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Impact Plays: week 7 Colts vs. Bills

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, I will look to break down two of the best or worst plays (or situations) from the previous game, but I’ll be listening to Stampede Blue to choose which plays should given a closer look as I hope to explain what happened in greater detail than the broadcasters can. Often you’ll hear “how did that guy get so open?” and I hope to be able to answer that question for Colts fans this season.

The Bills game went as well as it possibly could have for our Colts. Complete dominance from whistle to whistle. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking; “Shepherd, we just played week 8 and you’re giving us the week 7 impact plays?” and yes, I am. Sometimes life is hard and when it gets hard sometimes things like the week 7 impact plays take a backseat. So you’ll either accept these plays for what they are, or you wont. Either way the two plays I’m breaking down today, as voted by the Stampede Blue community are interesting and if you can’t take the fact it’s late, well my week 8 breakdown will drop in the next couple days.

First, we’re going to take a look at Marlon Mack’s run on 4th and 1 early in the game that I feel really helped to establish a sense of dominance. It was a good spot on the field to go for it on 4th and short but it was also Frank Reich announcing his team was going to line up and be physical against a good Bills defensive front.

The first thing I want to point out is that Le’Raven Clark checked in as an eligible receiver and lined up on the right side of the line. The Bills didn’t care and still lineup five defenders in the box on the let side of the offensive line (the viewer’s right).

In a lot of instances, the quarterback would see that the offense had a numerical disadvantage and flip the play. After all, you’ve brought in an extra offensive linemen and the defense is light on his side of the line. But when you draft a guard sixth overall and you have Anthony Castonzo who has always been a good run blocking left tackle, well you probably tell your quarterback the ball is going left no matter what.

I’ll go down the line from Clark to Mo Alie-Cox (your left to right) Clark easily disposes of Trent Murphy, throwing him down and completely out of the play. Clark also shows great hustle after winning his block as he turns and runs up field, he doesn’t get there in time to make another block and he could have recognized that he needed to get up field sooner, but the fact that he did it at all is a really good sign for the culture of the offensive line.

Braden Smith, lined up at right tackle, had a very difficult assignment, getting the reach block on Kyle Williams who was lined up in as a 3-tech defensive tackle (and is really close to being lined up in more of a 2-tech). Williams, at this point in his career isn’t the same guy he was five years ago, but he’s still very good and this is not an easy block. He was never able to work his hips around Williams to cut off his path to the ball but he did make sure he rode him as long as he could, not letting him impact the play and running him right into the pile.

Mark Glowinski got a quick hand on Williams before working to the second level, getting a block on Tremaine Edmunds. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Glowinski was unable to get great leverage on Edmonds. Ideally he works his hips around and pushes him away from the run, just like Smith’s block on Williams, Glowinski just cant get there on an insane athlete in Edmunds. Instead he does the next best thing and drives him past the play using Edmunds’ momentum against him.

Ryan Kelly had a 1-tech defensive tackle lined up play side. He gets a chip from Quenton Nelson but he never works his hips around. The other two guys who have had this problem, I’ll give them a pass. Those were really difficult blocks to make. This wasn’t an easy reach block, but it’s one he needs to make. He didn’t get his hips around, you’ll sometimes hear people say that a center and guard or guard and tackle had a perfect combo block and were hip to hip, Kelly and Nelson were never hip to hip. Now it’s possible Kelly expected a bigger chip from Nelson and that’s something that will improve with time as these two guys continue to learn what to expect from each other, and it’s amazing to think these two guys will get better playing next to each other given how well the interior of the line has looked so far.

Nelson gives a chip on the defensive tackle and works up to a flowing Matt Milano. Milano is having a great year, individually but is simply engulfed by a much bigger and stronger Quenton Nelson. Nelson spikes Milano into the turf, which helps both Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith as both men run their blocks into Milano creating a pile of bodies. Nelson, per usual, then runs down the field to try to help up his running back.

Castonzo and Alie-Cox work a combo block on Jerry Hughes, pushing him down back towards the middle of the field and taking him where he wanted to go. This was a solid block but I would have liked to see Alie-Cox get off of the block and try to get a hand on safety Jordan Poyer. Instead he leaves him unblocked and standing in the hole.

