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Film Room: Looking at why the Colts defense struggled so much in Jacksonville

Why did the Colts struggles against Minshew and the Jags?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts are coming off of a bad loss in Jacksonville where their defense looked really poor all game long. They struggled to get young quarterback Gardner Minshew off the field as he completed 19 of his 20 pass attempts for 179 yards and three touchdowns on the day. With all the hype in the offseason surrounding this defense after several key additions, this was an ugly performance that cannot be repeated.

So why did they struggle so much in week one? Was it scheme or players just not executing? Today we will will answer those questions as we jump into the film of this horrid week one loss.

Early Game Run Defense

Despite what some fans and reporters will say about the Colts’ run defense in this game, it was not something to get excited about. While they only allowed 3.9 yards per carry by the end of the game, the run defense in the first half was especially problematic. This is important to note because the Colts’ zone scheme is reliant on forcing second and third and long situations. If teams constantly have 3rd and short against this team, they will pick them apart, much like what happened on Sunday. Here, DeForest Buckner struggles to hold the climbing guard while Grover Stewart gets moved way too easily on the interior. Anthony Walker Jr. could also make a better tackle in space here, as well.

Some of the mistakes in run defense were just plain bad luck/scheme related and not entirely on the players. Here, the Colts run their typical “Patterns” run defense call. For more detail on this call, click this link. Basically, this call slants the defensive line to create positive angles for the linebackers to clean up the play. This unfortunately works against the Colts here, as the Jaguars run power to the backside of the slant. The result is a huge hole up front for a big run.

The Colts simply didn’t do enough in run defense early in this game to help themselves. As a result, the Jaguars were able to get themselves into third and manageable all first half and they set up their play-action game which found success later in the game. The first step in the Colts correcting the problems that they had on Sunday is fixing the run defense quickly. Here, Darius Leonard gets looked off by Gardner Minshew, which leaves a big hole up the middle. Stewart needs to shed this block and make a play here to earn a new contract this offseason. This is way too big of a gain.

Miscommunications in the Secondary

For now, we can attribute these miscues as rust, or new teammates, or not really having an offseason, but these mistakes can’t continue going forward. The Colts had way too many instances on Sunday, especially on third down, where the Jags got easy conversions due to miscommunications. This play is a prime example. It's third and five. Rock Ya-Sin is on his man on the outside and appears to hand him off as he runs a drag route. Either Bobby Okereke or Kenny Moore II is supposed to pick him up over the middle, but both are late to react. The result is a way too easy first down.

This next miscommunication comes from Moore II which is extremely rare. The Jaguars motion Laviska Shenault Jr in to the other side of the field and Moore II stays on top of him, signaling man coverage. As the ball is snapped, though, every other defensive back appears to be in man or some sort of match coverage. Moore II, however, stays short, as Shenault Jr loops deep completely uncovered. Luckily, Ya-Sin has great route recognition here and nearly makes a play, but this miscommunication leads to a big gain for the Jaguars.

Another poor read/miscommunication but this time it happens in the red zone. The defense appears to be in a cover two shell look across the board. Shenault comes in motion and runs the swing route at the snap. This swing action catches both TJ Carrie and Khari Willis peeking, and DJ Chark is able to slip to the back of the end zone for the score. Willis has to get on top of this route, but this is on Carrie for not carrying the route to the goal line in the cover two shell.

Individual Mistakes in the Secondary

On top of miscommunications and struggling to stop the run early, there were a few individual mistakes by the secondary resulting in big plays on Sunday, too. While you would think it would be a young player like Ya-Sin or Willis on the receiving end of these plays, it was actually the veterans like Xavier Rhodes and Malik Hooker who made the mistakes. Looking first at Rhodes and his pass interference, there is no need for this play. Rhodes is in phase and in great position on the route. All he has to do is turn his head back to the ball and it is a great play (maybe even an interception). Instead, he elects to grab the receiver which results in a huge penalty against the defense.

Looking at Rhodes again, this play is even worse. The Colts are lined up in man to man defense in the red zone. The Jaguars run a play-action pass. For some reason, Rhodes bites on it. There is no reason whatsoever for an outside corner in off-man to bite on a play-action but he does. This leads to a wide-open score for the Jaguars. These plays mistakes can’t happen for the Colts, especially in the red zone with their "bend don’t break" style of defense.

Lastly, we stay in the red zone as Malik Hooker gets beat badly in man by a slot option route. This isn’t a scheme issue, this is simply players being beat. The Colts run a very frustrating cover two defense that comes off as very passive. The main goal of the defense, though, is to not allow touchdowns in the red zone. Teams can kick all the field goals they want and have 10,000 yards against this team but this scheme needs to stand tall in the red zone. On Sunday, the players just didn’t get it done in that area of the field whether they were running man, zone, or an aggressive blitz.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was just an ugly performance for the defense. I do think there were some bright spots, such as the run defense tightening up in the second half, the pass rush having some good moments, and Rock Ya-Sin looking solid, but overall it just wasn’t a good day whatsoever.

There was a lot of talk by fans and reporters about the defensive scheme being the issue in this game. While I am not completely giving DC Matt Eberflus a pass for this game, the issue was mainly with the players on the field.

There were just too many miscommunications and breakdowns, particularly in the red zone, for any scheme to work on Sunday. Eberflus did change some things up throughout the game by running some cover three match, man, and blitzing but nothing was getting the job done.

Ultimately, the Colts didn’t play a good game on defense and they looked rusty from the weird offseason. The good news? A lot of this is fixable. Guys weren’t really getting beat handily by the Jags players but they were just making a ton of mental mistakes that hurt the overall defense.

If the Colts can come out strong with their run defense and fix those mental mistakes in the secondary, they will be fine. They have to take positive steps forward in this next game against the Vikings, though before this becomes a trend. This team will not live up to any of their offseason expectations if their defense has many more performances like they had on Sunday.