Each week, I will look to break down two of the best or worst plays from the previous game, but I’ll need your help deciding what plays should be 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 was truly a great week for Darius Leonard and he was the blowout winner of the impact plays poll, gaining 483 votes good for nearly 70% of all votes. Talk about a landslide.
The second place finisher this week was T.Y. Hilton’s touchdown catch that was completely deserving of getting it’s own look, pulling in 11% of the vote.
It is my stated goal to only breakdown two impact plays from the game, but I did say a random collection of Leonard plays so I will combine them and I’m going to focus more on what the rest of the defense is doing than on Leonard himself, we all saw what he could do, I want to know why he was able to do it.
I’m also going to add a third play this week because, on a personal level, I want to breakdown a pitch play to Marlon Mack that, on game day, looked to have a really cool design. Strap in folks, it’s going to be exciting, we’re going to talk about some guards.
First thing’s first, I’m going to start off with the Marlon Mack pitch play, it seems that only me and 17 other people wanted to see it so I’ll get it out of the way before I get to the stars of this week’s show.
It’s 3rd and 2 on the Redskins 19 yard line. The Colts are up 7-3 and have put together a solid drive. This was the seventh play and the third run of the drive. On 3rd and 2 normally you think of hitting something up the gut, instead Frank Reich dials up this play:
The first thing I noticed about this play is that T.Y. Hilton’s motion does absolutely nothing to the defense. The backside linebackers don’t even react, they stay home and play their responsibility but they aren’t worried about the jet sweep, at all.
The second thing I noticed, the Redskins probably should have called a timeout. Ryan Kerrigan was lost. He had no idea where to be on the play and at the snap I believe he was roughly in the correct position but I have no way to actually know.
The play itself is designed really well. Jack Doyle cracks (but it’s not really a crack back block because that’s illegal — we can’t have fun in football anymore) down on the edge defender. Both Le’Raven Clark and Quenton Nelson pull outside of the defender responsible for setting the edge and look to make a block in the open field.
Nelson identifies the first defender that shows and gets hands on him to prevent the tackle. Clark does the same and takes a linebacker out of the play, meanwhile Ryan Kelly gets a good initial block on the nose tackle, ideally you would like to see him hold the block a little longer as his man was in on the tackle, but it’s tough to complain with such a well executed initial block.
On the backside of the play we see Matt Slauson get his cardio in for the week, through no fault of his own there wasn’t really anyone to block before the third level and as every smart safety in the NFL would do, he avoided engaging with the big right guard which kept him from making the play. Joe Haeg did a good enough job and Eric Ebron should never be counted on to block... yikes.
All in all this was a really fun play, Mack does a good job of seeing his blocks develop and taking what’s there. I’ve seen some reports that Mack doesn’t have good vision, I don’t know that I agree with that, I think this play shows he is capable of seeing a hole develop and hitting it, I believe he is undisciplined and as a result inconsistent in this area of his game.
Next we will take a look at Andrew Luck’s fourth quarter touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton. This three yard score put the game away for our Colts and the people (that’s you) have spoken, they want to see the play design.
At first I thought I was going to break everyone’s heart and declare this play a success due to blown coverage rather than brilliant play design, but it turns out I’m 99% sure the blown coverage was planned.
This is a wonderfully designed play. Everything is designed to get Hilton open. When Nyheim Hines goes in motion he pulls the defensive back responsible for covering him down the line with him vacating that side of the field.
Secondly, Ryan Grant runs a crossing route which is designed to pull defenders with him going in the opposite direction and possibly act as a pick, only the pick wasn’t needed. Why you might ask? Well, I will give you my best educated guess.
The Colts came out in a bunch set to the left, Hilton, Chester Rogers and Jack Doyle are a difficult trio to cover in a bunch set at the goal line. To try and counter this, the Redskins appear to be pattern matching in the secondary. “Pattern matching” is a fancy way of saying the defensive backs are going to “switch” assignments based on which way the pass catchers run. Think of it like a pick in basketball, if the offense sets a pick, the defenders simply switch and cover the man who presents himself. I believe the Redskins were playing this style of coverage, which is a good option given the offensive alignment.
The problem for the defense comes when Chester Rogers “trips” at the line of scrimmage and stumbles, clumsily into the legs of the defensive back lined directly across from him he is absolutely preventing him from making his switch as his responsibility would have been any route that came inside.
