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Frank Reich’s offense: The 2018 Indianapolis Colts | The passing game

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Training Camp Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few days I have given you a more intricate look at 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.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series on my expectations for the 2018 Indianapolis Colts offense, tomorrow we will follow up with part 2. I hope you have enjoyed reading about the Colts new head coach as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing this piece.

Frank Reich: The Head Coaching Years

NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Training Camp Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After being named head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, in his first press conference with the team, Coach Reich was asked to describe his offense this was the first description he gave:

“We will be a multiple, attack, up-tempo offense. We will be aggressive... We’ll change things up. What I mean by multiple is we’ll use multiple personnel groups and multiple formations. We’ll change the tempo. There will be a strong element of the no-huddle offense. We’ll build the players around that kind of scheme.’’

It shouldn’t be surprising that was what he said, given the fact that the majority of his nearly 30 year career as a player and coach was spent doing exactly that. Every major influence Reich has had was focused on being multiple, using tempo and being aggressive.

Reich also went on to talk about the need to get the ball out quicker, throwing jabs before hitting them with the knockout blow, meaning throwing short, high percentage passes that get the ball out quick. Again, this isn’t a surprise given what we know about Reich’s time with Ken Whisenhunt and Doug Pederson. Bobby Ross wanted desperately to be multiple. Peyton Manning, Jim Kelly, Ted Marchibroda and Marv Levy were all about tempo, no huddle and aggressive. Frank Reich has experience with every conceivable personnel grouping known to all levels of modern football, even the Eagles drew some from the Wing-T.

I know every coach has a “coaching tree” and has learned from some great coaches along the way. It’s easy to say that any NFL head coach has learned from some of the best to ever do it. It’s easy because frankly so many coaches bounce from team to team for decades, you could connect any one of them to almost any other staff. As a result, it’s easy to say that every NFL coach is standing on the shoulders of giants, but the giants Frank Reich’s standing on include some of the most prolific and sustained offensive powers the NFL has ever seen. He has learned from, under and with all time greats in addition to the guys who are “just” good coordinators.

I don’t know how Frank Reich will turn out as a head coach but I feel confident his offense will be exciting as long as Andrew Luck is behind center. I also can’t say with absolute confidence this is exactly what his offense is going to look like and I can’t give you a single tendency he might have until sometime in September, but I do believe based on his history with the game of football, what follows is a good sampling of what Frank Reich’s offense will look like in 2018 and beyond.


The Basics:

  • West Coast- Frank Reich will dial up a lot of short quick throws designed to spread the field horizontally to create yards after the catch but won’t be afraid to take his shots down the field.
  • Shotgun- In 2015 as the offensive coordinator in San Diego, the Frank Reich Chargers ran 1,101 plays. 958 of those plays were run out of a shotgun formation, good for 87% of all snaps. For reference the 2015 Indianapolis Colts used a shotgun formation just 58% of the time.
  • Tempo- Reich has mentioned tempo and he had a front row seat watching Jim Kelly and Peyton Manning use tempo to their benefit. 2015 Saw the Chargers go no huddle 236 times while the league average was only 134. Just something to note, the 2015 average is slightly skewed as the Chip Kelly lead Philadelphia Eagles ran 795 no huddle plays that season, which is insane. So adjusted for Chip Kelly, Reich’s use of the hurry up was even more prolific.

Personnel Groupings

  • Multiple- There isn’t a great way to cover all of the personnel groupings Reich is likely to use in 2018. Based on what he has said and his time in San Diego, I think it’s a safe bet to assume he will use a lot of two tight end looks. I expect Eric Ebron to be used all over the field. The only place I don’t expect Ebron to line up is at running back, otherwise it’s fair game. Beyond that, I expect to see running backs lined up in the slot and out wide and formations designed to create positive matchups.


These are only a few of the pass concepts I expect to see this season. It’s entirely possible that none of these concepts are Andrew Luck’s favorite. Maybe it’s a variation of one of these, maybe it’s NCAA, maybe it’s 4 verts, for nostalgia I hope he falls in love running two and three man levels concepts and that’s that, but for the sake of brevity these are a few concepts I feel that the Colts will look to early and often until they have a better feel for what the offense will become.

