Inside the playbook: breaking down the Colts

Today: Breaking down the Colts

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With Peyton Manning and the Colts traveling to Lambeau tonight to play the Packers in a nationally televised preseason game, let’s take some time to look at what Indy does offensively.

Peyton ManningICONIndy's Peyton Manning.

In the past we have discussed teams such as New England who use multiple personnel groupings and formations. Indy, on the other hand, is just the opposite. They rely on their “Ace” or 212 personnel (2 WR, 1 RB, 2 TE) and “Posse” or 311 personnel (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE). Nearly the entire playbook is run with these two personnel groupings on the field. Yes, there is some window dressing involved to align in different formations, but at the end of the day this is what you see from Indy.

Let’s look at two of their top routes: the china/dig and 4 verticals. Basic concepts, but when No. 18 is at QB, they are tough to stop.


Indy comes out in its 311 personnel and aligns in a 2x2 formation (two receivers to both the strong and weak side of the formation). I put the defense in a base nickel Cover 2 — or Tampa 2 — look with their zone drops highlighted in red. To the closed, or strong side, we are looking at the china route by the “Z” receiver (5-yard in-route) and the deep 12-15 yard dig route (square-in) by the TE — who will be Dallas Clark in the regular season. To the open, or weak side, we see a basic smash/7 combo with the “X” receiver running the smash (hitch) and the “W” receiver (slot receiver) running the “7” route (flag).

Let’s check it out on the chalkboard…


Quick coaching points

Manning’s eyes: The Colts’ QB will find the SS before the snap of the ball (highlighted in orange). Why? Simple: he tells you everything. Watch Manning tonight when the Colts come to the line of scrimmage. He will force the SS to come out of his disguise at the line of scrimmage. That is one of the reasons the Colts run a no-huddle attack. Make the SS move before the snap and Manning then knows what you are playing. In this case, the SS has to get back to his Cover 2 landmark at the top of the numbers. Manning now knows where to go with the football.

Holes in the zone: In Cover 2 (just like any defense), there are windows to throw the ball in. Manning has two reads vs. this defense. There is a window between the CB and the Sam Linebacker on the china route and a window underneath the Mike Backer running the inside vertical seam. Two spots to throw the ball. Manning knows the defense and now he picks where he is going with the ball based off of the zone drops. He can throw these two routes all day long vs. this defense. Simple and effective.

4 Verticals

This is a route we see across the league and it is often used against Tampa 2 teams to put pressure on the Mike Backer — creating a two-on-one look. But, the key to Indy producing in this route is the personnel. In this case, the Colts bring their 212 personnel on the field. In a response, the defense will keep its base personnel in the game.

However, Indy aligns in a 311 look — with the “Y” TE removed from the formation in the slot. To change things up, I put the defense in its base Cover 3 with a 4-3 front — where the Will Linebacker has to “walk out” and play over the TE (highlighted in white) who is now aligned as a slot receiver.

4 verticals is used at all levels of football. Four players running go routes down the field with the RB check down as the outlet for the QB. It is a big play for the Colts in the red zone, but we will also see it out in the field. The two WRs (“Z” and “X”) will take hard outside releases to create separation for the two TEs (“Y” and “U”) in the middle of the field. The idea here is to put stress on the secondary and make them choose a route before the QB throws the ball. And, just like we talked about above, Manning will wait for the SS to drop down so that he can get to this curl/flat read.

Let’s check it out on the chalkboard…


Quick coaching points

The free safety’s technique: As we can see on the chalkboard, the free safety has a decision to make. Two vertical routes coming outside of the hashes. The best way to defend this is to stay square in your backpedal (with good depth) and drive down on the throw. When a safety plays too shallow, he cannot take the proper angle to the football — thus he gets beat. Essentially, he is playing two routes here in Cover 3 as the deep middle of the field player. Technique has to be solid.

Reading the QB: Another aspect to the free safety position. Don’t be a fish. What I mean by that is only come out of your pedal when the QB throws the ball. You have to know the difference between the pump and the QBs actual throwing motion. Players will study this on tape throughout the week, but with Manning, he is one of the best at “moving the free safety” to where he wants him to go — and making a play.

As we can see, these are not complex schemes by the Colts — but they are effective because of Manning. His ability to know what the defense is playing is a key to his game. Force the defense to show its hand and make the throws that produce points.

Check back to the NFP tomorrow for my Colts-Packers post game notes.

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