Steelers Film Room: Indianapolis Colts’ Offensive Scouting Report

This year, Jon Ledyard and I will be collaborating our scouting reports. We’ll play to our strengths – he’ll be focusing on the individuals while I’ll be looking at overall scheme. These reports will be broken down into two articles, one for offense and one for defense.

Our reports for the Indianapolis Colts’ offense.

ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT:

Indianapolis’ Run Game

The Colts have been hit with several injuries this year but honestly, losing Ahmad Bradshaw for the year might be the biggest. The Colts’ running attack has gone stagnant with a very beat-up Frank Gore. He’s averaging only 3.6 YPC for the season but is responsible for 181 of the 200 carries by active running backs on the Colts’ roster.

He does have four rushes of 20+ yards but they all came before October 19th, and the Colts haven’t had one since save for one Andrew Luck scramble. Last week, Gore played only 69% of snaps and in Week 11, he and Bradshaw split them evenly. It’s getting kind of sad at this point and without a clear backup, Gore is left to handle the load by himself.

As a team, they have just 25 runs that gained 10+ yards, ranking a distant 26th in the NFL.

The line has been beat up throughout the year and that carries over into this week. Only two have played at least 90% of the snaps this year, Jack Mewhort and Joe Reitz. 7th rounder Denzelle Good, one of the draft’s unknowns from tiny Mars Hill, has been forced to see playing time.

Lance Louis has come in for some heavy packages in short-yardage situations.

They’re a variety rushing attack that throw a lot of different schemes at you. Inside zone, split zone, power. All pretty standard stuff we’ve seen and talked about before so there it isn’t a reason to break it all down again. One alert for their split zone. TE off the line is usually a tell. They’ll also have Andre Johnson act as a tight end and do similar.

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Like practically any team, the Colts have their share of packaged plays as well.

They have some solid tendency breakers and run to the weakside on several plays. Toss weak, zone weak, that kind of stuff so you can’t reliably read their keys.

Indianapolis’ Pass Game

Matt Hasselbeck has been efficient this season, completing 64.7% of his passes with only two interceptions. He’s no Andrew Luck but has done as well as anyone could ask for or expect.

T.Y. Hilton is the team’s deep threat, averaging 16.1 yards per catch, far and away the most of any of the receivers. Though it just a box score examination, it’s interesting and surprising Donte Moncrief’s speed hasn’t translated into more big plays this year. Averaging only 11.2 per catch with a long gain of 31 yards. Those are actually worse numbers than Andre Johnson, 12.4 and 35 yards respectively. Moncrief is still the bigger threat, of course, but it hasn’t translated statistically.

Speaking of Johnson, imagine him like Larry Fizgerald without the resurgence. Almost as useful for his size and blocking ability, they’ll get him tangled up within the box, cracking and even basically pulling, as he is an actual receiver. He still moves the sticks, though, with 20 of his 26 receptions going for first downs.

They only have 34 pass plays of 20+ yards, tied for 25th in the league.

Only one skill player has played over 80% of the team’s snaps, Hilton. Only he and Moncrief are over 70%. Not a good look for Colts’ fans.

Rookie Phillip Dorsett has seen just 14% of snaps in 2015, a leg fracture hampering his season.

They utilize their tight ends heavy, loving 12 personnel. Last week, they both started and played over 57% of the time. In Week 11, they each played exactly 67% of the Colts’ snaps. Jack Doyle gets a lot of action as a third tight end, too.

One thing I think they do well as an offense is mix up personnel groupings and formations within those groupings. You’ll get their 13 personnel but you’ll get it in a tight set – that they also will throw out of, saw a sail concept off playaction – and you’ll also get a spread look out of 12, for example. Against the Atlanta Falcons, they started in a heavy 13 look and then went 12 spread on the very next play. Bottom line is you have to defend a lot the whole field no matter what the grouping is.

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Write about this a lot but the Colts utilize Hank and Harry concepts. Curl/flat concept with either the Y Hank, tight end curl in the middle of the field, or curl/flat without the tight end curl.

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One last note worth pointing out. Matt Hasselbeck, the wily veteran that he is, got the Atlanta Falcons to jump offsides twice in the first quarter and Week Eleven. And that was on the road in Atlanta. Steelers’ defenders are going to need to watch out for his hard count and really study his cadance.