  • Levels

Levels in action:

The idea of this concept is to make a defender, usually a linebacker, make a decision — cover the 10 yard in or the 5 yard in and whoever he doesn’t cover comes open in the middle of the field.

On this play it was more like a 12 yard in and a 3-4 yard in but the point remains. On this play Manning is reading #51 the linebacker lined up on the on the outside of the defensive end. He sees him drop with the slot receiver and then fall off to stay in his zone for the underneath crosser. Manning sees him fall off and throws to the deep in who is single covered.

The safety, Roman Harper, has seen this concept from a Manning led team many times and given the underneath route he had a good idea the slot receiver was going to cut inside, Harper who was a few years past his prime in this clip, used his experience and instincts to make a nice defensive play.

Even though this was an incompletion, Manning had a window to fit that ball in and you don’t always get big windows in the NFL. Levels will almost always create a window, somewhere.

  • 4 Verts

My breakdown of 4 Verts:

The receivers (or mix of backs, tight ends and receivers) do exactly what you would expect them to do with a concept called 4 verts, there are 4 guys who run vertically.

The idea is to put stress on the DB’s, wait for them to make a decision and exploit whatever decision they make. Depending on the defensive look, the QB is going to have either a single high safety or a two safety look. The play is slightly different based on the number of high safeties, obviously a single high safety is advantageous for the offense.

One (or more) of the vertical routes (a receiver in the slot or a TE) is going to change slightly based on the number of deep safeties in an effort to further stress the decision making of the safety on that side of the field.

  • Spot

Spot in action:

First I have to apologize, the above clip is actually Kerry Collins at QB. Unfortunately NFL Gamepass only goes back to the 2011 season, (if you happen to have any contraband all-22 tape from the pre-2011 Indianapolis Colts, please do reach out) so Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlavsky are all we have to choose from. The reason I included this clip is because Frank Reich saw it run in Indy. If you remember, Jim Caldwell was on record saying that with Peyton Manning out they weren’t going to change the offense, after all we were able to bring in Kerry Collins, so the offense should be just fine.

Kerry Collins went 12-29 with 95 yards and 0 TD’s on the day. So while Caldwell was incorrect, the offense wasn’t fine, he did try to keep the offense the same.

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.

  • Mesh

Mesh in action:

This play design is slightly different than the example I created above it. With that said it’s the same concept.

Mesh is an amazing concept. I probably feel that way because I just read The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football (I receive nothing if you use that link and buy the book, I just really enjoyed the book and if you’ve read this far in this massive piece on Frank Reich, I suspect you will enjoy that book too). The book goes deep into the history of the Air Raid and the modern era of football that was brought on by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. No joke, Mike Leach, the crazy guy that goes on rants about “fat little girlfriends”. That Mike Leach, forever changed the way football is played and Mesh was their favorite play.

I could probably write you a book about the concept (I just read one) but I’ll keep it short. In its purest form, Mesh, creates a mismatch against every single conceivable defensive look. The reason: option routes.

The two routes that cross in the middle of the field, to make a long story somewhat shorter, have almost unlimited freedom to find open grass and go to it. The idea is to give a defender an impossible task; defend two receivers at once, usually an interior linebacker trying to cover both men crossing. These two receivers have the freedom to adjust where they’re running based on what the defense is giving them and there is a contingency plan for almost everything.

The play above is blown up due to interior pressure coming at Jared Goff, had that not been there Goff is probably hitting the underneath crosser and picking up a few yards on the play. You never go broke making a profit.

Hal Mumme once bragged that he called Mesh more than 55 times in a single game. The reason he could do that, and win, was because the play never looks the same to the defense. To the defense it’s a mystery every down, to the offense, it’s the same call and as long as the QB and receiver are on the same page, it’s an easy completion.

This concludes part 1. In part 2 of our look at Frank Reich’s 2018 Colts offense we will take a look at the run game and draw our final conclusions. Stay tuned.

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 assistant coaching years, part 2

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