Ben Savage breaks down five key plays from the Colts final 2011 game in Jacksonville. He also provides his commentary and insight as the team heads into the 2012 off-season.
Regression. That's the word I've taken from the last few days, starting with the dismal defeat in Jacksonville on Sunday. That was followed by news of the demise of Bill and Chris Polian, the former a pivotal architect of a prior decade of success. On top of this, uncertainty remains regarding Peyton Manning and his health.
The performance in Jacksonville was particularly detrimental to my mood - it wasn't an appropriate curtain for the careers of several Colts destined to leave the organization - Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday, Robert Mathis and Dallas Clark potentially among them. Questionable pass protection along with poor QB play (rare, I know) stifled any semblance of offensive progression, and whilst there were some highlight plays on defense, mistakes on the back end and in run defense again characterized a mixed showing. Maurice Jones-Drew punished the Colts with a 169-yard rushing game at just under 7 yards a clip, exhibiting the patience he has always shown against a quick Colts defense.
Ultimately, I took a clear picture from the game of where our weaknesses lie - pretty much everywhere. We do have some players to build around in future - Antoine Bethea and Pat Angerer on the defensive side of the ball, and whichever Franchise QB we opt for on the other side. I've mixed importance with sentiment, though I'd appreciate feedback if there's a certain line people would like me to adopt.
Followers of Coltzilla will have seen my work before, but I'd like to welcome the new readership and say how great it is to be part of such a collective effort. And so, we begin!
Play #1 - 3rd and Goal from the 1 - 8:50 in the 1st Quarter - Colts 0 - Jags 0.
After surrendering a long drive on the initial possession on the game, it came down to a Redzone battle, with the ever efficient Maurice Jones-Drew matched up against the Colts Redzone defense. The following play for me is one of the better tackles I've ever seen, particularly on someone as elusive and powerful as Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jags line up in a heavy formation, with Jones-Drew complemented by Greg Jones (#33, FB) in the backfield, along with 3 TEs on the outside. It's a simple lead run behind the full-back, and the Colts line up with heavier bodies on the line to combat the run threat. I've circled Antoine Bethea in black, as it's worth tracking his movement on the play.
As MJD takes the handoff, the blocking up front does more than enough to seal a route to the edge. Jones leads MJD into the hole and blocks Ernie Sims (#55, LB), and it then becomes clear that Bethea is the only man who can stop the play resulting in a touchdown.
Jones-Drew hits Bethea on the 1 yard line and it becomes a tussle for leverage. With his 5'7, 210lb frame, this is a battle that Jones-Drew should win.
Jones-Drew gets turned by Bethea, who leans into the diminuitive back and wrenches him forwards, away from the endzone.
By turning him in such a fashion, Bethea can redirect the RB's momentum. Very few players are capable of such a tackle in the NFL as a whole, let alone from the safety position.
The play concludes with Bethea bringing MJD down alone, with David Caldwell jumping on after the bout has already finished. A memorable, memorable defensive play - which could certainly have held more significance given the conclusion of the drive on the play subsequent.
This isn't a situation any DB will enjoy. Jones-Drew has the power of momentum and a superior frame behind him, and it'd be natural for Bethea to be bowled over. Fortunately, he's an incredibly durable, stout player at FS.
MJD is literally inches from converting the opportunity for a while, as they fight each other at the goal-line.
Fortunately in a temporary sense, superior tackling and positioning wins the day. A play I'll be able to recall for years - and an excellent job by Antoine Bethea.
Play #2 - 3rd and 9 from the IND 23 - 3:17 in the 1st Quarter - Colts - 0 - Jags - 7.
After a tentative exchange of offensive impotence for the majority of the 1st Quarter, the Jags had success in the game of field position. Forcing the Colts to punt from inside their own endzone resulted in a 29 yard punt, setting the Jags up in brilliant field position. A few plays later, and the Jags have a touchdown. Let's have a look at how the play develops.
The Jags line up in a 3WR, 1TE, 1RB formation, with Chastin West (#17, WR), Mike Thomas (#80, WR) and Jarrett Dillard (#87, WR) out wide, running from right to left. Colin Cloherty (#83, TE) is attached to the line and Maurice Jones-Drew lurks in the backfield with a pass route planned. The Colts are running a zone coverage scheme which calls for the outside corners to track deep routes. Said outside corners on this play are Kevin Thomas (#21, CB) and Jacob Lacey (#27, CB).
As Gabbert takes the snap and settles into the pocket, he has a mess in front of him. Dwight Freeney has stunted inside and made a mess of eveything. 4 Jags OL and 3 Colts DL make up a churning mass of linemen, with only Jamaal Anderson able to separate himself from it. As it is, Gabbert has enough time and space to step into the throw.
