As much as it pains me to do this, I will give credit where credit is due. The Colts deserved to beat the Patriots Sunday night. On that day they were the better team. I was predicting that the NFL would only have one undefeated team come Monday morning; however I didn’t expect the Bears would have been the team to lose. The Colts still will not be hoisting the Lombardi trophy this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Patriots beat them in the playoffs. In fact I think that the Broncos and Chargers would be able to take out the Colts in the playoffs, in the dome or not. The Colts might have a potent offense but they still have holes that can be exploited rather easily.
After half of a season it is obvious that the Colts can’t stop the run. Linebacker David Thornton signing with Tennessee was a huge blow, as was the injury to DT Corey Simon. The injury to safety Bob Sanders was a major loss for the secondary, but he returned against the Patriots and played a large role. Even when the Colts were healthy, they had a small front seven. Dwight Freeney hasn’t helped out the Colts; he is below average in run defense and only has half a sack for the year, well off his usual dozen sack average. An average defense overall, and a sub par run defense is not the stuff of champions, no matter how many points you can score. Remember when Coach Tony Dungy was considered a defensive mastermind? His defense was great in Tampa Bay, but will be his undoing in Indy.
There is one thing saving the Colts, an offense that scores points like a video game. Peyton Manning is the best passer in football and has the most successful receivers (but not the best). For years the book on Manning is to blitz him; however his offensive line is doing a much improved job this year at providing stellar protection. The Colts no longer have Edgerin James to pick up blitzes or run the ball, and as a result the Colts are just throwing more. The Colts RB duo (Rhodes and Addai) are average in pass protection, but haven’t been able to maintain a consistent running threat. The run (on offense and defense) will be the downfall of Indy. So why hasn’t any team been able to exploit these obvious weaknesses? Time. Opponents are almost helpless to stop Manning. He puts up huge amounts of points and teams can’t take the time to try to establish a running game. Every game Indy plays is a shootout.
After studying the Colts for several games the solution on how to take them off their game became obvious. It is a two part plan, and the key is patience. The first step is stopping the Colts’ offense, and it is easier than it may seem, you just need to realize you will not shut them down completely. You need to make the Colts run, so give them the chance. Start a 4-3 defense and bull rush the DT up the middle. This will occupy the guards and center as well as cause Manning to have to move laterally in the pocket. Put the DE an extra yard or two away from the DT to create a gap between the guard and tackle. The Colts love to run the sideline stretch, so the DE will be able to help prevent that and the hole between tackle and guard will be enticing to run through. Play the safeties back an extra five yards to prevent against the home run ball. Keep the WR in front of you, and have the CB play off the WR, you aren’t going to contain Harrison and Wayne at the line anyway. You want them up field quickly to prevent against blocking for the running backs. Playing a man to man coverage with safety containment (a soft double team by the safeties) will help in stopping medium to long range completions. The final key is the linebackers. You want to move your LB around. Manning calls every play at the line, change his viewpoint every play. Have one outside linebacker hammer TE Dallas Clark every play, and then release him after initial contact. That backer can then shoot the closest gap or cover a second TE or slot WR. The other outside backer will pick up Clark and shadow him down the field. Give him the short route and release to the safety if he heads long. Your MLB should make sure Manning doesn’t run, and be prepared to cover the RB out of the backfield. This may sound like you would be rushing four players against five offensive linemen, but that is just your base. If you can make Manning move out of the pocket you push him towards your DE and make any pass across the field dangerous. You keep your backers close enough to rush on a delay and also cover the short man. The key is making Manning move and offering the Colts a chance to run between the guards. No stretch plays and collapsing the pocket is the key to stopping, or at least limiting, the Colts’ offense.
You have to expect that the Colts will be able to put points on the board, which means you may be rushing the ball while trying to erase a deficit. If you run between the tackles on first or second down you will most likely be able to gain close to five yards a carry. This constant smash mouth rushing also makes the play action more dangerous. You don’t need to spread out the Colts’ defense with three and four wide receivers. Have your TE help with Freeney on passing downs and keep block and release any rush with a RB. The key is having a big back and a faster back to give the defense different looks. Throw an extra TE in the backfield in place of a fullback and use him in screen passes. The way to beat the Colt Defense is to grind away yards, not to try to run up and down the field. Rotate personnel to keep your offense fresh, it will be on the field a lot. Forget about the clock, do not play with panic. Do this and you can beat the Colts.