Monday, January 24, 2011

It is unfair to Jeff George to compare him to Jay Cutler

Now that Jay Cutler has again put himself in a position to be criticized, all of the comparisons of him to Jeff George are again coming to the surface.

This is patently unfair.  To Jeff George.

What I saw yesterday in the NFC Championship game was sickening.  Jay Cutler tapped out with a minor knee injury like he was playing in the Pre-Season or the Pro Bowl, instead of the biggest game of his career.  

He let Todd Collins take over HIS team because he got a boo boo.  

I'm not a doctor, but if his knee was stable enough to wander the sideline without ice or treatment - then he could have played.  Talent-wise, Jay Cutler on one leg is significantly better than a 85 year old Todd Collins.

After all, Jay has been playing on half a heart for years...  what's a little knee injury?

I wonder if in some future marriage he will tap out during a bedroom encounter and call up his neighbor to finish the job for him.

Say what you want about Jeff George, the man was tough.  The punishment he took behind the terrible Colts offensive line was just ridiculous.  It would only be fair to point out that they were not all that fired up to be blocking for him, but George still stayed in there and took it.

George never wavered on the opinion that it was *he* that should be leading his team.  Sometimes that was not true - but there is merit in that attitude.

I wrote earlier in the season that Cutler and Mike Martz were a couple doomed to fail.  That Cutler would never be able to execute Martz's offense.  

With the Bears resurgence in the second half of the season, it looked to *some* that I would have to eat my words.  What no one talked about was something that was obvious to myself as well as players who had played under Martz in St. Louis: the Bears were no longer running the "Mike Martz" offense.

Martz gave up on Cutler ever being able to execute a offense based on precise timing throws and rigid decision-making.  They basically "de-tuned" the offense and just let Cutler do what he has always done: sit back in the pocket and throw it to whoever had already gotten open.  Sometimes if you can pass block well enough, this can work.  But it is anything but Martz's system.

Collins came into that game trying to run the offense correctly - that is why he looked so bad.  The receivers and the rest of the offense had in the previous weeks gotten out of running the system as designed and could not just snap it back.  Unlike Cutler, Collins is a "system QB" and could have had great success in a Martz attack in his younger days.

So where does this leave Cutler and Martz?  Cutler will be back next year and will be the starter.  Martz will be there too unless he gets another job offer.  Martz only took this job out of desperation.  He needed to get back "in play" and had no other offers on the table.  

Working with Cutler will make him wish he sat this season out - he may never get another chance to be a head coach because of Jay Cutler: Coach Killer.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why Everyone is Full of Crap About the Gene Huey Firing

I've been reading all of the hysterical hand-wringing and conspiracy theories about the firing of Colts Running Back Coach Gene Huey on The Star website as well as several Colts Blogs and I must say they are all full of crap.  A real swing and miss for them.  I exclude in my criticism who had a good and balanced article about this.

The theories so far:

  • Polian needed a "scapegoat" for the poor running game.  This is utter BS.  To even let something like this come out of your mouth is offensive and demeaning to Bill Polian and the entire Colts organization.  You *really* think that the classiest organization in sports works like this?  Really?  If you think this is what is was, then you have to believe that Bill Polian, Jim Caldwell, AND Jim Irsay are the types of people who would do something like that.  Anyone seriously advancing this version of events is no Colts fan.  
  • Money (because of the lockout).  No!  If you believe something like that, what does it say about what you think of Jim Irsay?  This is the same guy who paid Ryan Lilja a 1.8 MILLION DOLLAR bonus after he was cut.  They were in no way required to do that.
  • Upcoming strategy changes.  No.  Gene Huey has been around through multiple different regimes, I'm sure he would have had no problem coaching any style of running out there.
You want to know what happened?  Here goes:

Jim Caldwell was the "coach in waiting" for a couple of years under Tony Dungy and I am sure he had his own ideas about each of the other assistant coaches currently there.  Dungy was a VERY loyal guy and to my knowledge never once fired a coach during his time in Indianapolis.

Once Caldwell took over, he decided to fire both defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and Special Teams Coach Russ Purnell.  I'm guessing that he also wanted to fire Gene Huey at that time, but was talked out of it.  

Gene is a long time favorite of Jim Irsay and I believe that each incoming Head Coach was asked to keep Huey on his staff if he had no serious objections.  It may have been put to Caldwell that firing Huey would be too much turnover.  Whatever.

So Caldwell gave it a year, and it didn't work for him.

So why did it come out the way it did?  Because of how classy the Colts are.

You see, the Colts care so much about their people that they are in the habit of not announcing that assistant coaches are fired as a matter of course.  They tell them that they are not to be retained and so the coach in question is free to look for work elsewhere without the stigma of being fired.  If he finds a job then it is simply announced that he changed jobs.  This is what they tried to do with both Ron Meeks and Gene Huey.