He throws on the slant to Chastin West (#17, WR), who has been tracked from the snap by Kevin Thomas. Thomas has outside leverage on West as should be the case, and the throw leads West into contact with Joe Lefeged (#35, SS). The angle and placement of the ball necessitates a reasonable effort from Lefeged in attempting to break the pass up, whether it be through a big hit or use of the hands in a form tackle.
Lefeged chooses the former option, and tries to lay West out. Unfortunately, he simply leads with the shoulder, with his hands at his side. Thomas understandably doesn't see the need to get involved, as the situation should be under control inside.
West bounces off the contact as if nothing had ever happened, and wheels round into the endzone for a touchdown. It's a truly appalling attempt from Lefeged and simply not good enough at the NFL level. It's not only the Colts that have been afflicted with such bad tackling this year, it's a league-wide phenomenon that's painful to watch.
You can see that Lefeged has to adopt more of a centerfield position at the snap, due to Antoine Bethea lurking closer to the line of scrimmage.
Bethea is taken out of the play as the ball is thrown behind him, and from what i've seen, this look is best grouped in Cover 3 and its affiliates. Therefore, Lefeged is responsible for any slant route or in-cutting route to the middle of the field. The positioning here is fine.
The execution is however hideous, and the Colts go 7-0 down, never to recover.
Play #3 - 2nd and 9 from the 50 - 10:19 in the 2nd Quarter - Colts 3 - Jags 7.
The fairytale ending experienced last week with Reggie Wayne's game-winning touchdown catch was sadly not mirrored this week for other veterans who are questionable to return. One of these veterans - Robert Mathis - still nonetheless showcased his ability to get to the QB, and his subsequent talent for causing fumbles was also on show.
The Jags line up in a 2WR, 1TE, 2RB set, with the left side of the line stacked to help in pass protection and to sell the play-action which comes in due course. DuJuan Harris is in the backfield, and his awareness on the play certainly requires some questioning. Robert Mathis is circled in black, and initially appears to be matched up against Guy Whimper (#68, OT) at RT.
Whimper ignores Mathis entirely, instead shifting inside to block the tackle. Will Rackley (#65, G) pulls over from LG to attempt to block Mathis. This sort of offensive scheming doesn't really make much sense to me - we saw Jeff Linkenbach and Ryan Diem get twisted in knots by JJ Watt and Conor Barwin last week in trying to similarly shift blocking assignments.
Mathis knifes straight through the block of Rackley, and with sheer hustle makes his way towards Blaine Gabbert. Harris, in pass protection after faking taking the handoff, seems to ignore his presence entirely.
As a result, Gabbert is in immediate danger. Notice Harris' head still resolutely pointed forward as Rackley lunges for one last, desperate attempt. Gabbert's sub-standard pocket awareness and jittery nature don't help things on the play.
And as is inevitable, Mathis makes his way to the QB and registers a sack. Fortunately enough, he pops the ball loose simultaneously and the ball hits the ground.
He has the awareness to get up and fall on the ball, recovering it himself and forcing a crucial turnover in the first half of the game. A great exhibition of what Robert can still bring to this defense, and the football team as a whole.
Here's a close-up of the formation and the line of scrimmage. I've drawn on Rackley's anticipated route, and his flailing is easy to observe from any perspective.
They are at this point separated by a big pile, but Mathis uses his relatively slender frame to worm his way through the pile and squeeze past his man.
And Rackley's forlorn frame is evident in the center of the image, next to Harris' oblivious helmet. Poor pass protection, but always enjoyable to see a Colts player making the most of his opportunities.
Play #4 - 1st and 10 from the JAX 29 - 9:01 in the 3rd Quarter - Colts 6 - Jags 10.
And so, to the play that in my opinion broke the camel's back. The perennial struggle with tackling where Maurice Jones-Drew is concerned always manifests itself in Colts-Jags games, usually resulting in a long run at some point or another. This game was no exception, and the following play confirmed MJD as the league's leading rusher and went a long way to solidify the Jaguars' prospects in this game.
The Jags again line up in the 2WR, 1TE, 2RB formation, with Greg Jones leading Maurice Jones-Drew on a running play behind RT. The two receivers on the outside (Jarett Dillard & Mike Thomas) are assigned to block their respective cornerbacks, Jacob Lacey and Mike Holmes. Greg Jones is assigned to block Robert Mathis, which allows Guy Whimper to kick out from RT to block Pat Angerer on the second level. Brad Meester at C also pushes to the second level to block Ernie Sims, and Marcedes Lewis on the back end has to seal out Kevin Thomas on the play.
Mike Thomas seals off Mike Holmes from the play, and the blocks of Whimper and Meester are consummated on Pat Angerer and Ernie Sims respectively. The block of Jones on Mathis becomes crucial.
