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Tape Study

Tape Study: What to expect from the Colts

T.Y. Hilton
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) makes a touchdown reception against Tennessee Titans' Adoree' Jackson during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The Giants may be eliminated from playoff contention, but that doesn't mean the coaches or players are putting any less effort into preparing for their game in Indianapolis against the Colts. Indianapolis has won seven of eight after starting the season 1-5. Here's what I saw looking at the Colts on the All-22 video:

When the Colts Have The Ball

The Spotlight: Quarterback Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck is playing as well as any quarterback in the league. There is no indication that he had a serious shoulder injury that kept him from playing football for a long while. He has zip on his short to intermediate passes and is accurate on his deep balls. In watching his last three games, I saw him hit a player perfectly in stride with a throw that traveled 50 yards in the air.

Luck is accurate from the pocket and on the move. If you play zone against him, he will happily unload the ball quickly. If teams play man against him, he will get the ball down the field to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Eric Ebron and take advantage of any separation between his receivers and defenders. He anticipates well and is rarely fooled by defenses.

Inside the Numbers: Luck has the second-most games (6) in the NFL with 300 yards passing and two or more touchdowns, behind only Patrick Mahomes (8).

Luck is also mobile. He avoids sacks and gets out of the pocket to throw and run the football. He has the speed to outrun defensive linemen (4.67 40-yard dash at the combine) and will get key first downs with his legs. If defenders release their receivers, however, he will try to make big plays down the field. Luck likes to use the pump fake to avoid defenders in the backfield.

Inside the Numbers: Luck has only been sacked 16 times this year because of good protection from his offensive line and his mobility. According to Pro Football Focus, Luck has been sacked on just 9.1% of his dropbacks, the lowest in the league of quarterbacks with more than 10 drop backs. Luck has been pressured on only 29.8% of his dropbacks, seventh fewest in the league amongst quarterbacks with 200 or more dropbacks.

Quotebook: Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher, "I think their O-Line is improved from a year ago. We played them a year ago in Arizona and they have improved, and I think the other thing you see with Andrew is getting the ball out of his hand."

If there is one negative to Luck's game, he will trust his eyes and arm a little too much sometimes and try to use his accuracy to squeeze the ball into some very small areas. If defenders get their hands on the football, those plays can become turnovers.

The Matchup: Wide Receiver T.Y. Hilton vs. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins

Hilton only has 67 receptions, but has 1,071 receiving yards in only 12 games. He isn't the biggest guy at 5-10 and 183 pounds, but he has breakaway speed and the quickness to get separation on his routes. Pro Football Focus has him with only three drops this year. Of his 67 catches, 46 have gone for first downs.

Inside the Numbers: Hilton's 16.0 yards per catch ranks third in the league (behind Mike Evans and Tyreek Hill) of players with more than 40 catches.

Hilton has been battling an ankle injury the last two weeks, but it hasn't affected his performance. He had five catches for 85 yards against an excellent Dallas defense last week after catching nine passes for 199 yards versus the Texans the week prior.

The Colts use Hilton in the slot, but he is primarily an outside receiver. He is targeted on slants and is a challenge to bring down as a runner after the catch. Janoris Jenkins, who has played well in recent weeks, is going to have his hands full.

Quotebook: Giants Safety Michael Thomas, "I think they have a lot of weapons on that team, but the fact that he's just fast. You can't coach that. It doesn't matter if you game plan for it or not, he has a unique ability that you can't coach. He's using that to the best of his ability."

Colts Scheme and Tendencies

• Since the loss of tight end Jack Doyle, the Colts have moved to more 11 personnel out of shotgun formation. This is their most frequent alignment, out of which they will both run and pass. When the Colts do go to 12 personnel under center, they run the ball and use play action (and sometimes max protection) to try to make chunk plays down the field. You will also see an occasional RPO from Luck out of shotgun.

Inside the Numbers: The Colt are the best third-down team in football, converting 48.4% of their opportunities. They are the best at converting 3rd and 10 yards or more, at 31.9%. They are second best on third downs of more than six yards at 33.8%. The Colts are also good in the red zone, scoring touchdowns 67.9% of the time, the sixth-best rate in the league. 

