As we’ve been doing 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.
Today, we’re breaking down the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive attack.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Colts’ Rushing Attack
Spearheaded by rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, whose come on strong lately. He’s run for 80+ yards in four straight games, over 90 in three, and hit 150 two weeks ago against the Las Vegas Raiders.
His 4.6 yards per carry is much better than the team average of 4.1, which ranks 21st in the league. As a team, they have 16 rushing touchdowns, ranking in the top half in the league. And they’re doing a remarkable job of taking care of the football. In total, all offensive plays, they’ve fumbled just six times this season. Only one of those came on a run play. So doing a really good job protecting the football.
As a team, they have 52 runs gaining 10+ yards. That’s eighth in the league this season. Fewer double explosive runs; just seven that’ve gone for 20+ yards, which ranks 20th in football. But overall, it’s a potent rushing attack. Nyheim Hines works behind Taylor as the passing down back. We’ll talk about him in the pass scheme/game section below.
You’ve heard of short-yardage RBs. How about short-yardage QBs? That’s Jacoby Brissett. Three rushing TDs this season, all one or two yards out. Two on QB sneaks, the other on an option play.
Schematically, inside zone/split zone is the dominant scheme. They have very good size at TE, especially Mo Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle, to cut or kick out the EMOL on their split zone runs.
This is a great example of a wham block. Comes in the first quarter last week against the Houston Texans. Have the TE down block the DT while the linemen immediately climbs to the second level. Watch the DT fall forward here off the snap, expecting the block but it doesn’t come. Makes the TE’s life really easy here.
Some other offensive stats. Colts’ offense is 8th in points per game, sitting at 28.5. They’ve scored at least 26+ points in six straight games. Over that span, they have 30+ in three. They’ve scored 30+ points in five of their last nine games.
As I wrote above, they’re taking care of the football. That’s reflected in their turnover/turnover differential numbers. Just 12 turnovers this season, third fewest, and their TO differential is +12, which is tied with the Titans for tops in the league.
For as much offensive production as they’ve put up, they’re not a tremendous situational football team. Below average on both third down (40.2% – 23rd) and red zone (58.5% – 20th).
Colts’ Passing Attack
Philip Rivers comes over by way of the Chargers for the first season of his NFL career. He’s having a quality season. His 68.7% rate is the second highest of his career with a solid 22:9 TD to INT ratio. Similar to Ben Roethlisberger, he gets the ball out quick. 2.51 seconds according to NextGen stats, fourth quickest in football. Rivers has been sacked just 14 times this season. 2.8% of the time, which is the lowest of his career and the only QB with a lower rate than Roethlisberger.
As a team, and this is reflective of Rivers’ numbers by and large, the Colts are 9th in YPA (7.6). So they’re pushing the ball downfield. 50 completions of 20+ yards, tied for 6th most, with seven completions of 40+ yards, which is tied for 13th.
Running back Nyheim Hines leads the team with 53 receptions and he’s second in targets, only trailing TY Hilton, with 65. Teammates with Jaylen Samuels at NC State, Hines is what the team envisioned Samuels would be. Hines and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara are the only two backs in football to lead their team in receptions.
They have three excellent tight ends. Potentially the top TE trio in the game. Alie-Cox, Doyle, and Trey Burton have combined for 71 receptions, 790 yards (11.1 YPC) and eight touchdowns this year. At receiver, they have plenty of big-play ability. TY Hilton has burned Pittsburgh before while Zach Pascal is averaging 13.4 yards per catch. All told, they have five different Colts at 12+ YPC. Compare that to the Steelers, who only have two (Chase Claypool and James Washington).
Yankee is a popular concept they run that could exploit the Steelers’ Cover 3, where they’ve had trouble passing off and matching this post/over route combination.
And they like to stress corners and safeties with “smash” a high-low read for the QB with a corner/flat combo. Mirrored to each side here for the score to Hilton.
One last note. If the Colts get into an end-of-half/end-of-game situation, they’ll likely turn back to Brissett as their Hail Mary thrower. He’s been put in one such situation this year at the end of the first half against the Ravens.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Indianapolis Colts week, Pittsburgh Steelers fans!
A Merry Christmas to all! Hopefully the Steelers give us fans the gift of a win on Sunday at Heinz Field.
