As Bill Polian said on Monday night, the Colts/Browns game came down to one team's ability to convert on 3rd down and the other's inability to do the same. Today's Tape Study will look at 10 first down conversions by the Browns on 3rd and 4th down in an attempt to find out what went wrong.
4-1-IND 46 (12:18) 12-C.McCoy up the middle to IND 44 for 2 yards (99-A.Johnson; 95-F.Moala).
The Colts stopped the Browns on three straight third downs, before finally allowing a fourth down conversion. It's hard to fault the defense for their effort on this play. If anything, the biggest takeaway is that going for it on fourth down is good idea. The Colts actually looked like they got the play stopped, as Moala had a great push. If anything this play was an example of how bad spotting is in the NFL. One official had the ball marked a half yard short. The other had it marked just past the line. The official that ruled first down had absolutely no angle to make that call. For some reason his view won. McCoy looked short to me, but there was no way to overturn. Like many aspects of NFL football, this came down to bad luck. Good effort by the defense.
(10:22) (Shotgun) 12-C.McCoy pass short right to 11-M.Massaquoi to IND 14 for 8 yards (27-J.Lacey).
The Browns seemed to target Jacob Lacey all day, and he became a whipping boy for fans. This play shows why he wasn't quite as bad as fans think. Lacey is matched up on Massaquoi and clearly sets up to give him an inside release. Kavell Conner is the linebacker to his side, and Lacey pushes Massaquoi toward where Conner should be. Conner is out of position. Massagquoi catches the ball 5 yards off the line, and drags Lacey for the first down. It looks to me like Lacey looks at Conner afterwards, as if to say, "Where were you?". Covering no one. That's where he was. The Colts were hurt by Sims and Brackett being out, as Conner still gets lost in coverage. Lacey played this correctly, and it should have been a stop.
3-12-IND 16 (8:01) (Shotgun) 12-C.McCoy pass deep left to 89-E.Moore for 16 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Dwight Freeney gets outstanding pressure on this play and nearly takes down the slippery McCoy. McCoy steps up and then rolls to his left. At this point, the safety should be rolling hard to the left too. As McCoy hits a wide open Moore in the end zone, I write "WHAT IS BULLITT DOING?" in my notebook. Bullitt has one guy to that side, but instead of covering, he stands flat footed in the back of the endzone. McCoy releases the ball just on the line of scrimmage (clearly not over), and hits the wide open Moore. This play is all on Bullitt. He looses track of the tight end and gives up a touchdown when the Browns should have been held to a field goal attempt. Awful, awful play at a time when 10 other guys had it played perfectly.
3-2-CLE 28 (2:57) (Shotgun) 12-C.McCoy pass short right to 11-M.Massaquoi to CLE 37 for 9 yards (27-J.Lacey)
This play we see the other problem plaguing the Colts: blitzing. Larry Coyer's penchant for blitzing too much bit Indy repeatedly on Sunday. Indy brought 5 and didn't get there. This was just a perfect route combination by the Browns. Massaquoi breaks off his route just as another receiver is crossing. There's nothing Lacey can do. It's a legal pick. Easy completion. The blitz has to land here. It's hard to stop short patterns like this, and if the wideout does his job, he's open all day. Lacey gets a pass on this one. The vast majority of corners give up this completion.
3-8-CLE 39 (2:00) (Shotgun) 12-C.McCoy pass short left to 16-J.Cribbs to IND 36 for 25 yards (20-J.Tryon).
Melvin Bullitt strikes again. Indy blitzes again as the Browns run an awkward kind of bubble screen to Cribbs where everyone pulls to the right as McCoy throws left. Melvin Bullitt takes one step the wrong way before the toss, but still should have plenty of room to stop Cribbs and force a punt. Instead, he takes a horrible angle and misses the tackle. This should have been a stop. Just a terrible play by Bullitt.
