Indianapolis (6-3) hosts New England (7-2) on Sunday night, and the Colts defense will try to slow down the Patriots passing attack. Mark Schofield has reviewed the film and breaks down how the innovative coverages, willingness to double-cover wide receivers, and struggles against tight ends form the basis of a game plan for Tom Brady.
In Part 1, we saw how the Colts efficient use interlocking coverage schemes to confuse opposing quarterbacks. Rolling coverages, combining concepts and mixing man and zone looks are staples of the Indianapolis defensive playbook. In Part 2, we explore how the Colts might attempt to cover Tom Brady‘s preferred target, Julian Edelman.
Attention to Star Receivers
Indianapolis used Cover 6 in their Week 1 matchup against Denver in an effort to curtail talented Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. With the offense facing 1st and 5, Peyton Manning settles under center and begins waving his arms like a he is afflicted by wrackspurts, while yelling “OMAHA!” at his 12 personnel group on the field. Thomas is in a stack slot to the left (circled in white). The Colts base defense is on the field and the secondary shows Cover 6:
As covered in Part 1, Cover 6 splits the field, with two defensive backs using Cover 2 concepts on their side of the field ‒ a cornerback in the flat and the safety covering a deep half of the field ‒ while on the opposite side the defenders play Cover 4, with each responsible for a deep quarter.
In this case, the Colts apply the Cover 2 concept to the left side of the Broncos alignment ‒ over the stack slot. As the ball is snapped Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders execute vertical releases into the secondary. The CB over Thomas recognizes the outside move and stays with him deep, as required in Cover 2.
Sanders is running a post route, drawing the attention of the safety responsible for the deep half of the field. As a result Thomas finds space for his out-and-up route but Manning’s throw is short, the only reason this play does not result in a touchdown:
That’s how to throw on Cover 2. The Colts utilize Cover 6 on this play in an effort to confuse Manning and provide safety help over Thomas. But recognizing the coverage, Manning is able to find the safety, determine his intentions and deliver the ball to the receiver with the best matchup. The dual vertical routes from Thomas and Sanders work to hold the safety in place, allowing one of them an advantageous matchup on his route.
The previous play is an example of how Indianapolis is not afraid to double cover talented wide receivers ‒ even if it’s not the intended receiver. This next play is one more instance of a coverage rolled toward Demaryius Thomas. Manning is under center, again flapping his arms like deranged turkey, and Denver has 12 personnel on the field. Thomas is split wide to the left. The Colts have their base defense on the field and they use Cover 1 on this play:
The wrinkle here is the play from the free safety. Rather than start in the middle of the field and read the QB, LaRon Landry begins the play shaded over Thomas and provides direct assistance to CB Vontae Davis:
With Thomas bracketed, Manning finds Sanders on an out route against the Cover 4 side of the field.
Cover 6, Again
Indianapolis also used Cover 6 to provide an extra defender over Baltimore’s Steve Smith. On this play the Ravens face 1st and 10 and Joe Flacco is under center with 12 personnel on the field. Smith is aligned to the left of the formation (circled in purple). The Colts have their base defense on the field and show Cover 6:
As the ball is snapped the safety circled in black will break further to the outside to provide assistance over Smith:
Despite employing a mix of coverages and shading players over talented opponents, the Colts defense is vulnerable in the passing game. These three examples illustrate how Indianapolis rolls a safety over, doubling dangerous wide receivers. Do not be surprised to see the defense use this look once or twice against Brandon LaFell or Julian Edelman. Part 3 of the Colts Preview will focus on what Indianapolis might attempt when defending the Patriots’ most important weapon, Rob Gronkowski.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.