It’s entirely understandable to come away from the Colts embarrassing loss in LA and feel like there is little or nothing positive to say about this football team. Any good attributes or performances were so over-shadowed by the very bad parts that it is hard to take positive analysis seriously.
Despite this, I’m going to give you a chance to see something good from the game. I’m going to show you a partially hidden defensive characteristic that could bode quite well for this younger, overhauled version of the Colts defense — one that entered the game with 11 new starters from the 2016 opener.
If early returns are a sign of things to come — the days of watching the defense in Indianapolis get gashed on the ground might be coming to an end.
The statistics are already there for you to see. You already know that the Colts held the Rams to 1.9 yards rushing on the ground. You already know that the group held Todd Gurley to 2.1 yards rushing. You may not know that after one week the Colts rank ninth in the NFL in terms of rushing yards allowed and first in the NFL in terms yards allowed per rushing attempt.
Before you think I’m getting ahead of myself, I understand that this was just one game. I understand that the Rams aren’t known for having a stellar offensive line. I also understand that Todd Gurley has been a massive disappointment to this point in his young career.
It’s for these reasons that looking at the film is so important. The film will help you vet out whether the performance was an anomaly or something that can be repeated. Let’s get to it:
Part II of our series breaking down the Colts run defense against the Rams focuses more on outsides runs, where breakdowns occurred, and highlights one short pass across the middle with inside linebacker Jon Bostic in coverage.
This play continues to show how well the defensive front flow with the play laterally to make it difficult for Todd Gurley to find any place to stick his foot in the ground and gain yards. Similar to the first film set, John Simon plays an imporant role in setting the edge on this play. He controls the blocker at the line of scrimmage by now allow him to get any push and by mirroring Gurley down the line until he runs out of bounds.
Inside linebacker Jon Bostic also runs down the line in pursuit to close off any cutback lanes when Gurley thinks about turning the play back in bounds. Also note that Margus Hunt is hooked/held on this play, though it is not called.
Jared Goff runs to his right on this play after reading John Simon on the option. In previous season, plays like this go for big yards against the Colts. This time, Simon is bailed out by Matthias Farley who comes down from the safety spot. Goff’s run goes for 2 yards.
The Rams try to stretch the Colts defense laterally on this play by handing the ball off to Tavon Austin. He is bottled up effectively when John Simon and Jon Bostic set the edge and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins refuses to allow a cutback lane. Indianapolis does a nice job in pursuit and you get a chance to see the speed of the defense a bit here when a handful of defender mirror Austin’s motion back to the other sideline and T.J. Green runs him down from behind.
This is another example of defensive flow down the line on a rushing play. John Simon stays engaged with the tight end and forces the running back to try to cut inside. When he does, Jon Bostic runs him down from the backside and makes the tackle for a short gain.
This is another play that is impacted by John Simon setting the edge. He controls the tight end and move him around to force Gurley to break the run back inside. By the time Gurley makes his cut, Matthias Farley and Al Woods converge to bring him down for a short gain.
Here is another attempt by the Rams to get the ball going on the ground by testing the Colts laterally. On this play, Al Woods gets penetration line up as the defensive tackle and forces Gurley to step back. Jon Bostic forces Gurley to escape outside and there is no room for Gurley to run up the field either.
This is one of the Rams longest runs of the day. Todd Gurley bounces the ball outside and gets the edge. He picks up about five yards.
Notice that inside linebacker Antonio Morrison is in pursuit on this play and that he was held, though it goes uncalled. Also, you are not allowed to block defenders in the back, and that happens when he is shoved to the ground from behind as well.
We all know that relying on flags to save you isn’t a good option but this illegal block helped spring what might have otherwise been stopped before Gurley could really get going.
Here is another play where Gurley gets the outside and breaks what could have been a long run. He cuts back on this play and tries to run to daylight. The problem for him is that Barkevious Mingo sees the play bounce his direction and tries to pursue Gurley only to have the tight end grab him.
This holding penalty negates the run.
This is another one of the most successful runs for the Rams on the day. They run a jet sweep to Tavon Austin, handing him the ball while he is already moving fast to the outside. Rookie outside linebacker Tarrell Basham fails to set the edge here, as he hesitates when he sees Austin coming his way. If he sees the hand-off immediately, he can continue into the backfield and crush Austin or at least getting him out of his running lane. He does not, so Austin gets the edge and a nice gain.
This is the longest running play of the game for the Rams. Gurley runs the ball to the outside and gets the edge. Antonio Morris gets blown up on the edge and falls to the ground, Bostic cannot run the play down from behind, and T.J. Green is so close to Nate Hairston when he takes out the tight end as the lead blocker that he gets caught up in the same block.
Todd Gurley gets something going on this inside run after a double-team is effective Hankins at the nose and Al Woods cannot get off of his block fast enough to make the tackle. Malik Hooker is playing down in the box but is also blocked out of the play, leaving Rashaan Melvin to clean up.
We have looks at this play multiple times, particularly showing missed tackles at the goal line by T.J. Green and John Simon. This look at the play also shows that Jabaal Sheared either trips over the blocking tight end or simply falls to the ground. When he does, he takes out Johnathan Hankins with him. This destroys all push from the left side of the line.
On this goal line play, Sheard comes through and tries to make the top but he leaps too soon and gets Brown by the ankles. This allows Brown to escape and with effective blocks on the left side of the line, there is no one around to clean it up until it is too late.
This is the only passing play that we included in this series because it shows a traditional front-seven responsibility. In this case, Jon Bostic has to cover Todd Gurley in the flat on a third and long. He does a nice job of engaging as Gurley enters his route and stays with him for an immediate tackle. That is solid coverage in the short area of the field.
As I mentioned in Part I of this series, there are positive signs from the Colts run defense. The front-seven played a solid football game. The outside linebackers set the edge, the defensive line clogged rushing lanes, and the inside linebackers filled lanes throughout much of the game.
The biggest forces in the run game overall were Al Woods, Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, and Jon Bostic. As mentioned in the previous story, these players did not always get credited with stops on the state sheet but their play had a huge role in allowing tackles to happen.
While this could all be a mirage, for now it looks like General Manager Chris Ballad has done more to stiffen up the the Colts defense against the run in one off-season than his predecessor was able to put together in five.