2012 Colts Preseason Tape Review: Hybrid 3-4 Defense Against The Rams

Aug 12, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapols Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney (93) and Robert Mathis (98) all smiles as they sit on the bench celebrating the Colts first touchdown during a game against the St. Louis Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Because we have access to more tape, our breakdowns and reviews for the preseason games will involve going back to footage, watching key series, and finding trends for the Colts new offensive and defensive systems. It's involved work, and you BETTER LIKE IT!

We have talked a great deal during the offseason about the new hybrid defense that new Colts head coach Chuck Pagano brought with him from Baltimore. Smart Football's Chris B. Brown gave us the best breakdown we could hope for on how this new trend is truly "evolutionary" in the modern NFL. In the Colts first preseason game for 2012, Pagano's hybrid scheme was unveiled, featuring traditional 4-3 defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis playing outside linebacker positions. Much has been written and said about how frequently Mathis and Freeney will play linebacker, with Freeney saying he'd spend roughly 75% of his snaps rushing from his traditional spot as right defensive end.

We re-watched the first defensive series against the Rams, and it gave us a pretty interesting idea of just how different and diverse this new hybrid 3-4 look is from the 4-3 Tampa-2 scheme that the Colts had used for ten years. Follow us after the jump for the details...

Freeney and Mathis played only one defensive series in the Colts 38-3 preseason beatdown of the Rams, but it was enough to show us just how Pagano and his defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, plan to use them. The first drive for the Rams was an 11-play affair which ended in a turnover-on-downs at the Colts 37 yard line. Here's what we saw:

  • For the first four plays, the Colts operated out of a base 3-4. Freeney lined up on the right side, but rushed from a stand-up position. Mathis was on the left side, also standing up. The Rams ran the ball for three of those first four plays.
  • On the fourth play, a 2nd-and-9 from the Indy 37, Manusky blitzed both his middle linebackers. However, instead of rushing, both Freeney and Mathis dropped into coverage. Also, before the defense got set, Freeney and Mathis switched sides. Freeney ran over and lined up left, Mathis right. The result was rather interesting. At the snap, Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner blitzed, and Conner managed to pressure Sam Bradford right up the middle, nearly sacking him. However, Bradford made a quick read and threw a first down pass to tight end Lance Kendricks.
  • Next play, 1st-and-10 from the Rams 45, Freeney lined up at the right side again, but with his hand on the ground. Mathis was left, standing up. Bradford rolled away from Freeney, who was doubled by LT left tackle Rodger Saffold and runningback Stephen Jackson, and completed a 7-yarder to Steve Smith.
  • Next play, a 2nd-and-3, the Colts are back to a base 3-4. Freeney and Mathis are standing.
  • The next play, after the Rams convert the 2nd down on a Jackson run, Manusky had Freeney with his hand on the ground again. Mathis is left, standing up. Another quick throw for Bradford to the right side, caught by Danny Amendola for a seven yard gain. Worth noting that right side throws were directly at former Rams corner Justin King, who started the game at left corner. King was playing ten yards off Danny Amendola.
  • On 2nd-and-4, no more cushion for King. He comes right up on Amendola. Colts are back in 3-4, Freeney and Mathis standing. Once again, the pass rushing duo have flipped sides. Mathis rushes from right, Freeney left. Antoine Bethea crept up and hung out in the middle zone. King played bump-and-run with Amendola. Powers close-up on Steve Smith, but doesn't bump him. Mathis' rush from the left pressures Bradford into overthrowing Smith, who is well-covered along left sideline by Powers. Mathis knocks Bradford down after he released the ball.
  • On an obvious 3rd down pass situation, things get even more interesting. The Colts substitute. Antonio Johnson, who has been lining up over the center in a traditional NT spot, is out. In comes Drake Nevis. The Colts are now back to what they ran for years, a base 4-3 with the DTs rushing through a gap. Freeney and Mathis are back to their traditional sides, but both are rushing from DE positions (a.k.a. hands on the ground). The rest of the defense is in nickel. Cassius Vaughn is in, and he is lined up at left corner. King comes inside and covers slot receiver. Another interesting wrinkle is that Angerer and Conner show that they will blitz. Both are the only LBers on the field. Bradford takes too much time reading this switch and is called for delay of game. 5 yard penalty on the Rams.
  • Still 3rd down, but now 9 yards instead of 4. Same set-up on defense. Tom Zbikowski creeps down into the box, threatening blitz, but he backs off. Rams try a screen pass, but it is stopped short of the first by Nevis.
  • Rams go for it on 4th-and-3 from the Colts 37. Again, Freeney and Mathis are still at rush DE. Manusky blitzes Justin King from the slot corner position. This pressure, along with some from Fili Moala up the middle, forces Bradford to miss Amendola. Amendola was King's assignment before he blitzed, but he was picked up by Antoine Bethea. If Bradford is accurate, that's a first down because Amendola is open. However, because of the pressure, he misses and the Rams turn it over on downs.

So, as you can see, in just one series (11 plays) the Colts use a very intriguing mixed bag of tricks. For 6 of those 11 plays, Freeney and Mathis rushed from a stand-up position. On two of them, they flip sides. On 3rd down passing situations, the Colts removed Antonio Johnson and went back to gap rushing. On a critical fourth down, they blitzed their slot corner.

Interesting stuff.

This gives us a taste of how this new hybrid 3-4 will be used going forward. So far, I get the sense it will be much more fun to cover and write about than the old Tampa-2 scheme was.

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