The Indianapolis Colts and their fans will enjoy a full weekend of celebrating the great Peyton Manning as his statue in unveiled Saturday, and his jersey retired Sunday. But, the Colts have a game to play and despite entering as slight favorites, make no mistake about it that they’ll have their hands full.
The San Francisco 49ers have upgraded their coaching situation, some talent and have brought in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme and some pieces to get the transition moving in the right direction towards the future. Brian Hoyer isn’t exactly what you’d call an elite at the quarterback position, however, his familiarity with Shanahan’s system — and his history against the Colts — makes him a worthy opponent.
Hoyer is 0-3 against the Colts lifetime, but he’s played on some awful teams and has played them pretty well nonetheless. He’s completed over 67 percent of his throws, is putting up 281 passing yards per game, a 4/3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, a 92.8 quarterback rating and has only taken a single sack in 104 pass attempts.
In reality, Hoyer has only had one bad game against the Colts which is bringing down those averages considerably and when you add Shanahan’s offensive mind to the equation, all bets are off.
In preparation for this week’s game, I went through some of the 49ers Week 4 plays against the Arizona Cardinals just to see who Hoyer likes to target, what little wrinkles may present themselves and to look for any interesting formations. Well I found a few I think you’ll be interested in. Let’s take a look.
To be perfectly honest, when I saw this play I expected to see more of these innovative protection calls and routes. There weren’t many more, but let’s discuss this one first. The tight ends and healthy doses of play action are staples of Shanahan’s designs.
Naturally, with the play action you see the line slant in the direction of the play fake, but in this case we see the left guard slant downhill then pull out of the fake and protect Hoyer’s blind side.
Additionally, we see two tight ends on the strong side of the formation. One immediately commences to running his route while the other (red circle) sells his protection just long enough to get beyond the second level defenders all coming up in run support.
Hoyer’s pass was right on the money, yet it couldn’t be pulled in missing out on roughly a 25-yard reception. We’ve seen how well our linebackers have covered off of play action and it isn’t pretty. Not to mention tight ends who can run after the catch will demand true fundamentals and focus this Sunday.
Here we see a very well executed play action, tight end release against the flow of the play. For any quarterback in the league this is the easiest throw they’ll ever have. The motion of the tight end adds to the presumption of a run especially to the side of the fullback.
The receiver to the right of the formation runs off his coverage to the middle of the field to allow the field to be open, both, underneath and field side of the play. The Colts linebackers will need to be far more aware of what’s going on around them and be fundamental with their keys.
This tight end release has killed the Colts the entire season so far. They’ve been bad against the delayed release, as well as something like this which isn’t hidden. In fact, the Colts gave up a touchdown last week against the Seahawks with nearly the same backside action to the play. Even after I warned them about it — can you believe that?
I’d be interested to see if the Colts defense brings more zone looks this week to attempt to combat some of their man-to-man woes.
This is a similar formation just without the extra tight end on the field and two receivers to the field side of the play. However, the action is nearly identical with the fullback getting out in front of the ball and it being a pitch instead of a handoff.
Now, the blocking is pretty solid here, not great but enough for Carlos Hyde to get a full head of steam and chew up at least 5 yards. But, an additional reason for me posting this clip is because it shows how many yards that nearly came from poor tackling from the Cardinals’ second and third level players.
We’ve seen this with the Colts linebackers and safety groups at times already this year. One missed shoelace at the end of this run and it’s a touchdown for Hyde. Nothing flashy, just a situation I fear we may see the Colts have issues with trying finish tackles.
Now I wanted to show you some of the chemistry that has developed between Hoyer and at least one of his receivers. Aldrick Robinson, granted is a part of several timing routes here, however he and Hoyer are often on the same page when considering additional factors.
The corner plays this one perfectly, he still has a few yards of cushion and he closes quickly on the ball. The issue is that before Robinson has even planted his foot on his break, the ball is already out of Hoyer’s hand and on the way. That kind of timing makes it extremely difficult to make a play on the ball.
You have to give Hoyer credit here too. He carried out the fake, got his drop and once he planted his foot the ball was released. That is what their timing is based on here, and was executed to perfection. If Hoyer takes one false step, he is unquestionably sacked and San Francisco has to punt.
Here’s another example between Robinson and Hoyer. This time, though, the timing is based on getting the corner to commit to his coverage. You can plainly see that Bethel turns his back to the sideline as Robinson maintains his speed through the vertical portion of the route.
This turning of the hips is an open invitation for, both, the receiver to break off his route and for the quarterback to release the ball. Not a route based specifically on depth, but almost solely on the quarterback and receiver seeing the same thing. They do, and it’s nearly impossible for the corner to do anything about it once he turns his body.
The Colts secondary will need to stay disciplined in their backpedal and maintain it through the last possible moment in order to have any chance at making a play on any of these.
This is a very similar route and result, but the difference is that the corner has no help over the top from the safety position. He has to make sure that he is not beat over the top, so while it looks similar from the defensive point of attack, it’s actually good coverage because his turning his hips made the receiver option to break off his route as opposed to trying to beat him deep.
The result is very similar too and the Colts will have to try to find a way to get Hoyer to second guess this throw. The first way to force Hoyer to hold the ball and come off of this read is to drop the linebackers into deeper zones. With the Cardinals covering deep-thirds of the field and rushing only 4, the second-level defenders have to get effective drops.
They’re so late, in fact, that if the 49ers actually hand the ball off on the reverse they would have been facing difficult pursuit angles to stop the ball carrier. The Colts have been known to get themselves out of position very early on in the play and that simply won’t do this week.
It won’t do any week, but the slightest hesitation, or biting on every play action fake will allow Hoyer to go downfield with very little difficulty. The Colts have to force Hoyer to stay underneath, and hope that he’ll take a few shots when the coverage is already there for the Colts secondary.
Kyle Shanahan is very sneaky with his play design, and likes to use as much movement pre-snap to force defenses to over shift, pursue and get themselves out of position before the ball is even snapped. Additionally, the misdirection after the snap is where the Colts could actually bite and actually give up more big gains as they have several times this year already.
Patience, being fundamental and executing the gameplan play in and play out will be key for the Colts defense Sunday. If they do, they should actually have a great opportunity for another victory. If not, they’ll get embarrassed again at home in front of a hopeful crowd.
It’s time for all of the Colts defensive woes to get stiffled — this unit needs to show growth and maturity by Week 5. Otherwise, it’s hard to assume that we will see real growth this season at all.