On September 16, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will make the trip to the nations capital to square off against the Washington Redskins. In this week two match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our new look Colts.
The Redskins finished 2017 with 7 wins and 9 losses. The last time these two teams faced off our Colts blew the ‘skins out of the water winning 49 to 27, way back in 2014. In 2014 our defensive coordinator was Greg Manusky and it was Redskins coach Jay Gruden’s first season in charge. The 2018 Redskins have retained Gruden and now employ Manusky as their DC. Neither team looks much like it did in 2014, but we can all hope the outcome of this game resembles the contest four seasons ago.
Let’s figure out what we can expect in week two.
Jay Gruden has long been known as a guy who likes the 3-4 defense, his most recent defensive coordinator hire was, as you know, former Indianapolis Colts
scapegoat defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Manusky as you may also know, runs a 2 gap 3-4 scheme and tends to use stunts in the front seven to generate a pass rush when needed. The biggest difference from what you may remember seeing during his time in Indianapolis is the number of man to man coverages Manusky will dial up in 2018.
Former coach Chuck Pagano preferred to use more press man coverage and what the head coach wants, he gets. Manusky has shaped the Redskins defense to fit what he prefers, and honestly that’s the freedom that a defensive coordinator should have. If he is calling the plays, he should probably be calling plays he believes in. Now with the ‘Skins he has that freedom and we will see a lot of zone coverage called on Sunday.
In order to get a better idea of how Manusky might look to attack the Colts offense I took a look at how Manusky called his 2017 games against the Philadelphia Eagles:
Carson Wentz threw a bad pass. The Redskins drop eight men into the box and Wentz probably thinks he has an advantage. Instead the ‘Skins play a tough man coverage with a single high safety patrolling deep.
The defense only rushes four and the four underneath defenders are taking away any checkdown options Wentz might have. Depending on your perspective this is either a really well timed play call by the defense or a terrible called play by the offense.
The thing that jumps out to me about this play is the entire defensive line stunts to the right while both linebackers blitz left. The outside linebacker does hesitate as the running back begins to run a route, but the inside backer is on a full on blitz.
The Eagles did a good job getting the ball out early against man coverage. You’ll notice the pick play at the top of the screen, call it whatever you want but like it or not it’s effective and it resulted in a first down. Had the Redskins been pattern matching the cornerbacks would have switched when the receivers crossed and this play looks different. As it stands if this is the type of call the Redskins are going to make on Sunday, Andrew Luck has a chance to kill them on quick, rub routes designed to pick up 5-10 yards. In effect, the Colts might be able to out west coat the ‘Skins.
This play is very, very similar to the one above it. The line slants, the linebackers flow left, man coverage across the board. The difference this time is the outside linebacker ran right past the back who squeezed out for six points.
I know that Manusky wants to use zone coverage but for some reason he doesn’t do it often against these Eagles, it could be due to many factors so it may not have much bearing on anything we see, but it is worth noting, Manusky called a majority of man to man plays.
More man to man and once again the inside linebacker comes on a blitz. If I were that safety I would probably be embarrassed by the fact that a tight end ran shook me so bad that I had to turn all the way around.
Good route against man coverage equals a first down on this play.
And we have a zone coverage sighting!
Wentz never even saw Ryan Kerrigan. To start, this wasn’t an accurate throw from Wentz but had this defense been what he thought it was, it wouldn’t have mattered. If you watch before the snap Kerrigan is lined up like he was going to rush, once the ball is snapped he drops into coverage and Wentz reads left to right. Wentz saw the inside linebacker running to cover the back and since, in his mind, Kerrigan was rushing, this was going to be an easy completion. Instead a cover four defense that only rushed three, tricked Wentz and resulted in a big play for the defense.
One thing Greg Manusky never had in Indianapolis was a great defensive line, or much help building his defense with talented players if we’re being honest. That’s all changed for Manusky in Washington. The Redskins have used their past two first round picks on talented defensive tackles from Alabama.
During the 2017 draft Jonathan Allen was seen, almost universally as a prospect with insanely rare talent. He was strong at the point of attack with the quickness to collapse the pocket if any team dared to use a single linemen to block him. By all accounts he was a top ten player based on talent alone. As we all know the NFL doesn’t just look at talent when they scout potential players, the NFL spends more time figuring out who a guy is off the field than they do on. By all accounts Allen was okay there too, but Allen’s medical checks became an issue. At 22 years old he had arthritis in his shoulder and had dealt with lower body injuries at various points in his playing career.
Despite that the Redskins made him the 17th pick in the draft and Allen lived up to the hype through the first 4 games of his rookie year. He played well but suffered a lisfranc injury which is completely unrelated to the other, more concerning injuries. Allen starts 2018 healthy and ready to go.
Like how Jonathan Allen attacks the tackle on this twist: pic.twitter.com/FqApTPCCZP— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) August 17, 2018
If you have a player this talented playing unselfishly in Manusky’s stunting scheme, you’re going to generate pressure.
