Sunday, September 22, 2013

Colts Observations, Week 3 at 49ers

Big lift. While the San Francisco 49ers struggled mightily against the Seahawks last week, no one thought they'd struggle at home against the Colts, who dropped a tough game to the Dolphins last week. The Colts were missing several starters (LaRon Landry, Samson Satele, Pat Angerer out this week; Donald Thomas, Vick Ballard, and Dwayne Allen out for the year) against a tough 49ers team and a mobile quarterback in Kaepernick, who's capable of giving the defense fits. Instead of backing down, the Colts out Harbaugh'd the Harbaugh team. Yes, that's a verb now.

Opening drive. The Colts put together a masterful opening drive aided early by two San Francisco penalties. This drive was mostly Andrew Luck throwing the ball. Heck, the very first play was a pass to Ahmad Bradshaw as the Colts worked to establish their passing game to set up their run. It ended with a short TD run by new acquisition Trent Richardson.

About Richardson... Not a great game; 13 carries for 35 yards and a paltry 2.7 yards per carry. Still, he had some good, tough runs and it was good to see the Colts weren't afraid to put him out there. He also dropped a couple passes. But in no way, shape, or form was he the big story. Not at all.

Bradshaw unbound. Ahmad Bradshaw was the workhorse for the Colts, carrying 19 times for 95 yards and hitting the magic 5.0 YPC mark. Bradshaw ran tough, breaking tackles and showing a great burst. On the decisive drive, he had carries of seven, 27, and eight yards. As the defense wore down, Bradshaw got stronger, and for the first time this season, we really saw the vaunted "power run" game we've heard so much about. After the defense forced a turnover late, Bradshaw plunged into the endzone for a well-deserved touchdown.

Dominant defense. Colts coach Chuck Pagano said he wanted to hang his hat on a dominant defense and a power running game. So far, the only thing the defense has done is make me hang my head. This week was a completely different story. The Colts contained Kaepernick, they hit Kaepernick, and they sacked him three times. Coverage on wide receivers was tight; the Niners QB seldom had anyone to throw to. Apart from an exhausting, nine-play, 91-yard drive that lasted more than 4:30 and resulted in a touchdown, this was as dominant of a defensive effort as you'll find.

You'll take Kaepernick over Luck, Phil? Still? Phil Simms stood by his statement that, if he were starting a franchise right now, he'd pick Kaepernick over Luck because he brings that extra dimension to the QB position while still having the ability to throw the ball accurately downfield. This would be the part where I'm a jerk by pointing out Luck outrushed Kaepernick and was much sharper in the passing game. Kaepernick completed less than 50% of his passes Sunday.

Efficient. Of course, as I taunt Phil Simms above, I have to point out that Luck didn't have the best game of his career. He was patient and efficient, taking off on a few scrambles to keep drives alive and getting the ball to receivers in critical situations. This was more of a ball control/field position type of game, and Luck managed it well.

Offensive line play. Aldon Smith wasn't a factor, although it's hard to say if his weekend legal trouble played a role at all. In two consecutive weeks, Indy held pass rushing maestros (Smith and Miami's Cameron Wake last week) without a sack. Overall, pass protection was solid this week, and it seemed like Luck wasn't running for his life every time he passed the ball. The o-line excelled in the running game, where they were road graders. Anthony Castonzo and Mike McGlynn in particular had good games.

Reitz, the tight end. One thing easy to miss is how often the Colts trotted out Joe Reitz as a tight end. He reported eligible on multiple plays, including the key play resulting in Luck's masterful touchdown run (much more on that later).

Ageless Reggie Wayne update. The Ageless One caught 5 passes for 65 yards. The 49ers kept him quiet for the most part, although he erupted for receptions of 25 yards and 19 yards on a long drive resulting in a missed field goal.

DHB. I like to abbreviate Darrius Heyward-Bey's name because I can never remember if "Darrius" has two "r's." Anyway, Luck looked for him early and often. He's been a much more reliable target than I thought he'd be earlier in the season. So far, he's been a good addition.

Third and suck. The Colts struggled again in third and short situations. On one play, they decided it'd be a great idea to give it to Donald Brown, who got stuffed to force a punt. His strength isn't running up the middle; let Richardson or Bradshaw do that (although they got stuffed in similar situations, too).

GRIFF NATION. Griff Whalen was silent this week, although he checked in for a few offensive plays. He did have a special teams tackle, however.

The Slow Fade. After doinking a key field goal last week, Old Man Vinatieri missed a long FG. This didn't come back to bite the Colts, thankfully, but it was a six-point game when he missed. He had the distance, this one just sailed slowly to the left.

