Top 5 Plays to Success: The Indianapolis Colts

Don FishCorrespondent IMay 29, 2009

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 21:   Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts goes over the playbook during the NFL game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 21, 2002 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won 28-10.(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Colts' Top 5 Plays to Success 

The Colts' line up every year with the same core group of plays, and then add on a few new plays to keep it interesting.  One year Manning wants to throw more out routes, the next year he wants to manage the game better, and the following year he wants to run the ball more.  Manning is always striving to make his game better and in doing so he brings new plays to the book.

The Colts are also great at making on the spot changes to attack a certain defense and its tendencies during a game.  They are not afraid to draw up plans in the dirt if need be.  However, each year and each game you will see the Colts come out in a single back formation and run timing plays over and over, run play action plays over and over, and run draw plays over and over. No one really has shown the ability to stop it, except the Steelers and Patriots on occasion.

Here’s a list of the top five most effective plays ran out of the single back formation used by the Colts in 2008, and almost every year for the past decade.  If the Colts are successful running these plays week in and week out, look for them to be in the top three teams in the AFC again this year.

1)  Stretch Play (run)-  The Colts perform the stretch play better than anyone in the league and it has become the staple of the Indianapolis offense.  They line-up with two wide-outs, two TEs (or one TE and a slot WR), and one running back directly behind Peyton Manning.  Manning takes the snap from under center and immediately sprints, and I mean sprints, to the left or the right (depending on which way the play is drawn up to go) and meets his running back just in time to hand the ball off to him.  If Manning is a fraction of a second off or if the running back stalls out, then the play is busted. 

This play is so effective because it gets the running back to the outside very quickly allowing him to get around the edge of the defense.  It is also very effective because the defense never knows when Peyton will pull the ball back in, instead of handing off, and launch it down field for a touchdown bomb.  This freezes the defense and gives the running back just a little more time to get up field.

Which leads me to the second most effective play:

2)  Stretch Play (Play-action Pass) – This play is identical to the stretch play run except Manning fakes the hand off and then looks primarily for his deep threat targets and if not open, he will dump it off to a running back or tight end for a short gain.  Manning’s play action fakes have been famous for a while now.  So much so that TV camera men have been taking the slack for several years for focusing on the running back instead of Manning when he fakes it and then launches a long pass down field.

3)  Short Slant -  This play comes in a couple varieties depending on the down and how much yardage is needed.  If it is a third or fourth down play, you will see a quick slant thrown to Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne as they dive towards the ground to catch the pass.  This play is money in the bank for two or three yards because the Colt’s wide outs are excellent route runners and Manning puts the ball where the defense has no chance of getting to it.

The other variety of short slant usually comes on first or second down when they are looking to see if they can make a big play out of it.  Typically a tight end or slot receiver will set some type of pick with his route (sometimes they use the referee for their pick) and the wide out will run under the pick producing a split second where he is open.  Given a couple good blocks after that catch and some good luck, this play can often times break for a big gain.

4)  Hitch Route -  Nothing special about this route except the timing is awesome.  If you’ve ever been to a game in person and seen Manning throw the ball two seconds before his man even makes his cut and is nowhere near where the ball is being thrown at the time, you are missing out.  It’s difficult to see on TV and they never seem to show replays that focus on how far in advance some quarterbacks release the ball, but the first time you see it, you watch in awe. 

The Colts have perfected this, well nearly anyway. There are a couple of Patriot’s players that always seem to jump this route, but in general it nearly always works.

5)  Hitch and go -  Set up by the timing hitch play described above, the hitch and go only works if your receivers can sell it -- and so far the Colt’s wide out have.  The Colts throw those timing hitch patterns over and over again to get the defender to play them tighter.  And once they do, the wide outs go deep on them.  Better have a good safety on your defense if you want to defend this play.

Like I said earlier, there is very little trickery with what the Colts try to accomplish each week.  They come out in pretty much the same formation and run more or less the same plays.  And it works not only because the players have so much talent and have worked together for years to develop a rapport, but because Manning is given the leeway to analyze the defense and pick a play that is most likely to succeed.