This year, Matthew Sottile and I will break down the opposing team’s defense in our weekly scouting report. Like last year, I will be looking at the opposing team in a more broad, scheme-approach. Matthew will have a closer eye on the individual players.
Today, the Indianapolis Colts’ defense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Colts’ Front Seven
The defense has been average to below average as a whole and their run defense is in that latter category. They’ve given up 34 runs of 10+ yards, tied for 5th most, and five of 20+, which is middle of the road. The run defense has allowed 4.5 YPC, tied for 5th most in the league.
They’re a base 3-4 team. David Parry, #54, is their nose tackle who plays the one tech for them. Arthur Jones, who is playing the most often for them along that defensive line, at RDE, is also their 3 tech in sub-package football. Rookie Hassan Ridgeway got the started at LDE a week ago.
Zach Kerr played a decent amount for them last season but is a rotational piece right now. The same applies for end T.Y. McGill.
It’s a style similar to Pittsburgh. Lot of two-gapping, hold the point of attack, more emphasis on size and strength, though of course, the Steelers have a much more talented, athletic bunch.
D’Qwell Jackson leads the bunch at linebacker, just as he’s done at basically every stop prior in his career. He leads them with 67 total tackles, leading the team, and 47 solo, which is ranked second. He’s logged the most snaps of anyone on this Colts’ defense.
When they are in their base defense, second year linebacker Edwin Jackson slides in next to Jackson.
The Colts have 22 sacks this year with 16 from their linebackers. Erik Walden is the man leading that charge with eight sacks, tied for 7th in the NFL. He’s also forced two fumbles. Robert Mathis is opposite, a cagey veteran as ever. You have to worry about his spin move, as Mike Tomlin pointed out, but Walden has a sick spin move too. Burned Jack Conklin for a sack a week ago.
Two things to understand about this secondary for tonight.
1. They may have two key players out.
2. They love sub-packages.
That first statement is going to have an impact on the second. Starting safety Clayton Geathers is definitely out with a concussion. He’s having a terrific season, had led the team with 50 solo tackles, and someone I really liked coming out of UCF. It’s a big loss. Vontae Davis has a hamstring injury and seems iffy to play and if he does, will not be at full health. He can line up all over the field, including the slot, and his loss would be a big one who could match up Antonio Brown as well as you can hope for.
Geathers is another versatile piece. Like I said, they love sub-packages and often move to a 2-3-6 with Geathers sliding down as the inside linebacker.
I’m going to assume rookie safety T.J. Green will replace Geathers, starting opposite Mike Adams, while Darius Butler should help replace Davis.
Rashaan Melvin should start at LCB while Patrick Robinson should get most of the work in the slot. Melvin is a journeymen and playing well.
To the numbers. They have given up the 10th most passes of 20+ yards but are 11th best in 40+ with just five. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 66% of their passes, 6th worst, and the 7th worst in YPA of 7.7.
Their 19 touchdowns are tied for the 7th most and they are tied for last in interceptions with just three. One by Davis, who may not play, and two by Butler.
Their third down defense is the 11th worst of 41.3% while their red zone defense is much better, tied for 12th best at a 52.8% touchdown clip.
Coverage wise, I feel like I have a good feel for things. There are two predominant coverages: Cover 1 and Cover 2. They are mostly a man-to-man defense, either straight Cover 1 or Cover 1 Robber, the latter having one deep middle of the field safety and another robbing any underneath routes.
They’ll play quarters in some obvious passing situations (end of half), and some 2 Man, too. Lot of man coverage so guys are going to have to win their matchups.
That Cover 1 is paired with a lot of their blitz packages, which often had Geathers blitzing from his inside linebacker spot. Will have five and six man pressures.
Colts’ Special Teams
While punter/kickoff specialist Pat McAfee has a big leg and can create a touchback on a whim, he may not this week. All five of his kicks last week against the Tennessee Titans were returned and landed ahead of the end zone and McAfee is a great directional kicker. Ball always in the middle of the field and he can put the ball to either side, left or ride.
