Just how good is the Indianapolis Defense? Can the Bills red-hot offense keep eviscerating defenses? This week, The Spy debuts its inaugural playoff edition: dissecting the Colts D.
SPY 1: Regression
The Colts defense has regressed and stagnated considerably over the course of the 2020 season, though it is still a top-five unit. This Colts defense seems to have been tamed in recent weeks and has been highly inconsistent. This is especially true in the passing game. Just two short weeks ago, a Steelers team with an anemic passing game somehow torched the Colts defense in the 2nd half and stole away the game.
The Colts seem apt to bear the nickname “two-faced,” given that they seem to be a defense of two halves, often performing well for one and then collapsing in the other. Kevin Hickey of Colts Wire elaborated on this concerning factor earlier this week: “This has been the issue for much of the season. The Colts defense looks incredible for one half of football only to be the complete opposite for the next 30 minutes of play. They can’t have that against the Bills, who are good enough to put a game away with just one half of football.”
In terms of puzzling regression, this Colts defense is allowing 301 passing yards per game in their last three, which should be targeted by the Bills grim reaper, AKA Josh Allen (teamrankings.com). The secondary of the Colts has been exhibiting tells of being vulnerable to over pursuance on plays, often having linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties out of position due to misreads and blown assignments. Against the Bills receivers, this will be extremely dangerous.
As reported first by ESPN, Colts Defensive End Justin Houston said the following when asked about the Colts’ Defensive struggles: “We are too juiced up. We are overplaying, not thinking. Must calm down and play ball. We need to settle down and play our ball.”
SPY 2: Inconsistency
The Colts have a problematic issue with lacking and slacking pressures originating from the edge positions. Interior DTs, such as standout DeForest Buckner, will be hard-pressed to deal with Bills Center Mitch Morse, who has been excellent in pass blocking all season long. The Colts will have to target the edges of the Bills offensive line to collapse the pocket before Josh Allen can set up shop, climb, or scramble. The Colts only blitz 19% of the time, which is the 2nd lowest rate in the league in 2020. That said, their defense still finds creative ways to bring pressure under Defensive Coordinator, Matt Eberflus. Many of these pressures come from post-snap envelopments, zone-read blitzes, and interior pressure in the gaps.
The Colts have a weakness here in a scenario where they are unable to get consistent pressure. Without penetration up front, the secondary must cover receivers for a longer period due to the opposing QB having a longer amount of time to see the play develop and distribute the ball accordingly. The Colts D ranks 31st in passes given up beyond 20 yards down-field. This stat was brought up by Buffalo Fanatics’ own, Steve Mathes on The Bills Guys. Combined with total pass yardage given up recently, inconsistent & subpar secondary play, lack of upfront pressure, and over pursuance, this Colts D will be hard-pressed to stem the flow of the Bills offense. Let us evaluate a possible scenario to simplify the issues. If the Bills were to deploy receivers in bunch formations on slants, deep crossers, and curl, post, or strike combo routes, how is the Colts D going to be able to stop such attacks?
SPY 3: Biggest Threat: Darius Leonard
The Bills offense will need to be acutely aware of Leonard’s complete skill set, respect it, and then formulate a plan to limit him or otherwise remove the threat he poses. The All-Pro and Defensive Captain is the on-field QB of the Colts defense. His football IQ is extremely high; his personal intangible assets such as violence of action, elusiveness, and determination are equally high. Leonard can drop into coverage and be athletic enough to cover the range of the field laterally, vertically, or in linear planes. He can pressure using raw speed, power, and “get off” to beat blockers. He can make calls pre-snap based on the actions of the opposing QB and ruin an entire pay before it even begins.
Leonard also has a penchant for placing himself in throwing lanes to snag a timely interception. With good hands and return skills, a Leonard interception can be a game-altering play. The Bills’ offense can limit Leonard by being both confusing and deliberate in their execution. Confusion can be sewn using pre-snap motion and formation variance to make Leonard and the rest of the Colts D hesitate. Deliberate play calling such as quick-strike throws can limit Leonard’s ability to make plays after the snap, as he simply will not have time to read the play or take quick enough action.
DARKHORSE BONUS POINT
Colts Cornerback, Rock Ya-Sin, is not expected to play in this upcoming showdown. There has been some speculation that his replacement (TJ Carrie) is a better player. However, this is a dangerous assumption for anyone to purport. What is more important is that this creates a depth issue. Bills Receivers play a vicious and debilitating brand of football. If the Colts begin to suffer fatigue, injury, and rotational snafus during the game, it will be exceedingly difficult to overcome. The occasions this season during which the Bills offense faced off against depleted secondaries most usually resulted in carnage for the latter’s defense.
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