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Off the Charts: Week 11

Former game charter Ajit Kirpekar shares his observations on the Colts’ loss at New England

Here were my thoughts coming into this game:

  • In watching last year’s meeting, the colts’ offense had an unusual game, in that they started out well, then went through a massive lull, before exploding in the 4th quarter with a series of amazing throws and catches. New England played the game in a primarily nickel fashion with a 4-3 look. In addition to the usual 4 down lineman, they had played with 3 dbs and alternated between 3 safeties and 2 linebackers depending on down and distance. They got burned in the beginning by Clark, so they resolved to chip and harass him with a linebacker, effectively limiting him for most of the game. They played a lot of two 2 deep safeties, alternating between doubling the inside receiver and shadowing wayne. Both NE corners starting corners covered well that night. The Two big matchup issues that surfaced in that game are also the same two issues that have been reoccurring every week. First, the Colts’ run game has to be able to punish a team that plays a blatant pass rush front. The other involves Garcon being able to beat man coverage which hasn’t happened all year. In that game, he faced a good corner in Leigh Bodden and save for one brilliant throw manning on a sluggo route, Garcon was largely held in a vice grip. He wasn’t be facing Bodden this week so Garcon has no more excuses left. As Greg Cosell noted, this offense boils down to how effectively they can run the ball. As long as teams continue to play these pass defense fronts, Manning can only do so much with the limited personnel he has. Even still, as tempting as it is to focus on the running game, this game will come down to Manning brilliance. Last year he beat tight coverage all night with surreal accuracy; making stick throws after stick throws.
  • Its hard to look at last year’s defensive effort and see how it translates to this year. The big leak for the Colts’ defense that night was Moss, who absolutely toasted their safeties for big plays. Also unheralded was Kevin Faulk, who made key runs and blitz pickup plays. Since neither is in the lineup, this Pats offense is now back to what it used to be, a short yardage attacking offense with their entire personnel dedicated to this style. For all of Brady’s brilliance, he’s not a gifted stick thrower as Manning or even Brees and Rivers are. Instead, the he uses his great vision and amazing pocket presence to spread the field and find the 2nd and 3rd short option. The pass blockers provide him ample time and his patience allows him to find the right target. The main attack comes from their in space players; Welker, the tight ends, Woodhead etc. They also use Branch to attack medium routes on occasion and Tate whenever they need to take a shot down the field. The key to defending this style comes down to 2 big things. 1) you must get pressure from the edge and hurry Brady’s progression. It’s not so much sacking or fumbles as it is to bait him into making a short throw to a wideout for minimal gain. Again, he won’t try to stick a tough throw down the field usually. 2) you must be able to stop the run game game and tackle the in space receivers. This means tackling Woodhead,Welker and Green Elis on those famous dumpoffs, draws, and screens.
  • One side of this game that will probably not get mentioned at all will be the enormous field position and penalty advantage New England had. The Colts had 9 total offensive drives and four of them started behind the Colts 20 yard line. The fact that only one of these was the result of a punt is truly upsetting. Why was this big deal? Well, historically, teams that start drives at the 15 and lower more likely to give up points from going 3 and out and punting they are from scoring. As for penalties, the Pats escaped with 1 penalty the entire game, while the Colts were whistled 6 times for 48 yards. I don’t think it was a conspiracy out there, but even the most disciplined teams get whistled more than ONCE.
  • There was nothing unique about any one of the Colts’ drives as they were all pretty much identical except for the end result. Out of 9 drives, the Colts were in position to score in 6 of them. Of course, 4 were touchdowns, two were interceptions. Even still, the Colts never went 3 and out the entire night despite being backed up in field position. The Colts ran a variety of their plays out of single back three wide, using Blaire White and Garcon as the other two receivers and Tamme as the tight end.  There was nothing spectacular about the play designs, it was a game of ridiculous stick throws against very tight coverage with some good catches. Garcon, in particular, had maybe his best all around day with some very tough catches in traffic and a few nice routes. Ditto for Wayne and Blaire White. This tends to happen when your quarterback is on fire. Maybe the most amazing part of that has to do with the fact that the Colts did all of this with no running game against a full on pass defense. The Pats played the Colts exactly like they did last year and I think they felt they could live with the results. That defense is designed to play very tight coverage, take away deep passes, and force the receivers to get open. It can live with Manning getting time in the pocket if it means playing sound coverage.
  • I’m not sure how much I should applaud the Indy O line. They faced a pretty predictable 4 man rush most of the night. Sure, the pats mixed in a few exotic defenses but it still came down to a 4 man rush and the colts did an Ok job. They gave Manning time to throw for the most part, save for the last interception where Diem blew a routine block and forced Manning into an inaccurate throw.  In the run game, however, they were atrocious, absolutely terrible.
  • In evaluating Manning’s game, I think overall, we should be very impressed. The three interceptions are blemishes, sure, but he had one of those games that almost no one outside of the Colts can appreciate. I thought he didn’t get the time or the passing lanes that Brady got, and with no running game, he had to make all of his throws into very tight windows. A completed pass may look the same on the stat sheet, but they aren’t all earned the same way. Its games like last week that convinces me how singular a player Manning is. Stick throws are very hard to do and he might be the only QB in the world that is able to do it on a consistent basis. A fact only scouts and the NFL matchup crew seems to understand. However, as much as I admire that about him, I do get mad at his wide receivers and running game for forcing him to do all of this.
  • People got mad that the pass rush was ineffective this game. The truth is, the pass rush is only truly effective when one of two circumstances happen. One, if they get a lead or when the other team can’t run the football. In both circumstances, they can ignore then run and head up field and rush the passer. That’s probably what also explains the large DVOA game on defense between home and away. At home, the Colts can do a much better job of stopping the run, which in turn improves their pass rush, which in turn, improves their coverage. The leak this week from the run game as I saw it, came down to very poor tackling. I thought gap wise, the Colts did an ok job of setting the edge and while they were blown off the ball a few times, the missed tackles were back breakers.
  • Merrill Hodge mentioned this once on the NFL matchup show. He was telling Sal Paolantonio that an effective running game has a much bigger effect on the passing game than just on play action. What it does is it forces defenses into run tendencies and into very predictable fronts. Sure, a defense can try to disguise pre-snap, but once the ball is hiked, a good QB can anticipate the coverage concepts because they must now concentrate on certain gaps and cutback lanes. An offense can now broaden their formations and are able to dictate individual matchups and run route combinations that isolate certain defenders. Looked familiar in this game? That’s what ended up happening. Brady had tons of time and was able to attack the Colts with a variety of short passes. Out of all of their offensive drives, they only punted three times, had no turnovers, and effectively destroyed this defense in nearly all phases. The only times that the pats were forced to punt was when they started going into predictable formations.  In their first three and out, they went all pass. In the 2nd three and out, they went all run. Despite the poor results, I was impressed with the creative fronts that the Colts utilized. In years past, the Colts would’ve stuck to their cover 2 front no matter what. Instead, Coyer moves his backers around and played some man coverage. The problem as I see it for right now is the Colts don’t quite have the personnel to run these hybrid fronts that Larry Coyer likes, but that could change in the future with the draft. Either way, this is something that left me encouraged.