Bill Parcells once said “if they don’t bite as pups, they probably don’t bite” when talking about his young franchise, a quote that still applies to the Indianapolis Colts, and especially this past Sunday. The Colts bit hard into the Green Bay Packers after coming back from an 18-point deficit at halftime and upsetting them for the 30-27 victory. The win was a special one, not only because it leveled their record for the season, but because of their absent head coach.
Chuck Pagano was was diagnosed with leukemia days earlier and forced to take an emergency leave from the team. In his honor, the team played their hearts out and were “Chuckstrong” during their comeback as they drove down the field multiple times, including a 13-play, 81-yard drive that used up nearly four minutes of the fourth quarter clock and sealed a win. The Colts were led by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and ageless veteran Reggie Wayne.
Luck, who threw 55 passes in the game, made several key throws to the magnificent and sure-handed Wayne, leading to the two to hooking up for 12 catches, 212 yards, and a game-winning touchdown. The game winner was set up by another pass to Wayne, an 18-yard throw down the middle of the field.
The first down connection was vital, as it moved the chains from the 32 to the 14-yard line. It was a team effort, with Luck showing his intelligence by climbing the pocket to buy himself more time, and Wayne running a great route (what else is new?) while temporary head coach/play-caller Bruce Arians designed and called a great play.
With 1:48 on the clock, Luck stood in a shotgun set with a single-back off-set to his right and his tight end aligned in-line also to his right. To his left was a common alignment, a Trips set that featured three receivers to one side.
Indianapolis’ goal on the play was to get Wayne open in the middle of the field. To do this, they would have to get all of the other receivers to run their routes correctly and occupy the Packers defenders so Wayne would run free.
Defensively, the Packers were aligned at various depths with a two-deep coverage shell, suggesting an Even coverage (Cover 2 or 4, for instance). Despite this indication, they were going to be rotating post-snap to a four-under, three-deep zone coverage known as “Cover 3″.
There were going to be three key routes on this play to help get Wayne open.
One was the route from the opposite side of the field, to the right where tight end Coby Fleener was going to be running a vertical clearout.
Another was the route from the No. 3 (counting from the sideline-in) receiver, who would also be running a vertical clearout.
The third and final key route was from the No. 1 receiver, who would run a shallow cross roughly three yards deep from the line of scrimmage.
If everything went right, Fleener’s route would force the boundary cornerback to run with him down the field, consequently negating any opportunity for him to jump Wayne’s route — a deep “Dig” — in the middle of the field. The No. 3 receiver’s route would force the other cornerback (“Field”) to run vertically along with the safety rotating to the middle of the field. With the safety occupied, there was little chance that he would be able to drive on Wayne’s route and intercept the pass. Finally, the No. 1 receiver running the shallow cross would make the “Hook” (underneath, middle of the field) defender come up and vacate the middle to create a clear passing lane for Luck.
Theory turned into practice when Wayne found himself open in the middle and Green Bay’s defenders scattered all over the field to defend receivers who weren’t getting the ball. The underneath Hook defender came up to cover the No. 1 receiver’s shallow cross, and the two vertical receivers forced three defensive backs — including the deep-middle safety — to cover them deep. As a result, Luck had an opportunity to deliver a leading throw to Wayne in the middle of the field.
And that’s what Luck did, delivering a low throw into the hands of Wayne for an 18-yard and drive-extending catch. Four plays later, the Colts found the end-zone for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
The win was a significant one for the young Colts as they came out strong for Pagano and pulled off an upset win over the Packers. They sit at 2-2 and were only seconds away from being 1-3, which makes their head coach proud.
Pagano will have his own battle off the field this season as he takes the necessary steps to defeat leukemia. But like his team, it’s expected he’ll bite hard and overcome it to get back to where we enjoy seeing him the most and where he happily belongs: the football field.