Indianapolis’ Special Teams

Quan Bray, a rookie from Auburn and man-you’ve-never-heard-of, is the Colts’ starting return man. He’s averaging a healthy 27.6 yards per return. Their kick return unit is a 6-1-2-2 formation with Dan Herron serving as the upback. Bray also served as the punt returner last week with cornerbacks Josh Thomas and D’Joun Smith as the jammers.

Jack Doyle serves as the right wing on field goals, something to watch just in case of a fake. Always alert to skill players on special teams. Pat McAfee has served as the holder and has thrown one pass as the holder, last year against the Cleveland Browns. Came on 4th and 11 on the Browns’ 19 with the Colts trailing 7-0.

JON’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT: 

Injuries and disappointment marred the Colts offense for much of the season, but under the guidance of 40 year-old Matt Hasselbeck and new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, the unit seems to finally be hitting their stride.

Before we get to their weekly carousel of offensive linemen, let’s look at some team stats. The Colts average just 22.6 points per game (17th), and are greatly hamstrung on offense by their inability to run the football well, averaging just 92 yards per game (26th). The passing offense is a little better (253 ypg, 14th), but neither unit is going to light the world on fire. Under Hasselbeck the Colts simply don’t make many mistakes, a strength they didn’t have when Andrew Luck was under center this season.

The Colts are very efficient, converting 43 percent of the time on 3rd down this season, good enough for 7th in the NFL. They take care of business in the red zone as well, scoring a touchdown on almost 63 percent of their trips inside the opponent’s 20 this season, the 5th highest mark in the league. Amazingly, that number rises to 75 percent on the road this season (1st in NFL), so don’t expect the Colts to feel uncomfortable at Heinz Field Sunday night.

Indianapolis is not a big play team, especially with Hasselbeck at the helm, with just four pass plays of 40 yards or more this season (30th), and 34 of 20 yards or more (25th). Additionally the Colts are still looking for their first 40+ rush of the season as well, highlighting the methodical style of the Indy offense given the current pieces they have to work with. The lack of explosiveness on offense has the Colts near the bottom of the league in yards per play at just 5.1 (30th).

The offensive line has seen plenty of change due to injury and poor play, but has played much better as of late. Starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo missed last week’s contest and is likely going to miss this Sunday as well according to head coach Chuck Pagano. Here’s the stats for the unit courtesy of the Washington Post, beginning with last week’s starters.

LT Joe Reitz: 9 starts, 3 sacks allowed, 3 penalties (2 holds)

LG Jack Mewhort: 11 starts, 0.5 sacks allowed, 3 penalties (all false starts)

C Jonotthan Harrison: 4 starts, 1 sack allowed, 0 penalties

RG Hugh Thornton: 9 starts, 3.5 sacks allowed, 6 penalties (2 false starts, 3 holds)

RT Denzelle Good: 1 start, 0 sacks allowed, 3 penalties (2 false starts)

LT Anthony Castonzo: 10 starts, 4 sacks allowed, 8 penalties (5 holding, 3 false starts)

C Khaled Holmes: 7 starts, 1.5 sacks allowed, 2 penalties (both holding)

OG Lance Louis: 2 starts, 0 sacks allowed, 1 penalty (false start)

OG Todd Herremans: 2 starts, 0 sacks allowed, 1 penalty (hold)

Obviously a ridiculous amount of shuffling has happened amongst the unit, due to injury and poor performance, as Mewhort and Castonzo are the only members to play over 90 percent of the team’s snaps. Mewhort is the only Colts lineman to start every game this season, with the second year guard leading the team by playing 99.9 percent of the offensive snaps. Reitz and Thornton are both over 82 percent as well, although it should be noted the latter sat out of Wednesday and Thursday’spractice with an elbow injury.

The Buccaneers felt confident they could get to Hasselbeck with four rushers on Sunday, and they were wrong, as the Colts offensive line did a great job of creating a clean pocket for the veteran quarterback. Right tackle Good played decently in his first ever NFL start, but the rookie is probably the weak link in pass protection along the offensive line. Whiffs with his punch here and goes for a ride.

Good was one of the surprise picks of the draft, with the Colts nabbing him in the 7th round out of Mars Hill, where he played after transferring from N.C. State. He’s about as raw as you’d expect technically, but plays hard and has the desired length for the position. I’d throw the kitchen sink at him if I’m Pittsburgh, as right guard Thornton is no superstar either.

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Back-to-back plays where Good struggled to hold the edge on obvious passing situations with the Colts trying to drive for a score late in the first half. Got whistled on the first one for a hold, probably could have on the second one as well. Part of Good’s problems are from his weight being too far forward pre-snap. Causes him to have a slow get-off and have to work hard to recover and not give up the edge. Bud Dupree’s first step could give him issues.

