While trying to decide what to focus on during this week's film review, I got a great suggestion from Coltzilla contributor Travis Tango. Travis mentioned that the Colts always seem to go very vanilla on defense, and that this makes it easy for opposing offenses to adjust and improve as the game goes on, since the looks are relatively the same.
So, while re-watching the game today, I charted what looks the defense gave during the entire Chiefs game, and tried to see if there was any distinct advantage to mixing things up. The results were pretty clear.
First, let's take a look at the base defensive looks the Colts employ. There are two main schemes the Colts use: a default 4-3 and a nickel package. For the default, which is most used, the linebackers are Pat Angerer at MLB and Philip Wheeler and Kavell Conner as the outside backers. The cornerbacks were Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers for the majority of the game, although at times Lacey was replaced by Terrence Johnson. The safeties were Antoine Bethea and David Caldwell. The defensive line stayed on a rotation, and didn't differ noticeably from nickel to default.
The nickel package employed Angerer and Ernie Sims at linebacker, Powers, Lacey, and Johnson at cornerback, and Bethea and Joe Lefeged as safeties. During the first half, the Colts used the default defense 14 times out of 28 plays, 10 were the nickel, and four were variations of the nickel that involved a different rusher.
On one play, Jerry Hughes came in for a defensive tackle, but rushed from a standing up position (finally! I've been calling for this for weeks!). This resulted in a sack on 3rd and 9, as the line left Freeney and Mathis both single blocked.
On the second play, the Colts showed a double LB blitz, but only blitzed Conner. The pressure got to Cassel quickly, and forced an incomplete throw. On a third and three during the next drive, the Colts combined the two looks, rushing Freeney from a standing up position as they showed a blitz from the linebackers and Joe Lefeged. Again, the pressure caused an incomplete pass.
On the final play, Hughes showed like he was going to rush from a joker position, but fell back into coverage. If it wasn't for Terrence Johnson blowing his assignment in the flat, it would have been punting time. During the second half, the Colts went with the base 4-3 for 29 of the 42 plays, the base nickel on 4 of the 42 plays, 3 plays with a different look from the nickel package, and 5 plays from the default.
Again, the plays that involved different looks or blitzes were generally successful in terms of forcing quick throws or stopping a run behind the line. On the Chiefs long, 12-play drive during the third quarter, the Colts gave the same exact 4-3 base look for every single play, and the Chiefs tore it apart. So, out of 70 plays, the defense used a "different" look only 12 times, even though this mixture was largely successful.
Why won't Coyer try and mix things up more often? I'd love to see more of this, especially the use of Hughes as a rusher from a standing position. This seemed to be more effective, as the blitz of the linebackers left holes in the Colts' zone.