Earlier this morning, I broke down the Indianapolis Colts’ offense. Now, it’s time to flip the field and give you an exclusive breakdown of the Colts’ defense. How can the Denver Broncos’ offense take advantage of this unit?
The Colts run a base 3-4 press defense. That starts with shutdown coverage outside from elite corner Vontae Davis.
If people want to talk about Chris Harris, Jr. being the most underrated cornerback in the NFL this season, Davis has to be in that same conversation. He’s allowed a paltry 38.8 passer rating this season and only a 43.4% completion rate. In the first game of the year, when the Broncos and Colts last met, he allowed one catch on 5 targets, and it was a quick pass to Emmanuel Sanders. Last year, just 3 catches on 8 targets, but for a total of 12 yards. Davis has four interceptions and no TDs allowed this year.
Davis will be able to limit or lock down entirely whoever his assignment is. The question becomes, who do the Broncos then target? In the Colts’ press coverage defense, as with any other, if you can beat the jam, you will beat press coverage. Check out the left slot receiver here.
Greg Toler has been a weakness for the Colts this season, as shown in that play. He has allowed 8 touchdowns, a 98.9 rating and has not had an interception since Week 3. The Broncos should be able to challenge him early and often across from Vontae Davis.
There is a familiar face in the defensive backfield for Indianapolis. Safety Mike Adams spent the last two years in orange and blue, but signed with the Colts in free agency. The 11-year veteran looks and plays very differently from his time in Denver, displaying great range and centerfield instincts.
However, it is the linebacking corps that is truly the gapingly obvious weakness in coverage in the Colts’ defense. It simply jumps off the film. D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman have combined to allow 7 TDs en route to a passer rating of 118.7.
Jackson is a force against the run, with 6 TFLs this season on a unit that ranks 18th in the league. He is the more aggressive of the two, with a propensity to bite on playaction. Freeman is slower both laterally and attacking the run. And in coverage, they can be exposed.
Keep an eye on TE Jordan Cameron here, lined up as the fullback.
Here, the right slot TE is matched up against a LB.
If the Broncos can exploit the LBs in coverage, be it with TE Julius Thomas, TE Virgil Green or a running back, they can find major success. Let’s not forget that Thomas had 7 catches on 8 targets for 104 yards and 3 TDs in the season opener as he was able to tear the Colts apart, matched up mostly on the linebackers.
In terms of the pass rush, Colts journalist Jack Browne says,
“The Colts cannot create pressure with a 4 man rush or by beating one-on-one situations consistently. The sack number looked fine. But that’s a lot of blitzing, a lot of feasting on rubbish teams and rubbish QBs.”
Indianapolis’ 29 sacks are good for 25th in the league, much of which is bolstered by the efforts of Jonathan Newsome. The rookie has been the key to the Colts’ pass rush this season, notching a team-high 6.5 sacks from his OLB position. For an excellent breakdown of his season, check out Colts Academy. Although he doesn’t have great strength, he makes up for it with speed and motor in spades. Stopping him on four man rushes will be the key to keeping Peyton Manning clean.
Colts Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky is also able to create some excellent blitz schemes to generate pressure. However, blitzing Peyton Manning is always a risky proposition. This blitz didn’t result in a sack, but was able to generate some pressure on Andy Dalton.
In conclusion, Denver is not going to beat Vontae Davis in coverage easily. They are far better suited targeting Greg Toler or either of the LBs. Finally, the Colts will likely have to bring extra pass rushers to get to Manning. The Broncos will have to contain OLB Jonathan Newsome as well. If they can meet these factors and establish the run against the Colts, they should be able to roll offensively.
Thanks to Jack Browne for his insight on the Colts. Drop him a follow on Twitter and check out his work!