Tale of the Tape: Colts Offense

Jeffrey Bayless breaks down each play that the Colts offense ran against the Steelers, including what you might have missed on key plays. Check out his analysis...

Three days removed from the melt down of the Colts juggernaut that was the odds on favorite to add the coveted Lombardi trophy for Super Bowl XL to their trophy case, many questions still abound as to what transpired on the field turf-covered floor of the RCA Dome.   Although the Colts defense did start off rocky, they clearly adjusted and played very well after the first quarter, allowing just one 30-yard touchdown drive during the balance of the game. 

So the battle that decided this game was the highly ranked Colts offense versus the also highly esteemed Steelers defense.  So why did the Colt offense rarely resemble the fine-tuned machine that has been the buzz of the NFL for several seasons?  Was it the rust factor after not playing a meaningful game for a month?  Was it poor execution?  Was it a bad game plan by the Colts?  Or was it an excellent game plan by the Steelers?  In an attempt to discover what unfolded in front of a house full of screaming Colt faithful, I reviewed the game tape and broke down each offensive play the Colts ran -- and looked at what the Steelers did to counter. 

1st Quarter
Series 1 Drive began at the Colts 20 (Steelers 7-0)

1. Edgerrin James right for a gain of 2. Nice pursuit by the Steelers as Ike Taylor, James Farrior, and Larry Foote were all there to stop the play.
2. Incomplete pass to Marvin Harrison. Aaron Smith beat Jake Scott as the Steelers rushed four to pressure Peyton Manning into an overthrow.
3. Good protection as the Steelers rushed four, but Chris Hope had excellent coverage and broke up the pass to
Harrison .

Series 2: Drive began at the Colts 35 following an interception (Steelers 7-0)

4. Play action pass incomplete to Reggie Wayne. The Steelers showed blitz but only came with four as Smith beat Scott again to force an errant throw from Manning.  Wayne was open.
5. James up the middle for 3 yards.  There was a brief opening to run through but it closed quickly.
6. Good protection as the Steelers rush three, but Manning throws to an empty spot on the field as he and his intended target were not on the same page.

Series 3: Drive began at the Colts 20 (Steelers 14-0)
7. Kimo von Oelhoffen beats Tarik Glenn for the sack.  The Steelers rushed four, but as Ryan Lilja pulled out to pickup the LB coming off of the edge, it opened up a hole to the inside of Glenn that allowed von Oelhoffen to shoot through straight to Manning.
8. Good protection as the Steelers rushed four.  Manning to
Harrison on the slant for 24 yards.
9. James right for no gain. Foote was unblocked and makes the tackle from behind as Troy Polamalu was there to seal off the edge.
10. False start by Glenn.
11. Farrior sacks Manning. Lilja could not get to the edge to block Farrior. Joey Porter also beats Scott around the right end.  The Steelers rushed four as Smith dropped into coverage.
12. Screen to
Wayne for 12 yards.  Scott was called for being downfield to early, but the Steelers declined the penalty bringing up the 4th down.

2nd Quarter

Series 4:   Drive began at the Colts 14 (Steelers 14-0)

13. Steelers bring five on the blitz but it is picked up.  Manning throws incomplete to Wayne who was well-covered by Deshea Townsend.
14. Steelers blitz again as both von Oelhoffen and Smith pressure Manning who throws short to an open
Wayne .
15. Steelers show blitz but only come with three.  Manning overthrows a double-covered Wayne.

Series 5 Drive began at the Colts 2 (Steelers 14-0)

16. James straight ahead for 1 yard. Solid D by the Steelers.
17. James left for 10 yards.  Bryan Fletcher blocks Porter with Lilja picking up Farrior, allowing James to get to the second level where he gained 4 yards after contact.
18. James right for 4 yards.   Fletcher and Scott lead the way for James who is taken down by solid pursuit from the Steeler D.
19. Play-action pass to Dallas Clark for 21 yards. 
Clark was wide open as the Steelers came with 5, but the blitz was picked up well.
20. James right for 15 yards.  Glenn and Jeff Saturday seal the edge, allowing James to get to the second level where he followed the blocking of
Wayne for 5 additional yards.
21. Play-action pass to Fletcher for 12 yards.  The Steelers once again bring 5, but can't get to Manning.
22. Dominic Rhodes right for 2 yards.  The blocking was good initially, but
Rhodes couldn't make it to the edge fast enough to take advantage of it.
23. Pass to Wayne for 4 yards as the Steelers came with 4.
24. Polamalu blitzes off of the edge, but Fletcher runs a hot route and Manning hits him for an 8-yard gain.
25. Pass to James for 5 yards.  The Steelers came with 4.
26. James right for 10 yards.  James fakes the unblocked Farrior out of his shoes and cuts back inside -- then goes toward the sideline to finish the run.
27. James up the middle for 2 yards as the initial opening closes quickly.
28. Play-action pass to James for 7 yards.  No one covered James coming out of the backfield with the Steeler's D stopping him just short of the goal line.
29. Mungro left side for the TD, but a false start on Glenn negates the play.
30. Smith offsides for Pittsburgh.
31. James right for a yard as the Steeler defense reads correctly and stuffs the play.

