The 2017 Indianapolis Colts defense has experienced a season of ups and downs. At points during games the unit has been able to shut down opponents, particularly against the run. In most games, big plays have come back to haunt them. It only takes one or two big plays to make a unit that is significantly improved from a season ago look as bad or worse statistically.
Against the Bengals, the defense put up an impressive game-long effort. A broken pass with pressure in Andy Dalton’s face resulted in a touchdown by a rookie receiver and A.J. Green caught a touchdown in the back of the end zone but the Bengals had to really work hard for everything they got. Green was essentially a non-factor in the game and none of the Bengals backs could get anything going.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest plays in the game, focusing on generating pressure, shutting down the run, and even making an impact on special teams.
MANUFACTURING A PASS RUSH
While rookie pass rusher Tarrell Basham has struggled to adapt his game to the NFL, he really started to put things together in Cincinnati. He picked up his first sack on this play by beating the left tackle. He initiates contact and establishes leverage, forcing the tackle to open his shoulders. Once he is there, Dalton is toast.
Henry Anderson had the best game of his 2017 season, and very likely the best game of his career against the Bengals. Late in the game, needing a stop to get the Colts the ball back with a chance to win the game, Anderson abuses the right guard and gets a hard sack on Dalton. His initial punch on the guard was so strong he left him grabbing at straws to recover.
Ted Monachino did a much better job creating some consistent pressure on Dalton. Even when he didn’t take hits, like on this play, he had to hurry to get the ball out of his hands and some of his rushed throws never made it to their intended target.
On this play, Monachino dialed up a stunt with Barkevious Mingo using his speed to come up the middle in Dalton’s face. This play was called an incomplete pass but this is about is close as you can get to a strip sack and not have one.
This is another example of Tarrell Basham beating a block and keeping his eyes in the backfield to pressure Dalton on this designed roll out. At other times this year Basham might have chased the play-fake and taken himself out of position. This time he maintains backside contain and uses his eyes to identify that Dalton has the ball.
Dalton is forced to make another desperation, sidearm toss to get the ball out.
The Colts rookie who has provided the most consistent value for the team all season long is nickel corner Nate Hairston. To say that he’s outplayed his draft position and expectations would be an understatement.
One area of Hairston’s play that is potentially very exciting to build upon is his ability to blitz. He has the speed and athleticism to get around the corner and lay big hits on quarterback. While he doesn’t get a sack on this play, you can be quite sure that Dalton took a shot and this added to his internal time clock resulting in rushed throws.
SHUTTING DOWN THE RUN
Another major improvement for the Colts front seven this year is getting their hands on passes in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. The unit is much bigger than it was before and this is an example of Jabaal Sheard recognizing that his pass rush wasn’t going to land before the pass came out. It made a good decision to get his hands up and elevate to knock down the pass.
In another example of the dominating performance Henry Anderson had in this game. He dismisses the right tackle by swimming over his block and using his feet to get through the hole and into the backfield. This run goes for a loss.
Even when Anderson wasn’t in on the play, he was integral in a stop. In this case, Anderson sets a hard edge and forces the run back inside. Jon Bostic gets the tackle for a loss but Henry Anderson is the reason this happens.
While we have had to complain in previous contests about the outside linebackers slanting or stunting, giving up the edge, there were great examples of the outside linebackers staying him against the Bengals. In this case, Sheard maintains the edge and makes a solo tackle for a loss.
Antonio Morrison flies into the backfield to make another run stop for a loss on this play. It is good recognition by Morrison to get all over this play as quickly as he did but the defensive line deserves a nod again — with Al Woods winning against the double-team.
BLOCKING A FIELD GOAL
Just so it is clear. Henry Anderson was a complete animal in this game. He created pressure on the quarterback and picked up a sack. He was dominant in the run game. He ran plays down from behind. He even blocked a field goal to keep points off of the board. You name it, Anderson did it in this game.
While the Indianapolis Colts have found plenty of ways to lose football games in 2017 — including a late pick six and awful play-calling on 4th and 4 in Cincinnati — this defensive group has showed some signs of figuring things out. It is absolutely true that this group needs to be more consistent and has to stop giving up big plays but for at least one game, even without the team’s best outside linebacker, best two safeties, and best cornerback, it put a full game together in all phases.
This is a defensive group that is filled with youth at almost every position. It has showed flashes of reasons to feel confident about its future.