On December 3, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars. In this Week 13 matchup, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we’re up against.
We last played the Jags in a Week 7 dismantling of our Colts’ collective masculinity. Below, we’re going to take a look at some of the ways they were able to do that and we’ll try, really hard, to find any positives we can glean and hope to expand on this week.
First, we’ll recap the scheme to give you a refresher on what the Jaguars like to run:
To answer the question that is the title to this article; yes, it turns out you can build a good defense with a quarter billion dollars. With that said, this Jags defensive cap hit over the course of the full length of their deals is closer to half a billion dollars. You can say they’ve invested heavily.
For the third time this year, we’re playing a team who uses the 4-3 under hybrid as their base defensive set. If you want to read a different take on some of the basics, I don’t blame you, and it can be found on Niners Nation, who take a look at some of the height-weight-speed aspects of each position in this style of defense.
Each team is going to include its own wrinkles. Every coach is going to put their own stamp on their team and you will see subtle changes from team to team even if their base set is the same. Some of that is going to be due to the coach wanting to make the scheme his own, and part of it is going to be fitting personnel to scheme.
With that said, these Jags will see a lot of the same Cover 3 looks that we have seen so far this season. This article from PFF on the coverage that NFL teams ran in 2016 documents that well:
It won’t surprise anybody to see that the Seattle Seahawks led the league in snaps in a Cover-3 defense, at least from a percentage standpoint. Seattle ran Cover-3 on 54.0 percent of their snaps, with members of that coaching tree taking the system to Atlanta (51.5) and Jacksonville (46.4) making up the rest of the top three. The Falcons actually ran 45 more snaps overall in Cover-3 than the Seahawks, but that represents a lower percentage of their total snaps on defense last year. Cover-3 was the second-most common coverage deployed league-wide last season.
One thing that you may not know about me; a few years ago I began the PFF hiring process. The job entailed charting college football games and compiling data. I wasn’t going to be ranking or grading players, just watching and rewatching the same plays dozens of times to accurately chart players on the field, their position and likely assignment. I’ve said it a lot that PFF rankings aren’t the best metric, because I believe that. Any attempt to rate a players performance based on a rigid criteria is going to be flawed. PFF’s system is as good as it gets in that regard, but no system can ever be trusted to tell you 100% of the story.
The one thing I trust, probably to a fault, is the data they release like the information above. I understand that process, because I’ve done it. It’s very demanding work for very little personal benefit and when I took on their hiring process I just wasn’t in a place in my life I could take on the role. I bowed out after completing the first “test” and true to PFF form they congratulated me and I was informed that 86% of applicants didn’t make it past the first round, so I should feel good about myself. So I felt good about myself. Bottom line, I don’t put much stock in their ratings, some are good, others aren’t. I almost always trust the data they release similar to the sample above. Your mileage may vary, but it is something for you to consider.
Anyway, back to this Jags defense. The following should look familiar but it’s no less relevant, as these Jags run the same system:
A book could be written with the information that the guys over at Field Gulls have compiled. If you’re looking for a resource, this is a fantastic place to start and I’m going to do my best to give you the basics in an easy-to-understand format. If you want to go deeper, you absolutely can, just click that link and have a good time.
The 4-3 Under, in it's simplest terms, is a gap control system meant to stop the run and to pressure the passer. For the most part, each lineman and linebacker is responsible for one gap - this makes each player's responsibility fairly cut and dry and eliminates a lot of the reads and thinking from the game.
In the late 1980's, Monte Kiffin began coaching for the Minnesota Vikings with a coach named Floyd Peters and they further developed the 4-3 Under that emphasized rushing the passer. The 4-3 Under system uses almost exclusively a staggered alignment to the offense in this basic set.