That will be a tall task though at the moment, considering how the Steelers are playing currently.
Into town rides a physical, well-coached Colts team under the direction of Phillip Rivers and head coach Frank Reich. This is a well-rounded team that is balanced offensively with a power rushing attack and the ability to be quick-strike through the air, or ball control.
Rivers looks like his arm is nearly shot, but he’s taking care of the football in the last few months and hitting some throws down the field that have loosened up defenses, which bodes well for the rushing attack.
That rushing attack starts with thunder in rookie Jonathan Taylor and adds a dash of lighting in Nyheim Hines, giving the Colts a standout duo in the backfield under offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.
Taylor has really taken off in the last month or so, getting downhill in a hurry with the football and dishing some punishment.
He’s been really good as of late of making guys miss early in the run, setting himself up for a big run in the process.
That’s just a fantastic job from Taylor, making a man miss in the backfield before then rolling downhill to move the chains. He’s really provided some great play to the Colts’ offense in the last month.
Hines really worries me come Sunday. He reminds me so much of Darren Sproles and has taken off with Rivers in the backfield. Hines has some decent power, but some incredible burst and great contact balance for a back his size.
Add in the hands and he’s a true dual-threat back for the Colts.
Speaking of dual threat, Taylor has really emerged in recent weeks as a pass catching back. The Colts aren’t doing anything super creative with him, but he’s creating well with the football in his hands.
It helps when a veteran quarterback can identify a blitz quickly and get the ball out into space to the talent around him.
Again, not anything super impressive, but the fact that they trust Taylor in these types of situations is quite the development for the Wisconsin product. This type of play is something that worries me for Sunday, considering the Steelers are arguably the most aggressive defense in the NFL.
When not leaning on the running backs, Rivers has shown he has some life left in that right arm of his.
It helps that the Colts have gotten TY Hilton back on track in the last month.
Hilton went nine games this year without a touchdown. In his last four games Hilton has found the end zone four times and has started to look like peak TY Hilton.
Credit to the Colts for getting him on track by scheming to get him more involved, especially through mesh routes.
This mesh concept here frees Hilton up to slip through to the left side wide open, where Rivers hits him in stride for the touchdown.
It’s not that Hilton still needs help getting open. He just needs some help occasionally, and the Colts have provided that help.
Hilton still has the speed and route running ability, and Raiders safety Johnathan Abram found out the hard way. Credit to Rivers too for still having the arm to make this throw while taking a hit.
Aside from Hilton, I really like rookie Michael Pittman and veteran Zach Pascal. Pittman is the physical freak for the position who is more of the possession guy, while Pascal can hit the home run and is a strong route runner.
At tight end, the Colts have a great trio in Jack Doyle, Trey Burton, and Mo Alie-Cox. Doyle is a true dual-threat tight end who is a strong blocker and a good route runner. Burton is the most athletic of the group. He finds himself open often and even dabbles in some trick plays. Alie-Cox is the physical specimen at tight end who is a mismatch for anyone on the field.
Doyle was added to the injury report Thursday and didn’t practice due to a quad injury, so keep an eye on that ahead of kickoff.
This offense runs behind an elite offensive line.
Indianapolis should get back Anthony Costanzo this week, giving the unit a tremendous boost against an elite pass rush. Here’s how I expect them to line up left to right on Sunday:
LT — Anthony Costanzo
LG — Quenton Nelson
C — Ryan Kelly
RG — Mark Glowinski
RT — Braden Smith
Nelson is far and away the best guard in football, while Costanzo has played some great football in the last two years at left tackle, bouncing back from a rough stretch.
I really like Smith at right tackle. He shifted out from guard two years ago and has settled in nicely. Glowinski has found life at guard in the Colts’ system, while Kelly is quietly one of the top centers in football.
On special teams, rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship has quickly become one of the better kickers in football. He has a massive leg, is very accurate, and has become a national spectacle with his athletic spectacles.
Punter Rigoberto Sanchez returned last week following surgery for cancer and looked good in limited action. It helps that the Colts don’t punt much.
Isaiah Rogers is the kick returner and he has some serious burst to his game. He already has a kick return for a touchdown this year against Cleveland, and is averaging a strong 29 yards per return.
Hines handles the punt return duties. Hines brings some wiggle to the game and is averaging just under 10 yards per punt return.