The Redskins second, first round defensive tackle in a row came by way of Daron Payne, selected 13th overall. During his time in Tuscaloosa Payne’s weight went from around 350 pounds down to the 310’s during his senior year. One thing that stood out about the weight loss was that he didn’t appear to lose any play strength and improved his quickness as a result. Payne is a rookie, albeit a very talented one, so there will be times he looks over matched and there will be times he will look very talented.
The third starter on the defensive line is Matt Loannidis, who will usually line up at 5 technique while Allen plays the 3. Loannidis is a good but not great 3-4 defensive end who will benefit greatly from the talent around him.
The most entertaining matchup of the game will come from this group. Colts rookie left guard Quenton Nelson is going to have the biggest challenge of his young career going against Jonathan Allen. I predict Nelson is going to look human. He’s going to get beat and he’s going to make the most of his opportunities. This is a matchup of two great young heavyweight fighters and no matter the victor, watching them battle for four quarters will be nothing short of the most entertaining interior line play Colts fans have seen in decades. (yes I realize how that line sounds to most people, no I’m not being sarcastic, yes I’m actually excited to watch a guard and defensive tackle beat each other into the dirt on Sunday)
Mason Foster missed most of 2017 after suffering a torn Labrum. Prior to being placed on injured reserve all reports of Foster’s play was nothing short of glowing. He excelled in both the run and pass game and will look to regain his form as a three down linebacker this season.
Look how @Mason_Foster has patience shuffling w/flow but the vision tracking the back, which allows him to stick his foot in the ground fall back+dip & make a great Tckl. @Redskins made a good move giving him an extention @UW_Football #ThursdayThoughts #FEMA #iloveit pic.twitter.com/cfLM61cTRv— Linebacker World (@LBworld44) January 25, 2018
Zach Brown missed three games in 2017, in the 13 games he did play he managed to rack up 84 solo tackles. Tackle production isn’t indicative of a good defender, but some other names in the top 10 for 2017: Bobby Wagner, C.J. Mosley, Deion Jones and Christian Kirksey. So while the numbers alone don’t mean much Brown is involved in a lot of stops and so are a lot of really good linebackers. Brown may not be the best coverage linebacker in the league but he will be active on Sunday.
Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan are tasked with lining up at outside linebacker. Smith is a good but not great pass rusher. In his three seasons he has racked up 20.5 sacks and totaled 8 last season. On the other hand Kerrigan is nothing short of one of the best edge defenders in the NFL. Averaging more than 10 sacks per year during his 7 year career it will be impressive if the Colts are able to keep him from getting to Andrew Luck.
That’s a video full of terrifying plays by a man who is going to try his best to hit Andrew Luck.
One interesting thing to note, during Munusky’s time with the Colts he loved to send Jerrell Freeman on blitzes on passing downs. Manusky has found another effective pass rushing interior linebacker in Mason Foster. Foster blitzed early and often on passing downs in 2017 and I expect that trend to continue. Look for Foster to apply pressure to the interior of the offensive line.
Foster, Smith and Kerrigan all pose serious threats as pass rushers, combined with the talent they have collected on the defensive line and Frank Reich needs to have a plan to get the ball out fast, if not... well I don’t even want to type what might happen to Andrew Luck if not.
Montae Nicholson, D.J. Swearinger, Quinton Dunbar and Josh Norman are the names to know here. Nicholson will start at free safety and is coming into his second year in the league. He was drafted in the fourth round in 2017 out of Michigan State and outplayed his draft position.
Swearinger, who was originally drafted in the second round by the Houston Texans in 2013, is by all accounts, an above average strong safety. Nicholson and Swearinger form a very solid safety duo.
Josh Norman is without a doubt the most well known member of the Redskins defensive backfield, he recently appeared on Dancing With the Stars and has more money than anyone could ever actually need. I’m not familiar with the TV show he appeared on, other than the fact that I know they dance. His time spent dancing this off season may have gone better than his 2017 season, however. He recorded 9 passes defensed and 0 interceptions in 14 games. Norman will turn 31 this season and players rarely improve greatly after turning 30. He should still be treated as a dangerous DB, but he isn’t the same player that made a name with the Carolina Panthers.
The last name on this list is Quinton Dunbar and if you haven’t heard his name yet, you will for a couple reasons. The first reason, he’s a good, young, cornerback. The second reason is due to the fact that Dunbar is coming into his second season after being signed as an undrafted free agent from Florida. But wait! There’s more! Not only was he undrafted last year, but he entered the draft as a wide receiver. Dunbar:
Quinton Dunbar entered the league without being drafted, changed positions, changed from offense to defense, learned football from a completely different perspective and HE’S GOOD AT IT! Dunbar is a unicorn. Nobody should be able to do what he’s done and as long as he has a bad day against our Colts, it’s going to be hard for me to root against this guy going forward. It’s really a heck of a story.
What To Expect From the Colts Offense This Week:
A lot of quick hitting passes. A lot. Screens, quick concepts, designed throws to running backs and most importantly, pick plays. The Colts offense has to work against the Redskins aggressiveness and try to deal with the talent they have on the defensive side of the ball. Last week every receiver, tight end and running back got in on the pick game and we’re going to need it this week.
If the quick passing game is unable to establish itself, the Colts just don’t have the offensive playmakers available to beat the Redskins defense any other way.