Heading into Week 13 the Indianapolis Colts will be facing another running game which came on late in the game to gash the run defense. In Week 7 the Jacksonville Jaguars were largely held in check by the Colts, but allowed a long touchdown run by T.J. Yeldon midway through the third quarter ballooning the Jags rush yards from 79 yards on 24 carries (3.3 RYPC) to 137 yards on 25 attempts (5.48 RYPC) instantly.
The Colts weren’t as effective stopping the run through the remainder of the game either, but looking back at the Week 12 game against the Tennessee Titans we’re seeing a difference in approach, as well as execution. Additionally, Derrick Henry was getting the lion’s share of the carries as the fourth quarter winded down. As you’ll see, a combination between his strength and speed along with the Colts defense altering their attack at the line of scrimmage led to the downfall of their ability to stop the run over the coarse of the Titans’ last two possessions.
Our own Brett Mock put his Tale of the Tape up earlier this week which shows the run defense’s ability to put several defensive drives up early in the game, but here, I’m going to show you how they ended up allowing nearly 100 yards, after allowing only 11 through more than three quarters of play.
Let’s take a look.
This is Henry’s first rush on the Titans second-to-last drive in which the Colts were still up 16-13. Here we see the pre-snap movement by the linebacking corps, plus the offensive play design getting them sucked into losing the edge. T.J. Green is ultimately acting as an additional linebacker leaving Jon Bostic and Antonio Morrison on the backside of the play.
Jabaal Sheard gets caught moving too shallowly along the line of scrimmage — as the rest of the front slants to the strong side of the formation — leaving all box defenders inside of the receiver. Once Eric Decker is able to seal the edge the rest is up to Henry to get up field and make a play. The Colts are playing the run strong on the boundary side of the field, but the pulling tight end allows for the field side to become wide open in conjunction with the counter action in the backfield.
As good as Sheard has been this season, he simply has to get up field quicker and with more burst in order to turn this play inside towards his help. Otherwise the play looks like this with Bostic pursuing from the backside of the play, and Henry getting open field looks with only the safety left in front of him to stop him.
On our second clip we again see a pulling player baiting the Colts linebackers and front seven. This largely forces one-on-one matchups everywhere else with very little second-level help. Bostic is way out of position to fill any open gaps on the play side and had he filled the gap to the right side of the center (No. 60) he may have been able to slow Henry down.
Henry cut back very decisively, though, and it would have been a difficult tackle for anyone within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Keeping it simple, the Colts just got out-schemed on this play and without John Simon getting off of his block, this run could have gone for several more yards.
While this is an extremely impressive run, had Henry hit the hole created for him he could have ended up in the end zone. Hankins’ slant at the snap causes Henry to cut back against the grain — and the Titans offensive line’s near perfect execution — it puts him in a one-on-one situation with Morrison. Morrison fails to fill the running lane, or even make an attempt on Henry for that matter, which could have shut this run down with a minimal gain.
The thing about this play, is that it could have been successful regardless which route Henry decided on taking. The end result is simply that the Colts need a better option than Morrison at linebacker to shut these plays down. It wouldn’t have hurt if Bostic didn’t get caught mistiming the snap, pushed inside allowing Henry to kick it back outside either.
As a disclaimer, it is more common for defensive lines to slant near the goal line. The real problem here is that they get manhandled and pushed around at the snap. Again, the Morrison is the guy tasked with meeting Henry in the hole. To his credit he does a nice job of matching power to keep him short of the end zone inside the 3-yard line.
On the other hand, this is one of several plays in which the Colts were beaten by having their own momentum used against them through the final two drives of the game by the Titans.
Any way you look at this play, it should drive you crazy as a fan who knows anything at all about football. It’s like the Colts are offering up chances for big runs at this point. Immediately you see Sheard take a very shallow line to the backfield. In that process he sets up to take on Jonnu Smith, who’s pulling, completely takes his eyes off of the backfield and fails to force DeMarco Murray to go inside.
With no one other than a safety deep on that side of the play, Murray just has to speed away from pursuit with relative ease in order to eat up 10-plus yards. It isn’t always about scheme, in fact, a solid amount of time it’s quite truthfully a lack of execution that is the difference between a short gain and giving up big chunks of yardage.
This wasn’t meant to be a ‘crack on Sheard’ piece by any means, however, we keep seeing the same thing throughout these last two drives of the game. Initially, the Colts look to have everything locked up as Henry has to delay his attack. There’s good contain on the backside by Simon, but on Henry’s cutback Sheard is unable to get himself back into position to close off the edge.
Just like the last clip, now it turns into a race to track down Henry which lasts longer than it should have with some awful tackle attempts.
Look, there were a handful more running plays similar to this in the final 11 minutes of the game where we see the same miscues, poor angles as well as some questionable scheme. Regardless of what you choose to blame the collapse against the run on late in the game, being increasingly fundamental in these latter moments of the game will go a long way towards eliminating these situations.
Sunday will be a major test for the front seven with Leonard Fournette back in the lineup for the Jaguars. Putting a stop to the running game early and often will be nice to see, but the Colts need to maintain that ability through the entire game in order for the Colts to have a chance of pulling out a win on the road.