Each week in the Colts 2017 season should be interesting because there has been so much turnover over the last 9 months. No unit in the NFL has experienced more turnover than the Colts defense, and after giving up a lot of points in the season opener, it was interesting to see how the unit would bounce back.
One of the most successful areas for the defense in Los Angeles was stopping the run. They held the Rams ground game to 1.9 yards per carry and bottled up Todd Gurley for much of the game.
The problem with using the Rams game as a barometer for the run defense has to do with situational advantage. Teams with big leads tend to run the ball more to eat up clock. Defenses and coordinators know this so they load up the box and play in run strong packages that could paint an inaccurate picture.
Against the Cardinals, the Colts defense had no such benefit. The game was close throughout and there was never a time that Bruce Arians and the Arizona offense was forced to go one way or another. Granted, this was a different unit without David Johnson in the game but defensive discipline and preparation for all phases was required for the full game.
In the end, the Colts held the Cardinals to a respectable 3.3 yards per carry on the ground. Over two games, they are holding opposing running backs to 2.5 yards per attempt (2nd in the NFL) and have given up the 7th lowest rushing yards per game at 73. They have given up no carries of 20 or more yards.
Let’s take a look at the tape and see where Indianapolis showed strengths and weaknesses in defending against the run.
On one of the longest rushing plays for the Cardinals in the game, Jabaal Sheard fails to hold the edge and Jon Bostic comes up toward the line of scrimmage too early. You teach football players very early that you play the ball laterally first before you pursue up the field. You do this because when you run blindly up the field and the play is coming in your direction, you make it more difficult to chase the play down — you tighten the angles and reduce your ability to react. You also get yourself caught up in blocks for no reason.
Rashaan Melvin does his part to force the play out of bounds, or back inside where Malik Hooker can clean it up, but it’s after a an 11-yard gain.
Here, Sheard fails to set the edge and overruns the play by pushing the blocker too far inside, opening a cutback lane. He also displays poor vision as he clearly has no idea the ball carrier is just to his left and never makes an attempt at the tackle.
Both Jabaal Sheard and Johnathan Hankins do a nice job keeping this play from going anywhere. Sheard holds the edge and Hankins effectively faces down a double-team, refusing to move out of the hole. They make it easy to stop this run for a short gain.
Sheard makes this play on his own. He holds the edge effectively and disengages the blocker to make a tackle for a gain of about a yard.
Sheard holds the backside edge against a cut back on this play and is able to toss the tackle off of his block to stop Kerwynn Williams for a one-yard gain.
Once again, Sheard beats the tackle inside and runs through a clear hold to stop Williams for a short gain.
John Simon holds the edge on this play and forces the run inside. Matthias Farley plays the running lane well and brings down the runner.
Simon and Farley work together again to make this stop. Simon gets beat around the edge but forces the play wide enough to allow Farley to make the tackle for a gain of about one yard.
John Simon makes a great individual play to stop the run for no gain. He disengages the block by tossing the tight end to the side and makes the tackle on his own. Matthias Farley also does a nice job of holding the edge against Larry Fitzgerald.
Here is another play where Simon sees the run very early and abuses the wide receiver to cut inside and stop the play for a short gain.
On this inside run, Kerwynn Williams gets some traction. The three highlighted portions show you key blocks that allowed this play to happen. Henry Anderson is blocked one-on-one by a tight end, Jon Bostic is met in the hole by the right tackle, and Al Woods is off-balance and taken out of the hole by the right guard. This is all Williams needed to get through the line and to the second level.
This is a rare occasion where the Colts defense lost on the inside.
One of the most frustrating plays of the day, and frankly one of a few plays that could have single-handily closed out the game, was Carson Palmer picking up a fumbled snap and diving forward for a first down. All game long the middle of the field was clogged by Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods. Runs had to move laterally because those close the A and B gaps.
Here, rookie Grover Stewart (#90) is in the game over the nose and slants to his right. Jeremiah George goes to his right. Margus Hunt gets up field before he sees where the ball is and find himself staring at the back of Palmer. It’s frustrating to watch as a fan.
However, let’s be clear that this play worked on accident. The Colts defense was in great position to make the play on either runner if there was an actual hand-off — as the play was designed. The Colts defense didn’t draw up a play to tackle Palmer after he recovers a fumbled snap. Still, you can’t help but think that Woods and Hankins in the middle of the line would have never left a 5 yard gap right up the gut for Palmer to fall through.
Henry Anderson and Al Woods converge on this play to make the tackle on Chris Johnson before he can get through the line. He picks up a yard at most. Both of them abuse the Cardinals offensive line.
Woods throws A.Q. Shipley away to his right to breakup the double team. Anderson refuses to budge when he engages the left tackle and keeps his eyes in the backfield. When the time is right, Anderson disengages the block and helps make the stop.
The Indianapolis Colts have managed to get through two football games giving up a long run of 12 yards. They’re holding their opponents to an average of under 3 yards per carry. The front seven looks clearly better in 2017 than it was a year ago, and better than it has in many seasons before this one.
While modern NFL is more about being able to pass the ball and stop the pass, this is an important part as the equation as well. Just as establishing a running game can help the Colts offense pass the football and setup the play-action, it does the same thing the other way around.
If Colts opponents are unable to run the football and the Colts are able to stop opponents from running the ball primarily with their front seven, the secondary should be able to focus on covering receivers. If defensive coordinator Ted Monachino can dial up a pass rush with this group, the team could be in business.
I’m personally excited to see if this defense can continue to be so strong against the run because if it does, Andrew Luck will be returning to a better football team.