Thornton gave up some pressures by Gerald McCoy, but probably played one of his better games of the season last week. Its not saying much, but he might be the Colts most athletic offensive lineman, so they pull him a good bit. He isn’t great in space, but he hits targets well. In pass protection noticed some confusion between he and Jonotthan Harrison at times in communication, but not sure who is at fault. Again, I’d attack the Colts with blitzes consistently, especially if Thornton is out of the lineup. Tampa Bay didn’t, and paid the price.

Harrison plays too high in his stance, which negates the raw power he brings to the position. The center can move people when he locks onto them, but he gets leveraged too often and gives up penetration as a result. Mewhort has probably been Indianapolis’ best offensive lineman this season, and Reitz also played very well in pass protection against Tampa Bay.

Mewhort has a really strong base, and although he also plays a bit high at times, he’s powerful and balanced enough to re-set if he gets knocked backwards. Stands up Lavonte David’s bull rush here, although the defender does a nice job making something out of nothing by tipping the pass incomplete.

Reitz can be a mess with his punch, but he’s a strong dude who doesn’t get pushed around easily. Aims too high on this punch, but re-sets his hands inside quickly and wards off the defender to give Hasselbeck time to find TY Hilton on the deep crossing route.

If I were attacking the Colts offensive line, I’d make them move and make them think. They are sturdy powerful guys who can win when they get the clamps on you, but by and large they are not good athlete, and I would test their communication to handle stunts and twists consistently. Throw some overloads at the Colts right side, and make Good handle being under fire in his second NFL start. Make an immobile quarterback uncomfortable from the start.

Of course, the downside of that is falling victim to the Colts high efficiency passing game. With Hasselbeck under center, Indianapolis has run lots of short-intermediate passing concepts, and with good reason. While the former Seahawks star does still have nice touch and a sharp mind, his velocity and accuracy down the field has waned considerably. Saw several passes against Tampa Bay that were late or underthrown or behind his receivers, but no defender was there to make a play, or Hasselbeck’s target made a nice adjustment. Here’s some examples of what I mean:

Hilton is running on a full sprint to the sideline on a deep cross, but has to stop and sky to snag this pass throw well behind him by Hasselbeck.

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Coby Fleener makes a great grab in traffic on a ball that is thrown behind him as well. Hasselbeck side-armed this one a tiny bit to get it around a defender in his throwing lane.

Donte Moncrief is running free down the sideline, but Hasselbeck under throws him considerably, causing the receiver to slow up for the catch downfield.

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The safety is so late coming over that it is an easy throw for Hasselbeck into the Cover 2 zone, but a better throw scores Moncrief with ease.

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Very next play Hasselbeck knows exactly where he wants to go with the football, attacking the same zone after holding the safety with his eyes. Heady, veteran play, but the throw is under thrown and behind Hilton. Easy adjustment for the receiver to make on a lofted ball, but the corner is almost able to recover and make a play on the ball.

So we’re nit-picking here, but Hasselbeck has done a great job of taking what the defense gives him and not forcing anything. Typically that means shorter passes and completions, tons of flats, curls, slants, with the occasional deep cross thrown in as well (one of their favorite plays for Hilton). He can still eat up zone defenses, but ask him to make tight throws against man coverage and Hasselbeck will be in trouble. The Colts have thrived by getting into 2nd and 3rd and manageable, so getting them out of that comfort zone and winning on early downs will be key for Pittsburgh.

So there’s a little bit about his receivers, but Moncrief is the one who really appears to be coming on late in the season. The second-year pass catcher had one of his most impressive games of the season against Tampa Bay last week, catching eight pass for 114 yards, including a season long grab of 31 yards. Moncrief isn’t as fast as his 4.4 40 might indicate, but he’s developed into a strong route runner. He’s always been strong at catch points, and uses his frame to shield off defensive backs in coverage.

Gets just enough separation on the wheel route down the sideline to make a tough one-handed grab of Hasselbeck’s gorgeous touch pass despite tight coverage. He’s starting to recognize his potential, just in time to make big plays for the Colts offense.

Hilton is a burner who can beat you vertically for a big play in a hurry. As I mentioned earlier, the Colts like to get him the ball on crossing routes, often putting him in the slot where he can work underneath the safeties across the field. He leads the team with 92 targets, but has caught just 51 for 819 yards and five touchdowns. Moncrief has just 74 targets, but managed to snag one more catch than Hilton to lead the team with 52 grabs for 584 yards and five scores. Hilton leads all wide receivers with 648 snaps, but Moncrief is not far behind him at 624.

