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Frank Reich’s offense: The assistant coaching years | Ken Whisenhunt and Doug Pederson

NFL: Preaseason-New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days I’m going to give you more intricate details on what I expect the 2018 Frank Reich led Indianapolis Colts offense to look like. I have arrived at this conclusion based on his history as a player and a coach. I will say, that while this is an educated theory (I subjected myself to all 16 San Diego Chargers contests of the 2014 season for this series, you’re welcome) it is at best a theory. We don’t know, beyond a shadow of a doubt what his offense is going to look like, but I feel I can get pretty close considering his influences and what the man himself has said.

Tomorrow morning we will cover what I expect The 2018 Indianapolis Colts offense to look like. I hope you enjoy reading about the Colts new head coach as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing this piece.

Ken Whisenhunt

Whisenhunt’s ideology focuses largely around using five receiving options (do the math really quick, 5 is the max) and spreading the defense horizontally. He often looks to get guys open on short quick hitting passes in an effort to get yards after the catch. (see also: West Coast Offense).

The first pass play from the 2017 Chargers vs. Dolphins matchup was the spot concept. It fits Whisenhunt’s ideology perfectly and when the 2018 Indianapolis Colts need three to five yards to pick up a first down, I expect to see this concept used.


This isn’t the play from that 2017 Chargers game, but it’s close. They did less crossing but I like the dynamics of this “play” more, so this is what I drew up. The idea of the play is to create a simple read for the quarterback and an almost guaranteed open man. As you might imagine this concept creates quite a bit of traffic for defensive backs to try to fight through and it isn’t uncommon to see a receiver run a route seemingly at a defender in an effort to get his teammate open.

This concept almost always uses all five receiving options and it gets the ball out quickly. You can find this concept in all 32 teams playbooks but it’s very likely to be used often by Frank Reich.

Whisenhunt’s Run Game

Generally speaking, teams will have a mixture of gap blocking and zone blocking concepts on their play sheet, but every team leans one way or the other... every team but the one Whisenhunt is calling plays for.

Whisenhunt is the rare offensive coordinator that uses a fullback in 2018, but I’ve seen him use a fullback on a called power play and he’s not afraid to use the same fullback on an outside zone. Granted he doesn’t always bring in a fullback, but he does mix zone and gap schemes at a near even rate, there is seemingly no preference.

This is just a simple I-Formation power play. The backside guard pulls playside, the fullback blasts his way through and the running back will be taught where to aim based on what the coaches like. I’ve been taught to read power inside-out meaning that the hole is most likely to open inside, but I’ve seen a lot of power plays go through the b-gap as well.

Again, Whisenhunt will use gap blocking schemes like power at the same rate he uses schemes like the outside zone. It’s an interesting schematic choice that has worked well for Whisenhunt during his long NFL career as a play caller.

Doug Pederson

Nailing down what Doug Pederson’s offense should be called is difficult. I’ve seen other writers describe it as a marriage of the west coast and spread offensive systems, and that’s probably as good of a way to describe it as any. The ball gets out of the quarterbacks hand quick with high percentage throws, most of the time. He works in a lot of “spread” elements and has an answer for seemingly every possible situation.

By now you’ve heard the term RPO which is short for run-pass option. During the Eagles Super Bowl run last season TV announcers were declaring every single play action pass a “RPO” and they were wrong a lot. With that said Pederson liked to work in RPO’s but he also liked to have a balanced attack, a big part of his game plan in the divisional round of the playoffs against the Falcons was to wear down their defense with a strong run game.

Doug Pederson knows that running the football well doesn’t always lead to wins in the NFL, but the RPO gives his offense a tool to maximize the effectiveness of the run game and also gives his quarterback an easy, one read pass if a key defender is playing the run instead of the pass.

I’ve noted above that the center, left guard, left tackle and tight end will all block for a zone run, the guard and tackle in a few of the RPO’s I saw the Eagles run, simply pass block. To this point I haven’t included any defenders in any of these plays because there are just so many variables, I didn’t align that linebacker anywhere specifically I just plopped him down in the general area you’ll normally find him and that’s the guy the quarterback has to key on.

If that linebacker follows the running back, the quarterback should pull the ball out and throw the slant. If the linebacker falls into coverage the quarterback should hand the ball off. This creates a simple read that needs to be made quickly, but should result in positive yardage.

Another thing to note, Pederson loves a good screen. He called screen passes early and often as a way to get the ball in the hands of play makers in space and allow them to make plays. Screens get the ball out of the quarterbacks hand quickly and, if everyone does their job, can be effective — though there is no evidence of that watching the 2012-2017 Indianapolis Colts.

Doug Pederson’s Run Game

Pederson is another weirdo who doesn’t seem to have a preference between zone and gap run concepts. With that said my gut tells me he uses more zone schemes, but that could just be due to how much I love the split zone plays the Eagles used so well last season.

Split Zone

The Split Zone works much the same way as a regular zone run, though it is normally run as an inside zone, the running back still has Bounce, Bang and Bend, the biggest difference comes on the backside of the play. Normally the backside defender, an outside linebacker or defensive end, is on the receiving end of a cut block from the backside tackle.

The split zone allows the backside tackle to work to the second level easier than in a normal zone concept. The backside defender is then blocked by a fullback or tight end (highlighted above with the red box) who usually lines up playside at the snap of the ball. Once the ball is snapped the tight end flows to the backside of the play, much like a pulling guard except he’s “pulling” the opposite direction.

This play does a couple things, if a linebacker keys on the tight end moving across the formation and follows him to the backside of the play, it will open a hole that will allow the back to take his “bang” read and run it up the gut. If no linebackers follow the flowing blocker it means that as long as that flowing blocker executes against the backside defender the “bend” read will create a huge hole on the backside of the play.

Obviously this is all dependent on the defensive alignment and the offense executing. I’ve heard it said that all plays are designed to be perfect, it ultimately comes down to execution. It also comes down to a well timed play call, anticipating when a defense may give you a look that will allow your called play an opportunity to work.

Frank Reich’s offense: An introduction

Frank Reich’s offense: The Maryland years

Frank Reich’s offense: The NFL years

Frank Reich’s offense: The assistant coaching years, part 1

Frank Reich’s offense: The 2018 Indianapolis Colts, part 1

Frank Reich’s offense: The 2018 Indianapolis Colts, part 2