Not so fast. Monday in Miami, the Colts' rushing offense started showing signs of life. Unfortunately, the offense was not on the field long enough for us to determine just how healthy the run game actually was. The fact that the Colts averaged 5.5 yards per carry against the Dolphins is an impressive number, but 11 total carries is a fairly small sample.
Indianapolis actually had success running between the tackles last week. The major reason for this was because the Colts interior line — LG Ryan Lilja, C Jeff Saturday and RG Mike Pollak — were winning their initial battles off the snap and clearing decent paths in the center of the field.
This interior line at the moment actually looks like it prefers to straight ahead run mauling over the quick up-the-field pulling style that has been a key component of making runs like the stretch play or counters so successful in the past — think of OG Rick DeMulling pulling out and leading the way for Edgerrin James.
Pollak had one of his best games as a Colt vs. Miami
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Maybe the answer is to play to a strength and call more runs between the tackles? If that's to happen, the Colts' interior line must control the line of scrimmage against Arizona's inside defenders, NT Bryan Robinson and DT Darnell Dockett.
Both Robinson and Dockett mix up their DE-DT positioning depending on down, distance and scheme. Although Robinson played mostly at nose tackle in 2008, the 13-year veteran is a solid technician who reads and reacts well quickly at the line no matter where he lines up.
As Pro Football Weekly points out, "Originally brought in to be part of the rotation at end, Robinson has found a home at nose tackle, despite the fact that, at 6-4, 304 pounds, he's a far cry from the 330-pound prototype at the position."
This week his battle with Colts C Jeff Saturday, on most downs, will be one to watch. These are two crafty veterans who won't overpower many, but usually figure out how to gain the upper hand. Neither lacks explosion off the snap, so expect a battle of wills as each tries to move the other off the point.
Robinson's running mate on the interior, Darnell Dockett, is a little DT and a little DE all mixed up. Arizona defensive coordinator Billy Davis would like to take "more advantage this season of Dockett's highly regarded first step by moving him around on the line more frequently." Dockett's versatility in Arizona's 3-4 defense allows Davis to put him in favorable individual matchups. Most probably remember Dockett for his three sacks in last year's Super Bowl.
Both RG Mike Pollak and RT Ryan Diem will be tasked with slowing Dockett at various points on Sunday night. When lining up off the edge, Dockett is an aggressive high-motor end, typically the kind that can give Diem headaches in pass protection.
Indianapolis is not hesitant to leave Ryan Diem in one-on-one situations, but look for a chipping tight end or help from Pollak in these situations. Indianapolis might even do what Miami did successfully last week against Dwight Freeney and use both the tackle and guard to consistently batter and annoy the pass rusher.
When lining up on the interior, Dockett possesses very good strength and inside quickness. He's quick off the ball and strong enough to shed or penetrate. Just like when on the outside, it's his first step that will cause major problems.
In these situations Mike Pollak has to be quicker off the snap than usual. He's not going to overpower Dockett, but does possess good footwork, understands angles, and is a smart lineman. He's going to need to stay true in his technique and work to sustain his blocks all evening.
One thing Arizona does is rotate defensive linemen. The success of the rotation was evident last week in Jacksonville. Cardinals writer Darren Urban explains the positives:
". . . the Cardinals' defensive line seems to understand sacrificing some of that playing time to assure a higher level of play is crucial, making self-policing of the playing rotation just as crucial.
"One of the things we said was ‘Go hard every play you are out there and if you are tired, get out,' "Robinson said. "Because somebody else will roll in there. Playing up front is hard but very simple when you think in terms of what you have to do. They can only block you so many ways. . . .
"We were thinking of the next game too," Dockett said of the upcoming meeting with the Colts. "When you get great rotation, you take stress off your body for the following week. There have been times when you play the whole game and no matter what kind of break you had, the following week that Sunday you can't get your step back."
Another thing fresh legs allows a defense to do is bring the heat. It's a lot easier to blitz with fresh legs and Arizona loves to blitz. Colts President Bill Polian emphasized that fact on his call-in show this week: "They do come quite a bit. They try to get you off of your game. They overload sides just as Pittsburgh does. They try to disguise and get you to commit to protection and come where you're not. They do a good job of handling it, and a good job of executing it."
So far this season Arizona has eight sacks, each by a different defender. So they're doing a good job mixing things with different looks. On the flipside, the Cardinals know that if they can devote maximum numbers to coverage and still get some pressure, it will go a long way in slowing Peyton Manning and the Colts passing attack.
Defenses that tend to gamble with a blitz will often get burned by the cerebral Manning. So is it worth the risk?
Look for Arizona to pick their spots. If Dockett and RE Calais Campbell, in particular, are being held in check, the Cardinals will likely roll the dice with more blitzes and hope that the blitzer gets to Manning before he recognizes the opening.
Campbell, a second-year player out of Miami (FL), knows how to use his 6-foot-8 height to disrupt passing lanes. He's already batted down two balls this season. Last week, the "Cardinals sacked David Garrard four times and Calais Campbell said he felt he should have had three more when he got his hands on Garrard, but he pulled out of his grasp."
Campbell is not exceedingly quick off the edge or that good at avoiding contact. So it will be integral for Colts LT Charlie Johnson to engage quickly and keep Campbell's big mitts out of passing lanes.
Campbell, like the entire Cardinals defense, has shown consistency against the run. He's reading and reacting well while using those long arms to shed blocks and locate the ball.Here Johnson's ability to seal off Campbell or whoever is rotating at RE without help from LG Ryan Lilja will allow Ryan to get upfield and block a linebacker or safety, thus creating deeper holes. That, however, also hinges on Saturday's ability to handle Robinson one-on-one.
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