Bethea's great tackle. Antoine Bethea made one of the best open field tackles you'll ever see, stopping Kaepernick for a one-yard gain on a third-and-four play. Bethea made an aggressive move, unwilling to let the Niners QB fake him out of his shoes. He wrapped, tackled, and drove Kaepernick to the ground. My note during the game: "Gotta mention that GREAT OPEN FIELD TACKLE by Antoine Bethea." So I have.

Stiff arm of justice. On a 15-yard scramble, Andrew Luck delivered a stiff arm that made a 49ers defender look absolutely silly. Even though Luck's an athletic, strong quarterback, I bet it can't feel very good to get schooled by a QB like that.

Huge defensive stand. One unfortunate side effect of Vinatieri's missed FG was that the Colts surrendered excellent field position to San Francisco. The drive went like this: "Pass incomplete to Celek. Second and ten. Hunter gets four after a short screen pass. Colts swarming today. Kaepernick sacked. Redding, Mathis combine for sack. Punt." The Colts scored the decisive touchdown on the very next drive.

Delano who? Backup safety Delano Howell made some big hits. He finished with four tackles and two passes defensed, filling in admirably for the injured LaRon Landry. Seriously, where do the Colts find these guys?

The Tenth Drive. My notes read as follows: "Incomplete to Boldin. Nice play by Butler. Second down pass incomplete. Kaepernick sacked, fumbled, Indy recovers. What a miserable day for Colin Kaepernick." The Colts had pretty much salted the game away with the late touchdown by Luck, but they erased any hope of a 49ers comeback by forcing the fumble. Jerrell Freeman got the sack and strip; Kavell Conner recovered it. Three plays later, Bradshaw waltzed into the endzone for a 27-7 lead. The Colts added another late turnover on an interception by Cassius Vaughn.

It's the slow knife that cuts the deepest, they say. The Colts used more than seven minutes of clock on a drive covering 80 yards in 11 plays. This one included a third down conversion to Darrius Heyward-Bey, a third down conversion on a defensive penalty, and a 27-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw. This drive was about the Colts controlling the line of scrimmage and imposing their will on the 49ers. They made a statement with this one. Also worth noting was the time of possession: Colts 36:25, 49ers 23:35.

Division hunt. The Colts kept pace with the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans with the win. All three teams have 2-1 records. The Jacksonville Jaguars are 0-3 and will welcome the Colts next week. Indy enters a tough stretch, so they'd best not take the Jags lightly. Even though I'm sure they probably will know.

Now, let's go a little deeper. I don't always have time to do these little breakdowns, but I thought this was a good one, so I'm writing about it.

Okay, this is the run before the touchdown. Ahmad Bradshaw just ran for eight yards, and it's second and two. Here you can see the formation is a pure power run. Joe Reitz is at the tight end spot on the left; Dominique Jones is also in there. Stanley Havili is at fullback in a straight I-formation. This looks like run all the way on second and two. You see 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks on the edge there.

The give is to Bradshaw, and everyone knows it's going to him. Look at where the defenders are looking. They're all zeroed in on Bradshaw, and for good reason--he's killed them on this drive.

Note the garbage at the line of scrimmage. The run is designed to go left, but Brooks comes free off the edge as Luck hands the ball off to Bradshaw. If he's able to get past Brooks, he might get the first down. Maybe.

It doesn't matter, though. Brooks drops him for a one-yard loss, making it third and three.

The Colts use a different personnel group for the third down play. Instead of Jones, T.Y. Hilton is split out to the left and it's a two wide receiver set. Reitz is again out there as tight end, but he's lined up on the other side. It's an offset I-formation with Havili lined up on the right side. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a running play designed to go that direction.

The 49ers think so, too. They fully expect Bradshaw to get the ball. The arrows show where the defenders are looking, and again, all eyes are on Bradshaw.

Except Luck pulled a fast one on the defense. Bradshaw never gets the ball because Luck has it. Still everyone is looking at Bradshaw, even Aldon Smith there on the weak side. You can see T.Y. Hilton with his man, but you can't get a good view.

Let's go up top. You can see the formation, offset I, strong side right, T.Y. Hilton split out left.

Again, all the defenders are looking at Bradshaw as Luck fakes the handoff. Hilton runs his man to the inside.

Everyone's committed to Bradshaw, and Hilton's man has been taken out of the play. Luck's coming around the left side with no one near him, as noted by the yellow box.

Luck sprints into the endzone. Touchdown. Ballgame.