As so frequently occurs with my posts and Five Plays, big news in Colts land always tends to arrive the day after I've posted. Last week was no exception, with the announcement of Chuck Pagano as Colts HC arriving a day after I'd written it. What joy awaits us this week? Perhaps an announcement regarding Peyton Manning retiring, or news of a new appointment at the DC Position. Anyway. Chuck Pagano arriving as HC means a few different things for a few different players, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
This week's Five Plays focuses on Jamaal Anderson, our low-risk, high-reward pickup in Free Agency last year. Anderson may not have the outrageous statistics of a Freeney or a Mathis, but I feel he contributed well this year, particularly towards the latter end - displaying versatility and an improved nose for pass rushing.
I've prioritized him over Jeff Saturday, and I'm aware that many people might not agree with me. My opinion is this - Jeff Saturday should in my view not be retained either way, regardless of what happens in the off-season. His salary is prohibitive for the position he plays, which happens to be an easy one to fill in the draft with high quality results. Saturday's own situation points to this - an undrafted free agent (as with many others at the position), he came in and was a plug-and-play solution from the off.
As we wait for this hellish Super Bowl week to be over, let's look at some plays.
Play #1 - Week 7, 2011 - Colts @ Saints.
Anderson lines up pre-snap at the LE position, his usual spot this year when coming in on early downs against the run or to spell an out of breath Robert Mathis. As a taller, more physical DE than Mathis, he's got more ability against the run and weight to back it up.
Anderson initially tries a speed rush to the outside, which is blocked well by Charles Brown (#71, RT). Anderson doesn't possess the physical tools to execute on speed rushes particularly frequently, but it's his awareness which keeps him in this play.
Brees, after seeing nothing in his initial drop, decides to scramble in the pocket, aided by two of the best interior linemen in the league. There is no way for Brown to know this, and as a consequence Anderson is able to put a neat swim move on him to move inside.
Brees is unaware of any back side pressure, and Anderson slugs into him from behind for a sack.
TL;DR: A few big men hit the ground.
You can see the lack of speed to get around the edge, as Brown is able to stay inside relatively comfortably to disrupt Anderson's rhythm.
The swim move is well-executed against a helpless Brown.
Only Brees' instincts save him, as with two hands on the ball he's able to prevent the play being a turnover, deep into Colts territory. Good awareness from Anderson, though.
Play #2 - Week 12, 2011 - Panthers @ Colts.
I'm very excited to be able to bring you... The first ever Field Goal breakdown in Five Plays history! Nah, I'm just playing. It's not the most thrilling of breakdowns but it further indicates how athletic Anderson is, and helps to show how he was a high first round pick based on his tools.
Anderson is placed on the left side of the offensive line, and is matched up against an unnamed special teamer from the Panthers.
As the ball is snapped, you can immediately see that Anderson is able to plow through the Panthers line, primarily due to a great burst off the snap. The Panthers obviously didn't expect him to be so quick, and he punishes them.
While his speed around the corner might be lacking from a DE perspective, his straight line getoff here is more than adequate. At 6'6" with such penetration, there's no way the Field Goal was ever going to succeed.
The ball is ultimately recovered by the Colts, though the context means the Colts can't do anything with it before half time.
Anderson's is the fourth helmet from the left on the line.
And whether it's an entirely missed assignment or the assigned blocker is inadequate (I suspect it's a very poor pickup with not enough clarity on assignments), you can't have a big man like that running free in the middle of a Field Goal attempt.
When you look at his arm length and wingspan, he's perfect in this role on special teams, being big and athletic.
Play #3 - Week 16, 2011 - Texans @ Colts.
Here we can take our first look at Anderson lining up inside. With Mathis to his left, Brayton to his right and Dwight Freeney further along, it's an all DE front.
The run by Foster is designed to go left, in theory at or in behind Dwight Freeney who will inevitably be rushing upfield.
Anderson knifes inside against the zone blocking scheme, seeing a hole that he wants to push through against Antoine Caldwell (#62, G). Freeney gets a ridiculous jump off the snap, and he's in the backfield before the handoff.
Foster precariously takes the handoff and manages to avoid Freeney, but the knife inside from Anderson is too much. He relentlessly pushes through and Caldwell can't deal with it.
Foster tries to cut back to avoid the giant man in front of him, but to no avail.