I guess that there is so little class out there nowadays that people cannot recognize it when they see it.

So some reporter gets a "tip" and starts nosing into it - and messes up the whole process.  Nice.

The only thing unusual about Huey being fired is that it did not happen last year.  Period.

So was Huey a bad coach?  Certainly not.  Owner's favorite or not, he would not have survived through multiple coaching changes if he was not good at his job.  But it would take a pretty superior person to not become stale in a job that long, especially if he never felt the pressure to perform his best due to a seemingly lifetime guarantee of employment.

We will never know the full story, because this is the Indianapolis Colts.  The Classiest Organization in Sports.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Well, That Sucked: Colts lose to the Jets

The Jets got their running game going in the 2nd half and managed enough offense to force the Colts into what looked to be a game-winning drive.  That drive ended with a 50 yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri to give the Colts a two point lead.

What looked to be a hopeless situation for the Jets turned into great field position via a long kickoff return by Antonio Cromartie.

I thought Manning played really well overall, but our failure to *consistently* run on a defense that at times only had a single lineman on the field was our undoing.  Until the Colts can punish defenses that load up on the pass they will continue to be ineffective.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Freeney at Defensive Tackle: Frame by Frame Breakdown

Freeney at DT in a passing situation vs Tennessee in week 17
This is one of the plays that Freeney (circled) played at DT in the week 17 matchup against the Titans.  The player to his right is Kenyatta Dawson number 96 and he is at Freeney's right defensive end position.

At the snap of the ball those two players execute a "twist" play where the RDE crashes down into the offensive left guard, hoping to take the left tackle with him.  Freeney at RDT "twists" around to his right trying to loop around to the QB.

Now the defensive line twist is nothing special in the NFL, you see it every week.  The difference here is that you usually don't have a player with the explosive speed of Freeney coming from the inside to the outside looping around the offensive tackle - usually it is a slower defensive tackle.

That had to have put this in to screw with whoever their first round opponent was going to be.  Why else do it now?

Let see what happened the next play - we will go frame by frame here:

Here is Freeney at DT again - the ball has just been snapped

This time instead of the twist, Freeney rushes into the left guard and spins clockwise, the QB has just gotten the snap and has taken his first step back

The guard is thrown off balance by the violent spin to the inside and now is beaten, the QB is still not done dropping yet
At this point Freeney is through the line, just as the QB is taking his last step
Freeney has flushed the QB to right (offense's left side) throwing off the timing of the play (notice the QB in relation to the hash mark)

As we can see, Freeney was single blocked here by a guard with disastrous consequences for the offense.  The left guard was completely unprepared for someone as fast and skilled as Freeney coming at him.

Will we see this against the Jets?  Probably.  But at the very least the Jets will have to devote some of their preparation time to dealing with this eventuality - and getting the Jets to waste time on it is still a win for the Colts.

How the Jets Defense challenges the Colts Offense

The primary matchup that everyone else has been talking about is that between the Jets corners vs the Colts WRs.  It is expected that the Jets Darrelle Revis will again match up against Reggie Wayne and that Antonio Cromartie is going up against Garcon.

I think that the Colts outside WRs will be mostly taken out of the game.  This is based on recent games the Colts have played against strong man to man teams.  I expect that we will see Wayne catch a couple of the ten yard hitches that he is famous for and that they will hit Garcon on a few short slant routes, but I don't see the Colts getting any downfield passes to Wayne or Garcon since they are being defended by patently superior athletes.

Where the Colts will make their passing yards will be in man to man matchups against the Jet linebackers and safeties.

The Jets know that this is their weakness, so they will probably have to do some tricky things to keep from getting taken apart.

What we will see is a tough (but not bump and run) man to man on the outside and on the slot and running backs.  Where the tricky part is that the Jets will have a linebacker or lineman in a short zone defense about 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage who will be keying on Peyton Manning's eyes.  This will be primarily to protect against quick crossing routes by Jacob Tamme.  This also helps the Jets control the Colts draw play as they will have someone with eyes in the backfield at all times.

Will the Colts be able to defeat this scheme?  Yes, but it will hinge on the time that Manning has to throw the ball.  You will still be able to have success throwing over the middle against this defense, but it will take time for Tamme to clear the middle and get away from the zone defender.

In this example the Colts are running a crossing pattern with Jacob Tamme at TE.  The Jets are shown here in one of their typical blitzes.  The SS, LILB, and the ROLB are all blitzing.  The LOLB is covering Tamme and the RILB is covering the running back.  The FS is in a zone defense covering the deep middle of the field.  The cornerbacks are all matched up on a single receiver in man.