The fullback on this play is tight end Ryan Hewitt. He does a good job running cornerback Phillip Gaines out of the play.

The only guy left to talk about is Marlon Mack. Mack takes the handoff and follows Hewitt making a cut off of his block. Mack is met in the hole by Jordan Poyer and Mack leaves Poyer (a good safety) grabbing at air as Mack spins away back towards the middle of the field. It’s difficult to say what might have happened had Mo Alie-Cox gotten off of his double team of Jerry Hughes and gotten a hand on Jordan Poyer but it sure looks like Mack would have been able to outrun number 20, Rafael Bush, without the spin move and then he would have been one on one with Micah Hyde.

I don’t know that that would have happened. It’s just as possible that had Alie-Cox made that block it reroutes Mack directly into Tremaine Edmonds path and the rookie linebacker would have been able to get a hand on him and bring him down. It’s impossible to know what would have happened but it’s fun to think about and if you gave me the option to bet on who would win in the open field, Marlon Mack or Micah Hyde, I’m putting it all on Mack and I feel good about that bet.

All in all this is a really interesting play that shows us a lot about the physical attitude this Colts team is putting on display halfway through the season.

The next play, and the big winner of the week 7 poll:

This is just the pre-snap read, if you thought I uploaded the wrong gif, scroll down.

I wanted to try to figure out what Andrew Luck saw that had him check the play (or protection scheme) at the line. I wanted to figure it out because the play resulted in a big touchdown and I thought Luck’s audible was responsible for it.

Pre-snap look from behind Luck:

So Luck looks out at the defense, gives a hard count and he sees Tremaine Edmonds take a hard step forward and the safety to Luck’s left start to cheat towards the middle of the field. This means that the Bills are probably playing with a single safety over the top, which also means they could use the other safety to replace underneath coverage if they decide to bring a fifth pass rusher (aka, blitz). Edmonds took that hard step so it looks like they are going to bring the blitz. Further, Luck knows if the Bills blitz they’re in man coverage, this isn’t a team that’s going to give you zone blitz looks.

It’s pretty easy for me to sit back and look at these gifs and tell you what’s happening. I’m not completely sold that Luck believed Edmonds was going to blitz, frankly they had a gameplan and knew Bills tendencies far better than the information I had going into watching this game. My point, though, is that I can sit here and tell you what I’m seeing after watching the clips a few times and breaking it all down. Andrew Luck is doing it in real time, he doesn’t get to watch the clip multiple times, he isn’t reading the defense while sitting on his couch typing on his laptop, what he’s doing is really hard to do. And Andrew Luck looks better pre-snap than he’s ever looked before.

The actual play:

I wanted to break this play down because I thought Luck made some genius adjustment. I mean he made a read, adjusted something and then Marlon Mack had a 29 yard catch and run for six points. But it wasn’t a brilliant check that made this play happen. It was blown coverage.

This is man coverage and I believe the linebackers have an underneath zone, each gets half of the field. Tremaine Edmonds is lined up to Luck’s left and Matt Milano is lined up to his right. Milano who has had a great season, Rides Mo Alie-Cox all the way across the field while completely forgetting about the fact that the running back lined up on his side of the field. Milano didn’t account for Mack and decided he was going to take away the tight end. What Milano should have done was release Alie-Cox back toward the middle of the field (where Edmonds was waiting to help) and keep an eye on the back on his side.

This play is mesh. It’s a perfect play, in theory there should be no way to stop it. Both receiving options that cross in the middle are running option routes. If Alie-Cox had felt Milano slide off back towards Mack, he likely would have tried to sit down in the zone and pick up what yards he could.

You’ll notice Chester Rogers sits down between the two linebackers because he saw their zone, then once he realized he wasn’t open he continued his route in an effort to get open. Also, Rogers, for all of his faults and his incredibly frustrating drops this season, went out and made a heck of a block on this play. Without it, Mack probably doesn’t score. It was great effort and a selfless act. It’s good football for the sake of the team and I just can’t hate Rogers as long as he’s giving this kind of effort for the team.

So this wasn’t a perfect audible, in fact I believe Luck was probably just communicating with his receivers that he saw man coverage coming and I think he may have adjusted his protection scheme. The thing that created this touchdown was just good old fashion bad defense.