Week 1 of the 2021 season has passed and the Los Angeles Rams defense picked up where they left off. Raheem Morris’ group held the Bears to 14 points in a dominating 34-14 win.
The defense made the Bears offense work for every yard and all fourteen of their points. In the second half, the Bears had just three possessions with long drives totaling 35 plays. It was all for little reward as only the opening drive in the second half resulted in points.
The secondary was flying around making tackles and forcing an interceptions early, while the linebackers were solid in the middle. The defensive line however was giving some ground in the run game, scoring as the 21st rated in adjusted line yards (4.37). Overall, the defense was top-10 in adjusted sack rate with 7.2%.
The defense will need to be just as dominant this week as they face the Colts in Indianapolis. Carson Wentz and co. should provide a more difficult challenge than Andy Dalton. Let’s examine the Colts offense and the defensive game plan that should be employed on Sunday. To misquote (paraphrase really) Sun Tzu, “Know Thy Enemy”.
The Colts Offense
The Colts currently sit at 0-1 after losing 16-28 to the Seahawks in Week 1. They put up a total of 364 yards of offense in Week 1, consisting of 251 passing yards, and 113 rushing yards. However, they only scored two touchdowns on passes to Zach Pascal and kicked one field goal.
Everything starts in the trenches. After being one of the more dominant offensive lines in the leagues for the past couple of years, there was some turnover on the Colts offensive line this offseason. However, this is a group still anchored by Quenton Nelson who could face off against the Los Angeles Rams and Aaron Donald for the first time.
Nelson played every offensive down last week but is already dealing with nagging injuries that have kept him out of practice in Week 2. Last week, this group gave up three sacks on Carson Wentz as well as eight quarterback hits. Their adjusted sack rate was the 7th worst in the league last week with a rating of 7.6%.
8 QB hits and 3 sacks now on Carson Wentz.
Colts' offensive line hasn't played this poorly in years.
— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) September 12, 2021
On the rushing side of the offense, the unit was slightly better with the 19th overall adjusted line rating of 3.97. While they were ranked in the 20s in their success at power run plays, and opening up running lanes to the next level, they did well to not get stuffed at the line of scrimmage. They had a stuff rate of 5th best at 7.7%, allowing Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines to rush for a combined 90 yards.
The other factor to worry about for the Colts offensive line is their health. This is something the Los Angeles Rams can take advantage of. Quenton Nelson has not practiced all week dealing with a foot injury. Right Tackle Braden Smith has also not practiced but is currently designated as Out for this weekend. Additionally, the Colts are still waiting on left tackle Eric Fisher to be cleared from his Achilles injury.
There’s a chance the Colts could be without three of their projected starters on the offensive line. This line has a huge effect on the success of this offense. Not only did the running backs struggle to find run lanes at the next level, but Wentz struggled as he was pressured all day. This once formidable offensive line, may now prove to be the Achilles heel of the offense for teams that can take advantage with a strong front seven on the defense.
While Jonathan Taylor’s rushing day wasn’t phenomenal in Week 1, he still accumulated a total of 116 scrimmage yards thanks to his receiving ability. Nyheim Hines also received 9 carries. The Colts looked to lean heavily on Taylor in both the run and passing game, giving him a total of 23 touches. Hines lead the backfield in targets with 8 but also pulled in 6 receptions.
As mentioned earlier, their offensive line played just ok, but will look to improve on all of their rushing measurables in order to try to get the run game going against the Los Angeles Rams.
Jonathan Taylor takes the Seahawks defense for a ride 💪
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) September 12, 2021
The Colts ran the ball 30 times last week which ranked ninth most in the NFL. They were most successful running to the right and on 3rd downs. Hines was slightly more efficient than Taylor running the ball, so expect to see a continued 60/40 split in touches. The run game and this two-headed backfield are the strength of the offense currently.
Last week, the Los Angeles Rams allowed 108 yards on 16 carries for an average of 6.8 yards per carry. The Rams will need to get tighter in the run game this week as they face another top-tier running back.
The Colts ranked 22nd overall in passing yards last week with 223 yards off of 25 receptions. Besides Zach Pascal scoring two touchdowns, the receivers for the Colts were largely ineffective.
T.Y. Hilton was injured in the game, and is now on Injured Reserve with neck surgery. Young guys Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr. combined for 4 receptions and just over 50 yards. Both on the injury report this week as Limited Participants. With Wentz getting hit as often as he did last week, it’s a chicken or the egg situation as to what is causing the low passing production in Indy.
Carson Wentz nice touchdown to Zach Pascal, via NFL Next Gen Stats. Can see the moment Pascal gets Diggs (6) to flip outside, he cuts back in. pic.twitter.com/F1DSkJZqDi
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 12, 2021
Wentz’ passer rating is the highest when he is throwing to the center of the field, decreasing with each down. However on 3rd and long, his passer rating is the highest (119) hitting receivers over the deep center. Also, according to Sharp Football Stats, his most successful routes were the post, seem, and deep dig routes over the middle.
On third downs Wentz’ (so far) likes to go deep center or outside the hashes on hitch and out routes. The Colts called 38 passing plays, a 55/45 pass/run split, so they want to throw the ball. However, that’s hard to do with pressure in your face and the lack of pass catchers getting open. But, if he can find windows this week like he did with Pascal last week, Wentz can be successful.
The Los Angeles Rams held the Bears wide receivers in check last week. The Colts will have their handful against Jalen Ramsey and co.
Defensive Game Plan
The defensive game plan is simple. Win in the trenches. The defensive line for the Los Angeles Rams showed last week they are ready to continue their dominance. Last week they had three sacks and five tackles for loss. The front seven of the Rams will have to take advantage of an offensive line that may be without three starters.
The run game for the Colts will need to be kept in check, but the goal should be to make Wentz beat you with his arm. As the Rams showed last week against Andy Dalton, if you shut the quarterback down and force him to throw short and hit check downs, the team will win.
Andy Dalton did not complete a pass over 10 air yards tonight (0 for 2, INT).
Since the start of 2020, the #Rams defense has allowed the fewest TDs against passes traveling over 10 air yards (4), six fewer than any other defense in that span.#CHIvsLAR | #DaBears pic.twitter.com/eeARoqBVBs
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 13, 2021
Guys like Jonathan Taylor are going to get theirs like David Montgomery did last week, but that’s not going to beat you. The opposing offensive line and running backs aren’t good enough alone to beat the Rams. The goal should be to make Wentz beat one of the best secondaries in the league.
The game plan should be to put pressure on Wentz and make him beat you with his limited wide receivers. The defense should also continue to bend but don’t break in the run game. Expect to see screens and passes to the running backs, but keep everyone in front of you as the secondary. Nothing goes over your head to beat you deep, especially over the middle on 3rd downs.