Why the Colts Offense Fell Apart in Second Half Against the Miami Dolphins
I don't mean the trend of overreacting fans panicking and calling for the cutting or firing of every Colt not named Andrew Luck, although that's disturbing in itself.
No, what was most concerning about the Colts' loss was their inability to score in the second half, something that, through seven games under Chuck Pagano, is far too familiar.
In every game the Colts have played with Pagano on the sidelines, the team has struggled to score in the second half, never scoring more than seven offensive points. It happened again on Sunday, as the team scored a field goal after the defense forced a turnover early in the third quarter but didn't put up another point for the rest of the game.
There are several reasons why the Colts struggled in the second half after putting up 17 points in the first. For example, the conservative play-calling when the Colts had a lead in the third quarter was a big part of why the team couldn't extend their lead while simultaneously killing the Colts' offensive rhythm.
Throw in the offensive line's second-half decline, and you already have several key reasons why the team couldn't get into the end zone.
But one thing that has been overlooked is how Miami took out Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton in the second half.
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The duo, despite a strong first half, simply couldn't get anything going in the second half, and it was a key part of Andrew Luck's (and the rest of the offense's) step back.
But why did it happen, and how can the Colts keep it from happening again?
One reason that the Dolphins were so successful is that Miami's safeties were used in various ways to help cover the duo.
The first thing is that Miami bracketed Wayne with a safety often in the second half, essentially taking Luck's favorite target out of the play before it even started.
The double teaming of Wayne isn't a new concept, but the Colts were handicapped by the loss of Dwayne Allen and Darrius Heyward-Bey in the game, and Griff Whalen and Dominique Jones just could not give Luck enough to make up for Wayne's "absence."
With Miami blitzing linebackers so often, the Colts needed players who could get separation quickly, and Whalen and Jones were not those players.
Miami's safeties also played the intermediate zone well, which is one of Luck's favorite target zones.
Take this play for example.
Chris Clemons is responsible for that middle intermediate zone and steps up toward Hilton as the play develops. Clemons reads the play perfectly though, and, after a jab toward Hilton's direction, realizes that Luck is going to the other side of the field to Wayne. Clemons darts back to his right, and Luck doesn't have quite enough room to fit the throw between Clemons and CB Nolan Carroll.
Speaking of the middle zone, the Miami linebackers didn't do a half-bad job of covering that area in the second half either.
In a similar play, Philip Wheeler kept Luck from being able to connect with Hilton or Wayne.
It seems like Luck would be able to skip a ball past Wheeler to Hilton, who is the deeper receiver on the play, but Wheeler falls back deep enough to be able to knock down the attempt.
The other big schematic problem that Miami presented Indianapolis with was press coverage combined with blitzes.
For example, the Dolphins would send a linebacker or two to rush Luck, while employing press coverage against the receivers, keeping them from getting a clean, timely release.
With the quick pressure, Luck was forced to get rid of the ball earlier than he would have liked, and Miami was often able to disrupt Hilton and Wayne enough to throw off any attempt to beat the blitz.
The one thing that would be helpful here is a big, strong receiver with speed to quickly separate from a jam at the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, that receiver was on the sideline with a shoulder injury for most of the second half.
Hilton is simply too small and inexperienced to be asked to beat a press consistently, and Wayne doesn't have the speed to burn the defense unless something goes very, very wrong.
The best way to fix these things is twofold.
First, Indianapolis has to improve their blitz pickup on the offensive line.
The interior line was awful on Sunday with the rookie Hugh Thornton in for Donald Thomas at left guard. Between his inexperience and C Samson Satele's and RG Mike McGlynn's general incompetence, the Colts offered little resistance when the Dolphins sent extra rushers.
If Thornton can improve, and the Colts' running backs can help McGlynn/Satele, the Colts' receivers will have an extra second to get separation off of the press coverage.
Second, the Colts can use short crossing routes to spread the man coverage and take advantage of the linebackers falling back so deep.
Again, this would be easier to do with Dwayne Allen in rather than Dominique Jones.
Of course, if the offensive line doesn't allow Luck more than a second of pressure-free time, it may not matter.
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