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Colts first defensive series in Seattle exhibited plenty of potential

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts have now finally gotten through their preseason opener for the 2018 season. Offensively, everyone was pretty stoked about the Colts’ first drive of the game with Andrew Luck looking like himself and the offensive line’s improvement.

There was a lot to like about it, but most weren’t so impressed with the team’s defensive drive. Yes, Russell Wilson — a legit top-tier quarterback in the NFL — looked as if he had some easy throws and ended the drive with a touchdown pass.

Especially this time of year, patience is key. Not as a player, though, rather just as a fan and watcher of football. With the defense’s complete makeover of both talent and scheme, this learning process will take some time and may not always be easy to watch.

However, let’s dig into the Colts first drive against the Seattle Seahawks’ offense. We’re going to look at the 12-play scoring drive and take a look at the positive that we can glean from it. It’s there, don’t worry.

Play 1: 1st and 10 from SEA 25

Seattle runs play action to Chris Carson to the right side of the Colts defense. Kenny Moore and Darius Leonard bite on the play action initially, but before Wilson can roll out they drop back into coverage.

With T.J. Green (out of the picture) covering the tight end over the top and with Moore and Leonard underneath, Wilson comes off of him and is left with scrambling or getting the ball to his receiver who came back against the play action into the flat as a check down option.

Wilson chooses to run and gets himself some positive yardage (6 yards), thus the defense — by design — did its job. One thing I would want to see in future outings is rookie MIKE, Skai Moore, break on Wilson a bit quicker as he doesn’t have a defender to cover as the play develops. Not a big deal right now.

Play 2: 2nd and 4 from Seattle 31

With an empty backfield, the Colts are in a true Tampa-2 coverage with only two linebackers, using Nate Hairston in the nickel role. On the far side of the field, Quincy Wilson is giving a 12-yard cushion and is responsible for the intermediate route depth. Hairston looks to be in man coverage (as do the linebackers) on Tyler Lockett, while Matthias Farley has deep-half responsibilities over the top.

This is a quick-hitter from Wilson, and is exactly the hole that is exploitable within this specific coverage. There’s little that can be done about this throw, however, Quincy Wilson shouldn’t be backpedaling at the snap. He should allow the receiver to lessen the cushion in order to allow him a better break on the play with help over the top.

Again, something simple and not the end of the world, but this is maybe a 4 or 5-yard gain — with a possible set up for third-and-short — as opposed to a 9-yard pickup if Quincy Wilson stays flat-footed at the snap.

Play 3: 1st and 10 from Seattle 40

Again, this is a hard play to get upset about. Seattle comes out in the shotgun in 11 personnel (1 tight end, 1 running back). It’s a simple handoff to Carson and he’s met at the line of scrimmage by the Colts’ defensive line. The linebackers break on the ball carrier, but Carson is able to maneuver his way into a 4-yard gain.

The negative is of course that he gained 4 yards out of virtually nothing developing, however, there’s positives too. We see Skai Moore come up to seal off the edge in case Carson tries to bounce the run outside, and Leonard steps up to assist against the run correctly. This could have been a 2-yard gain or less, but I’m not crying over spilled milk in this case.

Play 4: 2nd and 6 from Seattle 44

Here we see the Seahawks in 21 personnel, and the Colts send Green up into the box with Farley in a single-high look. The Seahawks run play action again with the fullback coming through masking as the lead blocker. Skai Moore takes on the fullback, Leonard is keying the half back, Najee Goode follows the slot receiver to the sideline as he has flat responsibility and Kenny Moore and Green have backside responsibilities on the tight end.

Now with two vertical threats on his side of the field, which puts the corner and safety into a position where communication before the play, and chemistry during the play are key aspects to success.

With this play isolating the right side of the Colts defense, I really want to see Farley having those natural instincts to come up and make a play on the ball here. Wilson would have his entire side of the field in deep responsibilities, but still comes up to stop Lockett from any gain after the catch. Wilson plants his foot and drives on the receiver — exactly what you want to see from him just in general.

Here’s where I think we’d see Malik Hooker in his element when he makes his way back to the field. However, this is another one of those deep zones that are naturally open as the defense moves between cover-2 and cover-3 in the secondary.

Bend, but don’t break and nothing over the top. We hate it, but you have to respect it if the defense can become a group of playmakers. Wilson nearly causes Lockett to fumble the ball too, so, you like to see that as well.

