So, rumor is that there is an actual game that matters coming up this Sunday. I've also heard that the team the Bears are facing, those darned Indianapolis Colts, have some fancy new rookie QB helming their offense. So what's going on over there in Indy? Andrew Luck and the Colts' new 3-4 defensive look have yet to be tested in the regular season, but they did match up against the Redskins one week after the Skins got Blanchard-ed in Chicago. Will Andrew Luck be able to solve the Tampa 2 puzzle? Can Dwight Freeney play standing up? Answers and play-charts follow...
Andrew Luck looks like he's going to live up to his hype: the kid can throw. His game isn't perfect, however: he didn't connect on any of his long bombs and looked a little shaky under pressure. The biggest knock I saw on Luck is his escape speed out of the pocket - on one four-man rush by Washington, he attempted to plod out of the pocket but got eaten up by a defensive tackle. Still, Luck was able to connect on one nice mid-range pass to T.Y. Hilton that went for a touchdown and was able to stay alive long enough in the pocket to put together a few good drives. With the Colts offensive line looking about as good as the Bears, however, the Bears have the potential to make it a long afternoon for Luck.
T.Y. Hilton looks like the biggest deep threat the Colts have on their roster right now, as Reggie Wayne looked every bit his 34 years. Wayne wasn't able to get any separation on his one deep route, but he was more than able to take what the defense would give him working underneath routes out of the slot. Especially considering Wayne played against a Tampa 2 in practice for almost all of his career, he will be the guy the Colts will rely on to find the weak spots in the Bears' zone coverages. WR Donnie Avery also looked good on the underneath routes and seemed to be Luck's go-to guy for third down conversions. To take full advantage of these two underneath receivers, the Colts used a lot of triple formations to poke some holes in the Skins' coverage. Here's one example of a play they ran out of a trips-right formation, as it would look matched up against the Bears base defense.
A play like this is designed to break zone coverages. The left-side receiver occupies both the cornerback across from him and the left-side safety with a deep route. With two defenders occupied by one receiver, the right-side zones can get crossed up easily. The cornerback (C) should follow the "Z" receiver out into the flat, but he is also responsible for covering the "Y" until he gets to safety depth - the cornerback has to react quickly or he'll get caught out of position. To add to the confusion, the "X" receiver should be covered by the "S" linebacker on his inside route, but the linebacker could easily be lured out of position by the "Y" skirting the edge of his zone on his way upfield. Expect the Colts to use a lot of plays like this to try and get someone open for Luck. Here, the best case scenario for the defense is that every one of the three receivers is picked up perfectly, but this leaves each pass defender in one-on-one coverage: let just one receiver slip by, and he could be gone in a flash. Worst case scenario for the D? The zones get crossed and someone is left wide open for easy yardage.
The defensive look for the Colts is quite new to the team, but not to the NFL: they looked much like other 3-4 defenses the Bears have recently faced. Against the Redskins, the Colts rushed five or more over 50% of the time with the starters in, a trend that is likely to hold given the 3-4's reliance on bringing pressure. I was unimpressed by Freeney and Mathis' ability to get after RGIII from a two-point stance, but I also suspect that the two veterans are saving a little something for the regular season. Still, it isn't too difficult for the offense to dictate what a 3-4 outside linebacker has to do on a given play. Here's a simple way to turn a blitzing 3-4 OLB into a DE trying to cover a tight end that I'm sure Mike Tice will try out on Sunday:
The idea of this play is to force the outside linebacker ("S") to cover the tight end or to give the offense free yards. First, the tight end ("E") motions from the edge of the line into the slot, as shown by the red line. This motion forces the linebacker to either follow the tight end out or simply let him run his route undefended. If the linebacker forsakes his coverage duties and comes on the blitz, the H-back ("H") can hopefully lay down enough of a block to let Cutler throw over the linebacker and into the hands of the wide-open tight end. Even if the linebacker does the "right" thing and takes on the tight end in coverage, the offense still gets a highly favorable coverted-DE-versus-TE match-up. In short, if the Colts want to blitz, it's up to Tice and Cutler to get their receivers into the space vacated by the blitzer(s).
The Colts look like a team with great potential down the road. For now, however, I get the feeling that we'll be seeing that Colts' potential picking itself up from the Soldier Field dirt or chasing down Bears receivers for most of the game.