Dolphins vs. Colts: Breaking Down Indianapolis' Game Plan
After winning against bad teams in Week 1, the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins will face off for the second straight year. Both teams are aspiring playoff teams with an incumbent division winner to leapfrog, as well as potential wild-card teams to stave off.
The Colts won the 2012 matchup behind a masterful performance from quarterback Andrew Luck, including the engineering of a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
But that was last year.
With one week in the books, what can we expect from both teams in Week 2? Where can the Colts attack on both sides of the ball? That's what we'll look at in this week's game plan.
No. 1: Make Ryan Tannehill uncomfortable
The Dolphins are no exception to this rule: Miami went 6-0 in 2012 when Tannehill had a passer rating of 91 or higher and just 1-9 in games where he failed to reach that mark.
Last season, the Colts managed to hold Tannehill to a 90.9 passer rating, and beat Miami by a field goal after keeping Tannehill from crossing the 50-yard line after the Colts made the go-ahead field goal with 6:03 left.
In order to continue their winning streak against Miami (4-0 since 2003), the Colts will once again need to limit Tannehill's impact. There are two particular means to this end.
First, Indianapolis must slow Miami's run game and stay home on play-action passes.
Miami was one of the most effective play-action teams last season, as Ryan Tannehill's statistical improvement when utilizing play-action was one of the highest in the league (per profootballfocus.com, subscription required).
Last week, the Colts' opposing quarterback Terrelle Pryor's yards per attempt rose from 6.8 to 9.3 when Oakland used play action, and Miami will likely try to take advantage of the Colts' occasional over-aggressive nature with a few play-action bombs to wide receiver Mike Wallace.
If the Colts can stall Miami's run game, which gained just 20 yards (!) against Cleveland last week, they won't be as prone to overcommit on play fakes and may be able to hold their ground.
Second, the Colts have to improve their pass rush and pressure Tannehill without sacrificing bodies in coverage.
Indianapolis blitzed Terrelle Pryor 15 times last Sunday, without much luck. When blitzed, Pryor was 8-of-10 for 116 yards and a touchdown, which resulted in a passer rating of 148.3 (passer rating of 32.9 when not blitzed). Pryor added four runs, and was sacked just once.
While Tannehill isn't as mobile as Pryor, he is athletic and can take advantage of blitzes: Tannehill's passer rating was 108.6 when the Colts' blitzed him last season.
If the Colts can't get to Tannehill with just four base rushers, they could sacrifice big plays.
Take this play against Miami last season. The Colts open up in a press-man look with both safeties fairly close to the line of scrimmage. Prior to the snap, however, strong safety Tom Zbikowski shows blitz (and follows through after the snap) and free safety Antoine Bethea drops back to a single-high set.
The Dolphins hold everybody but the two wideouts back to block, giving Tannehill time to find a receiver. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, the corners in press-man opens them up to streak routes ("9 routes").
Both receivers end up getting a step on their respective corners, and Bethea is stuck in no-man's land. With Bethea forced to worry about both deep threats, Tannehill has plenty of room to drop in a 35-yard strike.
If the Colts allow this kind of production through the air on Sunday, Miami will be difficult to keep up with, even with Indianapolis' efficient offense.
No. 2: Be Aggressive, Get the Ball to Playmakers
Against Oakland, the Colts got conservative with a big lead—something we've seen the Pagano-led Colts do before.
Last season, the Colts opened up with a 17-6 lead against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 before slowing down in the second half, allowing the Vikings to come back and tie the game before Andrew Luck led his first game-winning drive, a 19-second gem that ended in Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal.
In the very next game, the Colts took a 14-3 lead into halftime but didn't score at all in second half until after the Jacksonville Jaguars had come back and taken the lead. Luck led another go-ahead drive, but then this happened:
When you let the opponent hang around in the second half, bad things can happen. If the Colts get a lead against Miami, they need to stay aggressive and build their lead, not try to grind out the second half as they did against the Raiders.
The Colts aren't built to grind out games, lacking both the offensive line and running back to do so.
What Indianapolis must do is get the ball to their playmakers (and these are not their running backs). Last year, Luck was trusted to throw the ball 48 times and spread the ball around to his top receivers very well.
While offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton may not want him throwing quite so much, it's clear that Luck and the talented receivers on this team are going to be the best bet at offensive success.
This means that players like T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener have to get more attention. Hilton's lack of playing time against Oakland has been decried by media, and it seems the Indianapolis coaches know that must increase as well.
Pagano: Coming out of Sunday, first thing coaches talked about was getting T.Y. Hilton more plays, touches. #Colts— George Bremer (@gmbremer) September 11, 2013
- Some of the major keys to the 2012 matchup between these two teams were third and fourth downs. Luck and the Colts were extremely efficient, going 13-of-19 (68%), while the Dolphins went just 4-of-12 (33%).
- Defensive end Cameron Wake against right tackle Gosder Cherilus will be a critical battle for the Indianapolis offense. Wake terrorized Cleveland last week (10 total pressures, three sacks) and was a force against the Colts in 2012 (seven total pressures, one sack). The Colts should keep tight ends and running backs on that side to chip and double-team throughout this one.
- Both defenses were stout against the run last week, and both offenses have below-average offensive lines. I'll be shocked if this doesn't turn out to be a battle of the second-year quarterbacks.
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