TE Jack Doyle and RB Robert Turbin are the wings on punts. Geathers is usually the guy as the upback but he’s been ruled out so it’ll be interesting to see who they replace him with.
I saw Jordan Todman and Matthias Farley as gunners.
Matthew’s Individual Report
You should be well on your way into a food coma (or at least preparing for one), but if not, I’m glad you’re reading this. You know who else is thankful this holiday season? The Pittsburgh Steelers, since they take on the league’s worst rated defense, the Indianapolis Colts. Now, you all remember the past two meetings, as Ben Roethlisberger and company put up astonishing numbers- this one, however, is on the road. That being said, the Colts’ defense has struggled to say the least, as the Steelers’ offense looks to whip into top gear. Let’s look at the defensive culprits.
In fear of sounding like a broken record, I’ll just momentarily mention that the Colts’ defense plays a traditional “3-4” base defense, but does deploy the nickel and dime quite often. The front line is anchored by David Parry, who unhappily dawns the worst individual defensive grade on the entire team; you know issues exist when the player who should be the team’s heartbeat is getting beat-up worse than the turkeys of today.
He’s asked to clog up the a gaps, but does so extremely poorly and is routinely knocked around by opposing centers and guards. It seems as though the offensive line’s display last week may have been the appetizer to this week’s main course. Ha, zing! Ok, I’ll stop with the Thanksgiving Day references. It’s not like this is an off year for Parry either, as he’s struggled in both facets of the game since entering the league out of Stanford in 2015.
On either side of Parry are Henry Anderson and Arthur Jones. Starting with Jones, we see a player who flashes potential from time-to-time; he does come from an athletically gifted family, being brothers with former UFC heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones and Chandler Jones. Outside of 2013, he’s graded negatively against the pass and the run, and this year is no different- he hasn’t had a positively graded game all season. It can be said that it’s a domino effect, though, as it’s tough to play incredibly well when the players around you are struggling this much.
Anderson is one of only a handful of defensive players to receive a positive grade, via Pro Football Focus. He missed the first two games of the season, and started hot against the San Diego Chargers. Since then, he’s slowly declined each and every week- does the pattern continue this week against the Steelers? His strengths lie against the pass; even though he’s recorded no sacks yet, he has a combined 9 quarterback hits and hurries.
Moving onto the linebackers, we’ll start with the edge rushers- the “ageless” Robert Mathis, and the struggling Erik Walden. Starting with Mathis, it’s obvious that he too, is struggling. He’s graded positive in the pass-rushing category each season since entering the league in 2006, but is in jeopardy of breaking that pattern this year. He’s wracked up only 3 quarterback sacks, but does lead the team (by a large margin) in the hurry category with 16- he’s at the very least disrupting the quarterback’s vision and release.
It’ll be interesting to see if Pittsburgh’s tackles are able to give Ben the time he needs to find the plethora of weapons he has. Take a look below for the potential Mathis still demonstrates at times. He lines up over left tackle Taylor Lewan, standing up as opposed to fingers in the ground (which is something he’s become more accustomed to). Marcus Mariota takes the snap in shotgun, but isn’t quick enough to avoid the churning legs of Mathis. He puts a finesse spin (again, something he’s learning to do more in his older age, as he was primarily a bull rushing tech), and gets to Mariota in under 2.3 seconds.
Walden has done enough to warrant a starting role throughout his career- to say any more would be Mike Tomlin-type hype. His season has been all over the map, as his strengths are solely focused in the category of coverage. He’s a speedy linebacker for his 6’2” 238 pound frame, whose capable of sticking to tight ends as need be.
D’Qwell Jackson and Edwin Jackson hold down the center. The Jacksons are used in very different ways; D’Qwell leads the team in defensive snaps with 623, whereas Edwin has been fighting injuries etc. and has only suited up for 4 contests thus far. D’Qwell is the Lawrence Timmons of the Colts’ defense (whether you love/hate it), but has been struggling like crazy in the air (in addition to pass rushing and the run).