Andre Johnson is a shell of his old self, and has struggled with drops and creating separation this season. He’s still on the field for 66 percent of the Colts offensive snaps this season, but even last week against Tampa Bay, #4 receiver Griff Whalen was closing the snap count gap, posting 25 reps to Johnson’s 33. The veteran just hasn’t had the expected impact since coming over from Houston, failing to go over 85 yards once this season, and grabbing only three touchdowns.

Whalen has been a nice little find for Indy as an undrafted free agent in his fourth season, getting cut three times by the team before finally finding a spot in the rotation after Phillip Dorsett’s leg injury. Whalen’s best quality is obviously having a fantastic name, but he’s also a slippery route runner who can win from the slot and make tough catches over the middle. He’s reeled in 15 of 18 targets this year for 187 yards and a touchdown.

For a long time I thought Fleener would never fully develop, but he’s actually become a solid threat for the Colts at tight end, cutting down on his drops this year. His statistics aren’t nearly as impressive as years past thanks to the absence of Luck, but 39 grabs for 352 yards and two scores on 56 targets is something the Steelers porous pass defense will need to respect. At 6’6, 251 pounds, there is a big catch radius there that Fleener is finally learning to use. He’s still a pretty average blocker at best.

Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle are mostly utilized as blockers, although I still think Allen could be a quality pass catcher if given more targets. Doyle will often line up as a fullback, but at 6’5, 252 pounds, he does not look like one. He works very hard to hit blocks and has the length to really attack linebackers, but he will lunge a bit over-eagerly at times. Allen is one of the best blocking tight ends in the game and has continued that trend this season. He’s really powerful at the point of attack, and has the nastiness you want in a blocker.

Now, on to Frank Gore, the only running back left on Indy’s roster (basically), and the incredible struggles he’s had generating production this season. First, I’m not sure Gore has enough left in the tank to handle the workload that will likely be required of him this season. Gone to injured reserve are Ahmad Bradshaw and Tyler Varga, and Josh Robinson was demoted to the practice squad due to fumbling issues earlier this season. The only running back currently on the roster with a carry this season outside of Gore is Zurlon Tipton, with two for nine yards. Dan Herron was signed a few weeks ago to back up Gore, but has yet to get an opportunity to make an impact.

We can talk about how the offensive line hasn’t created a ton of space for Gore, and that’s true. The front five have trouble getting to linebackers at the second level, so combining that with Gore’s lack of explosiveness means that boundary runs are typically a wash. The team has such little success running outside the tackle box from what I’ve seen, mostly because opposing defenses front sevens are simply faster than theirs.

The reality is that at this point in his career, Gore no longer has the same burst that once made him such a feared back. He needs a runway to be productive, and this offensive line probably isn’t capable of creating that kind of space with regularity. Gore will get what is there, but I’ve never seen him go down easier on first contact than he has this season. Much like Andre Johnson, the end of the road is coming soon for the Colts veteran running back.

Quan Bray and Griff Whalen handle the kick and punt return duties for the Colts, and both have been admirable, averaging over 27 yards per kickoff return. With Whalen as the #4 receiver now, Bray has taken over the return duties exclusively, and had a nice 20-yard punt return against Tampa Bay. Indy hasn’t had kickoff or punt returned for a touchdown since 2012.

Adam Vinatieri still nails field goals from 55 yards for the Colts, and is 16-18 on the season (25-27 on extra points, one of which was blocked). He hasn’t fallen off much despite being 42 years old, as his 55-yarder this season was his longest make since 2002. And the epic boot would have been good from 60, to be quite honest. Definitely don’t want Vinatieri on the ball with the game on the line.

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Hilton’s yards per catch drops to 13.55 in the 4 games Hasselback has played. I think the key is going to be good tackling to prevent too many YAC by their WRs. Also, 17 of Fleener’s 39 receptions were thrown in Hasselback’s 4 games.I think they may try to target him more often.

    If the Steelers stuff Gore and don’t miss tackles on passing plays they have a chance to limit Indy’s offense.If the defensive front can manhandle their o-line then Hasselback may end up on his back increasing the chance of allow score by the Colts.I’m going to this game so hope that this game does not spike my blood pressure too much but have been let down by sub-par performances by the Steelers before.