The Indianapolis Colts defense has undergone a great deal of change over the course of the off-season. The front seven is entirely new except for the return of a healthy Henry Anderson and second-year inside linebacker Antonio Morrison. The early results from this group have been promising against the run.
The biggest keys to this new success is the addition of defensive tackles Al Woods and Johnathan Hankins. Their counterparts at outside linebacker in Jabaal Sheard and John Simon have also played an important role in making it much more difficult for opponents to run the ball.
Despite this fact, defensive coordinator Ted Monachino has dialed up some pretty interesting schematic and personnel changes in the middle of games that are allowing opponents to rack up big plays and score touchdowns on the ground. This feature will take a close look at some of those plays and how these changes are allowing the Colts to give up rushing stats that do not represent what the unit is capable of.
At numerous times throughout the game, the Colts went to a two defensive lineman look. In this case you have Margus Hunt and Henry Anderson both lined up in the B gaps, with inside linebacker Antonio Morrison over the nose.
It should come as no surprise that when the Colts send only three defenders up the field, with only two defensive linemen, and drop the rest of the front seven into coverage, there will be plenty of room for Russell Wilson to maneuver. Wilson is able to use his speed to get the edge and pick up yards.
On other occasions, the Colts manage to scheme themselves out of match-ups in their favor. In this case, the Colts starting defensive line can win against the Seahawks offensive line head up. There is no reason to get cute to be effective against this group.
Apparently our defensive coaches just can’t help themselves though. In this case, when Henry Anderson slants, he gives up a massive rushing lane behind him. Eddie Lacy is not a graceful human being, so he trips over 30 yard line but if he didn’t it would be one-on-one meeting between Lacy and Matthias Farley. Not desirable.
One of the plays that really started to swing the game in Seattle’s favor was Russell Wilson’s long scramble for a touchdown. You will see that the Colts once again use their two defensive lineman scheme. They line both of those players up on the right side of the line. The Henry Anderson is shading the right guard and Margus Hunt is in the wide 9.
The defensive is spread thin and there is so little meat in the middle of the field that you could drive a tanker through the middle of the field. Seattle didn’t beat anyone on this play, Wilson didn’t show how awesome he is, the Colts defensive scheme was comically bad. This was super easy.
Here is yet another instance where there are two down linemen, in this case Hassan Ridgeway and Grover Stewart, with inside linebacker Antonio Morrison lined up over the nose. Ridgeway cannot win at the line of scrimmage, appears to not have any idea where the ball is until it is too late, and makes very little effort to make an impact on the play.
Morrison? He gets obliterated in the middle of the field and there is a huge gap for a long run. Again, this has less to do with anything Seattle does and more to do with the fact that the Colts said, “hey, I bet you can’t blow Antonio Morrison out of the hole.”
A recurring theme with this horrible personnel grouping is that Hassan Ridgeway is awful in run defense. He has been awful in run defense on almost every play I’ve broken down through four games. Maybe it is best to allow him onto the field only in clear passing situations, particularly in late downs and long distance situations?
This is another hybrid defensive line look. While Johnathan Hankins is on the field, the issue here is that Barkevious Mingo is left one-on-one with the left tackle. It is absolutely shocking the the Seahawks would find success running wide left when the pre-snap personnel looks as it does here.
I just don’t understand why the team puts itself in a position to fail here. It’s good that Hankins is on the field, at least, but you still have only two down linemen, the other is Stewart, and your best outside linebackers for contain are not on the field at the same time. This makes no sense to me.
Sheard begins this play by slanting and by the time he realizes that the play is coming to his side, it is too late for him to gain leverage back against the blockers. Hassan Ridgeway, shockingly, does nothing with the double-team and manages to make the hole for the running back wider by turning his shoulders.
Helpful hint, he either has no idea where the ball is — despite the fact that it crossed in front of his face — or he once again could do nothing to rid himself of the block and make a meaningful impact on the play.
Another back-breaking play in this game is the long rushing touchdown the Colts gave up to McKissic. This is another odd defensive formation with only two down linemen. Al Woods and Hassan Ridgeway are down on this play and like clockwork, we dial up a slant.
This play is over the moment Sheard slants inside. McKissic is fast, gets the edge, and Hairston is twisted just enough by the wide receiver that he can’t make the play. A traditional defense front with a traditional edge setting role for Sheard would have allowed one of Morrison, Woods, or Hairston to make the play at or around the line of scrimmage.
Here is an example of Tarrell Basham continuing to learn what it means to set the edge as an outside linebacker in the NFL. He needs to recognize motion and know that the motion man is Tyler Lockett. Once he sees this, he needs to be sure his first step is upfield in case Lockett gets the ball — a good coach might even tell him to obliterate Lockett whether he has the ball or not.
Instead, Basham has no idea Lockett is in motion, makes his first steps toward the running back chasing the play fake to the left, and gets smoked around the edge.
John Simon does a much better job of showing how it is done. He has his eyes on Lockett before the snap and his first step is lateral to the outside to force Lockett back inside. This is how you set the edge as an outside linebacker.
It is fair that any defense will have its share of struggles during a game. It is also fair that players will have to rotate in and out of a game to keep fresh — especially larger defensive linemen. It is even good to have different schemes and units for different downs, distances, and situations.
But it doesn’t make any sense to put such ill-prepared units on the field at the same time. It doesn’t make sense against a bad offensive line, like the one in Seattle, to go to only two defensive linemen often throughout the game. It also doesn’t make any sense that you are routinely gashed when you slant ends, outside linebackers, and when put in your hybrid lineups but still trot those groups out there in a close game, on the road, with a lead after half time.
We will look at the more traditional lineups and the more traditional responsibilities and it will be clear that this Colts defense is much improved against the run. Watching clips like these though, it will make you wonder.