D’Qwell is routinely taken for rides, and the stat line of one of his worst games (against the Chicago Bears) is more of a commonality than an anomaly: 4 receptions on 4 targets for 49 yards, allowing a quarterback rating of 117.7 and a 100% completion rate. Could this be the game the Steelers finally incorporate Ladarius Green into the offense?
Edwin’s young career has had its ups and downs. He had his worst game against the Tennessee Titans, so it’s possible he continues the trend into tonight’s matchup. If he does have a strong suit (which every player does), it’s in the air- I guess it’s a nice compliment to D’Qwell’s immense struggles.
The secondary is where the defense’s strengths are- an interesting combination, though, that really speaks to their talents; it’s difficult to have a good secondary when the pass rush is just so gosh-darned bad. I’m sorry, did I strike a nerve there? Anyways, the Colts may be without their best two defensive backs anyways, as cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Clayton Geathers didn’t practice on this short week.
Thus, the corners will consist of Patrick Robinson, Rashaan Melvin (who has been battling a back injury), and Darius Butler. If history means anything, I wouldn’t really want to be an Indianapolis Colt defensive back this week.
Outside of Darius Butler, all the team’s cornerbacks have graded negatively this far into the season, which includes Patrick Robinson. His worst game, like many of his teammates, came against the Bears as well- he allowed a mindblowing 8 receptions on 9 targets for a total of 138 yards and a touchdown, ultimately allowing a quarterback rating of 155.8. 155.8! In addition to struggling with just about everything, it seems that height is his biggest enemy- the receiver that did the most damage that night wasn’t Alshon Jeffrey, but instead second year receiver Cameron Meredith, whose statline against Robinson of 4 for 4, 73 yards and a score jump off the chart. He’s 6’+, and is a speedy receiver who regularly stretches the field vertically.
Rashaan Melvin is the so-so, quiet defensive back on the team. He gets targeted quite often, which is a plus for him that he’s not so far into the negative grade. Last week was his worst game against the Titans, allowing 7 receptions on 11 targets for 54 yards and a batted ball- he allowed a quarterback rating of 75.6 when thrown at.
The above mentioned Butler has held his own this far into the season (in relation to his counterparts). Last week saw him allow all 3 targets for 39 yards. It’ll be clear they’re missing Vontae, who by far is the team’s best defender.
Finally, the safeties will consist of Mike Adams and T.J. Green. With Vontae out, Adams is the team’s best defender, grading positively thus far. In addition to solid coverage, he offers great run support; he has over 40 tackles and 7 of those behind the line of scrimmage. His career has been a rocky one, flipping back and forth between good and bad, but this year seems to be a positive one for the 10 year veteran.
The rookie T.J. Green will be a wildcard, as he hasn’t much experience. He has, however, recorded quite a few snaps. That being said, he’s the team’s worst aerial defender, recording the low individual grade in this category. During his worst game, against the Green Bay Packers, he allowed 7 receptions on 9 targets for 76 yards, allowing a rating of 101.9 when throw at.
It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the Steelers’ offense, as pass-catchers are at a premium. We can see him struggle a bit last week, as he missed an assignment and got caught up in the play to allow a 3 yard touchdown reception to Demarco Murray. Number 32 (Green) starts on the LOS. He mistakenly takes the crossing receiver, who was already covered by Butler. By the time he realizes his mistake, it’s 6 for Murray and the Titans. This could be a big deciding factor on the goalline and short yardage situations.
One of my personal favorites, punter Pat McAfee has boomed 40 balls, averaging 50.3 with a long of 74. Thirteen of those were inside of the 20 yard line, with 14 being returned. Conversely, opposing teams have punted 39 times for an average of 47.7 yads with a long of 78! Of those 39, 16 were inside the 20 yard line and 16 were returned- those went for an average of 6.4 yards. Of the opponent’s returned balls, they went for an average of 9.5 yards and a long of 28. Remembering Antonio Brown’s punt return last year against these Colts, is there room to exploit their special teams again for 6 points?
Here’s to wishing everybody a Happy Thanksgiving! I for one, will be watching the game with a Colts fan and some extended football family- so eat, drink, and be merry!