Play 5: 1st and 10 from Colts 42

Here the Seahawks are using two tight ends and hand the ball to Rashaad Penny up the middle. Immediately we see Denico Autry and Margus Hunt are slanting and Leonard crashes hard down the line of scrimmage. Al Woods holds his own and joins as Autry sheds his block and Leonard stops Penny in the backfield for a short loss.

This is pretty nice run defense and shows how important the speed from Autry and Hunt is, as well as the power from Woods in this scheme. Nice to see Leonard crash quickly as well, but the tight end allowed him to come through untouched. Good snap for the defense.

NO PLAY: 2nd and 11 from Colts 43 | D.J. Fluker false start

Play 6: 2nd and 16 from Colts 48

Here we see the Colts in a true cover two look against a Seahawks’ 4 receiver (tight end extended and upright) set. Wilson and Kenny Moore have flat responsibilities, linebackers and the nickel drop into hook zones with Green and Farley covering deep halves over the top.

You have to like the result. Wilson throws in to heavy coverage, and Skai Moore does a great job of breaking hard on the ball forcing the incompletion and near interception. But Wilson sort of bailed the Colts out here, with a predetermined read and throw.

Take a look at Penny leaving the backfield. Quincy Wilson, who should be maintaining shallow coverage turns to trail the receiver as he goes past him and Leonard stays in the middle of the field instead of angling out into the hook area. Now, Wilson does keep his eyes on Penny before trailing and it’s difficult to see if the safeties are rolling or not.

Penny is all by himself in the flat and had Russell Wilson simply transitioned off of Vannett and went back to Penny on the checkdown, he would have had a lot of green to pick up some serious yardage. If this was a 3rd down play, it wouldn’t be much of a big deal because you presume that Leonard could stop Penny short of yardage to go (16 yards), but on 2nd down you need someone closer out there to challenge the running back.

We don’t really know who’s responsibility the running back was, but Wilson certainly made this much harder than it needed to be. This play should still be a talking point for Matt Eberflus despite of the result of the play.

Play 7: 3rd and 16 from Colts 48

Again, the Colts are in nickel against a nearly identical personnel package with the tight end switching sides of the formation. Also like the previous play, Leonard remains too centered to the middle of the field instead of getting further out into the hook zone. Vannett and Jaron Brown run double hooks at about 10 yards.

Leonard’s reaction is okay, but he’s just not in great position with his drop to actually affect the completion. Vannett gets a few yards after the catch and puts the Seahawks in good position to go for it on 4th down.

This is an easy throw for Wilson just ahead of getting hit by Jabaal Sheard. Sheard got there fairly quickly, and had Russell Wilson been forced to hold that ball for another second it’s a sack instead of a 15-yard completion. The result of this play is completely different if Leonard uses better spacial awareness.

On the other hand, once again we see a defender nearly causing a fumble. Forcing turnovers is pivotal for this defense and if Leonard is in better position and Wilson still makes that throw, it’s an interception instead. Remember, it’s early. Preseason week 1, in fact. These are teaching moments for the Colts defensive staff and players.

Play 8: 4th and 1 from Colts 33

Here the Seahawks go 13 personnel in a short yardage situation and the Colts are matching that with their base personnel and Farley down in the box. At the snap Hunt and Autry overpower their assignments, Skai Moore shoots the gap and Goode and Kenny Moore meet Carson just past the line of scrimmage.

Hunt nearly breaks this play up in the backfield and we see the rest of the defense digging in, but a 2-yard gain is all they needed to move the chains in this case. I don’t know how much we can kill the defense (collectively) for this result.

It was a short gain, which was all they needed, but we also notice the push and potential for this play to be a turnover on downs.

Play 9: 1st and 10 from Colts 31

Here’s another play in 21 personnel against the Colts in their base defense and scheme look. The linebackers drop into their zones, as do the cornerbacks and safeties, while the X and Z receivers run their routes up the boundary as the tight end runs a 12-yard square-in and both running backs leak out as short checkdown options.

Goode, following Wilson’s eyes, crashes down on the running back to his side of the field as the rest of the defense have all other receivers covered nicely. Wilson is forced to use his speed in attempt to pick up some positive yardage, and he does exactly that. Goode isn’t able to hold Wilson for a ‘short’ gain, but he is able to trip him up short of first-down yardage.

I like seeing this speed from Goode, I like seeing the coverage downfield, but unfortunately, there’s only so much bottling up you can do to Wilson with his speed and quickness.

