It was supposed to be a homecoming. It was supposed to be a revenge game.
If the Colts did manage to win, it was supposed to be about Andrew Luck and his meteoric rise.
In a lot of ways, it was about all of those things. But on the field, the biggest story (although Luck's ascension should definitely be noted) was the Colts defense and how they were able to slow the league's best offense.
The Colts defense has shown signs of this before, and this wasn't their most dominant performance, but considering the situation and the opponent, it arguably was their most impressive.
How did they do it? That's what we look at in this week's film breakdown.
Pressure Pushing Down On Me
The first step to stopping Peyton Manning is the same as it is with any quarterback: Get pressure on him.
In the first six weeks of the season, Manning was pressured just 45 times. In Week 7, the Colts pressured Manning on 20 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). On those 20 plays, the Colts picked up four sacks and forced Manning to complete just 50 percent of his passes, including one interception.
More importantly, the pressure affected Manning throughout the game, especially after Robert Mathis' strip-sack-turned-safety in the first half.
The key to the pressure was the Colts' ability to get to Manning without blitzing, as we discussed last week.
Whether it was Robert Mathis (two sacks, five total pressures), Erik Walden (four total pressures, including an interception-causing hit) or the Colts' defensive linemen (eight pressures between Fili Moala, Cory Redding and Ricky Jean Francois), the Colts were able to get the majority of their pressure from their base rush packages.
The Colts blitzed Manning just four times in the game, and the infrequent blitzing forced Manning to complete just two of four passes for 15 yards. Jerrell Freeman and Pat Angerer were able to pick up three pressures.
Coverage, Coverage Everywhere
But all the pressure in the world wouldn't help if Manning had open receivers to throw to. Fortunately, Vontae Davis and the Colts secondary made sure that didn't happen.
No disrespect to the Colts' safeties, who both posted positive grades at Pro Football Focus, but it was Vontae Davis and Darius Butler who kept the Colts defense running at such a high level.
Butler was physical with Welker at the line of scrimmage and beyond and played the ball well in the air. It's exemplified best from this play from the first half, in which Butler kept his hands on Welker the entire time, and then used his athleticism and instincts to knock down the pass.
Butler did incur one holding penalty on the day, but it was completely worth it.
Butler held Welker to just one reception for three yards in the first half. It wasn't until after Butler got hurt in the second half that Welker began to be productive.
The other half of this equation? Vontae Davis, who shut down Demaryius Thomas throughout the game. Davis's strategy wasn't exactly the same as Butler's. Butler bumped Welker at the line and kept him uncomfortable physically. Davis, on the other hand, didn't necessarily bump Thomas. He pressed up on him but didn't use bump-and-run coverage.
Instead, we saw Davis simply force Thomas to go around him, but didn't risk getting burned on a deep play by bumping him. Davis then simply stuck with Thomas on every single play. There wasn't a single play that I watched on the All-22 where Thomas got open. It wasn't that Manning wasn't looking his way, Thomas simply could not get separation.
Davis held Thomas to just one catch for eight yards and allowed three catches in total for 12 yards (on eight targets). All this, again, against the best offense with the best quarterback in the NFL.
As a result, Davis received Pro Football Focus' highest single-game grade ever for a cornerback.
Overall for the season, Davis has allowed just 0.75 yards per coverage snap, the seventh-lowest among 75 qualifying corners. If he can play like this consistently, the Colts defense has a chance to be consistently good, something that Indianapolis hasn't seen in years.
Of course, coverage is also based on pressure, and vice versa.
With Davis and Mathis both playing at career-high levels, the Colts are in good hands.
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