• Marlon Mack uses his speed, quickness and elusiveness to change direction and gain yards. He is coming off his best game of the season against the Cowboys, rushing for 139 yards on 27 carries, both season highs. His tape won't blow anyone away, but he is a steady back who will get the yards that are there. 

• Nyheim Hines is the Colts' third-down back. They use him primarily in the screen game but will occasionally send him down the field. He only has one catch on four targets when the ball has traveled more than 10 yards in the air. Hines has excellent straight ahead speed and is elusive.

Inside the Numbers: In the Colts' first six games (when they went 1-5), they averaged only 83.2 rushing yards per game. Since, they are 7-1 and average 126.5 rushing yards per game. The Colts ran for 200 yards in both Weeks 7 and 8. 

• The Colts offensive line is the underlying reason for their success on offense this season. Left guard Quenton Nelson, the team's 2018 first round pick, and right tackle Braden Smith, their second round selection, have played like veterans. Nelson has the power to move defensive linemen and put them in the dirt. Veteran left tackle Anthon Castonzo has protected well and stayed reasonably healthy. Center Ryan Kelly returned from injury last week against Dallas, and he is an excellent blocker on the move.

Inside the Numbers: Right tackle Braden Smith has only allowed three sacks and five quarterback hits this year, according to Pro Football Focus. Nelson and Castonzo have only allowed two sacks each. Blitz Andrew Luck at your own risk. He has a 107.99 quarterback rating against the blitz, the sixth best in the league. 

• The Colts rotate their other wide receivers. Possibly because of his ankle injury, Hilton played only 57% of the snaps last week. Zach Pascal led the Colts receivers by playing 68% of the snaps, while Dontrelle Inman (their big receiver at 6-3, 205 pounds) played 50%, Chester Rogers played 51% and Ryan Grant played 24%. All the receivers play in the slot or outside, with Rogers finding him in the slot more than anyone else.

Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants get set for today's matchup in Indy

Salomone2018
Dan Salomone

Digital Media Content Producer

Inside the Numbers: The Colts are not a heavy run team on first down, only handing it off 41.8% of the time. Only two teams hand it off less. When the Colts do run it on first down, they do so successfully, gaining four or more yards on 52.3% of their attempts, third best in the NFL. 

• The most I've seen the Colts offense struggle this season was against the Jaguars three weeks ago. Jacksonville was able to pressure Luck with their front four and played tight bump-and-run coverage down the field. That strategy took away Luck's quick throws and forced his receivers to win down the field. The Cowboys had success with this last week, as well.  

• Ebron has had a career revival since arriving from Detroit, catching 59 passes for 662 yards and a ridiculous 12 touchdowns. He is a big, athletic pass catcher (6-4, 253 pounds) who can go over the top of smaller defensive backs and run away from slower linebackers. His drop issues seem to be a thing of the past as he only has four this season. He is a matchup problem for defenses when they go man-to-man and Luck knows it. Mo Allie-Cox and Ryan Hewitt are the Colts' other two tight ends who are used more in running situations.

Inside the Numbers: The Colts like to target Ebron down the field. According to Pro Football Focus, he has been targeted on 11 passes that have traveled more than 20 yards in the air; he has caught three for 99 yards, all for touchdowns. His sweet spot is in the 10-20 yard range, where he has 17 catches on 34 targets for 263 yards and seven touchdowns. 

• The Colts use some misdirection pre-snap by motioning receivers and tight ends through the backfield, but they will not do it to the extent the Bears did a couple of weeks ago.

Keys For the Giants Defense:

1. Affect Andrew Luck with the pass rush

2. Stay plastered to receivers in man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage

3. Stop the run

When the Giants Have The Ball

The Spotlight: Colts Linebacker Darius Leonard

Weakside linebacker Darius Leonard rarely leaves the field for the Colts. He is a trusted three-down linebacker who can stop the run and the pass. A 2018 second-round pick (36th overall), Leonard is only 234 pounds, but he plays like someone who weighs 250 pounds. His speed allows him to play sideline-to-sideline and get downhill to aggressively attack in the run game.

