This year, Jon Ledyard and I will be collaborating our scouting reports. We’ll play to our strengths – he’ll be focusing on the individuals while I’ll be looking at overall scheme. These reports will be broken down into two articles, one for offense and one for defense.
Our reports for the Indianapolis Colts’ defense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT:
The Colts’ once daunting pass rush is no more. Only 19 sacks this season and Robert Mathis is the only one with at least four. Only 10 of the 19 come from their active defensive line and edge rushers, a very low number. Bjoern Werner has zero sacks this year, no production from a former first round pick.
At least their secondary makes plays. 14 interceptions already. Led by Mike Adams’ five though he may not play Sunday. Dwight Lowery has four while top cornerback Vontae Davis has a pair. But as many big plays they create, they give up equally as many. They have allowed 47 pass plays of 20+ yards, tied for most in the league with the New Orleans Saints, and we all know how bad the Saints’ defense is. Their run defense is a little better, tied for 17th with 32 runs of 10+ yards.
Like on offense, they don’t have consistency with their personnel. Only three defenders have played over 76% of the time in 2015, Lowery, Davis, and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. Kendall Langford is the only defensive lineman over 60%. They have 21 different players who have seen at least 10% of the time, compared to a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers who have only 19.
Their defensive line is deep and rotates pretty well but they sure are a young group. Zach Kerr and Tim McGill play heavy snaps. Kerr is a second year UDFA while McGill is a rookie UDFA. David Parry is the man in the middle, a 5th round rookie out of Stanford. Kerr will rotate in at nose tackle in the Colts’ 3-4 and left end, Parry is strictly a nose tackle, McGlll plays a lot on the right, and Langford – the veteran – is mostly on the left side. Billy Winn also came over here from the Cleveland Browns and sees time. Again, they are a true 3-4 defense that shades their nose tackle to either side, not playing head up.
D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman are the starting linebackers and are one and two in team tackles. Jackson’s 111 is at the top of the league. Freeman, however, is in danger of missing with a hamstring injury. If he can’t suit up, I’d expect Nate Irving to take his spot. Irving was already replacing him in goal line packages before Freeman went down.
Trent Cole and Jonathan Newsome appear to be one pairing at outside linebacker with Robert Mathis and Erik Walden as the other. Cole will put his hand down and line up inside in subpackage football.
The Colts’ cornerbacks play sides, not people, with Vontae Davis at left cornerback and Greg Toler on the right. So don’t assume Davis will shadow Antonio Brown ,he didn’t shadow Julio Jones. If Adams is still out, Lowery and rookie Clayton Geathers should start. I was a fan of Geathers out of UCF and think he’s done a nice job in the two games I evaluated. Darius Butler serves as the team’s nickel corner.
Get a lot of middle of the field closed, Cover 1 looks from Indy. Then they’ll go quarters on third and long. Examples of both below.
They aren’t a blitz heavy team but do add a couple of wrinkles. Here’s an example of them dropping both outside linebackers and blitzing both inside linebackers up the A gap.
And here’s another one to keep an eye out for. In subpackage football, on first and ten, they’ll check to blitzing their safety to the boundary. Saw both against 3×1 formations though in the latter, the Atlanta Falcons motioned into 2×2, but the Colts didn’t check out.
D’Joun Smith and Winston Guy served as the gunners last week. Colt Anderson serves as the upback. He was one rush this year and that came on the infamous, uh, fake? against the New England Patriots. Anderson and linebacker Josh McNary have played the most special teams snaps while Jack Doyle is in third. His 227 snaps are fourth league-wide for a tight end.
The Colts have run one actual fake this year. Down 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans on 4th and 10, McAfee ran for 18 yards. Check those wing players, Danny Smith. If one of them cut blocks – as Doyle did on the fake – that’s a good alert for it. Another reason I think the Colts decided to run it was the Titans would bail some of their return unit off the snap. So just keep eyes on McAfee and don’t give him free lanes and you should be fine.
JON’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT:
Stop me if this sounds familiar, but the Colts defense is not statistically strong this season, but they are strangely effective, much like their offense. Indy’s defense surrenders yards like Halloween candy during trick-or-treat, allowing 388 yards per game (26th), including 273 passing yards and 115 rushing yards on average. Yet somehow the team ranks 17th in the NFL in points surrender per contest at just 23.6.
The fact is even more befuddling when you consider that the Colts defense allows opponents to score touchdowns almost 62 percent of the time within their own red zone, the eighth worst mark in the NFL. So they don’t give up big plays then? Well, no, the Colts actually lead the league having surrendered 47 20+ yard passing plays this season. Their run defense is far from stellar as well, gashed for 10 20+ yard plays on the ground, which ties them for third worst in the league. Indy’s 17 takeaways are smack dab in the middle of the NFL rankings, as is their 3rd down defense (40%). Like I said, simply not a good unit on paper.
Still, the unit allowed just 12 points last week against a Buccaneers team that had dropped 45 on the Eagles the week prior. They’ll likely be without one of their defensive leaders again this week in Jerrell Freeman, the team’s fourth-year inside linebacker who is enjoying a fine season. Fellow inside ‘backer D’Qwell Jackson missed practice on Thursday as well, so his status could be somewhat in doubt for Sunday night. Jackson has played 94 percent of Indianapolis’ snaps, second only to safety Dwight Lowery, so I’d expect him to play as it appears his absence was not injury related.
