The Indianapolis Colts have adapted their style of play on the offensive side of the ball heading into the postseason.
That means more spread looks for quarterback Andrew Luck, an increased tempo and a route tree that has a West Coast feel from my perspective.
Today, let’s go to the tape and break down how this system benefits the Colts personnel as they prep for Saturday’s AFC Wild Card Round matchup versus the Kansas City Chiefs.
Luck and the (No-Huddle) Spread
The Colts will still bring their Regular/21 (2WR-1TE-2RB), Tank/22 (1WR-2TE-2RB) and Heavy/13 (1WR-3TE-1RB) personnel groupings onto the field.
That’s where I see the two-back looks; the downhill running schemes (Power O, Counter OF, Lead) and the pro-style formations (I Slot, I Tight, I Tight Wing, etc.) from offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton in specific game situations.
However, I’m more focused on the Colts' ability to run an uptempo/no-huddle scheme out of their Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB) or Ace/12 (2WR-2TE-1RB) personnel in this film study.
Think of 3x1 or 2x2 formations with Luck in the shotgun. This allows Indianapolis to mix its alignments, create favorable matchups inside of the numbers and attack a soft box versus defensive sub-packages (nickel, dime) with the run game.
In my opinion, this caters to Luck’s skill set at the quarterback position from what I see on the tape. The ball is coming out quicker, the matchups are easier to identify and the personnel in Indianapolis is a better fit in this style of system.
Let’s go to the All-22 tape and take a look at how the spread system benefits Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Coby Fleener and the run game.
Hilton is impressive in this offense because of his lateral change-of-direction ability, burst out of his cuts and separation speed versus man coverage.
That shows up from a slot alignment, in a bunch (or stack) look and outside of the numbers, where he will vary his splits based on the route concept. Hilton will run the short-to-intermediate game and get on top of the secondary quickly when Luck throws the ball down the field.
Here’s a quick look at three routes to show how Luck can target Hilton with Posse/11 personnel on the field.
Slot Alignment: 7 (Corner) Route
A 3x1 Doubles Slot formation with Hilton aligned as the No. 3 receiver (count outside-in) to the closed (strong side) versus the Texans.
Against man coverage, Hilton beats the initial leverage of the defensive back (outside shade), stems up the field vertically and then breaks on the 7 cut—away from the free safety—to produce an explosive gain when Luck drops this ball in the bucket.
“X” Alignment: Shallow Drive Route
On the backside of a 3x1 alignment, you always have to check the split of the “X” receiver. Here, Hilton is aligned in a reduced (or nasty) split, tight to the core of the formation to run the shallow drive route (underneath crosser).
Working against the Jaguars' Cover 3 scheme, Fleener sits down on the inside curl at a depth of 12 to15 yards to force the underneath defenders to sink hard. And with both curl-flat defenders occupied on the outside, Hilton can carry this route across the field to give Luck an easy target underneath.
Slot Alignment: Quick Out (Sprint)
A basic concept here off sprint action, but I wanted to show Hilton at the top of the stem versus Kansas City’s man coverage.
With his speed off the ball, he can create separation and force the defender to open his hips. That allows Hilton to run through the break and win to the outside.
Fleener’s Role and Development
I do believe we are seeing more of that athleticism and route-running Fleener displayed back in college at Stanford because of the matchups he can get when removed from the core of the formation.
That’s the NFL game today at the tight end position.
Aligned in the slot, in the backside of a 3x1 formation, etc. This gives Luck a true middle-of-the-field option. The Colts will send Fleener on the seam to attack Cover 2 (matched up with the "Mike" 'backer) and Cover 3 (which put stress on the underneath defenders to sink) while also running the flat, option, 7, etc.
Let's check out Fleener on the inside vertical seam from a slot alignment:
4 Verticals vs. Cover 3
Out of Ace/12 personnel, the Colts align in a 2x2 Doubles formation with Fleener removed as the open-side slot receiver versus the Jaguars playing Cover 3.
With both No. 1 receivers converting their routes to deep comebacks (convert versus three deep), Fleener releases vertically up the numbers and stems this route back inside to gain leverage on the cornerback. That gives Luck the opportunity to throw the seam and split both the cornerback and free safety versus Cover 3.
The Run Game vs. 6- and 7-Man Fronts
As I said above, the Colts will go to their Regular/21, Tank/22 and Heavy/13 personnel to run their power schemes with two-back looks.
However, when you align in spread formations it widens the defense and creates a soft run front to work against with five or six defensive backs on the field.
The Colts will lean on the one-back power, the inside zone, draw, and also shift to a two-back split gun alignment when they move a tight end into the backfield. The idea here is to get downhill when you have the numbers to produce with running backs Donald Brown and Trent Richardson.
Let’s check out two schemes in spread formations.
This is a single-back gun alignment with Richardson offset to the open side of the formation and Hilton in the slot versus a six-man box.
By releasing Hilton on the seam (forces the linebacker to sink), and with Fleener working up to the second level, the Colts create a running lane off the inside double-team. That allows Richardson to get into the open field.
2-Back Counter OF
I’ve shown this play before in my film breakdowns, but I want to come back to it to highlight the blocking scheme versus a dime front.
With dime personnel (six defensive backs) on the field, the Chiefs drop a safety into the box versus the Colts' two-back look out of the gun. That allows the Colts to pull the closed side guard to the safety and lead the tight end up through the hole on the linebacker.
Look at the lane the Colts create for Brown. Once he gets to the second level, the running back breaks two tackles to take this ball for 50-plus yards and a touchdown.
Luck’s Skill Set and Production Is the Key
The Colts quarterback can play in any scheme because of his skill set. And there is no question he is a developing star in this league.
But the tape doesn’t lie when Luck and the Colts spread the field, test the defense and increase the pace of the offense.
Luck looks comfortable in the gun, and I think he is much quicker with his reads/progressions. He has shown the ability to find the proper matchup and expose the defense based off the pre-snap coverage alignment. And I believe he is at his best when the Colts go no-huddle and push the ball.
That includes targeting Hilton and Fleener along with receivers Griff Whalen and Da’Rick Rogers.
As we start to look ahead to Saturday’s game versus the Chiefs in Indianapolis, I would expect the Colts to play with tempo, force Kansas City to sit in its sub-packages and challenge its man-coverage schemes.
Give Luck the keys to the offense and let him go to work. Because that leads to production within this system.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report.
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