INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts once boasted an offense that ran the stretch play to perfection.
The split-second decision a defense must make whether to play the run or pass can create huge opportunity for an offense.
Such was the case Thursday at Tennessee when Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener collaborated on a 39-yard reception in the fourth quarter. The drive did not produce a touchdown, but it influenced field position which the Colts used one possession later in earning a 30-27 victory.
It was a page from a past era, and it worked like a charm for the former Stanford teammates.
Here is a look at why the play worked.
With the ball on the left hash at his 21, Luck was under center with Griff Whalen (#17) lined up left (just inside the numeral) and with a jumbo package, plus Coby Fleener (#80) lined up to the right of center. Fleener was positioned outside Jeff Linkenbach (#72), who was to the right of tackle Gosder Cherilus (#78).
In the backfield, Stanley Havili (#39) was offset to the right of Luck (behind Cherilus), and Donald Brown (#31) was seven yards behind the scrimmage line and spotted up behind Luck.
Tennessee had its starting four linemen on the scrimmage line, and they were joined by linebacker Akeem Ayres (#56), who was outside Fleener. Linebacker Zach Brown (#55) manned the middle, with Colin McCarthy (#52) not far from Fleener, who was in a four-point stance.
Safety Bernard Pollard (#31) was seven yards off the line. Alterraun Verner (#20) covered Whalen, while free safety Michael Griffin (#33) had deep coverage.
PRIOR TO THE SNAP
The formations held offensively and defensively until the snap.
AT THE SNAP
Whalen sprinted up the field and was running a slight post route. He drew the attention of Verner and Griffin as the only receiver heading deep.
The left side of the Colts' line ran right, with left guard Hugh Thornton (#69) peeling back to seal off any backside pressure. Right guard Mike McGlynn (#75) pulled, while Cherilus and Linkenbach engaged rushers and Fleener brushed past end Ropati Pitoitua (#92), heading left one-to-two yards past the scrimmage line.
Havili moved to the right where Fleener was stationed originally, while Luck faked a stretch handoff to Brown.
The Tennessee defense followed the flow of the play fake, with Pollard (who started outside the left hash) changing direction and slipping at the right hash when Luck was delivering the ball to Fleener. Pollard was the closest Titan, with Verner at the 42 and Griffin at the 46 in coverage of Whalen.
Fleener gathered in the pass just inside and beyond the 20-yard line numeral with Verner having his head turned and with Pollard trying to close distance. Fleener made it to the Tennessee 40 before Verner could chase him out of bounds.
The Colts ran this play against Houston two games earlier with matching success.
The misdirection play poses difficulty where one step in the wrong direction creates openings the other way. This play worked because of spotless execution and the team's rushing output during the previous two quarters.
Indianapolis ran a version of this for years, typically with Peyton Manning faking to Edgerrin James, then looking deep for a receiver.