Stanford In The Middle: Rookies Revamp The Indianapolis Colts Run Defense

The Indianapolis Colts defense is fresh off its best performance against the run this season, holding the Houston Texans to 82 yards on the ground in a Week 5 victory. Brian Filipiak looks at the rookies revamping the Colts run defense.

Operating with a completely new starting defensive line, the Colts much-maligned run defense from a year ago has received a significant boost from two rookies from Stanford: defensive end Henry Anderson (3rd round) and nose tackle David Parry (5th round).

In the off-season, Indianapolis moved on from veteran defensive end Cory Redding as well as a trio of defensive lineman – Josh Chapman, Montori Hughes and Ricky Jean Francois – that all started at least one game for the Colts in 2014. The team scooped up defensive end Kendall Langford in free agency, but later lost defensive tackle Arthur Jones for the year because of an ankle injury suffered in pre-season.

Indianapolis turned to the pair of rookies to round out the defensive line along with Langford within the teams 3-4 base defense. And, so far, the former Cardinal standouts have answered the bell, helping the Colts run defense hold opponents to 3.8 yards per carry through five games, a stark improvement over last seasons 4.3 average. That number drops to just under 3.5 yards per carry after removing runs credited to quarterbacks and wide receivers.

NT David Parry

At 6-foot-2 and 310-pounds, the compactly built Parry plays with a low center of gravity, making him difficult to move once anchored, even when opposed by double-teams. But the stout defender has displayed more than just the ability to consume blocks at the point of attack:

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Immensely strong and quicker than he looks, Parry, who has played around 56% of the Colts defensive snaps, can re-set the line of scrimmage to cause disruption in the backfield and has the short area agility to move laterally and close in on the ball carrier.

Most recently against the Texans, the rookie nose tackle put a stop to an outside zone run, delivering a textbook tackle in the hole on running back Arian Foster:

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Showing excellent balance on the play, Parry dismisses the tough angle down block by right guard Brandon Brooks (#79) with ease and quickly shuffles down the line of scrimmage to fill the nearest cutback lane. The defender explodes through the crease and drives Foster to the ground for a loss.

He may not have the typical bulk of a 3-4 NFL nose tackle, but Parry has nonetheless thrived in the role, providing stability at a position that has seen a merry-go-round of players come and go.

DE Henry Anderson

Long and lean, the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Anderson – one of our sleeper picks leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft – has been a revelation against the run. The defender has the size and strength to take on multiple blocks at the point of attack, but also possesses a quick first step when shooting a gap, making him a disruptive force in the backfield:

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Accumulating 25 tackles (17 solo, 8 assisted) through five games, Anderson has been a stalwart along the defensive line, playing in 78% of the snaps to lead the position group through the first four weeks. The rookie has contributed to 16 run stops that resulted in two yards or less, with 13 of those going for no gain (6) or a loss (7).

Against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, Anderson showed off his strength at the point of attack, fending off a series of blocks to assist on the tackle:

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Off the snap, Anderson slants toward the perimeter to avoid the help block from the left tackle. He proceeds to engage the tight end and beats him toward the inside. There, Anderson is met by the fullback in the hole. In one swift motion, the defender takes on the block and collapses on the ball carrier.

Teaming Up

Despite the highlights above, stopping the run is rarely a one-man show. On the play below from Week 4, the rookie tandem team up to take down Jacksonville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon in the backfield:

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First, Parry slips the down block from right guard A.J. Cann (#60) with a swim move and gains penetration into the backfield. Although unable to make the stop, Parry does spill Yeldon outside. From there, Anderson finishes the play,using his long arms to lockout center Stefen Wisniewski (#61) before shrugging off the block to complete a one arm tackle on the ball carrier.

New Cast, New Run Defense?

The overhaul in personnel across the defensive line has paid dividends thus far for the Colts, with Anderson, Parry, and Langford leading the way. The trade for defensive end Billy Winn has provided a solid rotational depth player behind the starting corps, and inside linebacker Nate Irving – signed in free agency – brings a much-needed run thumper from the second level.

The Colts run defense may have a ways to go before fully removing the softlabel that has been magnified by the multiple playoff thrashings by New England Patriots running backs over the past two seasons. And, lo and behold, here come the Patriots once again in a Week 6 matchup. But the tape reveals an Indianapolis unit that has, without a doubt, improved against the run, largely because of the quick development of two Stanford rookies in the middle.

Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.

Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense,  how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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