The Indianapolis Colts fumbled away an excellent chance to stay atop the AFC South with a putrid 16-12 loss to the Miami Dolphins at home. This loss was simply terrible for the team and was highlighted by the Colts’ abysmal offense. While the offense blew every chance to win this game, the defense stood its ground for the most part and put together yet another solid performance. The good game on the defensive side of the ball was led by a career day for the Maniac himself, Darius Leonard.
After a slow and rather inconsistent start to the season for Leonard, he bounced back in a major way this past Sunday. He totaled 13 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 2 pass deflections, a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception in the game. In today’s film room, we will look back on this monster performance by the Maniac and see just how dominant he truly was on Sunday.
In this first clip, Leonard does his patented move as he forces a big turnover on the first drive of the game. Tight end Mike Gesicki catches the pass underneath and turns up field. He gets near the first down line when safety Khari Willis comes in for the tackle. Leonard, seeing that Willis is about to make the tackle, comes in with the punch from the side and forces the big fumble. Kenny Moore II jumps on the ball and the Colts take over early. Great play by the All-Pro to know the situation to go for the punch and force the turnover early.
On the next clip, he gets his first tackle for a loss on the game as he stuffs running back Kalen Ballage in the backfield for a loss. The Colts dial up one of their go-to run blitzes as defensive end Ben Banogu crashes down and Leonard swings to the outside to take the edge. The play call works perfectly as Banogu takes up the interior while bringing the tackle inside and Leonard is free on the edge. With his free rush on the outside, Leonard is able to quickly engage Ballage in the backfield with a perfect form tackle and get the tackle for a loss on the play. Great play call to get Leonard the free rush to the outside and a good finish on the play by the star linebacker.
The Colts deployed Leonard on a variety of blitzes and QB spies all afternoon against the Dolphins. One may ask, why would the Colts use him as a spy most of the game against an older QB such as Ryan Fitzpatrick. Well first off, Fitzpatrick was using his legs a ton in this game, rushing for the Dolphins only touchdown of the game in the second quarter. The second reason is that Leonard has struggled in his zone drops this season, so getting him attacking downfield in spies or blitzes is best in getting him in a more natural position of attack first. Here he works down the line on the blitz and gets the pass deflection on third down as a result. Good adjustment by the Colts in this one by getting their best player in a more comfortable spot to make plays.
This next clip is far from perfect but showcases the effort that Leonard plays with from down to down. The Colts run yet another rush stunt as Al-Quadin Muhammad crashes down as Leonard swings to the edge. The Colts are caught off guard however by the reverse play as Leonard gets sealed on the edge by the tight end and the receiver gets to the open field with the ball in his hands. Leonard does a great job though of not giving up on the play as he gives chase from the backside of the play. Once safety Malik Hooker slows down the progress of the ball carrier in the open field, Leonard is able to come from behind and make the tackle. Not a perfect play from the star linebacker here but the effort to run down a much faster player in the open field is impressive.
I talked a few clips ago about the Colts getting Leonard into a more comfortable position on passing downs in this game. Rather than dropping him into deeper zones, where he has struggled, the team deployed him more in blitzes and spies in this one. Here is another good example as he creeps up to the line at the snap and spies the quarterback. It’s obvious to see his comfort level from this spot as he has a very small field to read and he is ready to attack. Once Fitzpatrick drifts a little bit in the pocket, Leonard is able to fly downhill for the sack. This is great coaching by the Colts’ defensive staff and not a technique to only be used against mobile QBs. By using Leonard in this role, the Colts are essentially keeping opposing QBs confined to the pocket and allowing their edge rushers to get after it without worrying about contain. Hopefully the Colts can deploy Leonard more this way going forward.
Leonard was an animal all day in run defense and it shows on this next clip. He quickly reads the play and sheds the block of veteran center Daniel Kilgore. He then works into the rushing lane and comes to behind the Ballage (the running back on the play). He then picks Ballage up off his feet and buries him into the ground for the quick stop. A quick reminder that Ballage weighs more than Leonard which makes this play even more impressive. He has had his struggles this year but when he is confident and flying downhill, Darius Leonard is one of the best linebackers in football.
Late in the ball game, Leonard yet again gives the offense a chance to score with a big turnover. He benefits from a very poor throw on this play but he is in great position regardless. On a short third down play, the Dolphins tight end sits at the sticks for a quick curl. Leonard breaks on the pass and would have likely been able to break up the pass even if it was thrown accurately. Since it is thrown a bit too far inside though, he comes away with the big interception. Good play by Leonard attacking downhill and coming up with the timely interception.
The final clip in today’s film room just shows the confidence and speed that Leonard was playing at in this game. He initially starts downhill but quickly redirects to the outside when he sees that it’s a stretch run. He strafes down the line perfectly and avoids traffic en route to the ball carrier. He then meets the runner down the field for a small gain on the play. Leonard was all over the place on Sunday and had one of his most impactful games as a pro. Unfortunately, his excellent game will be overshadowed by the ugly loss to the one win Miami Dolphins at home.
Darius Leonard has has a rough year two up to this point. From a few critical missed tackles on film to a lingering concussion that held him out of a couple games, it wasn’t quite the great sophomore campaign the linebacker hoped for. On Sunday however, he returned to the dominant form that we remembered from last year. He was all over the stat sheet and all over the field as he was playing confidently and aggressively all afternoon. Hopefully he can build off of this great performance and return to his dominant ways from 2018 down the last stretch of this season.