Each week, I have looked 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 Colts played an even game with the Raiders for the first three quarters before taking over in the fourth and escaping with a win I’m not sure they deserved to get. The offense, once again, ran the ball very well and Andrew Luck was able to throw less but managed to still have three passing touchdowns of his own. All in all it was a good win for the Colts offense. The Colts defense on the other hand... Well it left something to be desired. Malik Hooker’s absence was felt and Derek Carr was able to sit back and pick his shots as the Colts cornerbacks simply weren’t up to the task.
The winners of this weeks poll were Marlon Mack’s third quarter 49 yard run and all of Jack Doyle’s catches in the fourth quarter with the score tied 28-28. We’re going to take a look at Mack’s play first but if you want to prepare for the Doyle catches, go brush up on your RPO knowledge.
Mack’s big run:
This is an outside zone run. Edgerrin James made a living off of this play. At the snap you see what looks like a big hole in the middle of the line, but had Mack hit that hole, by the time he would have made it to the line of scrimmage the hole would have been gone. The defensive tackle flowing from right to left would have converged with at least one linebacker. In summation, it looked like a hole but it wasn’t.
Instead Mack continued to the outside where he had numbers. There are two great blocks that were made on this play; Anthony Castonzo and Quenton Nelson were both given an insanely difficult task to go out and get reach blocks on defenders lined up on their outside shoulder and in Castonzo’s case, the defender was lined up even further outside. It doesn’t look like much but those defenders have read your movement, seen everyone flowing that way, and the defender is trying to fight against those blocks.
Castonzo had help from Jack Doyle, which allowed him to work around and seal off the edge while Nelson won his block with good quickness at the snap combined with his brute strength once his hands locked on to the defender.
Those two blocks were exceptional but the block that most people will probably notice are from none other than Jack Doyle. Doyle helped Castonzo and then made a block on the flowing linebacker. He didn’t just block the linebacker though. At the snap Dontrelle Inman left the cornerback covering him alone and ran up to put a nice block on a safety. As a result, the corner was left unblocked. If you have to choose someone to be unblocked, the cornerback is the best choice. In theory your back should be able to make most cornerbacks miss and safety’s are usually better tacklers.
Instead of Mack having to make that corner miss, Jack Doyle runs his blocked linebacker directly into the path of that flowing cornerback. What this means is that every possible defender on that side of the field had been effectively blocked and Jack Doyle helped to take three different defenders out of this play.
Jack Doyle Takes Over:
This is a run-pass option. RPO. The play that mystified Cris Collinsworth for the entirety of Super Bowl LII. The purest form of communism. Before the season began I spent quite literally months compiling information on Frank Reich, his football history, and his biggest influences as a player and a coach in an effort to predict what the 2018 Colts offense might look like— If you haven’t read it and you’re interested you can check out the seven part series here. Here’s what I had to say about the RPO back in August:
Bonus Run The RPO:
I know I said I was only breaking down one running play but I wanted to look at the RPO when the QB reads run. The cool thing about this play isn’t the massive hole that opens in the middle of the field. It’s what the pass option does to number 52.
At the snap of the ball the right side (your left) of the line all take zone steps to their right. That tells us this is going to be a zone running play to the right side of the line... except the left guard and tackle drop into a shallow pass set.
So the backside linebacker, in this case number 52, sees what’s in front of him, the LG and LT pass blocking the receiver running a route and bails into coverage which leaves the middle of the field wide open. If Kyle Van Noy wasn’t as good as he is this is a bigger gain than it ended up being, either way it moved the chains.
This isn’t a basic run scheme. This play blends the zone run with a quick pass concept that makes defenders make choices that ultimately determine what the offense does. In short there is no way a defense can win.
In the example I gave above, the linebacker defended the pass which opened a massive hole. In the above throw to Jack Doyle, Raiders’ linebacker Tahir Whitehead (number 59) is Andrew Luck’s read. Had Whitehead dropped into coverage, Luck hands this ball off just like Nick Foles did in that clip from the Super Bowl.
Putting Doyle in this role is brilliant. If there were a player I had to pick to make a tough catch over the middle, take a hit, and hold on to the ball, I would choose Doyle.
This play is more difficult to be certain. Is it an RPO? Is it just play action? Based on the line’s movement, I’m led to believe that it is in fact an RPO. The line takes a zone step to the right as if it were a zone run but this could just be a clever protection scheme. Either way it works the exact same way as an RPO in the fact that the linebacker crashes inside to stop the run, Luck pulls the ball out and hits Doyle for an 11 yard gain on first down.
Doyle, Not an RPO:
At first I thought the Raiders were playing cover 6, which is a blend of cover four and cover two, or they might be pattern matching which is in a way, both zone and man coverage. It could also be a hybrid using man to man on one side (the top of the frame) and zone on the other (the bottom of the frame).
The corner at the bottom is absolutely playing a zone. The outside corner at the top of the frame is looking into the backfield the entire time which usually indicates zone coverage. The slot corner is playing man coverage the whole way. Both safeties are in zone.
The linebackers, well I can’t tell what the linebacker nearest the bottom of the frame is doing. To keep a long story a little shorter, it looks like he was supposed to be in zone but chose to follow Dontrelle Inman instead of releasing him to the linebacker in the other zone. The linebacker who lined up nearest the top of the frame is in a zone and is brought away from Doyle by the crossing Inman.
I do think this was a called cover 6 defense and no matter how you slice it the linebacker who seemingly forgot what his responsibility was on this play, caused the middle of the field to be wide open. Jack Doyle sat down in the open zone and made the catch.
Doyle, RPO, Take 3:
This RPO looks a lot different than the other two plays above. The offensive line once again is run blocking. Luck has the option to hand the ball to Mack or throw it to Doyle. T.Y. Hilton’s route makes covering Doyle more difficult for the defense but Luck’s read was likely the only defender who could cover him. Instead safety Karl Joseph (I believe) comes on a blitz, Luck pulls the ball out of Mack’s belly and instantly goes into his throwing motion. Luck didn’t make a read after giving a play action look, his read was made before Marlon Mack realized he didn’t have the ball.
The result was an easy pass and catch for Doyle, everything that happened after the five yard line was all Jack Doyle’s effort.
These four Jack Doyle catches highlight the effectiveness of the RPO in the Colts offense. Doyle is the perfect target going over the middle and while Andrew Luck is a good enough quarterback to progress through multiple reads after taking a seven step drop, giving him a single read that keeps him upright and hitting wide open receivers on high percentage throws is only going to help Luck and the Colts offense reach new levels. Frank Reich might go down as the best thing Chris Ballard does during his time as general manager.