Anderson wraps him up for a 4-yard TFL on a big third down.
You can see Anderson here lined up inside (#90). Watch as he blows through the gap between RG and C.
Caldwell is at full extension and yet can't reach Anderson, which indicates a poor jump off the snap from the RG.
Just look at the penetration from Freeney for a second. I don't care whether it's schemed to take advantage of him rushing upfield, that's an obscene burst to get into the backfield and disrupt the play. And if Foster so happens to escape, Anderson's good work on the inside is enough to see the pay off.
It's a good clean tackle, and an exhibition of the versatility of Anderson. Next up, we have some more.
Play #4 - Week 16, 2011 - Texans @ Colts.
Later in the same game, again we see Anderson lined up inside against the RG Antoine Caldwell.
Similarly, the play is on third down in a big spot with regards to field position. The 4-DE front is again utilized.
From the very start of the play, Caldwell is utterly outmatched. Anderson again spots a gap he wants to go through and Caldwell is powerless to stop it. Anderson makes a beeline straight for the QB.
He totally blows the play up, causing Yates to readjust in the pocket while a huge Anderson hand forages for the ball.
Yates decides to take the safe way out and crumbles to the ground, with Anderson all over him.
The rear angle undoubtedly shows the play in its best light. Watch how Anderson manages to get across his man before he even realizes what's going on.
Having just taken the snap, Yates isn't worried about pressure yet. The Center Chris Myers pulls outside to block the speed rush, abandoning his RG.
.Who then gets totally destroyed. The one thing that stood out to me when watching Anderson is the fact that he's a very very big man, and when part of his body gets through a hole he has the explosiveness to continue his progression.
Great play, nothing less.
Play #5 - Week 17, 2011 - Colts @ Jags.
The following play again displays Anderson's powerful base and value in run defense. In a goal-line situation against the most elusive RB in the league, Anderson came up big and managed to make a stop on 4th down, leading to a turnover and some Colts impetus.
Anderson lines up on the left side of the DL in a heavy formation. It's 4th and Goal with MJD in the backfield, and in years past this would likely have been a touchdown.
The called play is a quick pitch to Anderson's side. His ability to stay upright and force the tackle backwards is key here - a cutback to the inside would be an easy route for MJD to take if Anderson were shirking his responsibilities. He doesn't do so, and sticks as a barrier to the endzone.
You can see here the point about the cutback, or even a simple run to the endzone. If Anderson gets collapsed or moved in the slightest, it's a touchdown. He instead forces the RT backwards and to the sideline, which forces MJD into a simple decision.
Pat Angerer makes the initial contact before being slammed into the deck by the momentum of MJD. Anderson disengages from his block and makes the crucial tackle on the goalline.
While Angerer recovers from his shell-shock, Anderson can be proud of a job well done.
I've tried to highlight Anderson with a little circle of the helmet, and his possession of the upper-hand in the contest against the RT can't be doubted.
He forces his man backwards a couple of yards while maintaining good leverage. His ability to disengage allows him to make the tackle on the play, indicating a good sense of timing and strength.
You can see here that Angerer doesn't actually make the tackle, and the big arms of Jamaal are clearly viewable as he tackles MJD from behind. Great teamwork.
Anderson was brought in on a cheap and low-risk deal, having been cut in Atlanta. He brought scheme versatility and a presence on special teams, preventing our perilous depth at DT from becoming a truly huge issue whilst also offering our marquee DEs some time off the field for a breather. He displays good awareness combined with some incredible physical tools, particularly when asked to make plays in the run game. The negatives? He isn't a particularly agile pass rusher off the edge, and he clearly doesn't have any of the Robert Mathis/Dwight Freeney magic for spin moves and backbreaking gravity-defying pivots. To my knowledge, he's represented the organization reasonably in his short time in Indy, so I don't see any red flags there.
With the bigger picture in mind, what do I think should be done with Anderson? Depending on cost of course, I feel he should be retained. He showed a real improvement towards the end of the year, and contributed big plays in our last three games. If we keep Robert Mathis, there's the potential for Anderson to play on ST and in relief duty, with perhaps some more of him playing inside in a 4-man front. If Mathis isn't retained, he should still be kept. Our depth at DE would be perilous without Mathis, and every familiar body would help.
