In the past few weeks, we have seen some spectacular wins by the Colts.
Peyton Manning is playing out of his mind. He has had four consecutive 300-plus-yard passing games (a first for him); he did something that hasn’t been done in 30 years—win a game in which the offense only possessed the ball for 14 minutes and 53 seconds; and he is now tied for third all-time for touchdowns thrown in a career.
Even the most die-hard Patriot fan is finding it harder and harder to make the case that Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the league.
However, even the most die-hard Colts fans would be kidding themselves if they think all is great in Colt land. Underneath all the amazing finishes are some disturbing truths:
1) The Colts offensive line has some serious issues run blocking to the strong side.
The funny thing is, coming into the season I was more concerned about the weak side of the line; however, after watching several games it’s become apparent that when the Colts run to the left they gain yards. When the Colts run to the right, they usually go nowhere, lose yards, or occasionally make a small gain.
What’s the cause of this? I see several problems. When the Colts run strong side it is usually a stretch play. They usually use a zone blocking scheme when running this play. What is happening is that RG Mike Pollak and RT Ryan Diem are having problems containing defenders and, in Diem's case, helping the tight end sealing off the edge.
Typically, in a stretch play the running back is looking to take the play through the eight hole, and if that is not open, then bounce it back inside and shoot through the six hole between the TE and RT.
The job of the TE or the RT, depending on the technique being used by the DE, is to seal off the edge. Sealing off the edge means blocking any defender trying to cover the eight hole so that the back can bounce the play outside.
If this is not possible, then the back is taught to take it inside through the six hole. However, if the RG or RT has allowed penetration through this hole, then the back gets caught in the backfield for a loss.
Here is a link to the illustrations I have created for this piece:
In the first illustration, you see the offensive hole numbering system. In the second illustration, you see one potential scenario for the stretch play. I have tried to keep this as simple as possible. I just want you to get a basic understanding of the system and the play.
Now let me explain what is going wrong on the right side.
In theory, the TE should block the DE, the flanker should block the corner, and the RT should go to the second level and block the outside linebacker so that he can’t get to the outside or penetrate the six hole. Meanwhile, the RG should block the DT.
In reality the DE is getting off his block, covering the eight hole, the corner is getting off his block, and now both players have converged on the eight hole to seal it off. Now the back is looking to cut it back inside and shoot through the six hole; however, the OLB has come up, engaged the tackle, and plugged this hole.
Meanwhile, the RG has allowed the DT to shoot through the four hole. Now the back has nowhere to go. He either gains no yards or is tackled for a loss.
This is just one example of the problems the Colts are having when they run to the right.
I have noticed that the blocking has gotten better since week one, because Howard Mudd is a genius, but it still needs to improve and become consistent.
The Colts need to be balanced in their running attack. They need to be able to run equally well to both sides of the line. Teams will start shutting down the runs to the left side and force the Colts to run where they don’t want to go: the strong side.
Manning can get them through the regular season with this problem, but when the playoffs start, the Colts will be one and done again if they don’t fix the run blocking.
A little aside: I have noticed that the Colts do have some success when they pull their guards and run counters and traps. I find it perplexing that Pollak can block very well in these situations but struggles on the stretch play.
Anyone who tells you that it’s the running backs fault that the Colts can’t run the ball isn’t paying attention.
2) The other area of concern for the Colts is the run defense. Don’t let the performance over the past two weeks fool you into thinking that this problem is solved. If you go back and watch the game on Sunday, you will notice that the run defense was inconsistent.
There were plays where it was the same old Colts run defense. I saw poor tackling, and much to my chagrin, the NT and DT of the Colts were getting pushed backward or stood up by the offensive lineman on running plays.
Before you point out to me that Seattle only ran for 41 yards, remember that the game got out of hand early for Seattle and the Seahawks had to abandon the running game.
The Colts are going to face teams this year, like the game coming up against the Titans, who can run the ball. I am deeply concerned about the undersized linebacking corps' ability to stop the run. You can’t depend on the front four to shut down the running game all the time.
If the Colts are committed to getting bigger at linebacker, then one wonders why, on obvious running downs, Philip Wheeler isn’t being used as the SAM backer. He’s closer in height and weight to the prototypical run-stopping linebacker than Tyjuan Hagler, who is the starter at this position.
Obviously, I am not privy to any inside information from the Colts, so there may be reasons why they are not using him more.
At the end of the day, we all know Manning can carry this team to another AFC South division title. He has carried this team on his back for 11 years. During that time the defense has ranked in the top 10 only twice.
Another way to look at it is that for only 18.18 percent of his career has Manning played with a top 10 defense, and only once has he played with a top five defense.
However, if the Colts don’t straighten out not being able to stop the run and begin running the ball consistently, it’s going to be another short postseason.