Whenever you hear the New England Patriots, your first thought is Tom Brady. Whenever you play the Patriots, your first thought is Tom Brady. During the game, the first person you look for is Tom Brady. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the player of the game, who single handily beat the Colts, was not Tom Brady, but rather Jonas Gray.
The run defense has been relatively good this year. Before the Patriots game, it ranked in the top 10 and allowed only 88 yards per game. Of course, those stats are telling to a certain point, but nevertheless, those are pretty good numbers, especially considering they've played against Arian Foster, Le'Veon Bell, Gio Bernard, Lesean McCoy and Justin Forsett. So, considering the fact that Gray isn't even a starter for the Patriots, it comes as a big surprise that he was able to rush for 200 yards on the Colts. How did he do it? Let's break it down using several of his big plays from the game.
Play #1: 1st & 10 | 1st Quarter | 9:52 Remaining
What we see here is the Patriots are in a I-Formation with a 7-man offensive line. Tight End Rob Gronkowski is on the right side and backup offensive tackle Cameron Fleming is on the left side. Fleming came in as an eligible offensive linemen and was used in only blocking situations. This happened for the majority of the plays, and on every single one featured in this article. Only a few runs by Gray did not have Fleming in on the play in the game. The Colts are in their base defense, but it looks like Greg Toler is creeping towards the box as he has no defender to go up against.
In this picture, you see that the Colts do a terrible job of getting initial penetration on the Patriots offensive line and now the Patriots have two pulling linemen versus two Colts defenders. This is a bad job of getting off the line quickly and on top of that, Jerrell Freeman made a bad decision to bite forward, because now he's stuck behind that wall. This is a perfect job by the Patriots of getting blockers out in front.
As the play continues to develop, the Patriots open up a nice hole to give Gray room to run and the majority of the Colts players are stuck in this logjam in the middle. Only Mike Adams remains unblocked and has a good chance of getting Jonas Gray, but look where his feet and pointed. His feet are stable and his body is in a slant to his left. In short, he has not broken down, which is the first part of proper form tackling. He needs to set his feet and be ready to tackle Gray, because if he doesn't, Gray will have a big gain.
At this point, Mike Adams has overshot himself (because of his body positioning before) and Gray has taken it outside. Adams misses the initial tackle and now Gray is trying to take it to the outside and get more yards. Sergio Brown is doing a nice job of preventing a big play by taking a good angle, but nevertheless, Gray should have been tackled. The circle with some coloring in it indicates eye balls watching the play. If you look at the guys in the logjam in the middle, their body positions indicate that they are just "tourists" and watching the play. Only Jonathan Newsome (who is on the left side of the screenshot with only part of his 9 showing) indicates that he wants to chase down Gray. So far, the Colts have been outblocked at the line and Mike Adams missed a crucial tackle.
Gray ends up getting 10 yards before he's first contated by the Colts defenders. The two safeties get to him, but the sad part is, Gray gets an extra 5 yards after this screenshot. The Colts had serious problems tackling. As a side note, Newsome did show good hustle and was the only player who was involved in the logjam to be near the ballcarrier. The others were just watching. This was just a poor effort from the Colts defense.
Play #2: 3rd & 1 | 1st Quarter | 3:45 Remaining
On this play, we again see the 7 man offensive line with the I-Formation backfield. This is a short yardage situation so the Colts 6 guys with their hands in the dirt and Erik Walden (#93) setting the edge at the top of the screen. The Colts have 9 guys in the box. What's worth noting is that Sergio Brown and Mike Adams are communicating with each other, indicating some confusion. The screenshot was taken with 18 seconds left on the play clock and the Patriots snapped the ball with 17 seconds left (1 second difference). They caught the safeties off guard.
As the play starts, we see that again the Patriots win the battle in the trenches. Their 7 offensive linemen overpower the Colts' 9 guys in the box. They also ran away from the area where the majority of the Colts players were. The Colts lose the numbers battle again, as Jerrell Freeman is blocked by Cameron Fleming (Patriots #71), who is the extra/eligible offensive linemen and the fullback James Develin of the Patriots leads well and Gray is following behind him. Winning the battle in the trenches is hugely important and the Colts did not win many battles against the Patriots.
The play continues to develop and we see that Freeman is pushed out of that the only three players who are still involved in the play for the Colts are Sergio Brown, D'Qwell Jackson (#52), who is standing up about a yard past the 1st down line, and Mike Adams (#29 coming from the top of the screen). This shouldn't be the case and there shouldn't be a huge hole on 3rd and short.
As we see here, the fullback James Develin completely eliminates Sergio Brown (marked by the X) and the pileup at the line of scrimmage is also out of the play. As it stands here, it's two Colts players versus Gray about 6 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Mike Adams makes initial contact at the 44 yard line which is about 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. Gray ended up getting another 4 yards after this. You stack the box, and the Patriots get 19 yards on a stretch run. That's pathetic. That's due to a poor get off on the line of scrimmage and missteps by the linebackers.
Play 3: 3rd & 4 | 2nd Quarter | 13:45 Remaining
Cameron Fleming, the extra/eligible offensive linemen is in the game again. You see the pattern? Although Fleming was in on passing plays (for blocking purposes), they ran almost all the time with him and the game and they almost always ran behind him or his side. There is no fullback and it is a single-back formation with two receiver on the Patriots' right side. The Colts are in a base defense, but Davis is left alone on the other side and Adams covers Edelman.
