As we have been for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Looking at the Indianapolis Colts’ offense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Colts’ Run Game
Unlike the Steelers, the Colts are certain to have their top backs available for this weekend. Marlon Mack leads the group with Jaylen Samuels‘ NC State teammate Nyheim Hines as his backup. Mack is having a good year, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. They’re a little below average in explosive runs, 19 that’ve gained at least ten yards, which is tied for 19th in football.
Schematically, they like to get their top linemen, left guard Quenton Nelson, on the move. Some traditional pulls and fold blocks, which is the guard and adjacent linemen trading responsibilities. Here’s an example of what I mean. Center down blocks the 1T, center pulls around and works to the MIKE.
They can also run Duo with double-team blocks in their man blocking scheme and mix in inside zone too. Fairly varied run game. It’s a solid front five, which Josh will talk about more in his section of the Colts’ report.
They don’t have a fullback but utilize their tight ends to go heavy and create movement in the run game.
One random note. Colts tend to have pretty big splits between right guard and right tackle. Couldn’t delve far enough into tendencies off that but had it in my notes and wanted to pass it along.
Some other offensive stats. They function well on third down (45.2%, 10th in NFL), and are one of the best teams in the red zone. Finding the goal line 2/3 of the time, third in the league.
Colts’ Pass Game
No Andrew Luck but being “the guy” isn’t new for Jacoby Brissett, who has played really well this season. Completing 64% of his passes, 14 touchdowns to only three picks, and just 11 sacks on the season. Excellent numbers across the board. What he’s doing in the red zone is even more remarkable. One of the NFL’s best and catalyst behind why they’re doing so well inside the 20.
As usual, TY Hilton is their top wideout and really the only wide receiver producing. Not as many big plays as you’d come to expect, he’s averaging just 11.3 yards per reception (he’s been at or above 15.9 YPR the previous five years) but Hilton has found the end zone five times. Had six all of last season. Showed up on the injury report and as of this writing, trending in the wrong direction, so his absence would be a massive loss for the offense. No other WR on the roster has more than 14 receptions.
But they make up for it with their tight ends. Kinda like Baltimore where they have so many guys on the depth chart who get involved. Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, and Mo Allie-Cox (a former basketball player, as I’m sure Sunday’s broadcast will remind you 73 times) have combined to put up these numbers: 41 receptions, 480 yards, and four touchdowns. Ebron is averaging 14.5 yards per reception, second most of any TE in football, only trailing the Titans’ Jonnu Smith.
One thing I noticed is their affinity to use empty sets, a formation the Steelers have struggled to defend consistently for several years now. With their o-line protecting well, they have no issue in spreading the field horizontally and creating one-on-one matchups.
Varied passing game but you get a lot of “Hank” concepts with the tight ends. An over the ball route typically run at a depth of five yards. If it’s open, they’ll hit it. If not, they’re reading the defender squeezing the Hank and throwing off it. So if the weak hook defender steps down on it, Brissett will throw to that side and the vacated space.
Try to give their QB easier reads with mirrored routes out of 2×2 formations.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Colts week, Steelers fans!
Coming off a good win at home on Monday night against the Miami Dolphins, the Pittsburgh Steelers have to turn around on a short week to take on a physical football team in the visiting Indianapolis Colts Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
After star quarterback Andrew Luck shockingly retired a week before the start of the 2019 season, many seemingly jumped off the bandwagon of the Colts because backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett elevated into the role of starting quarterback under head coach Frank Reich.
Since Luck’s retirement, the Colts have looked darn good week after week, running the ball consistently while hooking up on the occasional big play through the air.
With Brissett pulling the trigger offensively, this offense has become more conservative and ball-control oriented. That’s not a knock on Brissett or the Colts at all. This is a great offense that is smart, consistent and doesn’t make many mistakes.
That style of play has to be attributed to the hog mollies up front. Honestly, this might be the best offensive line in football, led by superstar guard Quenton Nelson. Nelson is an All-Pro guard that is already on a Hall of Fame trajectory just two years into his NFL career.
Left to right, I expect the Colts to line up like this on Sunday at Heinz Field:
LT — Anthony Costanzo
LG — Quenton Nelson
C — Ryan Kelly
RG — Mark Glowinski
RT — Braden Smith
Nelson is as good as it gets in the NFL, while Kelly and Glowinski provide a tremendous duo opposite Nelson, allowing the Colts to dominate inside in the run game and in pass protection. On the edges, Costanzo and Smith are very solid and consistent in the run and pass. Smith was a guard that kicked outside last season. He’s handled the transition very well, while Costanzo shook off the injury bug and struggles with Luck in the pocket to give the Colts a steady left tackle once again.
