My goal for this season was to bring you an article each Wednesday after charting the Colts offense of last weeks game. The information you can get charting games is invaluable, and each time I’ve written that article I’ve been able to pull interesting information out of it. With that said, charting games takes time and I have had some technical difficulties that have led me to fall behind in those efforts. I will be working to catch back up but until I do my plan is to break down one play from last weeks game with more detail than you’re likely to get elsewhere.
This week I’m going to take a look at Jelani Wood’s fourth quarter touchdown catch.
This is a pretty simple play but there’s a lot we can pull out of it, so we’ll start by looking at the formation and how the Jaguars matched up with it.
The Colts come out in a 3 by 2 formation. Three receivers bunched to Matt Ryan’s left and two receivers to his right. The Jaguars match this by putting three defenders to the left and three defenders to the right with a single high safety at the goal line.
So what does this tell Matt Ryan about the coverage the Jags have called? It’s interesting that the Jags have three defenders on both sides. To the left they’re playing some form of man to man. It could be match coverage, but ultimately they have one defender for each pass catching option - has to be man to man.
If they had a fourth defender in the area, they might be “boxing the bunch” which looks like this:
Without a fourth defender playing coverage in the area, boxing that bunch is impossible. So what are they doing on the right? Frankly, one defender wasn’t doing a great job disguising his intent.
Matt Ryan’s NFL career is old enough to have a learner's permit, this isn’t fooling him. After all, do you expect him to believe that the Jags defense is going to commit an extra defender to Alec Pierce and the fourth-string running back over Michael Pittman Jr., a speedy slot receiver, and a 6’7” athletic freak of a tight end? It’s not impossible, but given how jittery he was pre-snap combined with all of the other info we have, it seems pretty obvious this guy is coming on a blitz.
And if that guy is coming on a blitz what does it mean for the rest of the defense? For starters it means his receiving options are getting one on one looks across the board. The only way they wouldn’t is if a defensive lineman were dropping into coverage but we’ll get to that later.
Given the fact that that defender was most likely blitzing, it meant that the middle of the field was going to be vacated. There was no one there, which meant that the single safety has to stay home to defend that area, especially because Matt Ryan knows that the Colts have multiple in-breaking routes. It would be a surprise if that safety did anything but stay in that hole.
Given what we know so far let’s take a look at this play from the end zone angle:
This angle shows how large of an area the Jags are leaving open before the snap because #5 is coming on a blitz. Matt Ryan’s eyes show us that the two most important defenders on this play are the player coming on the blitz, because of the implications, and the safety, because no one can be two places at once.
As soon as the ball is snapped Ryan peeps the poorly-disguised blitz and confirms that it is in fact a blitz. As we all suspected, this means it’s man coverage. Next Ryan scans to his left:
He confirms that the safety is staying home.
He then makes sure that he does have a true one-on-one before stepping up and throwing the ball up for his 6’7” tight end to go make a play.
So what would have happened had the Jags dropped that defensive end into coverage on that side? I can only speculate, but since the Jags defensive scheme hasn’t changed that much since Gus Bradley was in Jacksonville, I have a pretty good guess.
Jags Defense Coverage 2 pic.twitter.com/yjJ5uVDAh9— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) November 12, 2019
So what would that look like from this defensive set?
Probably something like this. Had this have happened, Jelani Woods is probably carried up by the same linebacker he was before. Parris Campbell runs his slant and the DE goes with him. So what you would be left with are the two deep defenders who have to make a decision on what to do with Michael Pittman Jr.. This puts them in a bind. The deep man closest to the sideline should go with Woods, which would leave Pittman one-on-one at the goal line, and Matt Ryan is absolutely throwing that ball. On the other hand that deep defender nearest the sideline might just get distracted by the guy who was in the middle of having a career day, meaning Woods would be matched up one-on-one with that same linebacker, only now that linebacker would have been expecting help over the top. Either way, I feel good that this play was resulting in points had the Jags gotten wild and dropped a defensive end into coverage.
Wild speculation aside, this was a great play call by Frank Reich. It had multiple options designed to beat a multitude of coverages in the formation itself. Lining up all five receiving options wide limited the defense's options and made it more difficult to disguise their coverage. It was even better execution by Matt Ryan, who made the correct reads pre- and post-snap before putting the ball up high where his big playmaking tight end could go get it. There’s also something to be said for the trust Matt Ryan has in Jelani Woods. The right decision was absolutely to throw this ball to Woods, however he didn’t have to put this ball where he did. You’ll hear people talk about throwing a ball that only their guy can catch. That means the ball is either being caught by the offense or it’s going to be incomplete and this is usually accomplished by essentially throwing the ball out of bounds. It’s also the kind of ball you throw when you’re not sure your guy is going to win a jump ball.
Matt Ryan threw this one up, solidly in bounds, a true 50/50 ball and let his guy, a rookie third-round tight end, go up and make a play. Matt Ryan trusts Jelani Woods and that’s a really good sign.
Here’s the all-22 for your viewing pleasure:
Jelani Woods TD pic.twitter.com/hgBrmkCO7G— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) October 19, 2022
One last thing before I go: Even though Matt Pryor was still really awful almost all day long, this play shows why he was named the starter going into week seven. Watch how smoothly he and Braden Smith hand off these defenders. Pryor still isn’t good but if he’s able to work with the guys next to him like this moving forward he will likely still be the starter.
I’m not excited about that, but I’ll give the devil his due. Pryor has been the only guy who has been able to communicate and execute these exchanges at RG so far this season. It’s a really low bar, but that’s kind of where the Colts offensive line is at right now.