The game tape tells the story.
When Indianapolis recorded a sack on Tampa Bay's first offensive series in Week 5, quarterback Jeff Garcia seemed to be in for a long day. Untested and undrafted left tackle Donald Penn was on the wrong side of a horrendous mismatch and the Buccaneers knew they needed to throw the ball to keep pace with the Colts.
On that sack, Freeney ran a stunt from his right defensive end position, looping behind his teammates all the way over to a gap that was created between the center and the right guard.
Over on the left side, Raheem Brock had lined up at the left defensive tackle spot, and while defensive end Robert Mathis took the right tackle wide and then straight up the field, Brock exploded into the right guard but then accelerated past his outside shoulder, forcing him to turn his back to the Tampa Bay center to chase the hard-charging Brock. Meanwhile, on the right side, two blitzing attackers helped set up Freeney's stunt while right defensive tackle Ed Johnson tied up Bucs left guard, Arron Sears.
Just before the snap, middle linebacker Gary Brackett snuck up near Johnson's inside shoulder and attacked Bucs center John Wade and kept him engaged while Freeney completed his stunt between the center and the right guard.
Gary Brackett celebrates in the first quarter
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
Garcia was set up in the shotgun on the play and even had running back Michael Pittman to his left as a blocker in case Freeney got past left tackle Donald Penn. It would have been simple for Pittman to notice the stunt and shift to the middle to pick Freeney up, but what Tampa Bay didn't count on was cornerback Marlin Jackson blitzing from that side. He was lined up to cover the slot receiver, but at the snap he launched past Penn instead, forcing Pittman to react and take him on as the immediate threat to his quarterback from the offense's left side.
Brock actually beat Freeney to Garcia, and when he was about to take him down, the Bucs quarterback tried to take a step forward to get away -- but unfortunately for him, that put him a step closer to Freeney. The two Colts wrapped Garcia up and shared credit for the sack.
From there on out, however, both teams seemed content to keep things pretty vanilla and allow the individual players involved to speak for themselves. Indianapolis ran only two more stunts, blitzed conservatively -- at least in known passing situations, there were a few occasions where they ran run blitzes -- and generally allowed Garcia and the Bucs to come to them.
For the game, Tampa quarterbacks completed 21 of 27 passes. Garcia completed 18 of 23 pass attempts while backup Bruce Gradkowski completed three out of four attempts for a grand total of 165 yards.. That's a very underwhelming 7.5 yards per completion and 5.7 yards per attempt.
While the game was still in doubt and the Colts were basically playing straight-up defense, the design seemed to be focused on checking a couple of reads to see if anything was there, and checking down if there wasn't. Garcia checked down frequently to Ike Hilliard who caught 8 passes for only 58 yards (7.3-yard average) and running backs Michael Pittman (2-16 yards) and Earnest Graham (2-12 yards). Fullback B.J. Askew (1-3 yards) and tight end Jerramy Stevens (2-14 yards) both caught passes that were designed plays in the flat -- they were intended to get the targeted player out in space so that he could make a play after the catch, but you can see the results.
Tight end Alex Smith added two catches for just six yards, but both were touchdown receptions.
Early on, Garcia took a three-step drop (or take the snap and count to two if he was operating out of the shotgun), check his first read (wide receiver Joey Galloway -- usually deep), check his second read (Alex Smith in the seam), then check-down to Hilliard, Pittman or Graham if nothing was there. On only three occasions did he target Galloway deep and, obviously, he did not have any success with Smith in the seam.
The longest pass play of the day for the Bucs -- a 27-yard completion to Galloway in the fourth quarter -- was one of those instances. Garcia hit Galloway on a 15-yard out where the receiver had gotten past press coverage by the cornerback and in front of the safety. From there, Galloway used his speed and elusiveness to gain an additional 12 yards after the catch.
Josh Thomas closes in on Garcia
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
In the second quarter, Garcia attempted two passes to Galloway past 15 yards. One of those was a post route that Galloway dropped, the other was a deep post where Antoine Bethea bit on a play fake and middle linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Matt Giordano were forced to chase after Galloway. Fortunately for Indianapolis, Galloway lost the pass (a high, fluttering ball) in the lights and was never able to correctly adjust to it before it fell to the ground, incomplete.
Freeney, Brock, and Mathis were each credited with a quarterback hit during the game. Brock and Mathis got theirs on the two deep passes to Galloway in the second quarter and Freeney got his on Gradkowski long after the game had been decided.
Tampa most certainly had a plan to keep Garcia upright and to shelter their inexperienced left tackle coming into the game. During several plays in the first half and for the the majority of the second half (mostly the fourth quarter, since the Bucs had only one possession in the third quarter), Tampa Bay kept tight end Alex Smith and the tailback (either Pittman or Graham) in the formation and rotated one or both of those gentlemen to Freeney's side of the field.
Though the Colts very well could have run more stunts designed to free Freeney from the additional blockers, that would have allowed them to become receivers in the pattern and given the quarterback more options.
In the end, Indianapolis would certainly trade 7.5 yards per completion and 5.7 yards per attempt on a weekly basis if the only thing they have to sacrifice is a few sacks per game.
Where this warrants further review is when the Colts' opponent is not suiting up a green tackle to play opposite Freeney. In future games against superior teams, the left tackle may be asked to handle Freeney one-on-one, and his success in that matchup will go a long way in determining Indianapolis' overall success on defense.