throughout the NFL.

In the running game, there is a heavy reliance on Luck's legs (five rushing touchdowns), which he has used to extend drives on third down, as the true ball-carriers are struggling. The offensive line struggles to establish the line of scrimmage in my opinion and, overall, the tailbacks are not overly talented physically. The run concepts include power running and zone stretches, which Arians was known for in Pittsburgh.

INSIDE THE COLTS’ DEFENSE

Defensively, the Colts are led by defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and much of the system appears to be what he ran in San Diego as well as what head coach Chuck Pagano ran in Baltimore as its defensive coordinator.

The front seven consists of the 3-4 and 4-3 fronts and much of it is from the under and over schemes, which were typically associated in the past with primarily pure 4-3 defenses. With NFL defenses continuing to rely heavily on the 1-gap philosophy, the implementation of the under and over fronts has been significant and crucial.

Further, the under front consists of a 1-technique (outside shoulder of center) nose tackle on the strong side (to the tight end side) of the formation while the 3-technique (outside shoulder of a guard) defensive tackle is on the weak side of the set.

Conversely, the over front has the 1-technique on the weak side of the formation while the strong side has the 3-technique.

The Colts have also gone to double 3-techniques, leaving the center and both A-gaps uncovered, on passing downs. This is another front that’s been used quite a bit throughout the NFL, particularly on obvious passing downs such as third-and-long.

In the defensive backfield, the Colts have deviated from the famous (or infamous) Tampa-2/Cover-2 concept that was so popular throughout the Dungy-Caldwell era. Now the Colts utilize a multitude of coverages in the back end to show different looks to defenses and they include Cover 1 (man-Free), Cover 2 Man (man-under), Cover 3 (4 under, 3 deep) and Cover 4 (quarters).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Colts’ deep passing: The Colts like to pass the ball vertically, throwing it on 27 percent of Luck’s attempts. This is second highest in the league per AdvancedNFLStats.com and they come in different forms. The Colts will attack defenses vertically off of play action, with deep crossing routes, while also simply lining up in shotgun and throwing seam routes.
  • Patriots’ third down defense: Indianapolis is seventh in third-down percentage in the NFL and many conversions have come courtesy of Luck extending the play with his feet when avoiding pressure. He can beat the defense with his arm and legs, which would likely lead to Patriots coach Bill Belichick treating him as an additional gap to account for and which explains why he compared him to Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton recently. This is going to be a significant battle to watch simply because the Colts are pretty good in this area while the Patriots’ defense is the second worst in the league on third down.
  • Colts’ third down defense: On the other side of the trenches, the Colts are good in third down defense, ranking 12th in the NFL while the Patriots' offense is second-best in converting third downs. This is going to be another big battle that will be worth watching because it will prove to be a significant factor in the Patriots’ chances of putting points on the scoreboard, which they will have to do against the Colts if they have issues with defending the deep ball once again.
  • Middle of the field: Whether the Colts’ offense runs the ball or passes it, the middle of the field will be a big factor in this game because of the aforementioned reason of Arians calling a lot of plays that work the middle of the field. In the past, Belichick has said that he builds his team to defend the middle of the field -- between the hashes to be specific -- and this will be a big test because the linebackers and safeties are going to have be disciplined in executing their assignments. The linebackers can’t have their eyes in the backfield too long, reading the run and consequently allowing the tight ends to get behind them while the safeties also can’t be cheating in the backfield or they’ll get burned vertically.

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For more interesting football reading, check out Alen's blog posts at The Score, and The Sideline View. Follow Alen on Twitter at @Dumonjic_Alen, or send him feedback via email.

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

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