Jones does enough to create a lane for MJD, and from here it's a world of pain. The most unfortunate part for the Colts is the fact that Antoine Bethea is lost, useless amongst the Colts linebackers.
Angerer's instincts lead him to try and shed the block of Whimper and move outside. Jones-Drew takes this as an invitation, displaying requisite patience in allowing Angerer to move past before cutting back and bringing the block of Marcedes Lewis into play.
And once he performs the cutback, there isn't much the Colts can do. Kevin Thomas is blocked convincingly by Lewis and does well to disengage and chase Jones-Drew into Colts territory.
The chase begins, and 50 yards later..
Jones-Drew saunters out of play fairly casually with Thomas on his heels. I thought MJD could've made it to the endzone on the play, but it's possible fatigue had an effect. That and he may have been toying with us.
This is the patience I'm talking about. Initially it appears that running to the outside of Angerer offers the most advantageous position. However, MJD's read-and-react skills allow him to compensate for the movement of others.
Fair enough from Angerer on the play, he's doing his best to make plays in a decimated Colts defense. Against someone the caliber of Jones-Drew however, such actions can prove lethal.
And just like that, the Colts are 7 down after a Jags Field Goal, displaying no potency or rhythm on offense.
Play #5 - 3rd and 7 from the IND 45 - 3:36 in the 3rd Quarter - Colts 6 - Jaguars 16.
The final play I've chosen from the game on Sunday is purely to exhibit woeful pass protection. Despite our investment in the first two rounds last year on the OL group, we're still stuck with Jeff Linkenbach at RT - and it simply cannot continue next year.
The Colts are running a set of medium length routes past the first down marker, given that it's 3rd and 7. It's out of the 3WR, 1TE, 1RB formation with the usual personnel on the field (Wayne, Garcon, Collie, Clark, Brown) with no additional blockers on the edge. Jeremy Mincey (#94, DE) lines up in the 9-technique on the outside shoulder of Dallas Clark, and is circled in black. He's down in a low stance watching the football as opposed to the offensive linemen.
Due to lining up at the 9-technique, Mincey has the added bonus of a longer run-up before he reaches Linkenbach. On a bull-rush, this can prove to be very potent indeed.
Linkenbach gets thrown around like a child's toy, and is pushed right back into the immediate vicinity of Dan Orlovsky. From here, it's simple. It is however important to point out the depth of Orlovsky's drop, a phenomenon we've witnessed frequently since he was thrust into the starting lineup. He's caused problems for Anthony Castonzo in terms of defending the edge, and it may have some effect on Linkenbach here.
Mincey hops on board the Orlovsky train, and the rest is history.
The Colts eventually recover after a bobbling session from the ball. They do however have to punt on the following play, and the sack fumble was symptomatic of struggles all day on offense, particularly in pass protection.
Linkenbach's feet positioning here just looks awful. Legs wide apart and firmly entrenched, he's asking to be pushed right back.
Such prophecies tend to come true in the National Football League. Mincey deserves a lot of credit - from what i've seen this year, he's become a much more important player in the Jags Defense. Perhaps it's due to accomplished veterans taking some of the strain, or simply natural development. Alongside Knighton, Chick and Alualu, this line might be worth watching.
And that closes the book on Five Plays for this season, at least for the Colts. To those of you that have followed my migration from a couple of different sites, thank you. For those of you new to Five Plays, I hope to do Playoff Editions taking in the best of the postseason from around the league.
Another defeat in typical fashion for this year - weaknesses all over the field which were ruthlessly exposed by a limited team. Antoine Bethea and Pat Angerer showed up on defense, and through their efforts have warranted their status as building-blocks for the franchise in future. Taking conclusions from the game seems a bit pointless when one considers the changes subsequently made in the Front Office, so it's that which I'll address.
Everyone has an opinion on whether Bill Polian should've been retained or otherwise. The fact is that he's gone, and to recriminate overly on the decision would be negligent for all involved. I will however say this - the removal of Bill Polian shouldn't be a cause for celebration. It should be a moment for reflection, to consider the precipitious slide of this team. Bill Polian brought a decade of success to Indianapolis, and it should not be forgotten - his draft record in recent years may not have been the best around, but it's defendable. As ColtsAuthority Senior Writer Nate Dunlevy has said in recent days, the period into which we move is fraught with uncertainty and potential peril, and so the franchise must be steered with calmness and clarity by Jim Irsay and whoever he decides to bring in. If he has made this move in the hope of keeping up the very best standards of excellence, I salute him. If he felt obligated to make the decision by the clamouring of the local media and a season in which we lost potentially the greatest player of all-time, I have much more by way of reservations. That's all I really have to say on the matter.