The important player to look at is the Right Defensive End (RDE) for the Jets (in red).  Instead of rushing the passer as usual, he spins around and takes a position in the short middle of the field - covering that area in a zone defense.  As a large lineman, he does not have much range.  The hope is that Manning will not see him and throw a ball right to him, or that at least Manning will have to delay his throw to Tamme until he clears this area.  

This also has the effect of delaying Manning's switching to his secondary receiver (which in this case would be Garcon).  This can throw the timing of the whole play off.  By the time Tamme clears the zone area, if he is not open it will probably be too late to hit Garcon on the short In Route he is running.  The Jets would hope that the rush will have gotten to Manning before he can hit the check down receiver (the RB).

This is just one example of how this works - just a small part of the chess match between Manning and Rex Ryan.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why has the Colts Running Game Improved?

The Colts running game has approached adequate in the last three games.  This has been noted by many observers, but I have yet to see anyone really asking why?  What changed?

Clearly something has changed, but what?  This does not seem to be a personnel issue.  Five games ago Mike Pollak regained his starting right guard spot.  He had been replaced by Jeff Linkenbach (who is listed as a tackle) for a large part of the season.  This was reportedly to help improve the running game.  It certainly did not improve the running game and Linkenbach proved to be a clear and present danger to the heath and safety of Peyton Manning.

In re-watching the last three games, nothing really jumps out at you.  About the only thing that seems to be a trend is that the Colts have changed the kind of run plays they call.  Mostly you see two types of plays now:  "quick hitters" and draw plays.

On a quick hitter play, the quarterback will quickly pivot once he receives the snap and hand it to a running back who is already on his way to a predetermined hole that the offensive line is supposed to be creating.  The idea is that by quickly creating a hole in the defensive line and getting your back into it immediately, that it will be difficult for the linebackers to get to that hole in time to stop the run.

The advantage to this kind of play is that the offensive line only has to hold their blocks for a short time and it is less imperative that the offensive lineman away from the point of attack run block effectively since their defenders will not have time to get to the play.

When they run draw plays, they also have started to run quicker hitting ones.  Usually a draw play is a slow developing play where the quarterback takes a shotgun snap and appears to look downfield - then hands the ball to a running back who has lingered in the backfield.

Now what they are running as draw plays are more like a inside hand-off from the shotgun formation.

The pass blocking has also improved, but the reasons are also not obvious.  Generally it is easier to pass block if the defense has to be worried about the possibility of a successful running play, so that might be why.

Going into this Jets game, it will be more important than ever to run the ball.  Breaking a few long runs against the Jets blitz will slow them down and give us more time to throw.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Freeney at DT in passing situations: trouble for the Jets?

The Jets have one of the best offensive lines in football.  The one chink in the armour is young Matt Slauson at left guard, who replaces the departed Alan Faneca.

Coincidence or not - during the Titans game Dwight Freeney was lining up at right defensive tackle in passing situations.  If he does this vs the Jets, he would be matched up against the young Jets left guard Matt Slauson.

In those situations Freeney was spinning like mad and caused considerable problems for the Titans offensive line.

The short-area lateral movement of a offensive guard is generally not very good and this is a perfect situation for a player as quick and strong as Freeney to dominate.

I'll be watching this match-up on Saturday to be sure.

You also might want to check out this article: 

How the Jets Defense challenges the Colts Offense

Colts accept Christmas gifts from Titans and Jags - make playoffs

The Colts beat the Titans on Sunday in a game that ultimately only decided playoff seeding.  Now they are heading for a rematch of last years AFC Championship game against the NY Jets.  Had they not won, they would have been playing the Baltimore Ravens.

This was a typical Colts - Titans game where it seems not to matter what they respective records are, usually the outcome is decided as this one was, by a FG.

All indications are that this is the last time we will see Jeff Fisher on the sideline for the Titans.  I think he is one of the best coaches in the NFL and I will be glad to see him out of the division.  Hopefully he leaves the AFC altogether.

Some thoughts about this game:

  • Dwight Freeney lined up at defensive tackle in some passing situations with Keyunta Dawson playing the RDE position.  This allowed Freeney to try his spin moves against the left guard - who typically has less lateral quickness.  It may be that they were trying this out for use in the playoffs, or just trying to get into the heads of their next opponent.
  • The Titans primarily played man to man coverage all game and we had problems with it.  Expect to see lots of man coverage for the rest of this season.  The loss of Collie and Clark hurts us here the most.
  • Garcon struggled all day to get free against the man coverage of the Titans.  Other than one long touchdown catch, he was not getting separation. 
  • The offensive line continued their improved play.  Manning had time to throw for the most part and we had some nice runs from the shotgun formation.
  • The defense has picked the right time to peak.  They allowed virtually no running room for the Titans.
I'll be posting short updates all week and hopefully will have a full blown preview of the Jets game up later in the week.