The easy parallel is on the offensive side of the ball: you have a talented quarterback who isn’t necessarily at the height of his ability — Wentz because of youth; Luck because of injury; you lack reliable pass-catchers, which limits the offense’s scope. But even the defense: terribly shaky young secondary with a disruptive front four (though Indy’s is nowhere near Philly’s caliber.
As such, you’re going to see a lot of familiar ideas here. Don’t worry too much about that though: the talent of the players on the field is always what matters most, and the Eagles simply outclass the Colts from a talent perspective.
Pining after Zach Ertz
I think the clearest parallel you can draw between the 2016 Eagles offense and the 2018 Colts offense is that both really need to feed their tight ends as a primary pass-catcher. T.Y. Hilton is obviously a talented receiver — better than anyone the ‘16 Birds put out on the field — but the strength of his game is deep down the field, and this offense is oriented to the short and intermediate areas.
As such, Frank Reich is trying to squeeze as much juice as he can out of
accountant character actor dentist TE Jack Doyle and the husk of Eric Ebron. Ebron fills the Ertz role, in that he’s the more athletic of the two tight ends who is frequently lined up out wide as a slot or isolated X-receiver, and he’s responsible for more downfield routes.
Now Frank Reich loves his vertical stretches, and Ebron fits as the intermediate route runner in a lot of those ideas — you can get him manned up against a linebacker on a long-distance route and have him create separation with speed; against secondary defenders, he wins with size.
Washington spins to Cover 3 late here, which is a nice shell to see because Philadelphia will certainly use it often on Sunday. Levels is generally a great concept to use to attack Cover 3, because the deep route carries the deep third defender downfield, and the shallow route forces the flat defender to stay tethered to the line of scrimmage. The opened space is where the intermediate route should be targeted.
The play by free safety Montae Nicholson is really important here. He gains depth at the snap, but stays aware of the full concept and understands where the weakness of his coverage is. As pressure comes on Luck while the pocket collapses (God bless you Le’Raven Clark), Nicholson is free to key quickly and close downhill without worrying about Luck getting to the deep ball.
Nice range on the young safety from Michigan State to affect the catch point. I highlighted Rodney McLeod’s recent stellar play, especially when he’s playing in the intermediate areas — hopefully that aggression and confidence translate into such downhill play against these levels ideas.
Limits in the running game
Let’s talk more Le’Raven Clark — and generally, the Colts’ offensive line. If we continue our Eagles comparisons, Philadelphia runs likely the most creative and variant rushing attack in the league because of the athleticism and continuity on their offensive line. With Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, and Ryan Kelly along the left side, the Colts have a good base: but Castonzo is injured, replaced by the lesser player in Joe Haeg — and that’s not to even mention the right side.
Matt Slauson and Le’Raven Clark start at RG and RT for Indy in this weekend’s matchup, and that is bad news bears for Colts fans. Reich did well to invest in OL early with Nelson, but this is a multi-year project.
I like breaking down this rep because the Haeg/Nelson/Kelly kinda kill it on the playside, but it doesn’t really matter too much because of the other players. Ideally this outside zone run (with a fold block playside) is getting to the outside of TE Jack Doyle, but he fails to seal down the 7-technique, so RB Wilkins has to turn it back up inside.
But Haeg’s pull to the outside is nice, and he generates a good initial angle if the run came that direction.
On the inside, LG Nelson and C Kelly execute a silky ACE block on the 1-technique, as Nelson pops him to give Kelly a better angle before climbing up to the strong linebacker and just burying him. Big time sheesh.
So really, this interior lane of outside zone could have opened up nicely, if Slauson and Clark were able to seal off the backside. But they have zero chance of scooping the backside tackle because Clark is late off the ball, and Slauson lacks the flexibility to generate enough power in his hips to seal this block off and drop anchor.
Clark goes sprinting after the weakside backer, but he has no hope of generating a good angle on that play after fighting through the trash of Slauson’s block. There’s no sunlight for Wilkins when he gets north, and this play goes dead pretty quickly. Shame to waste that interior work.
The Colts rely a lot more on whams and traps, which makes sense given the lesser talent along the offensive front — whams and traps require good communication, but they help mitigate talent disparity because they generate such nice angles. You can read more about that here.
Cover 2 and anticipation throws
So Carson Wentz comes back this week — I dunno if you heard. If there’s rust — and there very likely will be — how will it manifest itself?
Accuracy might be a little shaky coming out. Maybe he’ll be a little skittish in the pocket. But I think the biggest spot for rust will likely be timing with his wide receivers — a few of whom he has never played with in a live game experience. You can work your drops and steps and zone holes as much as you want in practice, but real life is inevitably played at a different speed.
I was surprised to see Alex Smith late to several throws against the Colts in Week 2. He’s never had great zip, which means he has to anticipate spot throws and windows — and that skill has kept him afloat as an NFL quarterback. Perhaps it’s the new system; the new wideouts. But Smith just seems behind.
The Colts love to show two-high shells at the snap (run against the light boxes?), and while they will often spin out to middle of the field closed looks (single-high), they stay in the two-deep zone looks and force yout to take hole shots accordingly. Against Cover 2, you need hard workers up the seams — think Agholor and Ertz from the slot.
This layered route here from Washington is built to attack that hole up the seam in Cover 2 — between the deep and underneath zones, stretching the middle hole defender.
Darius Leonard (MLB 53) deserves a lot of credit for how well he plays this, and the speed with which he turns and closes. However, on a route concept such as this — the outside receiver is basically splitting three zone defenders, that ball needs to be at the spot right when he turns around. By hanging it high and clicking late, Smith leaves time for both the safety and Leonard to close and affect the catch point.
We could see similar issues for Carson, in terms of how well he can execute spot throws against quick-closing zones. Especially for those players with whom he’s unfamiliar — Aiken, Perkins/Goedert, even Matthews — miscommunication on landmarks and breaks could lead to hesitation, if not misplacement and interceptions.
I did say that the Colts have a disruptive front four — and they do, though not at the level Philadelphia does. The best reps come from DT Hassan Ridgeway, especially when disrupting in the running game — but he’s inactive for the Sunday game, which means Philly will see a healthy dose of Al Woods, Grover Stewart, and Jihad Ward on the inside (Denico Autry is also out).
That’s great news.
But on the outside, DE Margus Hunt (92) continues to produce well for the Colts — and he’s bolstered by the stunt/slant heavy techniques that DC Matt Eberflus deploys.
I really like this rep from a football nerd standpoint. Running that double interior slant and looping the tackle all the way to the backside is a common idea: the quarterback naturally feels the space generated when nobody comes off the corner and leaks that way — right into a big boy’s lap.
But this wrinkle of dropping #99 Al Woods to the releasing running back to throw him off his hot route and give the rush an extra second to get home? I rock with that in a big way.
Hunt beat up on the Bengals’ Bobby Hart, who isn’t exactly a tough opponent. But Halapoulivaati Vaitai isn’t too much better when he’s struggling. Hunt wins with quickness to the inside shoulder here, and Vaitai does struggle mightily when rushers come at him with initial explosiveness — he panics, bends at the waist, and opens the back door.
The slanting and stunting will test the communication of the Eagles’ offensive line — not a problem if Peters is in; a potential issue with Vaitai in. For the Colts to hold back the Eagles offensive attack, pressure will be key — their secondary is shot — so expect a heavy dose of 5- or 6-man fronts and ton of twists/overloads to stress Philadelphia accordingly.