As we move past the victory against the Texans and look ahead to the Colts’ upcoming game against the Raiders, it really starts to sink in just how important this game is. The Colts still are competing for the AFC South division but it is more likely that they end up as a wildcard team rather than winning the South. Of the teams they are competing with (Dolphins, Browns, Ravens, Raiders), the Colts have already lost to two of them which hurts their chances at getting a wildcard spot.
So essentially the Colts need to win this week to have the inside track at a playoff spot. The Raiders are an interesting opponent because their offense has been mostly great this season while their defense has been a major disappointment. There was one game though where the Raiders’ offense was completely shut down and it shockingly came against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons in week 12 were able to hold the Raiders to just six points as they forced five total turnovers in a 43-6 victory. I figured as the Colts are preparing for this big match-up, we could take a close look at what the Falcons were able to do to shut down this talented Raiders offense.
Falcons vs Raiders
The first thing that stood out to me right when I turned on this game was how much more physical the Falcons were than the Raiders. The Raiders’ offense loves to attack underneath with screen plays and run after catch opportunities. It is an offense that puts defenders in one on one situations and forces them to be perfect with their technique when attacking run after catch players. The Falcons are weirdly playing off man coverage on this third and three and the Raiders try to attack underneath with a quick out to Hunter Renfrow. Before he can turn up field though, he is met by safety Keanu Neal who knocks him back just short of the sticks.
Not sure why the Falcons are playing off man this far off the ball on 3rd and 3 but Keanu Neal makes me eat my words. Excellent closing speed on the out and physical play to stop Renfrow short of the sticks. Falcons much more physical early in this one: pic.twitter.com/QZ9nuGDDiN— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 9, 2020
On top of just being much more physical than the Raiders, the Falcons were smart with how they attacked them. The Raiders are big on controlling the tempo of the game, attacking underneath, and then building off that with vertical shots. The Falcons countered this by simulating pressure with different rush packages and isolating good match-ups for their defense. Here the SAM backer in the 4-3 under look (Foyesade Oluokun) gets a favorable rush match-up with Darren Waller and is able to get up field for the sack and forced fumble.
Attacking the backside tight end on the play fake with the SAM in the under 4-3. Something the Colts do a lot with Bobby Okereke. Foyesade Oluokun makes a great play after beating Darren Waller up the field. pic.twitter.com/vc4BYXlrFZ— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 9, 2020
A big aspect that the Colts need to be perfect in is tackling from their defensive backs. I said it a few times now but the Raiders love to use the quick screen and underneath routes to get ahead of the sticks. The Colts secondary, especially Kenny Moore II, needs to be on their game in disrupting these plays on Sunday. Luckily, the Colts have a good group of corners who play physical and two downhill safeties who can blow these plays up. I expect to see Moore II making some plays like this on Sunday.
Going to be a huge game for the Colts' defensive backs in terms of tackling. Raiders love the screen game. Most important player for the Colts on defense may be Kenny Moore II blowing up these plays like this slot corner does here. pic.twitter.com/jTGbhC6jO5— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 10, 2020
What could hurt the Colts is how the Raiders like to attack down the field. When they want to take their shots, they like to attack the middle of the field and vertically against outside cornerbacks. Those are two areas where we have seen some teams have some success this year, primarily against Rock Ya-Sin. This is going to be a huge test on him and the range of deep safety Julian Blackmon. However the Colts’ defense is designed to take away the deep passing game and I’m sure coach Eberflus will call more Cover two looks to funnel those routes more underneath. Still, Ya-Sin and the rest of these defensive backs have to be ready for the vertical speed of Henry Ruggs III and Nelson Agholor like the Falcons were.
Really impressed with how the Falcons corners played in this game, especially AJ Terrell. Raiders offense is a lot of vertical shots mixed in with the screen game. Lot of pressure on corners with speed guys too (Ruggs, Agholor). This is textbook from Terrell. pic.twitter.com/8PdQAMjk5f— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 10, 2020
The biggest thing element to winning this game though will be how the Colts can simulate and generate pressure against Derek Carr. Carr has had a great season but he does have his struggles when pressure can get in his face. If the Colts can stack the interior with different looks, they can generate match-ups they want even without bringing extra defenders. The Falcons sell the interior blitz here to draw the running back help up the middle. This gives the defensive end the match-up on the outside which he is able to win for another strip sack.
Falcons did a really good job of isolating matchups rushing the passer and getting pressure without rushing too many players. Most rushes were 4-5 rushers but were able to get one on ones by crowding the middle. Also took advanatage of a few Carr fumbles in this one pic.twitter.com/WA0xbpxRnA— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 10, 2020
Interior pressure is going to be everything in this game. Luckily the Colts have one of the best interior pass rushers in the league in DeForest Buckner that can create pressure like this on almost every down. However I do think that keeping him free from double teams is the way to attack this game and the Colts should look at bringing Darius Leonard on as many blitzes as they can to get that five man up rush. The Falcons here are able to completely dominate the interior which leads to Carr making a game changing mistake on the INT.
Interior pressure is going to be key in this one. Stack the interior and get pressure in Carr's face can force some mistakes. I'd probably bring Darius Leonard on an interior blitz on nearly every obvious passing situation this weekend pic.twitter.com/tyTQNKbI0S— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 10, 2020
Basically the biggest thing I learned from watching this game is the Colts need to punch the Raiders in the mouth early and often. If they can set the physical tone, it can derail the momentum that the Raiders like to play with. On top of that, the Colts’ secondary needs to play smart football with their deep assignments and underneath tackling which luckily they have been good at for most of this season. Then lastly the Colts need to get that pressure quickly inside to get Carr out of his rhythm. It is a lot of steps but if the Colts can do these three things, they can just dominate the Raiders much like the Falcons did not long ago.
Falcons really just punched the Raiders in the mouth all game long. Raiders had no push up front and the Falcons defensive backs were killing the Raiders' receivers and ball carriers. Dominant physical performance pic.twitter.com/zIPhunkWe0— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 10, 2020
So this article probably makes you all feel a bit more confident about this game on Sunday although that wasn’t exactly my intention. I would still like to mention that the Raiders’ offense is really good once they get rolling and the Colts have had trouble with this team in recent years. However they aren’t this elite offense that can’t be stopped.
If you look at the keys to the Matt Eberflus defense, it starts with aspects such as stopping the run and tackling everything in front of you to keep the offense behind the sticks. These are the aspects that the Colts’ defense has been great at this year and it simply is one of the ways the Colts can slow down this Raiders’ offense.
If the Colts can be fundamentally sound and key star players such as DeForest Buckner, Kenny Moore II, and Julian Blackmon can have strong games, the Colts’ defense should be able to handle this offense.
I doubt the Colts are able to replicate the exact success that the Falcons had against the Raiders (although getting a pick six and forcing four fumbles would be nice), I do think the blue print is there. If the Colts’ defense can be strong with their fundamentals, pressure the interior, and stop the run, they should be able to win this pivotal game.