Play 10: 2nd and 2 at Colts 23

The Seahawks are in 11 personnel and the Colts are in nickel. The Seahawks run the ball straight downhill this time by leaking their right guard into the second level in attempt to block the backside linebacker (Leonard) and pulling their right tackle to pick up a defender on the perimeter or help with a double team.

Leonard and defensive end Anthony Johnson (double teamed) are unable to shed their blockers, and Skai Moore is a little indecisive about where he’s going to shoot giving him a difficult angle on Carson as he cuts back. This leaves Farley to make first contact, and Green to help him finish the tackle about 12 yards downfield.

I’m laying this on the rookie UDFA linebacker, but say that to yourself when considering it’s the first preseason game of the year and still try to make a big stink about it. On the other hand, Moore takes a bad angle in the Seahawks second drive as well, so this is something that he needs to clean up in practice and needs to be squashed before the regular season gets here.

Look, this was one of the worst plays from this defense, collectively, of this drive and it still could have been stopped about 9 or 10 yards sooner. The defensive line was out manned 6 to 4, Leonard could have been more aggressive against the lineman and Moore over pursued with an opportunity to hold the running back to a minimal gain and possibly forced a third down.

I don’t like this play at all, and it desperately needs to be addressed by the coaching staff, but we still need to keep all of this in context for now. If this happens in the regular season, they’re in real trouble.

Play 11: 1st and 10 from Colts 11

The ‘Hawks are back in 11 personnel in the red zone and attempt to back to the ground. With Penny now in the backfield, they try to get him the edge matched up against Colts cornerback Kenny Moore and it works.

Seattle pulls their right guard to help lead the way for Penny and as he begins to kick it outside Leonard shoots inside of the guard and Penny continues to the perimeter of the formation. I’m guessing that Leonard should have taken the outside angle to push Penny back inside towards his help, but assumed he’d be able to stop him in the backfield.

Leonard showed the speed, but also showed that taking the right angle keeps the gain to a minimum versus the small chance of earning a big play. There’s a fine line there.

As Penny continues outside Moore also takes a bad angle giving Penny outside leverage on him with just one cut. Green and Skai Moore give pursuit and are luck enough to have the sideline become their friend in this case. If this ball is originally placed on the other hash, it’s a touchdown for sure.

Play 12: 2nd and 4 from Colts 5

There’s real good and bad with the final play of the drive. First of all, it ends in a touchdown — that’s never good. But, initially against a heavy set inside of their own 5-yard line the Colts have very good coverage and generate a little bit of pressure on Russell Wilson.

Anthony Johnson gets a free rush at Wilson initially, but eventually is tasked with beating Penny who’s providing protection after the play fake. Johnson takes the inside angle, which is wrong as he loses contain, and isn’t able to dispatch Penny in the meantime. Wilson gets outside, allowing him more time to extend the play and the receivers to shake loose from their coverage.

Al Woods gives chase of Wilson, Kenny Moore has the receiver covered in the near corner of the end zone and Goode is holding Lockett in check as he tries to gain some separation. But just as Wilson gets down to inside of a second to release the ball with Woods closing in, Vannett manages to get Green turned around in the back corner of the end zone and Wilson hits him in a tight window as he comes back to the ball.

This is poor coverage by Green, there’s no doubt. Green turned his back to the ball with nowhere for the tight end to go but back towards the ball, forcing him to turn his body again. On the other hand, there’s two other defenders at the goal line (Leonard and Skai Moore) that Wilson throws this ball past with ease.

This is mostly a great throw by Wilson, but you could make the argument that they could have been in better position in relation to the receivers in their area, but they also were likely guarding the goal line from an elusive quarterback as well.

Not a good end result, but we have to acknowledge the good that took place early on in this play.

In the end we saw a lot of things that this Colts defense should be happy about. We saw the speed, energy and raw talent that this young, inexperienced group offers.

We also witnessed that this scheme will allow for some of this to take place regardless, and that they’ve got some technical aspects of their game that they need to work on. In other words, their youth and inexperience.

This was the very first game for a lot of these guys on an NFL field and this was largely the takeaway from it all. Granted, there were more bad angles and missed tackles throughout the rest of the first-team’s snaps defensively, but there was plenty in the duration of their time on the field that should leave us with an acceptance of the potential they hold.

Don’t get all bent out of shape quite yet Colts fans.