The unit up front is the key cog in the engine that is the Colts’ offense. Without a dominate unit up front, the Colts aren’t able to lean heavily on the run game and the mid-range passing attack that allows them to control the ball and keep opposing offenses off the field.
With Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins in the backfield, the Colts have a very good trio to rely on when pounding the rock. Mack has emerged as a high-end running back in today’s game thanks to his vision and speed. He’s become very patient this year, allowing him to let plays develop and then rip off big chunk plays for Indianapolis.
Here against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5 at Arrowhead, Mack got the Colts off to a fast start on the way to an eventual road win. Look at the way he picks his way behind the line, breaks a tackle in the process, and then rips off a 30-yard gain to put the Colts into the red zone.
This is common with Mack this year. He’s so darn quick and can get up to top speed in a hurry, allowing him to be a bit more patient behind the line of scrimmage.
With the trio of Mack, Hines, and Wilkins, all three bring something different to the Colts, which allows them to be a well-rounded backfield. With Mack, you get the speed, power and vision. With Hines, you get the speed, trickery and pass-catching ability, while Wilkins provides the thunder.
It’s a tough backfield to deal with.
Especially when Hines comes in to change things up and wreaks havoc through the air.
Hines is so dangerous with the football in his hands. That’s a big reason the Colts went out of their way to grab him in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL draft of North Carolina State. Hines is just 22 years old, but he’s a Darren Sproles-like talent with the football in his hands.
This is a simple dumpoff from Brissett late in the first half designed to get the football out early to Hines in space. The diminutive back does the rest, spinning out of a tackle almost as soon as he catches the football before then picking up 18 yards on the play, inching the Colts closer to field goal range.
Aside from taking simple swing routes out of the backfield, Reich and the Colts will move Hines all over the formation and get him into space.
Lined up far right as a receiver, the Colts send Hines in motion to bring him into an offset formation in tight to the line of scrimmage. At the snap, Hines is able to use the release by Zach Pascal to get underneath the play, allowing him to work wide open on the crossing route. It’s a simple read and throw for Brissett, which winds up gaining 13 yards.
Outside of the backfield the Colts have a quietly, yet productive receiving corps behind star TY Hilton.
Hilton wins in a lot of ways, but mainly through footwork and short area explosion. He can create separation in a hurry.
Not only is this a masterful job by Brissett to avoid Von Miller in the end zone for a potential safety, this is an incredible throw by Brissett. However, not a lot of people are talking about the job Hilton does on this play.
He’s able to see Brissett scrambling and immediately breaks to the sideline, leaving the Houston cornerback in the dust. That separation allows Hilton to focus on catching the football and getting his feet down, rather than worrying about taking a shot too.
This was the play of the week in Week 8 and says a lot about not only Brissett and his talents, but Hilton’s ability to get open in a phone booth.
Pascal, Chester Rogers and Parris Campbell provide depth and some explosion. Pascal has really developed into a solid No. 2 wide receiver for Brissett, while Rogers has emerged as a reliable slot guy for the Colts to turn to. Deon Cain is a big bodied receiver that is still trying to feel his way through the league this year, but don’t sleep on him. He can get deep and take the top off of a defense and can also win the contested catch on the outside.
Reich and the Colts love to scheme things up to help guys win, so you’ll see quite a few Yankee concepts from the Colts on Sunday.
That’s a variation of the Yankee concept there between Hilton and Pascal coming out of the slots, working in a rub in the middle of the field to create separation for both receivers. Brissett could have completed the pass to both guys, but chose Hilton.
At tight end, Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron get a ton of work in the passing game with Brissett. Currently they’re the No. 2 and No. 3 leading receivers on the Colts. Brissett loves to work the flats and the short middle of the field with the tight end duo, so pay attention to that on Sunday.
On special teams, veteran kicker and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri has really struggled this year with consistency, but he’s also nailed some massive kicks for the Colts. He’s missed 4 field goals and 3 extra points on the year, so don’t be surprised if he misses a kick or two on Sunday in the elements.
Punter Rigoberto Sanchez is having a solid year for Indianapolis, averaging more than 45 yards a punt while dropping 32 percent of his punts (8-of-25) inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Pascal is the primary kick returner, but with Campbell healthy, we could see the former Ohio State dynamo returning kicks and punts this weekend. If not, Pascal will handle the duties on kick returns, while Rogers will return punts. Neither is dynamic in the return game, but with a team like the Colts all you need is a solid, steady returner that holds onto the football.
Interesting note: special teams coach Ray “Bubba” Ventrone is a Pittsburgh-area native and the older brother of former Steelers special teams ace Ross Ventrone.