The Colts are not a team that is going to run the ball with any sort of consistency or authority, especially against the Broncos base defense. While conventional wisdom might point to letting Andrew Luck sling the ball down the field in spread formations with 11 personnel, the Colts should do everything in their power to create mismatches against the Broncos base personnel.
When the Broncos play in their base defense, Corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. man the outside. Von Miller plays the role of SAM linebacker which means he has coverage responsibilities, Derek Wolfe plays strongside DE, and you have Sylvester Williams and Pot Roast in the middle to plug up the run.
With Brandon Marshall back in the fold at WILL, you'll still have one of Steven Johnson or Todd Davis in the middle. Why is all of this important?
Because you have personnel that's more geared to stop the run. Wolfe, Williams, and Knighton aren't exactly pass-rush specialists. Davis/Johnson along with Von Miller who now has other responsibilities are not players that will excel in coverage.
The Colts do not have the personnel for a heavy-two back set unless they were to use Dwayne Allen in the backfield as an "H-back."
What they do have is a TE-duo that puts four of the best Colts' weapons on the field at the same time. Along with relative unknown Dan Herron (and at times Trent Richardson), the Colts will use TY Hilton along with Reggie Wayne or Donte Moncrief. Hakeem Nicks is also in the picture though he has taken more of a reserve role as the season has unfolded.
Now that I have outlined the personnel that will be used, let's take a look at how some teams have exploited our base defense in the passing game.
Brady finds LaFell against Von Miller
The Patriots are probably the best equipped team to attack our base personnel because their auxiliary skill players are threats in the passing game. Rob Gronkowski is lined up wide at the top of the formation while their 2nd TE is off the right tackle. Edelman is slot right with Brandon LaFell next to him.
One of the ways quarterbacks gain cues as to which coverage the defense plays is by sending receivers in motion. Generally speaking, if a defense is playing man coverage you will see someone "shadow" the motion man across the formation. If no one moves, the quarterback can guess that the defense is playing zone coverage.
Brady sends LaFell into motion--and while there is a slight shift by Ward and Talib, they do not trail LaFell--which tells Brady that even if the Broncos are disguising their coverage and playing man, he will have LaFell one on one against Von Miller.
Von does a good job at recognizing his new responsibility. Had LaFell not moved to this side of the formation, Von might not be asked to play coverage. LaFell ends up getting 6 on the play, but this is just one example of how you can create favorable matchups with your personnel.
Reggie Wayne vs. Nate Irving
It's tough to see the play unfold from this angle. Basically, the Broncos are in Cover 3, which is a zone principle the way Del Rio dials it up. Both outside corners (Talib and Harris Jr.) are responsible for defending a deep third of the field along with the single high safety. Against a less athletic linebacking corps, you can run a lot of crossing routes. Reggie Wayne starts wide left, but crosses through the middle. With the defense playing zone, the next one to pick up Wayne is Irving from the MLB spot. Nate Irving is never going to stay step by step with Wayne and it results in a 22 yard gain.
Fleener and Allen, the dynamic duo
Against the Cowboys, the Colts dialed up this beautiful route concept. With Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener lined up next to each other on the right side of the line, they "criss-cross" each other at precisely the 10 yard mark downfield. Allen runs an out and go, Fleener a post. The Cowboys are caught in some sort of zone call and there is a sweet spot right on the sideline for Allen to sit. Unfortunately, the throw makes him turn completely around off balance, IN-COM-PLETE!
I can guarantee you that a similar concept would work wonders against the Broncos base defense.
Thought the Broncos were missing Brandon Marshall, Cincinnati had a lot of success against Denver in their base defense, and they had a lot of success passing the ball to their backs and TE's. Hopefully Marshall's appearance back in the starting line-up will help solve some of the issues the defense encountered, but you have to expect Indy to come into this game and attack a defense that has shown some vulnerability especially with base personnel.
Tomorrow, I'm going to take a look at the entire Colt offense.