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.
This week’s poll winners were Nyheim Hines’ touchdown catches, in second place and the big winner of the week was the 4th and 4 play that ended the game for the Colts. A lot has been said about this game and eventually we will all move on to the games that follow but looking at this 4th and 4 play means it might stick with me and I hate that. First we’ll look at what I hope will be the beginning of a long beautiful relationship between Andrew Luck and Nyheim Hines.
Touchdown number one:
The Texans give Andrew Luck a man to man look with a single high safety over the top. They rush four and drop seven into coverage. On the backside of the play the two receivers run in breaking routes at five and two yards deep while the tight end works the seam.
On the play side the receiver that lines up furthest outside runs an in at the goal line while Hines runs an out and up. The receiver who cuts toward the middle of the field runs his route at the deep safety meaning he won’t be able to get to Hines in the corner. Luck sees that he has true one on one coverage and throws an absolutely beautiful pass. This ball was either being caught by a Colt or it was incomplete, there was no way it was being intercepted.
In a play where the pass is this good, it’s rare to have an equally impressive catch but Hines managed to pull it off. This wasn’t a match up that many people would have told you was in the Colts favor before the ball was snapped. Tyrann Mathieu isn’t the same player he was a few years ago but he is still a very good defensive back and Nyheim Hines, a fourth round rookie beat him with a good route and then went up and made a fantastic catch.
This play was less about great design and more about players making great plays.
Touchdown number two:
Once again the Texans are in man coverage with a single high safety and they rushed four again also.
On the backside of the play the Colts run a spot concept (which I wrote a little about right here) which draws the linebacker who has an underneath zone, to that side of the field to defend against the clump of receivers, while Ryan Grant and Nyheim Hines run a Texas concept. Grant’s job is to make the safety stay deep to defend him. If the safety comes underneath to cover Hines, this ball is going to Grant. Instead the safety stayed deep.
Hines is being covered by none other than Tyrann Mathieu once again. After getting beat outside and knowing he has help back towards the middle of the field, Mathieu over plays this to the outside, fighting through what he probably thought was a pick designed to get Hines a free run at the pylon. Instead Hines runs an angle route back towards the middle that has been cleared out by Grant for an easy six points.
Fourth and four:
The Colts faced man coverage with a single safety over the top. All four routes were run just beyond the sticks and were all isolation routes. They didn’t really work with any of the other routes to pick or rub or even make a defender make a decision. It was just one on one.
In order to run routes like these and have success against tight man coverage you have to have receivers who can make a play. T.Y. Hilton has made plays like this in the past, but it’s not where he’s best and further he wasn’t in the game after going down with an injured hamstring much earlier in the contest. So what were Luck’s other options?
At the bottom of the screen receiver Ryan Grant probably gets held but either way his defender played it well and prevented him from running his route, disrupting the timing and ensuring the quarterback would have to throw somewhere else.
Lined up in the slot at the bottom of the screen is Zach Pascal. The first few times I watched this play I couldn’t believe how open he seemed to be, then I saw it. If Luck throws this ball to Pascal with enough zip to beat the corner, the underneath linebacker is probably going to be celebrating in the end zone with his teammates after picking the ball off and returning it forty-five yards for six points.
Eric Ebron runs an angle towards the middle and is blanketed by two linebackers and Nyheim Hines couldn’t have beaten the defender shadowing him quickly enough to get a first down anyway.
Andrew Luck made the correct decision based on the play call. Chester Rogers becomes the go-to-guy on 4th and 4 in overtime in an effort to win the game. I’ll let you decide what happens with Luck’s pass, I’m not sure if Luck just didn’t get enough on it, he was rifling balls in all day so the “there’s something seriously wrong with Andrew Luck’s arm” crowd has absolutely no ground to stand on. This ball did come up short and Chris Blystone has convinced me that J.J. Watt may have gotten a piece of the ball. I can’t tell with absolute certainty that’s what happened, but it’s the only thing that makes sense given what we witnessed Luck do all day on Sunday.
I don’t like Reich’s decision to go for it on fourth down here. We’ve all talked about it ad nauseam, but he was being aggressive, fine. I get the decision, I disagree with it but I get it. What I will never understand is why you call that play. Why run four iso routes against a good secondary and your best receiver on the field probably plays running back? Why run that play when you have Eric Ebron who could have lined up outside and Luck could have thrown the ball high and let him go make a play? Why not run one of the pick plays we’ve seen so many times? Why not run a variation of Nyheim Hines’ second touchdown catch? Why not run a smart, well designed play, especially after having all the time in the world to decide what play to run after taking a timeout? Why?
Frank Reich screwed this one up. There’s really no way around it. If the pass was better is this a completion? Maybe. If the route was better? Maybe. Ultimately Reich sent out a unit without its best receiver and relied on them to just make a play. Andrew Luck gives you a chance every down he’s out there but Reich has to learn that he can’t rely on talent that just isn’t there. Every situation like this is going to need superior scheme to consistently win.
I’m being pretty hard on Reich because he deserves it. If you ask him, I’m sure he would tell you he believes he made the right call and he should believe that. He should have that confidence in his players, he should be so emotionally invested in his team that he believed one of those guys could make a play, that’s a good thing. I just hope as he puts the disappointment of losing this game further in the rear-view mirror he can reconsider the call he made here.
So far Frank Reich, Nick Sirianni, Matt Eberflus and the entire coaching staff have been nothing short of fantastic. I don’t know if the collection of these guys is as exciting as say Sean McVay and Wade Phillips are with the Los Angles Rams, but I know for a fact that together they’ve easily been one of the best coaching staffs I’ve seen in Indianapolis. They have an identifiable game plan and they make effective in-game adjustments based on what the opponent is doing. They’ve done a good job anticipating changes the other team is going to make and figuring out ways to succeed in the face of those changes. They’re using specific players in specific roles and doing all they can to maximize the talent they do have. If all of this sounds like good coaching, you’re right, so far they’ve been good.
This coaching staff has been good and if Matt Eberflus continues to lead the defense the way he has I’m actually pretty worried that half the defense won’t have made it to their second contract before he becomes a head coach in the NFL. Imagine what ‘Flus will be able to do a year from now with more developed talent and another off season of new talent coming on board. The Colts are second in the league in sacks with 17 through the first quarter of the season, imagine what he could do if a guy like Kemoko Turay continues to develop.
Despite how encouraged I am by the future, Sunday showed that Reich is human, he’s going to make mistakes and hopefully we aren’t relying on any 4th down plays in the last minutes of any more overtime games.