As you can see, in a basic 4-3 Under, the SAM linebacker is lined up to the outside shoulder of the tight end off the line of scrimmage a yard or two and is responsible for the D gap (to the outside of the tight end). He's also responsible for running in pass coverage from time to time. The strongside defensive end is lined up to the outside shoulder of the tackle, in a 5-technique alignment, and is responsible for the C gap (to the right of the tackle). The strongside defensive tackle is usually lined up shading the center in a 1-technique alignment and is responsible for the strongside A gap. The weakside defensive tackle is lined up in a 3-technique alignment off the weakside guard and is responsible for the weakside B gap in front of him. The weakside defensive end is lined up to the outside shoulder of the weakside offensive tackle and is responsible for the C gap on his side.
This leaves the strongside B gap and the weakside A gap open. These are the responsibilities of the MIKE and WILL linebackers.
Still with me? Good.
The defense that Pete Carroll now employs uses the basic tenets of the Monte Kiffin 4-3 Under defense and mixes in a variation originally pioneered by the legendary George Seifert in San Francisco. Seifert wanted to create mismatches against the opposing offensive line so he started using his weakside defensive end to rove around and rush the passer from a two-point stance (standing up position). This was the beginning of the "Elephant" position and one that Carroll uses today. We also see this position called the LEO, and in the Hawks' defense can rush standing up or in a three-point stance.
It's the same basic alignment but as you can see, the SAM linebacker comes up closer to the line to play hard contain and the weakside LEO is pushed out a bit, maybe a yard off of the weakside tackle. The LEO's main job is to control the C gap while rushing the passer like a wild banshee and the SAM plays contain against the TE, runs in pass coverage with him, or rushes the passer in some situations.
Okay, cool. So, ol’ Pete likes his 4-man fronts and uses a DE in a 2-point stance. Kelly goes on in part two to explain that the Seahawks will use more 2-gap responsibilities when their personnel allows. Based on their current roster, I believe they will continue 1-gapping.
Okay, cool; these are the basics of their front seven. What about the Carroll secondary? Kelly talks about that too here:
Three main principles of secondary play:
#1 Eliminate the big play
#2 Out hit the opponent on all plays
#3 Get the ball -- either strip the ball or make the interception when in position.
These are Pete’s objectives for his DB’s. Got it.
"We play man-to-man or Cover-3, not much more than that. It's not a secret." - Kam Chancellor
Thanks for giving up your game plan, Kam. Danny wrote yet another piece that goes a little deeper into their coverage schemes:
Example 1: Three-down lineman nickel Cover-3 look
Again, this is a very general Cover-3, three deep, four under scheme I've drawn up.
Defensive line: In the illustration above, the Hawks have two defensive-end types rushing (No. 91 Chris Clemons and No. 56 Cliff Avril). Those players may go inside or outside the tackle/tight end to achieve pressure. Michael Bennett (No. 72) is aligned over the center ('nose tackle' ), and he'll look to slice through and pressure the quarterback.
Linebackers: I've shown a look here where MLB Bobby Wagner (No. 54) would come in on a blitz, perhaps stunting or drafting off of Bennett. In any case, K.J. Wright could come with pressure here as well and alternate coverage responsibilities with Wagner. There's flexibility. On the outside, you could see Bruce Irvin rush off the edge or stunt with Avril. Seattle has the athletes at the linebacker position to allow them to do both.
Safeties: Because Chancellor (No. 31) is almost a de facto linebacker, you'll most often see him in the box, stopping the run and taking away short crossing patterns. He can drop into coverage, run in man-to-man or blitz. Earl Thomas (No. 29) would take the seam or post route into his area. If there are two, he splits the difference between the two.
Example 2: Four down lineman nickel Cover-3 look
In this case, I've replaced Bruce Irvin with NT Brandon Mebane. This could also be Clinton McDonald. In the case above, Thurmond could be playing man on the slot receiver, with everyone else in zone.
Example 3: Four down nickel look, mixed man/zone coverage
In this case, you see man on Sherman's side, zone on Maxwell's, nickel in man, and Chancellor lined up in man against Julius Thomas, for instance. This could easily be K.J. Wright switching with Chancellor, as well.