3rd Quarter

Series 6:  Drive began on the Colts 19 (Steelers 14-3)

32. Play action screen to James for 4 yards. 
Taylor made a good read and stopped the play quickly.
33. James left for 3 yards.  Farrior met James at the line of scrimmage but James drives him forward for the 3-yard gain.
34. The Steelers bring 5, Manning pass to
Wayne for 8 yards.
35. James left for 4 yards.  The blocking was good at the line, but Polamalu comes out of nowhere to make the stop.  The play appeared destined for a bigger gain. Great play by Polamalu.
36. Pass to Fletcher off of his hands incomplete -- and almost intercepted by Polamalu. Should have been caught as the Steelers brought 4 on the rush.
37. Steelers bring five as Manning completes a short pass to
Clark for 4 yards.

Series 7 Drive began at the Colts 9 (Steelers 14-3)

38. Casey Hampton pressures Manning who throws it out of bounds. Saturday released
Hampton to Scott to help Glenn with von Oelhoffen. Scott lets Hampton by without touching him.
39. The Steelers rush four, pressuring Manning, who overthrows an open
Harrison .
40. Sack by Farrior who beat Scott around the corner. Porter also beat Lilja on the left side, and Polamalu on a delayed blitz gets by Clark who was lined up in the backfield in max protect. The Steelers came with 6.

Series 8 Drive began at the Colts 28 (Steelers 21-3)

41. Play-action screen to Fletcher who dropped the pass. Would have been stuffed anyway.
42. Pass to
Wayne broken up by a great play by Polamalu. Wayne appeared open, Polamalu almost picked the ball off coming out of nowhere.  Steelers rushed 4.
43. Pass to Edge for 8 yards.  The Steelers showed blitz but only came with four.
44. Pass to Brandon Stokley for 13 yards on the 4th down punt wave off.  The linebackers dropped into coverage as Polamalu came on the blitz.

4th Quarter

45. Screen to
Wayne for 1 yard.
46. Pass to Clark for 50-yard TD as the Colts caught the Steelers in a five-man rush.

Series 9:   Drive began at the Colts 20 (Steelers 21-10)

47. Pass to Wayne for 24 yards, excellent protection as Steelers bring four on the pass rush.
48. The overturned INT by Polamalu. Fletcher appeared open and once again Polamalu makes a great play on the ball.  The Steelers rushed three on the play.
49. Five-man blitz picked up as Manning throws to
Clark for 9 yards.
50. Pass to
Harrison for 20 yards.  The Steelers came with four and Manning found Harrison on the slant.
51. Pass to
Wayne for 24 yards.  The Steelers only send three after Manning.
52. James up the gut driving the would-be tackler into the endzone for a 3-yard TD.

Series 10 Drive began at the Colts 18 (Steelers 21-18)

53. The Steelers brought six, Manning completed a desperation pass to James for 2 yards as Manning was going down.
54. Porter sacks Manning. Lilja starts out that way but comes back inside to block Polamalu. Clark who was in the backfield for max protect also picks up Polamalu. Porter comes in untouched.  The Steelers brought six again.
55. Incomplete pass to Stokley deep over the middle. Overthrow by Manning as the Steelers only brought three on the rush.
56. Porter and Farrior meet at Manning for the sack. Farrior beats Diem, Porter beats Lilja as the Steelers brought five.

Series 11:   Drive began at the Colts 42 (Steelers 21-18)

57. Pass to
Wayne for 24 yards.  The Steelers bring five, the Colts adjust their protection and effectively pick it up.
58. Pass to
Harrison for 8 yards.  The Steelers came with four.
59. Incomplete to
Wayne in the endzone as the Steelers again come with five.
60. Incomplete to
Wayne at the 10. Wayne going towards the endzone, Manning throws as if he expected him to curl back.  The Steelers brought five.

Sixty plays, including penalties and not including punts, field goals or extra points. Here is what I gathered from reviewing this game.

The first two series it was obvious that the offense was way out of sync. To me, that was in large part due to the month layoff, but that is just my opinion. I don't think this offense was operating anywhere near it's potential until the second quarter. The 5th series was obviously the best of the game. After the successful drive to end the first half, the Colts came out and tried to run and use play-action on the first drive of the second half.  But when that drive stalled, the Colt's abandoned the run from that point on.  


Down 14-3 in the third quarter, the run and play-action was still a viable option. The thing that stands out to me -- and I'm assuming one of the reasons the Colts struggle against 3-4 defenses that rush the outside linebackers off of the edge -- is that they assign that responsibility most of the time to the guards. If the linebacker comes up the middle, then the guard would likely be in a good position to block the rush. But, asking a 300-pound man to pull out, come around his engaged tackle, and engage an obviously quicker linebacker who is at full throttle is ridiculous. He would be off balance when and if contact was made -- and would have to engage the linebacker who had a running start.  That's a formula for failure. And that's what happened.

The last series of the game leading up to the Mike Vanderjagt miss, I noticed the protection was switched up with the tackles taking the linebackers and the guard staying inside. Why did it take 58 minutes for the Colts to make that change in their game plan? My verdict after reviewing this game is that the Colts failed because they didn't properly game plan against what many people knew would be coming. The Steelers were able to deploy what the Chargers did in the week 15 match-up to stymie this offense.

The pass to
Wayne on the play before the Vanderjagt miss should have been completed if Wayne and Manning were on the same page. If Wayne would have curled back as Manning anticipated, the Colts would have had a 1st down around the 10-yard line. If Manning had thrown to the route Wayne ran, the Colts would have had -- at the very least -- a 1st-and-goal with 20+ seconds left, if not a touchdown.

The slow start was a result of rust. And then a poor protection game plan added to the confusion, resulting in the defeat by a hungry Steelers team.

The Colts were that close to winning that game. But it shouldn't have come down to needing almost a miracle in the final minutes.

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