It started with a vision. Frank Reich spoke it into being in his introductory press conference.
“As the head coach, the vision is simple and is clear. Every time that we step on the field to compete, there will be four marks that will mark our team. The first one is that we will be the toughest. We will be the toughest both mentally and physically. What I mean by that is there will be a relentless pursuit to get better every day. A relentless pursuit, relentless every day, to get better and an obsession with finishing strong. An obsession with finishing strong.”
We watched what the first part of that vision looks like in the face of adversity. Today this team struggled to get out of their own way. At times this season we have seen them falter. Their 1-5 start was endlessly frustrating for a team that clearly had potential. Despite things clicking, they just couldn’t seem to put it all together.
That’s where the “obsession to finish” mentality began to play a role. It started with that “players only” meeting that took place in October, following their 1-5 start. The team started clicking like they hadn’t done before. They got more focused. They got healthier too.
Before long, they had put all those losses in the rear view. They gutted out some tough games down the stretch, grinding out close wins against the Dolphins, Texans, and Giants. They lost just one game over that remaining 10-game stretch. What’s more, they did it in a multitude of ways, not simply because Andrew Luck willed them to victory.
“Secondly, we will be the most disciplined team.”
Frank Reich’s second mandate has not been quite as successful, but the focus has still been on improvement there. A 12-penalty outing against the Titans that racked up 96 penalty yards hardly looks like a disciplined team, but keep in mind that this is a group of very young players being thrown out there to be forged in the fire. They are bound to make mistakes, and if they do that to the same degree in the playoffs, it is likely to cost them.
What is clearly in place however, is an environment where the players are held accountable to high standards that make repeating those same kinds of mistakes over and over unacceptable. That culture for a group of young players is critical, and will bear fruit for this team going forward into the future.
“Thirdly, we’re going to be the most prepared team.”
It would be pretty tough to argue against the Colts being well prepared when they have come out. In most every game the offense has clicked early and the defense looks ready to go. There have only been a handful of games where the team came out flat, and most of the time it seems like that caught up to them as a result of overconfidence. Reich and Eberflus together have largely managed to effectively motivate their respective sides of the ball and shake them out of any in-game malaise.
In terms of preparedness though, this team has been top notch. Their protection planning meetings have been written about by Stephen Holder and are a key part of why the offensive line has been so successful at keeping Andrew Luck upright and unhindered. The running back room has two rookies and one second year player, but they have gotten better every week in pass protection.
The defense has come out consistently giving tough looks to opposing offenses and the team routinely adjusts to wrong-foot opposing teams. These are the kinds of things that are only possible if a premium is placed on being well prepared.
With the prior coaching staff, it seemed that more emphasis was put on clichés and coachspeak than on game planning and film. The team consistently came out looking as though they weren’t ready to go and the plan from week to week didn’t seem to put the team in positions to do anything more than rely on Andrew Luck to save the day.
Under Reich they have looked like chess pieces being manipulated by a master who has scrutinized his opponent’s every move. He has managed to wring every last drop of ability out of each player and seems to find the perfect ways to put his players in position to win their individual matchups.
“Fourth, we’re going to be the most united team. We’re going to be a close team. It’s going to be built around trust, respect and love – a love of the game.”
Watch this team for any amount of time and you can see that they are united. While teams like the Patriots fight over who gets to make Tom Brady’s kale shake and Jalen Ramsey is telling GQ how great he is, the Colts are joking with each other and doing stupid dances on the field and laughing and having fun. More importantly, they’re winning together and sacrificing for each other, and not pitching fits over playing time or targets or play calls.
The offensive linemen are on the sidelines playfully arguing about who had more knockdowns, Luck is holding guys accountable, and Quenton Nelson is picking virtually every receiver or running back up off the turf, no matter how far downfield they are. This is a group of men who are functioning as one real team.
The beat writers have come forward and said specifically that this is a team where there aren’t any jerks. When you see them looking like they’re having a great time as they’re showboating after a turnover or celebrating a touchdown, it is real. They really do have the selfless group of guys in this locker room that actually genuinely like each other and love the game of football.
That’s Frank Reich’s gift. That unity, that closeness, that buy-in to an idea that this team could be more than just a team in rebuild mode has taken hold. From day one he has professed belief in this team and in his process. His staff has guided, grown, and held accountable the young men that fill out this roster.
Now that they have made the playoffs, they might be the most dangerous team out there. Why? Because Frank Reich has taught this team how to finish, and the finish line ahead of this team now has a Lombardi trophy beyond it.