Kelly really gives us a great look into the basics of the Seahawks (in this case, the Jags) defense and what we can expect. If you want more about the 4-3 Under and the Seahawks (and Jags, Falcons and 49ers) brand of it, Mike Chan wrote a great piece with a ton of play breakdowns and plenty of X’s and O’s that you can find and enjoy here.
What Happened Last Time:
Normally, I give you reports on the DL, LB’s and DB’s. Instead of going back over those same details, I’ve decided to go back over how the Jaguars attacked our Colts earlier in the year.
If you missed the scouting report from week seven and you want to see more detailed information on the Jaguars personnel you can do so by clicking here.
I’m going to sample heavily from Brett Mock’s Week 7 recap of our last matchup. If you would like to read the entire thing, click here.
We’ll jump right into the first quarter of the game:
The Colts started their first offensive drive with a nice seven-yard run up the middle for Frank Gore.
The Jags lined up in a nickel look with a safety dropped down into the box. Effectively, this is a 4-3 look with an undersized left outside linebacker. Gore does a good job pressing the line and finding a crease on the backside of the play.
The next play was a first down run by Gore that then lost yards due to a personal foul on Kamar Aiken for unnecessary roughness.
This one was called back, but here we see them give an interesting look. OLB Miles Jack drops down on the line of scrimmage at the top of that clip and CB A.J. Bouye, who found himself without a receiver on his side, fills in lining up outside of the TE 6 yards deep.
A scramble by Jacoby Brissett was followed up by another run to Gore to setup a third down and five. Brissett missed T.Y. Hilton and Indianapolis had to punt the ball back to the Jaguars.
You’re going to see a theme start to develop.
Indianapolis started their second offensive drive with a quick pass to T.Y. Hilton for a first down.
This play gave Brissett options. He chose well.
Rookie running back Marlon Mack took his first carry for another first down
A false start penalty cost the Colts some field position and setup a first and 15.
The offense continued to insist on lining up Mack out wide. Brissett threw to him for a telegraphed wide receiver screen that was blown up for a loss of 2 yards.
The above play might have worked against man coverage. Had a man come across the formation with the receiver who came in motion, it could have given Mack a lane to get into a little bit of space. Ultimately, it was a poor play call against zone coverage. Also, if you notice at the bottom of the screen against TY Hilton, the Jags stay in man. Zone look at the top, man up on TY.
Frank Gore entered the game on second and very long to pick up a 3 yard gain up the middle. For the first time, Chester Rogers made an appearance in 2017 for the Colts catching a pass for a first down on 3rd and 14..
Indianapolis remained balanced by handing the ball off to Gore for a four yard gain on first down but the Colts stayed predictable by running Marlon Mack right back up the middle for a one yard loss. Brissett took a sack on third and seven after continuing his habit of holding onto the football for way too long.
And so it begins.
The Colts offense showed no signs of life on the ensuing drive. On a third and short, after a completed pass to Kamar Aiken and a run by Frank Gore, Indianapolis predictably ran Gore up the middle for a loss. This led to another first half punt.
The Colts next drive nearly got Jacoby Brissett hurt, included a dropped pass by Marlon Mack, and a desperation throwaway on third down. A punt put the Jaguars back around their own 10 yard line.
I’m glad #7 is young, this may have killed an older man.
Of course, this still gave the ball back to an anemic Colts offense who did nothing other than have Brissett slide to avoid a sack
Brett was right, Brissett did slide to avoid a sack. Unfortunately, he slid a yard behind the line of scrimmage and it’s scored as a sack, ultimately he did avoid a hit, which is good.
...then take a sack with no one able to get open down the field to close out the first half.
The Colts took the opening kickoff in the second half to the 36 yard line. Another nice first down run by Frank Gore picked up six yards. Brissett backed up that run with two incomplete passes in a row — resulting in another punt.
Indianapolis picked up a first down on a pass to Doyle and run by Frank Gore.
