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Tale of the Tape: Colts Run Defense Bends Against the Browns Part II

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After two stifling performances by the run defense, the Colts finally gave a bit of ground. The Browns rushed for a total of 111 yards on 21 total carries, which is a disappointing 5.3 yards per carry average.

In order to bring the performance into focus, we’ll study the run defense with eyes first on runs by the Browns running backs and then on quarterback scrambles. What we will find is that the run defense was still relatively stingy against the running backs — except for a 19 yard touchdown run that includes a blatant hold — and that some of the quarterback runs were caused by game situation and defensive scheme.

This won’t make everyone feel better about the performance, nor should it. But it will help understand what went right and what went wrong and how it impacts the total numbers.

Consider that without Kizer’s 44 net rushing yards on seven carries, the Browns running backs ran 14 times for a total of 67 yards — a 4.8 yards per carry clip. If you remove the 19 yard run Johnson was gifted on the Browns first touchdown, Cleveland’s running backs gained 48 yards on 13 carries — a 3.7 yards per carry clip.

By comparison, the Baltimore Ravens defense allowed 93 rushing yards on 21 carries for 4.4 yard per carry in Week 2. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense only allowed 57 rushing yards on 26 carries for 2.3 yards per carry but Duke Johnson also didn’t get a single carry in week 1.

Either way, the Colts defense played relatively well on traditional runs and somewhere in line with two other respected NFL defenses. Today we’ll see that it was Kizer’s rushing yards — many of them late in the game — that really busted things open.

While this isn’t an easy play for a nose tackle to make, as option plays are made to abuse slower players, Al Woods needs to learn from this film. His job is stop inside plays from happening, in essence he has a gap he is responsible for and his number one focus should be on doing that.

His instinct here is to try to make the tackle — all football players want to make plays. However, if the hand-off happens there is no way Woods is going to run down the running back. It takes a disciplined player to play this correctly but if he does, he doesn’t worry about making the tackle and instead comes right into Kizer’s face.

The running back isn’t a threat to his gap — Kizer is.

Result: 7 yard gain

One thing to note on this play is that the starting defensive line, who is more “run focused” based upon personnel, is able to collapse the pocket around Kizer and get him off of his mark. What Sheard needs to do on this play is spin back inside, instead of continuing to push the tackle into the backfield or trying to get around him.

It’s not a horrible play but it does net positive yards.

Result: 3 yard gain

You’ll notice the defense in the very soft, prevent style based upon personnel and the line grouping here. The play starts with Hunt on the nose, Sheard in the wide-9 pass rush spot from the edge, and Mingo as an edge rusher on the opposite side. Simon drops back into coverage on the play and vacates the line of scrimmage.

This leaves the middle of the field wide open. On this passing play, Sheard nearly gets a sack in the backfield and almost runs Kizer down before he can break the run for meaningful yards but misses.

Result: 8 yard gain

This is the same soft defensive front in a prevent style defense. The defense vacates the middle of the field and only three players are brought up to put pressure on Kizer. This is candy from a baby folks.

Result: 13 yard gain

The Colts realize that they need to do something different after they handed the Browns tons of yard in the middle of the field. They try to stiffen up by bringing in Hankins and Woods to plug the middle of the field. They still have extra players in the secondary.

Either way, the play is lost when Sheard fails to hold the edge against Kizer. He needs to force him back into the pocket by getting deeper into the backfield. If he does, Malik Hooker picks up a sack. Instead, Kizer nearly runs for a touchdown.

Result: 12 yards

This is a well designed goal-line play. The Colts slant to try to clog the A and B gaps and Kizer sidesteps to get over for the touchdown.

Result: 1 yard TD

In the first half, the Colts traditional defensive alignment allowed Deshone Kizer to rush for 10 yards on two carries. In the second half, Kizer rushed 5 times for 34 yards including two runs for over 10 yards. Much of his success came after the defense moved to a prevent style of play and simply conceded the middle of the football field. Much of his success was also in the fourth quarter, when the team was willing give up yards to keep the clock moving.

The total performance for the run defense would certainly look better without these numbers but facing a mobile quarterback like Kizer may have been extremely important for this Colts defense. They will need to clean up some of these mistakes if they hope to have better results against Russell Wilson on Sunday night.

If they don’t, Wilson will do a great deal of damage with his legs and through the air. He can also run the group ragged and soften it up by forcing the maulers to run laterally.