Chester Rogers committed offensive pass interference that will never get called because apparently he’s spent some time at practice working on his “stumble” technique. Or it’s possible he actually did stumble, I choose to believe this was intentional.
This truly is a masterful play design which resulted in easy points that closed out the game.
This is the moment you’ve all, or at least seven out of ten of you, have been waiting for, I present to you (hopefully in a way that is unique from what Andrew Aziz brought you on Monday) Darius Leonard:
This was Leonard’s first 3rd down stop of the day. The Redskins came out with five receivers and the Colts matched it with cover 1 (aka man-free). The Colts are in a pure man to man coverage with only Malik Hooker deep. They aren’t pattern matching, they aren’t doing anything cute, this is just one on one across the board.
At the snap Pierre Desir gets beat by an inside crossing route. It would have been tough for him to cover the route given the formation. As a result Alex Smith sees an open receiver at about the same time Leonard does, Smith throws the ball and Leonard makes the stop four yards short of the first down.
The Redskins motion running back Chris Thompson out wide and Desir goes with him, showing Alex Smith he will be working against zone coverage. At the snap of the ball Leonard shoots towards the throwing lane that the Thompson created before the snap. When Leonard sees that Smith is looking the other way he impressively is able to get back into coverage and has the awareness to feel the route that sat down behind him.
This isn’t a common ability and the fact that he had the speed to go get in on the tackle is just icing on the cake that is this play. This tackle didn’t prevent a first down but this play in coverage is what impressed me on this one.
If Darius Leonard proved nothing else he proved that he is a very good tackler. Leonard does take a false step here, but I get it, it’s a designed counter run. It’s essentially misdirection. Leonard is able to track the ball carrier, run and hit. He does a good job of wrapping Adrian Peterson up while backup arrived.
Something I’ve noticed while re-watching the game, this Colts defensive line is stout. The run plays Leonard makes a big impact on he is largely unblocked and that is due to stellar play from the front four... Something I never thought I would type had you asked me in August.
I’m breaking down this play because I’ve seen so many fans on the internet criticize the wrong player for doing things like Leonard does above.
A lot of people will probably look at Leonard on this play and think that he failed because the ball carrier picked up 14 yards. But the thing is, Darius Leonard is playing winning football on this play.
Everyone has a gap they’re responsible for. Leonard’s gap happens to be on the backside of this play, which is exactly where he goes. That gap is his home and if the running back were to cut back into his home, he’s ready to protect his house. This is how run defense works, if everyone fills their assigned gap, the other team will have nowhere to run.
Leonard does the right thing on this play, he fills his gap and once the ball carrier is past the line of scrimmage he runs to make the tackle. This is exactly what he was supposed to do. Anthony Walker on the other hand was not playing winning football on this down. Instead he abandoned his gap responsibility because he saw the tight end block inside, where the Colts defensive tackles were busy controlling their gaps.
Walker ran to a pile that the defensive line created instead of his assigned gap, where had he been, he would have had a chance to drop a first ballot hall of fame running back for a loss. Instead Darius Leonard had to make Anthony Walker’s tackle for him, 14 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Final Thoughts From Week 2
The Colts offense is in really, really good hands. For the first time I can remember we’re doing things that might be considered innovative and it’s only week two. The playbook is only going to grow from here and I predict, as long as the team stays relatively healthy the offense we see in week 15 is going to be nothing short of one of the top 3-5 in the league.
I was as excited as anyone following Darius Leonard’s performance on Sunday. I mean how cool was it to see a Colts linebacker flying around, making plays and looking like a fluid athlete in space? Even though D’Qwell Jackson was the perfect linebacker in 1984, someone in the front office realized it’s 2018. Finally.
I say that to say this, Darius Leonard is probably going to end up being really good, but he’s not perfect. I saw a lot of tackles being made down field, which came for various reasons but the biggest concern I had was his inability to get off of blocks. If an offensive lineman got his hands on him, he lacked the ability to shed the block and make a play. Is this something that can be improved with time? Maybe. But in the meantime if the defensive line doesn’t continue to protect him like they did in Washington, we’re going to see a different, less productive Leonard, and even then, he’s still has a chance to be the best linebacker the Colts have had in space, maybe in the Indianapolis era.