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Which Passing Concepts Have Worked for the Colts?

The Colts have been successful passing the ball in the last two games. What have they done differently? Stampede Blue's Andrew Aziz explains.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

As you've probably noticed, the Colts offense looked very different under Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck can't stretch the field like Andrew Luck can, and his strengths are much different than Andrew Luck's. That's why the Colts devised a different gameplan for him, which worked masterfully in the Houston game. What did they do differently? Well, from a macro perspective, it involved quick passes with quick reads and less pressure on the offensive line. It involves Hasselbeck reading the coverages before the play and making quick passes to a receiver in a favorable matchup. Here are five plays from the Houston Texans game that show how the plays work, how it's easy for Hasselbeck to read, how it involves different levels concepts and how it could work for Andrew Luck.

For the purpose of the breakdown, I will not mention the down, situation or time. I'm doing this because I don't want to associate a particular situation with the play, but rather just introduce the play without any context to demonstrate its overall effectiveness.

Play #1: Over/Under Field Isolation Concept

In this play, we see that there is a nice gap between the outside receiever (Hilton) and Texans cornerback. The gap is about 8 yards and the hook route is a perfect route in this situation. The corner run by the slot receiver is a play that stretches the field and takes the safety deep (especially since it's a Cover 2 Zone). The pass protection is in "Max-Pro" mode with 7 blockers. With Hasselbeck rolling out to the right, the most important guy to block and seal off is Houston's left outside linebacker. It's up to the right tight end (Fleener) to seal him off by stepping out with his right foot and driving the defender inside. The offensive line is in a zone blocking scheme, so they all shift over, except the left tackle (Castonzo) and the running back (Gore) who cover the backside of the play. Finally, the left tight end (Allen) is running a deep drag, also known as a cross and is probably the #2 option and becomes a primary option if there is man coverage on the right outside receiver (or the QB can audible) .

This is a great play going forward because all you need is a quarterback who makes quick reads and can get the ball out quickly. It's a bang bang play that works perfect against a Cover 2 or a Cover 3 defense. The quarterback here is told to read the strong-side cornerback. If he plays off, the play is a go. If he plays in press coverage, then I assume the primary receiver becomes the left tight end or the quarterback will audible.

Andrew Luck is a smart quarterback, like Hasselbeck and can make this read immediately and can get the ball out quickly. This is a great play to use in future games with Luck under center, plus it takes pressure off the offensive line.

Play #2: Play Action w/ Max Protection

This is an obvious one. The Colts love using play action, as they think they're a balanced offense. The keyword there is "think". Nevertheless, they utilize a lot of play action, but the key to good play action is good protection up front. The Colts have had some protection issues, for what seems like forever, so the obvious thing to do here is get more guys blocking. In this image, the Colts have 7 guys blocking and they have the numbers over the Texans, who have 7 guys in the box, but aren't blitzing all of them. The Colts have three guys running routes here: the two receivers (Hilton on the right and Moncrief on the left) and the inside right tight end (Fleener). The receiver patterns are mirrored as both are running 15 yard comebacks, which is a great route to run vs a deep zone. Fleener is the other option over the middle and he has a hook/in option. He reads the linebackers and the safeties and sits in the zone between them.

This is an easy read for any NFL quarterback and if given time, most quarterbacks (including Luck) will make the correct decision and subsequently the right pass, like Hasselbeck did in this situation.

Play #3: Unbalanced Line

I LOVE UNBALANCED LINES! As an offensive coach myself, I try to utilize some type of unbalanced line or jumbo system. Here's why: it gives you numbers. First off, let's explain what an unbalanced line is. It's been around for years, but Stanford has made it popular over the past few seasons. The offensive line reads like this:

(Tight End) - (Guard) - (Center) - (Guard) - (Tackle) - (Tackle) - (Tight End)

The tight end on the right side is Andre Johnson, who is just off the line. Usually, the tight end would be on the line. In the NFL, you must have at least 7 guys lined up on the line of scrimmage and the Colts have 7 here, so the play is legal. As I mentioned before, the point is to get you numbers against the defense. In this case, the Colts have 5 guys on the right side of the center, and including the center. The Texans have 3 guys lined up either over the center or to Houston's left of him. That gives the Colts a 5 vs 3 advantage and since they're booting to that side, it works perfectly.

Usually you see a lot of runs from unbalanced lines, but in this case, they are passing the ball. Andre Johnson, who motioned over (indicated by the blue line) is the go-to-guy here. In fact, he's the only receiver running a legitimate route on this play. The two receivers lined up in slot (Moncrief) and the outside (Hilton) are essentially decoys running down the field and getting blocks. Johnson is then running a quick out route (otherwise called an arrow route) and the pass is coming out quickly.

I'd love to see the Colts use more unbalanced lines going forward!

Play #4: Zone Beaters (Criss-Cross Hooks Concept)

Part 1

This type of play works in specific situations. It works very well against zone coverages, but not so much against man coverages. The criss-cross is done by the two receivers on the right side. The outside receiver will do his hook more inside and the inside receiver will do his to the outside.

Part 2

Here's why it works against zone defenses. Often in zone defenses, a hole is left. We see the hole/box that is left by the defense. That means it's up to the receiver to spot that hole, curl his hook route and to sit in that zone. What's also important is that the offensive line gets good protection and they give the quarterback a good pocket to throw from.

Luck is a mobile quarterback who throws well on rollouts, so this would be a good concept to use with him.

Play #5: Play Action Roll Cross

Part 1

In this play, play action is absolutely huge. The Colts are leaving the left outside linebacker, or the left contain man unblocked so they need him to bite on the fake. Watch #59 of the Texans and see where he ends up in the 2nd picture.

Part 2

We see that the fake worked perfectly and that Hasselbeck and Allen have plenty of field to work with. Dumping it off to Allen is the easy and correct choice, but even if someone like Andrew Luck wanted to run with the ball, he could easily pick up 12 to 15 yards. Hasselbeck can even get at least 5 yards here. That's what you can do with a perfect play action. As we see, #59 of the Texans has completely bite and has realized that the play is going on behind him.

So what can we take away from this?

  • Play action works well for the Colts, but only if there are extra blockers in on the play.
  • To piggy back on that point, the Colts need to have max protection for future games, as it worked well in this game.
  • Unbalanced lines are a beautiful thing that work on any level. The Colts should utilize this more often.
  • Zone Beater Route Concepts (like the Criss-Cross Hooks Concept) need to be utilized against teams that use zone coverages (duh! obviously). It involves receivers making the right reads, but it seems like they make the right decision more often than not.
  • Andrew Luck will be coming back (most likely) against the Patriots, but the gameplan should not change.The way they had it under Hasselbeck was good. They didn't take too many risks and the one thing killing the Colts the most has been turnovers. If they have a balanced offense that relies on quick passes and some smart formations, they could strive under Luck.
  • Having Matt Hasselbeck play a couple of games may be a blessing in disguise as it may make the coaches realize that the gameplan they had under Hasselbeck was a better gameplan than the one they had under Luck.