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Colts Scouting Journal: Colts ‘Dagger’ concept and Braden Smith’s day against Khalil Mack

New edition of the Scouting Notebook looks at the offensive side of the ball this week

Indianapolis Colts v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Another week and another Scouting Journal for you Colts’ fans. I feel like in recent weeks I have primarily focused on the defense rather than the offense. I don’t think you all can blame me for that one as the Colts defense is one of the top units in the league and the offense is inconsistent at best.

So today in the spirit of mixing it up a bit, I decided to look at two offensive concepts today. The first one being how the Colts attack zone defenses with their ‘Dagger’ concept and how Braden Smith fared in his match-up against Khalil Mack earlier this season.

‘Dagger’ Concept

So let’s start off this section of the Journal by talking about what a dagger concept is. For all you Madden players reading this, you probably know it as one of the best cheese plays in the entire game. That essentially what it is in real football as well.

A dagger concept is a route combination that features three routes to beat a zone defense. The first route is a slot receiver, or even a tight end, running a vertical route to clear space over the middle. The next route is a tight end or running back running a shallow drag or under route to draw the linebackers’ eyes forward. The third and final route in the combo is a deep in route by the outside receiver to the seemingly open space between the linebackers and the safety.

Here is a great video I found on YouTube by The QB School that further explains the concept in more detail:

So how do the Colts use this to beat defenses? Well let’s look at a few examples. This first one comes against the Jets as the Colts are spread out in a 3 (pass catchers to the right) X 1 (pass catchers to the left) set. Zach Pascal is the inside slot receiver and he is running that straight vertical shot to pull away the safeties. Nyheim Hines acts as the underneath option as his swing pass motion draws the linebackers up. With those two combinations pulling defenders apart, Mo Alie-Cox is able to sit wide open over the middle for a huge gain.

The main read on these routes is the deep in route because the other two routes are more complementary. They are there to spread the defense and create the space in the middle. This is another 3 X 1 set by the Colts but it is a bunch look to the left of the quarterback. DeMichael Harris runs a drag route after motioning to the slot to draw the linebackers’ eyes forward. T.Y. Hilton gets vertical and draws both safeties and the dropping Tampa 2 MIKE linebacker. That just leaves Pascal as he gets to his landmark and sits down over the middle in the open part of the zone for the big first down.

The fun part about dagger, and why I adore this concept, is what happens when the safeties peak at that deep in route. The route combinations are designed to find that middle open and exploit zones that way but it can also be used as a shot play. The Colts run their typical 3 X 1 set to the right and Jack Doyle runs an under hitch route to draw the linebacker up. As Hilton runs his in route though, the deep half safety bites up, trying to take away that route. This leaves Marcus Johnson on the vertical route wide open and Philip Rivers is able to find him for a huge gain.

Overall dagger is one of my favorite route combinations because it puts defenders in a bind and uses their aggressiveness against them. The Colts would be wise to run a lot of these concepts on Sunday against a Lions team who doesn’t have the best or most disciplined secondary.

Braden Smith vs Khalil Mack

So I wanted to look back on this matchup mainly because the Colts face a lot of good pass rushers from the right side down the stretch. Whether its Yannick Nqakoue/Matthew Judon, Harold Landry, Za’Darius Smith, T.J Watt, or whoever, Braden Smith is going to have to be on his A game down the stretch.

With these matchups in mind though, I wanted to look back at Smith’s game against elite pass rusher Khalil Mack in week four of this season. Mack came up empty on the score sheet as he logged 0 sacks and 0 QB hits on the afternoon.

One of the biggest reasons why Smith was able to have a solid day against Mack was due to the help the Colts gave him with chips and doubles on the outside. Mack is an elite pass rusher so it was a really smart move for the Colts to help their right tackle however they could. Here Jonathan Taylor gets a great chip that knocks Mack right into the waiting arms of Smith, who is able to control the block for the rest of the rep.

While Smith won most of the reps in this game, at the end of the day the elite pass rushers are going to beat you a few times. Smith gets crossed up on the wide angle by Mack as he is able to slip by the right tackle for the quick pressure. The key for Smith in these tough matchups is to recover well when beat and not let Rivers get hit for a loss. Smith does that here as even though he is pretty badly beat, he is still able to get a hand on Mack and wash him out just enough.

What makes Smith such a good young tackle in this league is how strong he is in both the run and pass game. While he still has some areas to clean up in his game, it is apparent on film that once he gets his hands inside on a pass rusher that the rep is over. That even applies to players like Khalil Mack as Smith gets his hands inside early here and is able to survive an early stumble to win the rep.

Overall, for the Colts to survive this murderers row of pass rushers coming up, they will have to have two things happen. One is have Braden Smith play some of the best football of his career. The other is that they have to design plays and concepts that help their young right tackle as much as possible. This is a great example here as the Colts obviously know that Mack lines up wider than the slot receiver or tight end in bunch looks. So the Colts decided to stack his side all game, which resulted in Mack shifting so far outside that he couldn’t impact the passing play. Little things like this and giving chips on the outside will help Smith immensely down this tough stretch of games.