ColtPower Playbook: Three Big Plays

Jess Huffman makes his debut at ColtPower with a new weekly feature that highlights three big plays from the game -- and why they worked.

Big plays are like jam on toast – you can do without them -- but who really wants to? They're the sprinkles on the ice cream, the special sauce on the Big Mac, the extra butter on the movie theater popcorn, the lovin' mom puts on her homemade meatloaf.

The Colts were back to old form Sunday, as they had many big plays against the Titans. But big plays usually don't just happen by luck. They evolve through a series of events as twenty-two players go in motion at the snap of the ball. In today's ColtPower Playbook, you'll learn about what allowed three of those snaps to become big plays that brought fans to their feet.

Manning to Wayne

Where to begin? Every touchdown, every forced three-and-out, every Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison -- they're all so enjoyable. But I would have to say getting the first touchdown of the game was a huge burden off the Colts' shoulders. All the finger-pointers, all the nay-sayers, the critics suddenly got quiet. The Colts offensive explosiveness was back in one drive, as Indianapolis marched down the field for 81 yards on seven plays.

Manning utilized four different receivers in the drive, going 4-of-4 passing for 64 yards.

It wasn't easy. The Colts just made it look easy.

Defenses have decided they are not going to give up the bomb to Manning anymore, allowing short plays rather than long passes off the play action. However, despite Tennessee dropping back with eight players in coverage, Manning was able to connect with Reggie Wayne for a 25-yard touchdown on the seventh play of the opening drive. The Colts found the end zone by making adjustments on adjustments, using Brandon Stokley as a decoy.

Stokley didn't see action until the sixth play of the drive. Before then, Dallas Clark had been lining up in the slot. But when Stokley lined up, the Tennessee defense shifted focus. They did exactly what the Colts wanted them to do – bite on the bait.

There were eight, count ‘em, eight players back covering the Colts' five receivers. Wayne and Harrison were set along the sideline, Stokley motioned to the slot and Ran Carthon and Edgerrin James came out of the backfield. James was double-covered, Carthon drew single coverage, while Harrison and Stokley occupied a combined four defenders' attention in the middle of the field. With both running slant patterns, the heart of Tennessee's defense was left in the middle of the field, while the Colts struck to the outside.

Cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones got burnt. There is no question about it. But Tank Williams was the one who missed his assignment. Stokley ran a perfect route, appearing open for just long enough to suck in the attention of Williams to the middle of the field. Wayne ran a post route to the outside – bingo. Colt's 7, Titans nada.

Manning to Harrison v. 1.0

The Colts only had four offensive drives of 12 plays or more in all of 2004. Already in 2005, they have five. In their third drive of the game, with the defense again dropping back, the Colts constructed another long, 12-play drive built on short passes and stretch plays.

In the fourth drive, the Colts capitalized on a beautiful pass from Manning. It took 11 plays, but Manning somehow found the slightest of holes between cornerback Andre Woolfolk and Lamont Thompson. The reason – once again – Stokley.

Indianapolis was on third-and-seven on the Tennessee 11-yard line. The Titans had not seen Stokley in over two drives. Tennessee was back with eight players covering the Colts' receivers. The Colts utilized Clark and Stokley on the inside and Harrison and Wayne out wide. Harrison and Stokley both ran sharp slant patterns that, if continued, would have collided.

They both entered the end zone at the same time drawing the attention of safety Lamont Thompson. Stokley caught his right peripheral, while Harrison caught his right. However, Thompson made the slightest of a gesture toward the presence of Stokley. Before he knew it Manning had connected with Harrison in the slightest of windows he left open. Once again, the cornerback got beat in the play, but Stokley set up the play by diverting the attention of the safety to open the up the end zone. The Colts used Stokley in the most crucial of situations Sunday, when the safety needed to be on his toes the most. It paid dividends.

The catch was Harrison's 100th touchdown reception and the 84th time the tandem has connected. 

The Cherry on the Cheesecake

It was all but over. The Colts were up 24-3 and driving. It was a moment meaningless to the outcome of the ball game, but one touchdown that Colts' fans will always remember.

On the Tennessee 24-yard line, Manning set up in the shotgun on second-and-ten. Harrison ran a post route on the right sideline, stopped on a dime, turned and was greeted with a perfect pass on the 12-yard line. Tiptoeing his way down along the sideline, Harrison snuck in the end zone for the score.

What you might not have noticed was the people who created the room for the play to work – the tight ends. No, that wasn't Marcus Pollard battling defensive ends on Sunday. No, that wasn't Stokley running the slot, creating room for the wide-outs to work. That was Bryan Fletcher battling like NFL Europe had whipped him into serious shape, and Dallas Clark running perfect routes to divert attention in the slot.

While Fletcher followed his assignment step for step, giving Manning just enough time to throw, Clark ran a perfect route to make the Tennessee safeties look foolish.

Reviewing the tape, you'll find when Harrison stops and turns on the 12-yard line, Clark is surrounded by three Tennessee defenders at the seven-yard line. By beating Harrison deeper downfield near the end zone, Clark was able to draw the Titan safeties towards the middle of the field, far away from Harrison. All that they and cornerback Andre Woolfolk could do is watch another Harrison touchdown reception go in the history books.

The touchdown marked the 85th time the Manning and Harrison hooked up for a touchdown, tying them with Steve Young and Jerry Rice for tops all time. It was all due to preparing, practicing routes and being on the same page with everyone on the field.

Coincidentally, this has what made Harrison, Manning and the rest of the Colts' offense so dominant in the past.

Thanks for the memories guys.

Colts Blitz Top Stories