This is just perfect execution from the Patriots. The Colts aren't in terrible position but the Patriots are just perfect here. The left side of the Patriots offensive line (or the right side of the Colts' defensive line) is completely closed off. Ricky Jean Francois is sealed off beautifully by the right guard, who is perfect position with his back turned to the play. The right tackle Vollmer seals off Newsome, perhaps getting away with a block in the back, but we can't be sure as this is only a screenshot. Nevertheless, as we can see, #63 Connolly is pulling a trying to seal off the linebacker. It's now up to Freeman to break off that tackle and make the tackle, something they (and every team) practice. D'Qwell Jackson is also being challenged by an offensive linemen moving up to the 2nd level. He'll be important in the play as well.
As you can tell, Jerrell Freeman completely missed the play. If you watch the play, Freeman takes on the blocker and it seems like he forgets the running back. It's weird and that's what it look like. Jackson is thrown off course just enough and not Gray has a big hole to burst through and will only need to worry about the secondary, which is already a win.
The play continues to develop, Gray has easily gotten the first down (5 yards past the line of scrimmage) and he is still untouched and there isn't a player within 2 yards of him. The only positive is that there aren't as many "tourists" who are just watching the play. Walden, Davis, Redding and Newsome are at least making efforts to try and catch Gray.
Gray is finally tackled by Mike Adams, 14 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Play #4: 1st & 10 | 3rd Quarter | 13:36 Remaining
On this play, again we see the 7 man offensive line with the starting five plus Fleming and Gronk. The Patriots are in a single back formation, whereas the Colts are in their base defense but Erik Walden is coverage against Amendola. On the three previous examples, they ran the ball behind Fleming. Where do you think they're going this time?
That's right!! Right behind Fleming again! The play has started and the Patriots already have a big hole opened up. Fleming seals off Erik Walden perfectly and has his back turned to the play. Jackson and Freeman are blocked at the top of the screen. On a side note, both had terrible games and aren't having great years. The only people who have a chance at making a play in the backfield are Cory Redding and Josh Chapman. Chapman is somewhat trapped behind Redding and the Patriot player blocking him. The black box indicates the massive hole the Patriots have opened up.
There may have been a big hole before but the Colts do a good job of closing it and chasing down Gray. Cory Redding and Josh Chapman are right there to make the tackle, but this is an article about the bad play of the defense, so what do you think happened?
Gray breaks both tackles!!! Had Redding and Chapman tackled him, he would have gained no yards and this play would be considered a success. They both missed and now Gray is bursting for a first down instead of it being 2nd & 10.
Gray picks up the first down and was initially hit at the first down yard line, but gets an extra 3 yards on the play. What was a no yard stop turns into a 13 yard gain. Bad tackling killed the Colts here.
Play #5: 1st & 10 | 3rd Quarter | 4:42 Remaining
The Patriots are inside the Colts' redzone. It's 1st down, Fleming is in the game. Based on the previous 4 examples, we know that this a run to the left. The Colts are in their base formation, and Newsome is replacing Walden in this play. Newsome is a pass rusher and not a run stopper, whereas Walden is a run stopper. This wasn't a smart call by the coaches to keep Newsome in the game on this play.
The play has started and as expected, Newsome (#91) is being stood up by Fleming at the line of scrimmage. Nevertheless, the Patriots are running inside Fleming and have a pulling linemen to block in that hole. Freeman is there ready to take on the ball carrier and Jackson is shifting over. This is shaping up to be a good play for the Colts.
As the play continues, we see the Colts are in perfect position with three players within an yard of him and one even having a hand on him. Gray is trapped and has nowhere to go because the Colts are in good position.
BUT NOOOO, Gray manages to escape because the Colts cannot wrap and tackle. This one may be the most ridiculous of all the runs and it comes at a crucial time in the game. Mike Adams (player whose feet are in the box) is out of position and off balance because of a good block by Amendola. Zach Kerr was able to get one of his massive bear paws on him and drag him down before he got any major yardage but Gray got two extra yards after being stuck in pile. It shows just how off the tackling was.
I'm not sure if embarrassing is the right word. I think this performance is more surprising than anything. The Colts have done a good job against the running game this year. They allow only 88 yards per game, which is in the top 10. They've played against stud backs like Arian Foster, Le'Veon Bell, Lesean McCoy and Gio Bernard and none were able to have very good days against the Colts, except Foster, who had a pretty good day. This performance from Jonas Gray of all people came out of nowhere. I found myself making comparisons to Corey Dillon during the game. Nevertheless, the Colts laid an egg in this game. A big issue was a failure to recognize when the run was coming. The Patriots were pretty obvious with the running game. They would usually run behind Cameron Fleming (who was in the game 38 times and 32 of those times were for running plays). They tend to run towards the side he is on as well. Fleming ended up grading out at a +3.4 (with a +2.9 in run blocking) according to Pro Football Focus, and it's easy to see why. He sealed off the defenders beautifully. What also killed the Colts was poor tackling. On examples 4 and 5, you see the Colts being in perfect position but mistackles gave Gray extra yards and in the case of Play #4, a first down. Finally, the defensive line lost the battle of the trenches badly. The Patriots' offensive line easily outmuscled them and were able to move them easily. The Patriots pulled linemen very nicely and got to the 2nd level with ease and sealed off linebackers Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson, who both had rough games.
What this game showed more than anything is that having a good running game is still a killer for any defense. Tom Brady didn't even play well for the majority of the game, yet the Patriots ran the ball well and won the game by 22 points. The Colts went in preparing for Tom Brady, and Jonas Gray was the one who came away with the big plays, the big stats and the game ball.