Two weeks ago, the Colts rolled in Arrowhead and pulled off an unexpected 23-7 upset of the then 11-3 Chiefs. Fast forward to last Saturday and the Chiefs had seemingly served up some revenge after they scored early in the 3rd quarter to go up 38-10.
Little did they know that Andrew Luck was about to channel his inner Captain Comeback and rally his Colts to an exhilarating 45-44 win at Lucas Oil Stadium which seemed to be a tale of two halves. The Colts first half and opening drive of the second half were plagued with sloppy errors that led to 3 turnovers and only 10 points.
After the Chiefs converted a Luck interception into 7 points and stretched the lead to 28 points, the Colts settled down and got back to the basics, primarily attacking the Chiefs man coverage, and injury depleted secondary, with a series of man busting route combinations.
Before we look at how the Andrew Luck staged the 2nd biggest comeback in NFL Playoff history, let’s look at how poorly the Colts were playing as they handed the Chiefs a 28 point lead.
Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 15:00, 1st and 10 at the IND 20, Colts 10, Chiefs 31
Formation: 4 Wide Shotgun
Offensive Concept: Quick Out
Defensive Scheme: Man 2 Pre-Snap: The Colts are in a 4 wide set with 3 receivers to the left and RB Brown in the backfield on the weak side. The Chiefs line up in their normal Man 2 defense out of their nickel package. Post-Snap: The intent of the play becomes clear as RB Brown releases out of the backfield on a quick out and QB Luck is looking towards the weak side where there is only one other option instead of the trio of receivers to his left. Inside the Chiefs pull a quick DE/DT stunt creating some inside push on the pocket. While the stunt gets picked up, the pocket is collapsing around QB Luck, who has continued to stare down RB Brown out of the flat. Seeing this CB Abdullah, who has safety help over the top, drives on RB Brown’s out route. CB Abdullah easily undercuts the route and makes the routine interception before tripping on RB Brown and being touched down at the 18 yard line.
Summary: An uncharacteristic poor read from Andrew Luck against simple man coverage summed up the Colts day up to this point. Their combination of inexcusable mental errors and bad execution had deservingly led to 3 turnovers and a 21 point hole that looked insurmountable. The Chiefs seemingly put the game to bed with a quick touchdown off this interception but Luck would rally the Colts in the 2nd largest comeback in NFL playoffs history.
Let’s look at how the Colts targeted T.Y Hilton against the man coverage of the Chiefs early and often in order to establish some offensive rhythm.
Game Situation: 4th Quarter, 14:14, 3rd and 10 at the IND 10, Colts 31, Chiefs 41
Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (T.Y Hilton, Darius Hayward-Bey, LaVon Brazill) 1 TE (Coby Fleener) 1 RB (Trent Richardson)
Formation: 2 Back Shotgun
Offensive Concept: Crossing route
Defensive Scheme: Man 2 Pre-Snap: The Colts motion TE Fleener off the line of scrimmage and into the backfield creating a two back set with 3 wide receivers spilt out, most importantly WR Hilton in the right slot. The Chiefs respond to this shift by audibiling out of a pressure look into their base Man 2 defense. Post-Snap: OLB Hali shows his excellent first step with a quick burst gaining the edge of both LT Castonzo and RB Richardson. Feeling the outside pressure, QB Luck steps up while surveying his receiving options down the field. With safety help over the top, the Chiefs CBs are in a trail technique and LB Johnson, who had RB Richardson in coverage, has dropped into an underneath zone. By escaping the quick pressure QB Luck gives WR Hilton the additional second he needs to clear LB Johnson’s zone coverage and gain an additional step of separation on CB Robinson. On the back end of the defense, WR Brazill’s seam route prevents S Lewis from crashing down on the crossing route. Still sliding forward in the pocket, QB Luck unleashes a dart that hits WR Hilton in stride for a 16 yard gain.
Summary: Knowing the Chiefs stay true to their Man 2 roots, Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamiliton called multiple out breaking routes with a deep route over the top to expose the trail technique the Chiefs were using. On this play, the crossing pattern with a seam route over the top isolated CB Robinson, who was targeted multiple times after CB Flowers left injured, against the faster T.Y Hilton on a crossing route. Let’s look at how the Colts capped off their stunning comeback with a deep pass to T.Y Hilton that took advantage of the Chiefs safeties creeping forward to stop the outside breaking intermediate routes.
Game Situation: 4th Quarter, 4:44, 1st and 10 at the IND 36, Colts 38, Chiefs 44
Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (T.Y Hilton, Darius Hayward-Bey, LaVon Brazill) 1 TE (Coby Fleener) 1 RB (Donald Brown)
Formation: Trips Left Shotgun
Offensive Concept: Sail
Defensive Scheme: Man 2 (Banjo) Pre-Snap: The Colts line up with the trio of TE Fleener, WR Hilton and WR Brazill in a trips formation to the left with RB Brown in the backfield to the weak side. The Chiefs respond in their typical Man 2 with the defenders covering the trips left using a banjo technique, where the inside man, LB Johnson on this play, is responsible for any receiver that breaks inside while outside man, CB Cooper here, is responsible for any receivers breaking towards the sideline. Post-Snap: The trio of receivers run a Sail route combination, a Smash route with a deep post over the top, with WR Brazill running a quick hook to suck up the defender, WR Hilton running a deep post and TE Fleener running a corner in between the two, with the intended target being TE Fleener along the sideline. On the defensive side, the 3 defenders in man coverage are waiting for the routes to break and S Lewis, who has deep half responsibility, fails to drop deep enough to cover WR Hilton's post and even fails to even turn his hips to ready himself to run with WR Hilton. S Lewis’s error becomes evident as he is forced to turn his back to the defense due to his hips being towards the sideline, the opposite way from WR Hilton inside breaking post route. Beneath WR Hilton’s deep post, TE Fleener breaks outside forcing CB Cooper to break off WR Hilton and drop towards the sideline. With Hilton route taking him in between the safeties with a full head of steam he quickly gets even with the safeties. While WR Hilton has some separation, he gains more as S Lewis looks back in an attempt to find the ball instead of focusing on his man and S Demps takes too flat of an angle from the weak side allowing WR Hilton to get multiple steps behind the entire defense. QB Luck sees the mismatch early, even though its his second read, and fires a beauty that allows WR Hilton to catch the ball in stride and continue into the end zone for a game winning 64 yard touchdown.
Summary: That’s one hell of a way to finish off a 28 point comeback at home. The trips formation forced the Chiefs in a bracket coverage that allowed T.Y Hilton to get a clean run at the two deep safeties. With the previous drive consisting off multiple body blows in the form of intermediate routes, the Chiefs safeties cheated up just enough for the knockout punch.
The legend of Andrew Luck will grow, like his neck beard, with performances like this in January. Facing a talented defenses built upon getting to the quarterback with its front four, Luck looked flustered, uncomfortable and downright ineffective in the 1st half finishing the half with a bad interception into the teeth of a zone coverage. His next pass, the first play of the 3rd quarter, he one upped it with a terrible throw that ended up in a defenders mitts and seemed to end the Colts changes.
Despite all that, Luck showed his grit with a commanding performance that will be remembered for years in Indy. That said, the real test starts next week against Bill Belichik’s Patriots, who despite their injuries represent one of the more complex and multiple defenses in the NFL. Luck will have to be sharp against the crafty Patriots, they picked him off 3 times in their only meeting in 2012, and Aquib Talib will surely limited T.Y Hilton better than the Chief's back up corners. Overall, Saturday night against the Pats provides the perfect test for Andrew Luck as he looks to continue to ascend towards the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.