The Colts have deployed the Cover 2 as their base defense since Tony Dungy
took over as head coach in 2002. Josh McDaniels was appointed offensive
coordinator of the Patriots prior to the 2006 season and brought his offense to
Denver when he was named head coach prior to the 2009 season.
has a reputation for running a short passing offense that does not produce big
plays in the passing game. The Cover 2 defense has a reputation for
shutting down the big play in the passing game. At first glance, this
would appear to be a matchup made in heaven for Indianapolis.
McDaniels does have that reputation, but the reputation does not hold up
against close scrutiny. In 2007, the Patriots had 15 passing plays of 40
yards or longer. That was a season of offensive records and dominance for
New England, so that number could be cast aside as an outlier. But, even
with an underwhelming receiving corps, the Patriots still completed eight
passing plays of 40 yards or longer in 2006. In 2008, with Matt Cassell at
quarterback — and Cassell has a reputation for not being able to throw the long
ball — they had six such completions.
In 2009, with Kyle Orton at quarterback, the Broncos had nine passing plays
of 40 yards or longer. That number is not only the second-highest of
McDaniels' play-calling career, it's also one more long passing play than the
Colts — who ranked second in the league in passing in 2009 — registered last
season. Just because McDaniels does not focus on the deep pass in his
offensive scheme does not mean that he doesn't have any fly routes, go routes,
or deep posts in his playbook. Orton has proven to be more than capable of
making those throws, so Indianapolis needs to be ready to get back on the ball
in order to not get beat over the top.
The numbers for the Colts defense from 2006-2008 are impressive. In
2006, they allowed only two long passing plays, with three in 2007 and four in
2008. Last season, there was a spike in that number, but it still only
reached six passing plays of 40 yards or more in 2009.
Still, six long
completions was more than they allowed in 2006 and 2007 combined. Thus far
this season, Indianapolis has allowed one pass play of 40 yards more, that being
the long touchdown to Mario Manningham in Week 2 against the Giants.
Since the great run defense collapse of 2006, the Colts have placed a greater
focus on stopping the run. That means getting bigger along the defensive
line — especially at defensive tackle — but it also means that Indianapolis
has had an eighth man in the box more frequently the past few seasons.
Once a quarterback sees the safety move up to the line of scrimmage — usually
Melvin Bullitt or Bob Sanders — or sees the safety move into the slot to cover
a receiver — usually Antoine Bethea — he knows that he will be facing a Cover
1 defense for that play.
The Cover 1 defense leaves one safety to cover the entire deep portion of the
field. That safety usually cheats to one side or the other. When the
quarterback sees which side the safety is cheating towards, he knows he has
single coverage on the opposite side with no safety help over the top.
That's what happened on the Manningham touchdown last week and the Bethea
example was what happened in 2009 against the Patriots. Randy Moss lined
up in the slot, drew Bethea in coverage, and ran a go route. Moss got
behind Bethea and the result was a long touchdown for New England.
McDaniels was coaching the Broncos that weekend, so he didn't have a hand in
the 2009 Moss play, but he is very familiar the tendencies and weaknesses of the
Indianapolis defense. He has no doubt already transferred that information
to Orton, so the Colts defenders will need to make sure they keep everything in
front of them.
Big plays are hard to gauge or predict, so Indianapolis won't necessarily
give up eight long completions this season just because they've given up one
through the first two games. The more distressing statistic is that
they've already allowed five passing plays of 20 yards or longer this season.
Those types of plays are easier to project. That means they will give up
40 such passing plays in 2010, which would be twice as many as they yielded in
all of 2007. That will be another stat to keep track of for the balance of
the season in order to determine whether or not they're working on that aspect
of their defense and are showing improvement.
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