Jackson is enjoying one of his best statistical seasons despite being 32 years old, leading the league in tackles with 111, while adding two sacks, a pick and a forced fumble. Pretty tough to fool him or get him to make false steps, but I’ve never been wowed by Jackson on tape. He’s an average athlete who is a liability in coverage and isn’t instinctive as a run defender. Jackson is tough as nails and will fight free from blocks for tackles and the second level, but rarely is he in opponents’ backfields.
Still, Jackson just has a knack for being around the ball, and knows all the tricks of the trade for defeating blockers, even if he can’t do it as often as he once did.
Initially works himself out of position, but then swims the block and pounces on the ball carrier for the stop. Again, you won’t see a lot of instinctive, gap-shooting big plays, but his presence typically limits opposing backs to mediocre gains at best. He’s literally everywhere on the second level.
Freeman’s loss is replaced by Nate Irving, who has plenty of experience from his days in Denver. Irving is a physical middle linebacker without the football IQ of Freeman, but he’ll thump in the middle of the field. Had a big third down sack of Jameis Winston in the second half last Sunday.
The outside linebacker group in the Colts 3-4 defense is a four-man rotation with a pretty even snap distribution over the past few games. Robert Mathis has seen a slight uptick in snaps, but is still just third amongst his position group on the team, behind Erik Walden (596) and Trent Cole (392). Jonathan Newsome’s 212 snaps round out a stellar group that is led by Mathis’ four sacks and Walden’s three.
Walden has great quickness off the edge, but he’s never really developed into the pass rusher Indianapolis envisioned when they signed him away from Green Bay. You can see both his quickness, and his lack of bend/ability to flatten to the quarterback quickly on this sack of Winston.
Gets upfield in a hurry, but can’t bend the edge even on a hellacious pass set by Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith. Nice acceleration to finish the play when Winston turns back towards him attempting to escape however. Walden is really active as a run defender too, with nine tackles for loss on the season.
Mathis is 34, but he can still rush the passer and turn the corner with ease. In his prime, Mathis’ first step was one of the best in football, and his bend is nearly unrivaled. Still got it too.
Just a gorgeous play to win the edge and dip to the quarterback. Marcus Gilbert will need to be on his toes when Mathis is on the field in pass rush situations.
With rookie Henry Anderson lost for the season due to injury, Kendall Langford is now the unquestioned leader of the Colts defensive line. One of the more underrated players at his position in the league, Langford does everything at a high level, and brings much needed quickness to the Colts interior d-line as a pass rusher.
Quickness off the ball, then the ability to win with the swim move cleanly. Langford has notched six tackles for loss in the run game to go along with three sacks this season. He’s dwarfing the rest of the Colts defensive line in snap counts, remaining on the field over 75 percent of the time.
The next closest interior defensive lineman is rookie David Parry, who is a great space eater in the middle of the Colts defense. A squatty nose tackle with great power and leverage, Parry’s prowess is typically confined to the run game, as he’s never been much of a pass rusher. Billy Winn replaced Anderson in the starting lineup bookending Langford, but isn’t nearly the pass rushing threat his partner is.
As I mentioned before, Lowery has scarcely missed a snap this season, leading the Colts defense in usage at 98.6 percent. Vontae Davis is the team’s shutdown corner, playing over 90 percent of the time. He’ll likely draw Antonio Brown in coverage on Sunday, looking to avenge last year’s shredding at the hands of Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh receiving corps. He’s quick and physical, and takes one-on-one matchups very personally. Should be a fun one to watch.
Lowery isn’t very big or athletic, but makes up for his physical limitations with instincts and ball skills. He and Mike Adams, who should return from injury on Sunday, have four and five interceptions respectively this season, playing huge roles in the 14 picks Indianapolis has managed to snag this season as a unit (T-3rd in NFL). Lowery just reads and reacts well to the football in coverage, which Marcus Mariota found out the hard way in Week 3.
Lowery is really stiff and slow in coverage however, and I would make him turn and run with receivers all day. He’s ok moving top-down on the football, but asking Lowery to make plays on the ball vertically is not his strong suit.
Adams and he have made some insane grabs for interceptions, but out of the nine combined picks, two were desperation heave overthrows, six were tipped passes, and the remaining one was the aforementioned swipe by Lowery. So numbers are a bit deceiving for sure.
Greg Toler is the other starting corner, with questionable long speed and limited ability in the air. I think he’s played well in years past, but I haven’t been impressed watching him this season. Smart corner with solid movement skills, but vertically he gets exposed. Darius Butler is a solid nickel corner with good quickness and athleticism, as well as a strong knowledge of Chuck Pagano’s defense, an important trait for any slot corner.
Pat McAfee is my favorite punter in the NFL, simply because of the fact that he will lay people out when given the opportunity. He’s also one of the best, booming kicks for an average of 49.1 yards per punt (1st in the NFL), including landing 17 inside the opposing 20. Hasn’t had one blocked since 2013. Alex will cover this more in-depth than I probably, but McAfee also has run once on a fake this season for 18 yards a first down. Something to watch out for.