Game Ball: Antoine Bethea. That tackle alone gets him the game ball.
pretty good ben
it would have been nice if you touched more on how horrible of a tackler kevin thomas is. that guy may be the least physical football player i have ever seen. i hope he is shown the door soon
On Mathis' sack, it was great how he rolled Gabbert up long enough to strip the ball out before he went down. And then he recovers it himself... Amazing. It's plays that like that make me think another team will offer him more money than the Colts will be willing to match. Damn.
Great work as always Ben! I'm definitely looking forward to your playoff stuff and more than anything your work next season!
Re Linkenbach: One has to think that he will not be starting next year. He's been okay at times and plain awful at other times. Assuming Ijalana is fully healthy by training camp (and it seems according to Laura's estimations that he will be), I think he should start at RT. When he came in briefly earlier in the season, I do think he showed a lot of promise. The only question will be whether he's ready... but that is to be seen.
Re Polians: Irsay has given me no reason to doubt him thus far, and until he does, I fully trust his ability to make this team successful. This is gonna be a loooong off season, let's just hope there's light at the end of the tunnel
Good breakdown, Ben. Bethea´s tackle is simply outstanding. Seeing it this way makes it even more enjoyable. So thanks. I have one question regarding 4. You say that Angerer´s position is "fair enough", given how decimated the team was. Is this not an example of the Colts linebackers abandoning their gaps by overpursuing, something which has troubled the Colts for years at times? Not that in any way that changes the fact Angerer is the defensive leader of the future. And a resounding yes on Lefeged´s atrocious tackling on 2, and the fact I´m appalled it´s so common in the NFL. Some broken tackles are inevitable, but this looks to me like they´re not even taught the proper technique!
I felt with Angerer that he feels he has to make plays outside of his area, and whilst that isn't particularly disciplined, I'm prepared to give him a pass. Kavell Conner has been awful, as has Ernie Sims.
@Ben Savage Agreed on Sims. Has insurmountable coverage issues, and his angles are abysmally bad. So Conner is not starter material according to you? And Wheeler?
@Ben Savage no
conner is someone you keep. the guy is a starter.
granted he just needs to work on his coverage. i like him as a player
Conner is just as bad in coverage, if not worse. I've admired the play of Wheeler this year, and given his pass rushing abilities which were demonstrated to an extent this year and throughout college, he'd be a versatile piece to keep around.
Great read as always...A shame that the Colts weren't able to give us the same positive vibes we were getting the previous 2 weeks. Definitely agree with the game ball going to Bethea just for that tackle. An excellent display of pure manhood right there.
Re: Polian - I'm taking a leap of faith here. Jim Irsay has consistently made the right call for these Colts. He made the right call when he axed Bill Tobin and brought Polian in all those years ago, he made the right call by not playing "meddling owner" when we took a pass on Ricky Williams in favor of Edge, and he made the right call by playing "meddling owner" when he brought Dungy in despite (what I've heard were) objections by Polian.
I loved the guy as a personnel man, hated him as a human being. He was, quite frankly, a condescending jerkoff who talked to/of fans like they were small children and treated the local media (pre-agenda) and blogs (like 18to88) like they were less-than-dirt.
I'm not saying this is a cause for celebration. There are clearly scary, uncertain times ahead, I'm just saying that maybe our owner knows what he's doing. He's never given me a reason to think otherwise.
@etid5353 Salient points. I don't regard it as necessarily a bad decision, because it depends wholly on motivation. I hope it was a football decision, namely based on the dynamic in-and-around the organisation and front office alongside poorer drafts in recent years. That's opposed to the media-driven campaign that we've seen.
You're right, they treated the fans and media like utter crap, and it's a chance for a fresh start. But I'd rather have Polian's quiet success than Rex Ryan's all-access failure.
Man, I've always been impressed with how good a job you do with your "five plays".
Before all hell broke loose on Monday, one of the things I was hoping would become clear from the Jags game is that the Big O is no better than Painter.
I have nothing against either player as a person. I'm sure they are both great guys. They are also both terrible NFL QBs.
The latest meme has been that the Colts should have gone with the Big O the whole time, and his play in the two wins just validates this. Please, if Painter had put up that stink bomb of a game on Sunday, he would have been blasted by the media. Instead, Wormtongue Kravitz salutes his "toghness" and gives him a pass.
Again, nothing personal against either guy... but they both suck equally at playing QB in the NFL.
@DougEngland thats incorrect
painter is worse than orlovsky. that much is very clear
@DougEngland I've been pushing the 'Orlovsky has a higher ceiling' wagon, and I still think it to an extent. It's all become sadly irrelevant in light of the subsequent news, but I think it's fair to say they aren't starting calibre QBs.
Orlovsky was terrible on Sunday, that much cannot be debated. Whether it had anything to do with missing practice all week due to the birth of his triplets, who knows.