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Perfection: Understanding the cold, simple effeciency of the Colts offense

Not long ago, MasterRWayne provided us a great article breaking down the benefits of the Cover 2 defense and why it is the premiere defensive scheme in the modern NFL. A small follow up with that: Teams like the Denver Broncos are going back to the Cover 2 after a year of trying something else.

On the heals of that article, I offer this story detailing the area the Indianapolis Colts are most known for: Their offense.

Before I get into how the Colts run their offense, I'd like to offer up another team's offense, just for comparison's sake. Refer to the image below:


The offense pictured here is the offense the NY Jets use. The player designated #4 is someone you might have heard of recently. This package is used and tweaked by many well known coordinators, such as Al Sanders and Mike Martz. As the arrows indicate, there is a lot of pre-snap movement. The slot receiver (89) moves all the way down the line; the tight end on the line shifts down into an off-set I formation, and the outside receiver (in this case, rookie TE Dustin Keller) moves over to #86's old position. This all happens at the same time prior to the snap of the ball.

The idea of all this movement is to (hopefully), create confusion within the ranks of the opposing defense. In this example, the defense is in a base 3-4 alignment with 3 down linemen, 4 linebackers, 2 corners, and 2 safeties. The defensive player colored in a lighter blue is the free safety. He's lined up against #81: Dustin Keller. So, pre-snap and prior to all this movement, the defense is in good shape scheme-wise to combat this formation.

Now, look at both formations after all this movement:


As you can see, the defense has adjusted to the offense's pre-snap movement, with a corner on #89, who is now an outside receiver, not a slot receiver. #81 is now in a TE stance on the line with #86 lined up as, essentially, a FB. The Jets could run or throw out of this alignment, but key here is the defense is still in a good scheme to stop this attack. The safeties are in an umbrella coverage, able to either support the run, double the TE, or help the corners over the top. The defensive scheme also allows as many as three linebackers to blitz.

So, despite all this pre-snap movement, with slot receivers moving outside and TEs pretending to be FBs, the defense is still in good shape to stop the play. Makes you wonder: Why bother with all the damn movement?

For the last five to six years, the Rams, Chiefs, Redskins, and Jets have deployed this type of offense at one time or another. Obviously, with the right playmakers, any offense is likely to work. But, that is an awful lot of pre-snap work to go from a 3 WR set to an off-set I formation.

What's that?

All this blackboard work with pretty arrows and circles is boring you? OK, this should wake you up:


via The Big Lead and

Ok, we awake now? Good. Back to the Colts offense.

Now that we've seen an offense that likes to move all its players around before the ball is snapped, let's contrast that with the Colts offense. In 2008, the Colts will run a base 3 wide receiver offense. This means 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB, QB, and the standard 5 o-linemen. For years, the base offensive package for the Colts was a 2 TE offense, utilizing Dallas Clark and Ben Utecht. With Utecht in Cincy now, the Colts feel that the more second year slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez is on the field, the better their offense will be. Thus, more Gonzo than TE Gijon Robinson (who will likely replace Utecht this year). Reference the image below for how this base 3 WR offense looks:



Now, notice our friend on the defense, Mr. Safety. Right away, without any pre-snap movement or other such foolishness, the Colts offense has an immediate advantage over this 3-4 defense. Slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez (#11) is matched up against a safety. Folks, that match-up will result in one of two things: A first down, or a touchdown. Anytime you have a WR matched up one-on-one with a safety, the QB is licking his chops. They can't get the ball snapped to them fast enough.

Now, I think I know what some of you are thinking: Well, the defense will just substitute a corner for a linebacker.

Ahhhhhhhhhh, no, no, no my friend. Not if the offense goes no huddle. If the offense goes no huddle and walks to the line, the defense cannot substitute. And even if they did, that would mean the 3-4 defense would no longer be a 3-4 defense. It would be 3-3-5 (3 linemen, 3 LBers, 5 defensive backs). This means fewer players that can rush the passer, and it means the defense's 3rd corner is matched up against Gonzo. In most cases, that's still a mis-match. Also, if the defense subs in a corner, the Colts can still RUN out of this formation. That means one less linebacker to tackle Joseph Addai; still a winning scheme for Indy. Because the Colts run so well out of this formation, it creates great opportunities for play action passes.

It's this formation that drove the Patriots nuts in the AFC Championship game in 2006, but at that time Indy used TE Dallas Clark (#44) as the slot receiver. This took New England out of their comfort zone in their 3-4, allowing Peyton Manning to carve them up.

What sets the Colts apart from most other offenses is not fancy scheming, short crossing routes (i.e., the West Coast offense), or spread formations with 4 or 5 wide receivers. The Colts offense has been the most prolific offense in NFL history because it is so simple; so coldly efficient. From this basic 3 WR formation, Peyton Manning can audible into dozens of plays, with receivers running multiple routes. He can cancel Addai's route on one play and make him a blocker. He can call on Gonzo to run a post pattern instead of a quick out. The key is that each individual team member must know exactly what their job is on any given play. If one receiver runs the wrong route or a back misses his blocking assignment... well, what we get is the San Diego game last year which saw Peyton Manning throw 6 INTs.

Obviously, much of the offense's success is a result of Manning, but take note that the Bengals, Steelers, and the Patriots have adopted similar offensive philosophies. Wes Welker was the slot receiver last season in NE. Ben Roethlisberger had a career year in 2007 running a no-huddle attack implemented by Bruce Arians, Peyton Manning's former QB coach. And Cincy has long tried to mirror the Colts offense with Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, and Rudy Johnson. The one element they've missed is a good TE, which is why they grabbed former-Colts TE Ben Utecht this off-season.

Hope this gives you a better idea of how Indy's offense works. And, if the post bored the utter piss out of you, I leave you with this, just to sharpen your senses:


Alyssa Milano is a known Colts fans. Therefore, we like her.

And she's hot, and stuff.

Photo via