Leonard is also a factor in the passing game, and not by just using his speed in coverage. He has proven to be an extremely adept blitzer. His seven sacks are the second most on the team, even though he has only rushed the passer 38 times. Despite leading the NFL in tackles with 146, Leonard did not make the Pro Bowl, but he will receive serious consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year. 

Quotebook: Quarterback Eli Manning, "I think they do a good job of just kind of the defensive line funneling things to him and he does a good job of making tackles. He runs well, he covers a lot of area around the field and he seems to be making a lot of plays."

The Matchup: Colts Defensive Front vs Giants Offensive Line

The Colts defensive line does not contain names that many fans will recognize. Jabaal Sheard, Denico Autry, Margus Hunt, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, Al Woods and Al-Quadin Muhammad rotate and play like a top-end defensive line unit. 

Sheard is the group's best edge rusher with 5.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits and 39 hurries. Autry (9 sacks, 3 QB hits) and Hunt (5 sacks, 2 QB hits) pressure from the defensive tackle spot on a consistent basis. The Colts' sack rate per pass play (7.92%) is 11th best in the NFL. 

The group also defends the run well. The Colts are sixth in the league in rushing yards allowed per play (3.92) and eighth in yards allowed per game (103.6). All the players in the group understand and execute their roles, and the group is truly one of the better groups in the league by committee. 

Inside the Numbers: The Colts have one of the best first-down rush defenses in the NFL, allowing only 3.82 yards per carry, the third best rate in the NFL.

Colts Scheme and Tendencies

• Indianapolis is a well-coordinated unit by former Cowboys linebacker coach Matt Eberflus. He was originally hired as the Defensive Coordinator to serve under Josh McDaniels, but when Frank Reich got the job, he kept Eberflus. The Colts run a traditional 4-3 defense with similar principles that Giants fans have seen from the Cowboys defense the last couple of seasons. 

Inside the Numbers: The Colts have held opponents to 10 points or less in five games this season. They pitched a shutout against the Cowboys in Week 15, forcing two red zone turnovers.

• The Colts show two high safeties at the snap more than any other opponent the Giants have played, but that doesn't mean they are going to play a two-high defense. Strong safety Clayton Geathers tries to disguise where he will play. He has played as a second high safety, has come down to play man-to-man, lined up in a robber position in the middle of the field, and slid down into a cover three zone. He will also crash down quickly in run support from that high position. He's a versatile player who the Colts rely on to tackle well in the run game and short pass game.

• Former Ohio State Buckeye Malik Hooker is Indy's best deep safety in coverage. The 2017 first round pick (15th overall) has true sideline-to-sideline range and is always tracking the quarterback's eyes. He only has one interception this season, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have exemplary ball skills and instincts. When the Colts go single high in man or zone, he is their last line of defense.

Inside the Numbers: The Colts have allowed 35 passes of 20-plus yards this season, tied for the fourth fewest in the NFL. In their last eight games, they have only allowed 22 plays of any kind that go for 20-plus yards, tied for fourth best in the NFL.

• The Colts know they do not have elite one-on-one pass rushers, so they use their scheme to put pressure on the quarterback. They blitz their linebackers and defensive backs to generate pressure and play man behind it. They also slant their linemen and use pass rush games to try to get to the quarterback.

• The Colts cornerbacks are good football players. Pierre Desir is their top cover corner. Kenny Moore II is their other starter, and he moves into the slot in sub packages. Quincy Wilson, a second round pick in 2017, takes his place on the outside. The Colts vary their coverages with different zone concepts and with man-to-man with single or two high safeties. It is a group that knows what it is doing and rarely makes a mistake that leads to a big play.

Keys For The Giants Offense:

1. Get Saquon Barkley going using misdirection runs to take advantage of Indy's speed/aggressiveness and two deep coverages

2. Handle the Colts blitz packages

3. Use play action as a way to push the ball down the field

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