3-4-CLE 26 (13:36) (Shotgun) 12-C.McCoy pass incomplete short right to 15-G.Little (27-J.Lacey). PENALTY on IND-53-K.Conner, Defensive Pass Interference, 6 yards, enforced at CLE 26 - No Play.
The game book has this one on Conner, but the official announced it wrong. Lacey hits Little just as the ball arrives. Bang-bang play. It's a good call though, and Lacey gives up the first down on the pass interference. He was playing tight and aggressive, so again, I'm not going to kill him. Given the inconsistency with which the officials called PI on Sunday, I'm fine with Lacey being in a guy's grill and picking up a flag. It beats too much cushion any day.
3-6-CLE 47 (11:33) (Shotgun) 12-C.McCoy scrambles right end to IND 44 for 9 yards (41-A.Bethea).
Early in the game, Dwight Freeney destroyed Colt McCoy. His coaches clearly told him, "If your first read isn't open...MOVE!". This was the same situation. The Colts blitz 6, but the play is made by Mathis who times the snap perfectly, and gets to MCoy in a heartbeat. However, because it's a big blitz, McCoy shakes off the hit and runs right through to where the linebackers would be. Another awful blitz call by Coyer. Another first down. Mathis got there because he's Mathis. The blitz added no additional pressure and served to leave the middle of the field open.
3-4-IND 15 (13:28) (Shotgun) 12-C.McCoy pass short right to 15-G.Little to IND 4 for 11 yards (41-A.Bethea; 27-J.Lacey).
It's another six man blitz by Coyer! Lacey is matched up one on one with Little who shoves him legally just as he's making his break. Lacey isn't strong enough to fight off Little who gets position and makes the catch. Kavell Conner looks like he might have been supposed to fake the blitz and drop into coverage ala Clint Session in 2009 against Houston. Either it was a crappy blitz, or a late drop by Conner. If he does his job better, there's a good chance that pass is picked off.
3-1-CLE 35 (8:39) (Run formation) 40-P.Hillis up the middle to CLE 37 for 2 yards (96-T.Brayton; 53-K.Conner).
The line does a beautiful job stacking up the Browns. This play is dead in the water. As Hillis heads toward the non-existent hole, Bullitt dives into the middle of the line, ineffectively shoving a blocker. Hillis is a load, and gets good push right on the soft spot where Bullitt should be. He barely gets the first down. Bullitt HAS to read that play better and make the hit. if he does, the Browns don't get the first.
3-6-IND 24 (4:01) (Run formation) 40-P.Hillis left tackle for 24 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Stop me if you've heard this one: the Colts stack up a run in the backfield. Bullitt has outside contain on Hillis, but takes a bad angle and Hillis goes through him, around the end and ices the game. Phenomenally bad play by Melvin Bullitt.
Jacob Lacey didn't have a great game, but as always with the Colts scheme, corners can look far worse to fans than they actually played. Lacey was not the biggest problem. The culprits in order were: Melvin Bullitt, Larry Coyer and his blitz insanity, and Kavell Conner.
Ultimately, the Colts defense is one player away from being very good. That player is a safety to play opposite Bethea (who was superb as always). The Colts couldn't upgrade at safety (a fact I whined about for months), and it shows.
Melvin Bullitt is not good. In fact, he's not average. He's bad. He blew a coverage. He took a bad angle. He missed a hole. He blew a tackle. That's about as bad as it gets for a safety. Safety was the Colts #1 need last offseason, and it still is.
As for the blitzing, that's another dead horse with me. I hate blitzing. I don't like Coyer's scheme. The Colts aren't generating any EXTRA pressure with the blitz. The pressure is still coming from Freeney and Mathis. It makes no sense to me.
As for Conner's play, he isn't supposed to be on the field on third down, so it's hard to kill him. The ability of Conner and Angerer to grow into coverage LBs is critical for this defense. With Sims and Brackett down, the Colts have to be able to stop the pass on third down.