The first down resulted in two sacks and another dropped pass by rookie running back Marlon Mack.
And this one:
I left out the dropped pass because why dwell on the negatives, right?
After some quick release passes led to some offensive momentum, Brissett connects with Marlon Mack on a big play to get the Colts into the red zone.
A sack and an absurd decision by Kamar Aiken resulted in a third and long.
Brissett scrambled for 15 yards and setup the Colts with a 4th and 2 from the six. After a timeout the offense nearly failed to get the snap off and Brissett checked to QB sneak that had no prayer. It was one of the ugliest short-yardage offensive plays after a timeout I’ve ever seen.
Brett wasn’t wrong, this play was asinine.
Worry not, the Colts offense had no intentions to start a drive. After tremendous pressure on Brissett, a fumble, and more awful play-calling against a team that clearly had every reason to pin its ears back and come after a young quarterback, Sanchez had to punt from just short of his own end zone. He booted the ball to Jacksonville’s 30 yard line.
It was at this point that Brett stops mentioning sacks altogether, who could blame him? If you say (or type) the same word enough, eventually it loses all meaning and doesn’t even really sound like a word anymore. So, I’ll give you some examples:
Who could forget this play that was ruled a recovered fumble after a dance party broke out, it was a dance party that only Jacoby Brissett was invited to.
This one looks fun.
Josh Ferguson made his way onto the field as the Colts offense went into self-preservation mode. After a Ferguson run, Brissett completed passes to Donte Moncrief, Darrell Daniels, and Chester Rogers to get Indianapolis to the Jacksonville 35-yard line. At that point, Indianapolis could have taken a field goal to get points on the board but turned the ball over on downs to end the game.
Jaguars win 27-0.
This was the first Colts shutout since December of 1993 — which was the second longest active streak in the league.
Much of what I wrote about the Jacksonville offensive effort holds true for their defense. They physically dominated our Colts. It wasn’t only scheme, it wasn’t only superior execution, it wasn’t only that they are a far better unit athletically, it wasn’t only that they played with superior effort. It was all of those things. A complete and utter butt-kicking.
From a standpoint of scheme they didn’t do much (anything to my untrained eye) that was unexpected. Of the sacks I showed you above, they only sent five or more rushers twice. If they consistently “get home” with four rushers, that provides a huge advantage dropping seven into coverage. Two of those seven are linebackers who are as quick and athletic as most safeties in the league. Myles Jack and Telvin Smith are freaks. We don’t have athletes that can answer for what those two provide.
At the time we played the Jags, they were giving up a surprising amount of rushing yards per game, nearly 140. As a result, the Jags went out and added Marcell Dareus at the trade deadline for a 6th (!?) round pick. Since the time of that trade, the Jags have allowed just 69 rushing yards per game, or you know, about half of what they were allowing before the trade. I’m not giving Dareus all of the credit for that turnaround but it’s tough to deny that his presence has had a massive impact for this teams run stopping efforts. This defense (the same defense that shut us out) has improved greatly in the past six weeks.
When we look at what’s different for our offense now, compared to then, there isn’t much. Brissett has more experience in Chud’s offense, he has more familiarity with his teammates, I guess. The offensive line gave up 10 sacks the last time these two teams played and I have to believe coming off of a game where they gave up 8 sacks to the Titans, they’re going to be motivated to keep their quarterback clean. They’re going to be motivated but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be physically capable of keeping their quarterback clean.
This isn’t going to be a pretty game. Unless some insane, unexpected, unprecedented event takes place between now and Sunday, I just don’t see how this one goes in our favor. I don’t think the Jags are legitimate Super Bowl contenders but I realize it may sound like that with what I’ve written. They aren’t serious contenders but they present matchup problems across the board for our Colts.
Tomorrow, I’ll give you my special teams breakdown and a prediction for the game. None of the information in that article will be shocking. Interesting? I hope so. It should surprise no one.