The Colts offense is starting to turn the corner and look more like what we expected it to as the various position groups get healthy. The wide receivers have been consistently a weakness, as we expected they might be, to some degree.
However, what is becoming harder to ignore is just how good the tight end group is. The Colts tight ends account for 9 of Andrew Luck’s 20 passing touchdowns this season so far. What’s more shocking is that this has taken place with their best player at the position out with an injury.
Over the past two seasons, Jack Doyle has proven to be a valuable and consistent contributor in the Colts’ offense, a player who can move the sticks as well as provide solid blocking in the running game. He has been Andrew Luck’s favorite target on those downs where they have to get a completion.
With him absent, the Colts certainly felt the effects. Doyle was used heavily in the first two games as a blocker. The offensive line was decimated with injury and that resulted in the need to use him as a blocker more than a receiver. With his loss, the impact on the running game was felt immediately.
Now however, with the offensive line clicking after Anthony Castonzo’s return, the running game is starting to get some traction. If Doyle is able to return following the Colts’ bye week, he provides yet another receiving threat to be paired with an already potent tight end group.
Just how strong is this group? Well, Eric Ebron, the Detroit Lions’ first round “bust” that Chris Ballard signed in the offseason has already bested his career touchdown marker with 6—5 of which have come in the red zone. That number ties him for 2nd in the league in receiving touchdowns, trailing only the electric Tyreek Hill.
The guy who would likely find himself the TE3 upon Jack Doyle’s return? That’s Erik Swoope. The Colts’ pet project, a basketball player converted to tight end, has bounced back and forth from the practice squad throughout the season. Even so, he has 7 catches on 8 targets. 3 of them are for touchdowns. That’s more than Zach Ertz, Rob Gronkowski, Tyler Eiffert, or Jimmy Graham. I’m not sure how you can get better production out of your 3rd string tight end than that.
Understand, I’m not saying Swoope is better than those guys. What I’m saying is that we’ve got a coach who knows how to put tight ends in a position to win matchups, and we’ve got the tight end talent to do it. If Jack Doyle is able to return after the bye, this offense gets even more dangerous.
Why, exactly? Because his return will let them run in 12 personnel with their best players on offense. 12 personnel just means 1 running back and 2 tight ends are in the formation. With such dangerous receiving threats at tight end and with a budding running attack, 12 personnel can prove to be an absolute nightmare for defenses to cover.
With an extra tight end in the game, you have better blocking for your running backs. However, when your tight ends are also dangerous receiving threats, the defense can’t overplay the run, because a play action pass can kill them. Oh, and once you’ve covered them, you just have to deal with T.Y. Hilton, one of the most dangerous deep threats in the NFL.
This is exactly the problem Frank Reich wants this offense to create for opposing defenses. If the offensive line can continue its run of excellent play and the running game can continue to be effective, that is exactly what the offense will do.