Cowboys Scouting: Inside The Colts Offense

Take a look at the Colts’ personnel and schemes to see what the Cowboys are preparing for in Sundays’ match up.

Week 16

Opponent: Indianapolis Colts
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano
Offensive Coordinator: Pep Hamilton
Quarterback: Andrew Luck
Primary Running Threats:

Primary Receiving Threats:

Break Down

When you talk about the Indianapolis Colts offense, the story begins and ends with the quarterback, Andrew Luck. The highly acclaimed young quarterback has achieved a remarkable level of success in the first three seasons of his NFL career, and his skillset has been the primary reason the Colts have become the NFLs most prolific passing offense in 2014 in terms of both yardage (310.9 yds/game) and touchdowns (38).

Attacking Cover-2 Looks

One side effect of an offense that is so prolific in the passing game, while being average at best in terms of running the ball, is seeing a lot of 2-deep safety coverages as defenses attempt to limit the downfield passing game and force the ball underneath.

On this particular play, the Colts are in a Bunch set to Luck’s right, with TE Coby Fleener as the point man with Hakeem Nicks to the outside, and Dwayne Allen inside. T.Y. Hilton is aligned as the “X” on the backside. The route concept to the front-side is the “Dagger” concept, featuring a Seam route by Fleener, and a Dig (In-cut at 12 yards) route by Nicks. This is a classic cover-two beater that teams use to open up space in the middle of the field. The Out route run by Allen, as well as the Fade (or Go) route run by Hilton are simply designed to clear out room for the concept over the middle.

As Luck reaches the top of his drop, you can see the route combination developing exactly as it is designed. The Texans’ are in a pure “Tampa-Two” coverage, with the safeties gaining width and depth in their deep-half-zones (red lines), and the Middle Linebacker turning to run with the immediate inside-vertical-threat from Fleener’s seam route (orange square). Nicks is coming out of his break, heading over the middle (yellow arrow), and a very clear throwing lane has developed for Luck (blue lines).

At the point of the catch by Nicks (orange square), it becomes easy to see how this combination has bested the coverage. Nicks is behind the underneath coverage players, and the near-side safety has widened past his land mark (top of the numbers) to account for the deep threat that Hilton presents. This gives Nicks a clear path to the endzone (blue lines).

Getting the Ball to the TE Down Field

This is another example of the Colts using a very basic route combination to attack the Texan’s defense down the field. The Colts are in 13 (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR) personnel, which is primarily a run-first grouping, but here the Colts are using the “Sail” combination, with play-action in the back field. The sail concept features a corner route by an inside receiver, and with a go route by the outside receiver. This combination is viewed primarily as a Cover-3 (3 deep 4 under) beater, but in this case, the Colts are attacking the Texans Cover-4 (4 deep, 3 under) coverage.

This combination works by clearing out the CB from his deep zone with the go route, to open up space for the inside receiver (in this case the TE).

Here we can see the corner increasing his depth as the WR runs up the numbers. Even this early in the play, you can see the open space to the outside that will be available once the CB clears out. The LB underneath is attempting to gain some depth, and limit those intermediate windows.

As Fleener breaks outside, Luck has already begun his throwing motion, as he was able to anticipate his TE coming open. He has an extremely large window to throw the ball into for the completion (blue square), and his margin for error is increased substantially when the LB reacts to the underneath route by the backside TE, and drives downhill. The result of the play, a 22 yard completion, pushes Indianapolis out of the shadow of their own end-zone and giving them much more room to operate.

Working The Ball Underneath

Here we see the Colts employing a staple of the Bill Walsh style West Cost offense. The “HiLo Opposite” concept, features two crossing routes, a drag (shallow route run at about 3 yards), and a dig, giving the Quarterback two options for relatively easy throws over the middle, while creating significant conflicts inside for zone defenders.

Here we see the Texans’ Fire Zone (3 deep, 3 under) coverage developing as the Texans send 5 rushers, and the CBs both play with “zone technique” (butt to the sideline, staying on-top of the receiver), and the near-side LB gains depth in his drop.

As Allen runs the drag across the field, the Texans bust on the pass-off as one defender runs with the man on the dig route (red square). This leaves Allen wide open with lots of running room, and because the protection holds up, Luck has another easy throw as the Colts move the chains.


When you watch the Colts play, it’s easy to see just how dynamic their passing game can be. Even in a game where their most dynamic down field weapon had limited production, they were still able to manufacture some explosive plays in the pass game, and give their QB a chance to succeed. Andrew Luck is a challenge for any defense, but with the volume of passes he throws, he does show a tendency to turn the ball over (14 INTs on a league leading 578 attempts). If the Cowboys are able to remain opportunistic in taking the ball away on defense, and finish drives on offense, they should be able to come away with a win, and an 11-4 record heading into the regular season finale.

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