We are beginning a new weekly feature here at Stampede Blue, the purpose of which is to take a look at Frank Reich’s best and worst calls from the prior game. Some of you will undoubtedly have very strong opinions about which plays I select each week, but we will at least be able to agree that they are impactful plays that mattered in the game.
Frank Reich has by and large had this Colts’ team well prepared out of the gate, which is essential because the style of defense they play works at its best with the lead. A hot start for the offense specifically means the ability to play from ahead, which best suits the defensive style.
Reich certainly got the Colts off to a fast start against this Jaguars team, keeping the defense confused and on their toes and guiding them to a 7 play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. The defense forced a punt on the Jaguars’ first possession of the game and the Colts punted it back to them without ever crossing midfield. Donte Moncrief’s 80-yard touchdown brought the Jaguars right back to even as the first quarter was coming to a close.
The Colts took over and quickly gouged the defense, looking at you Jalen Ramsey, for a 35-yard strike to T.Y. Hilton who was wide open on the left side. Another long throw to Mo-Alie Cox put the Colts well inside the red zone and a short dump off to Marlon Mack had the Colts looking at 3rd and goal from about the 2 yard line.
That’s when Frank Reich pulled his slickest move of the season. He sends the team out in 12 personnel and Marlon Mack is lined up as the lone back. It looks for all the world as though they will just try to punch it in by running right at the Jaguars.
Eric Ebron goes in motion just before the snap, and the fake to Mack goes to the right side and right at Calais Campbell, who explodes through the line, wholly biting on the fake. The only guy who seems to have an inkling of where the ball is going is Myles Jack, but by the time he has completely recognized what is happening, Ebron is around the end and breaking for the end zone. Barry Church never has a chance as he tries desperately to stop Ebron from scoring.
This play is great for a lot of reasons. Obviously the score is a big one. It went off without a hitch and was completely unexpected. What’s more, there are long term implications for this play. The Colts send players in motion often. Running a play like this causes doubt for defenders. Misdirection and confusion are sometimes all an offense needs to make big plays. When you run a play like this effectively, it gets in the heads of the defensive players. You can bet the Jaguars will remember this play the next time they play the Colts, and that may be what Frank Reich is counting on.
The Colts didn’t start their first drive of the second half until just over 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, after the defense let Jacksonville grind out a long scoring drive. A hold on Braden Smith backed them up to their 15 yard line and a dropped pass by Nyheim Hines left them facing a 2nd and 20. Frank Reich’s play call at that point is the one I’ll label as his worst for the day. It is tough to dial up anything from that position, and it is hardly an egregiously bad call, but it is indicative of the kind of conservative approach that stymied the offense for much of the second half.
You might think that this is Luck checking down with no open receivers. However, the screen pass is the call here, and Ryan Kelly is proof of that. He is getting up field in a hurry to put a hit on Telvin Smith and try to break Mack loose. It doesn’t really work, however, because he isn’t able to get there to buy Mack much space. Since they run at the short side of the field, Mack doesn’t have much room to work, and the play gets blown up for a gain of less than 2 when they needed to cut out a significant chunk to avoid 3rd and absurdly long.
These screens just have not worked effectively all season long, and this is no exception. The result is a 3rd and 19, and then giving the ball right back to the Jaguars after possessing it just 1 minute and 42 seconds. They wouldn’t get the ball back until :57 left in the 3rd quarter.
This was largely a solid game from Frank Reich. The Jaguars’ defense despite looking pretty awful in the first half, is actually very talented. You cannot get too risky with a good defense or they can make you pay, and the hold and dropped pass put Reich in a tough spot on his play call early in the 3rd, but that’s where you have to find more effective and creative ways to get yards. His stubborn attempts to repeatedly make that screen pass work have been frustrating and hopefully he will let that one go as a play the Colts just don’t seem able to run very effectively.
What those rough two quarters should not overshadow is that Reich had receivers running wide open down the field against the team that was considered the best passing defense in the league. While we’d like to see a more even performance over a whole game, it is a pretty impressive feat to behold.