Then there's the question of Chuck Pagano and the 3-4 Defense. I don't personally see Anderson as a 3-4 OLB at all, but I certainly think some interesting things could be achieved with him at 3-4 DE in a pass-rusher heavy set. Truthfully though, I have no idea how the front office will be thinking in the midst of the current turmoil. He could reasonably be let go and it wouldn't make the biggest impact, but in a team of passengers this year I saw a contributor to Colts success.
That's all for this week - don't hesitate to leave a comment, no matter how small.
While I haven't agreed with you in some of your other five plays posts as to who should be kept or not, I absolutely agree with you on this one. Anderson played well and deserves another shot. I would be worried about how he fares in a potential 3-4 here. That's the defense Atlanta ran while he was there and his low production in that defense was the reason he was cut. I really like the guy though so I agree he should be kept.
I'm glad you're writing these up as articles over here. I always enjoyed your fan posts of the "five plays..." over at Stampede Blue. Good stuff!
Great article, Ben!
I'd love to see Anderson retained. He might never have lived up to high draft expectations in Atlanta (he was the No. 8 overall pick), but he's an effective player who's stout against the run and young enough (He'll be 26 in a few days) to still have plenty of good football ahead of him. He's a keeper for sure.
Thanks for another great post. Love how you cut it out in stone. Great reading.
Anderson should be retained, and I agree that he would be a good fit as a 3-4 DE. Since it is virtually impossible to block Freeney and Mathis on the outside, getting our hands on a big, aggressive nose tackle that can collapse the pocket from the inside would mean sure mayhem for opposing quarterbacks. Oh yes, there will be blood...
@feltmadras I think Mathis could convert straight to 3-4 OLB with ease, I'm not so sure about Freeney. In terms of a nose tackle, as I said below there is one major prospect in the draft (Ta'amu), but there are other capable players who could arrive through free agency. Free up some cap room and people like Aubrayo Franklin become reasonable targets.
Ben - you're not the first person to say that Mathis could convert to 3-4 but that Freeney might have trouble. But I haven't heard an explanation for doubting Freeney yet. What's your thought on the subject?
Mathis is around 30lbs lighter than Freeney, and has superior agility and acceleration. Freeney can speed rush on an equivalent level, but I'd question his lateral agility in terms of stunting and looping around blockers in an attempt to find a mismatch.
I'd also question how useful Freeney's spin move would be when there's a greater distance between him and the blocker - he takes advantage of the lack of space and reaction time to unleash his pass rushing repetoire, which wouldn't occur if he were further from the line of scrimmage.
Could he adapt to the Mario Williams style OLB? Of course, but that's not a true 3-4 OLB given that the Wade Phillips system calls for 95% rushing and 5% drops. If we use him that way, that's fine - but asking someone like Mathis to adapt to coverage as well might leave us exposed.
@Ben Savage@feltmadras I think Freeney might also be able to make the conversion. If you look at what Houston did with Mario Williams, could be an option for both Mathis and Freeney. The question would be, how well do they manage in coverage. I don't really think the Colts can manage a one season swap to 3-4. Every single position is inappropriate for the system, with the exception of some of the DTs, which could function as DEs in a 3-4. The backers are too small, the corners play zone, not man(and that badly) no nose. I would expect they might talk about it, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Colts stick to a base 4-3 for the coming year.
@Sinn0331@feltmadras To be fair, we don't have many pieces that have been working effectively in the 4-3. Angerer could make a good 3-4 ILB in my opinion, so I'd put him, Bethea and the two pass rushers as the cornerstone of our defense.
We're going to need to upgrade on the line and in the secondary either way, so I don't think it limits us too much.
The question of the defensive scheme is the most interesting one, I think. It's going to be tough for Chuck Pagano to insist on transforming what has been consistently the 'smallest' defense in the league into a 3-4 in one year. I was impressed with what Phillips did in Houston, but I'm not as convinced it'll be quite so immediately successful in Indy. Great piece!
@Sinn0331 I agree on the latter point - we don't have the cap room of a 2010 Houston, though I do think we're more talented on defense in general than they were.
I've been thinking about the draft and Ta'amu in the 2nd would make sense regardless of which D we're opting for - though it's tough to leave some of the skill position guys on the board that will inevitably be there.