Moving past the discussion and analysis from the Indianapolis Colts' week 12 loss, the team is in win-now mode from here on out. Next up on the schedule is a divisional game against the Houston Texans.
The Colts have already accumulated one win in this match-up on the year, as they beat the Texans 31-3 back in week six. It was a dominant game all around by the Colts, and there is no reason to expect this upcoming game to be much different.
From looking back on the first meeting between these two teams, I feel really strong about quarterback Carson Wentz being able to move the ball on this Texans' defense. He had a solid outing in week six, as he threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 completions.
In today's film piece, I dive into why Wentz should be able to hae success through the air against this Texans' defense.
The Texans in Coverage
The Texans are Pro Football Focus' second-worst graded team in terms of coverage grade on the season, with a season grade of 41.4. The main reason for this, aside from the overall lack of talent, is the lack of disguise or diversity in their pre-snap defense.
Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith is one of the originators of the "Tampa 2" defense. This defense is just a variation of a typical two-high zone defense that features a middle linebacker that can turn and run with vertical routes.
Smith may not run that exact defense with the Texans, but it was pretty similar early in the season. The biggest issue is the lack of creativity pre-snap. If the Texans are running cover-two zone, they will show that pre-snap. If they are running cover-three or man (which they have been doing a lot more of late), they will show that pre-snap.
While this isn't necessarily a bad thing for a defense, it does give the offense even more of an advantage on each play. An opposing offense will rarely be fooled post-snap by the Texans, because their first read is correct almost every time.
In a game that is so focused on window-dressing and pre-snap mind games, the Texans' overall simplicity before the play has set them back quite a bit. Add in that their overall defense simply isn't that talented, and you get one of the worst coverage units in the league.
Why This Benefits the Colts
This is a major advantage for the Colts. The main reason is Frank Reich is one of the best in the league when it comes to scouting opposing teams and creating a gameplan. When he saw that the Texans like to sit in a cover-two zone for a majority of the game, prior to the week six match-up, he drew up a gameplan that perfectly exploited that.
In week six, the Colts were putting a ton of stress on the Texans' safeties with their route combinations down the field. This first example is a relatively simple design that is an easy win against a cover-two zone.
The design is a "sail" route combination to the short side of the field, with Jack Doyle running a hitch route and Michael Pittman Jr running a corner over the top. As soon as Wentz sees that flat corner come down on Doyle, he knows that the window over the top is open for a good gain.
This call is a simple read and execution for the offense because they know pre-snap that the Texans are going to be in cover-two.
Building off of this, the Colts were able to dial up even bigger shot plays down the field against this zone coverage. On this deep touchdown pass to Parris Campbell, the Colts know pre-snap that the Texans are going to be in that cover-two zone again.
The Texans are showing the same thing that they always do (at least that they always did earlier in the season). They have the middle of the field open with two-high safeties over the top. This is the Colts' go-to shot play in their offense, but Reich adds a little variation to beat this exact coverage.
When this play is typically run, Campbell would actually continue running across the field, like he is running a post or deep crosser. Since the Colts know that the Texans are going to be in cover-two, they adjust to have Campbell peel back outside (to the side of the field that he started on).
This essentially creates a situation where the Texans' safety has to cover two players down the field. He picks the underneath crosser, and Campbell is able to haul in the deep throw for the score.
On Wentz's best throw of the season, the Colts combined aspects of both of the clips shown above. How were the Colts able to hit on this deep shot? Well, you guessed it, the Texans were showing cover-two all the way.
This is another high-low route combination that is beautifully drawn up by Reich. At the bottom of the screen, Zach Pascal is running a deep out past the flat cornerback. On the opposite side of the field, T.Y Hilton is running a deep over route to get behind the safety on Pascal's side of the play.
The goal on this route combination is to, again, put that two-high safety in a tough spot where he has to choose between covering two different options. The safety bites on the underneath route by Pascal, and Wentz is able to throw a dart over the top for a big play.
Again, this is all possible because Wentz is getting a clear and easy read pre-snap, and knows which reads will be open as a result.
As the game went on, the Texans' safeties were simply lost on every route combination. Reich's gameplan was putting them in really difficult spots, and they could never be in the right in this game.
Wentz finished the day averaging 20 yards per completion, and honestly it could have been more if it were a competitive game. This final clip shows the Texans showing two-high pre-snap, and then getting into their patented cover-two zone.
The Colts have a scissors route combination called with Mo Alie-Cox and Pittman Jr at the top of the screen. The deep safety on that side simply doesn't commit to either route, likely because he was getting crossed up all game up to this point.
The result is a walk-in touchdown for Alie-Cox on the corner route.
While the Texans aren't as heavy of a cover-two defense anymore, the fundamental flaw on that side of the ball still exists for them. They don't disguise their coverages pre-snap, and that in turn makes life much easier for opposing offenses.
With Carson Wentz coming off of arguably his best game of the year and Frank Reich's ability to gameplan, I expect the passing game to find success in this one. As long as the Colts can hold up in pass protection, I believe Wentz has a huge game against the reeling Houston Texans' defense.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.