The Colts have one of, if not the best, tight end groups in the NFL. Former Pro Bowler Jack Doyle is one of the best blocking tight ends in football and is a very steady pass catcher underneath. Eric Ebron was a Pro Bowler last season after totaling 14 touchdowns on the seasons. Mo Alie-Cox is the lesser known of the three but he developed quite a bit last season and some people in the Colts’ organization believe he could be the best blocking tight end in football one day.
With all this talent in the tight end group, one would think they would be a major focal point in the passing game for a new quarterback. However, that had not been the case up until this weekend. The group combined for just eight catches coming into Sunday’s game, with very little production. Against the Falcons, they enjoyed a breakout day as the group combined for nine catches for 118 yards on the day.
On today’s film room, we will be looking at the impact of the tight ends on this past game, and how Frank Reich was able to utilize them in the passing game.
Doyle was the most productive of the tight ends on Sunday, as he hauled in four passes for 46 yards on the day. He was a reliable target underneath as he has always been throughout his career, and he even made a couple plays after the catch. Here, he just runs a simple hitch route against zone defense. He sits down short of the linebacker and makes his hands available for his quarterback. He is able to make the catch and fall forward for extra yards. Nothing special or flashy, just Jack Doyle being Jack Doyle.
Frank Reich did a great job of scheming his tight ends open in this game. Here, Doyle chips the edge and appears as though he is blocking with the team backed up on their own goal line. The linebackers disregard him as a result, as they are mostly keying on the run or quick pass over the middle. This allows Doyle to leak out past the linebackers as he quickly beats them to the middle of the field. He is able to bring in the pass and turn up field for the first down, providing some much-needed breathing room for the offense that had been backed up on their own three yard line.
Doyle is again able to find space in the zone defense. He is running a simple hitch route here, yet again, but he drifts a bit to the sideline to give his quarterback more space to make the throw. Jacoby Brissett doesn’t even look away from the reliable target as he knows he will pick up the first. He hits Doyle right out of his break and Doyle is able to break one tackle and get up field for the first down.
Doyle's final catch of the day was the game-clincher and it was _such_ a beautifully designed play. With the game on the line, Coach Frank Reich drew up a play for the reliable tight end as the number one option. The play call is an RPO with Doyle running out to the flats to the right as the primary option, and Chester Rogers faking a run block and running a curl as the secondary option. The defense is completely fooled by the RPO action and that gives enough space for Brissett to force the pass to Doyle in the flat. Great play design that shows how much this team trusts Doyle to make the big play.
Ebron is a vastly different tight end from Doyle as he is more of the athletic, receiving tight end in the group. On Sunday, his ability as a receiver really showed out in many ways. On this first play, he is split out wide as a receiver. The Falcons back off the line at the snap and this is all Brissett needs to be convinced that Ebron is the right read. He hits the tight end on the slant route and Ebron is able to do the rest. He fights through the tackles of the Falcons’ defensive backs and is able to pick up the first down.
Ebron also showed off his vertical ability as a receiver in this game. He lines up to the outside at the bottom of the screen, alongside the Colts’ other tight ends. While the other tight ends stay in to block, Ebron gets a one on one matchup on the post route. He realizes that he has inside leverage on the corner and cuts his route short with a speed cut to the sideline. He creates a ton of separation on this play and makes himself available for Brissett to hit him for the big play. Great design, to isolate the vertical tight end on a defensive back in this situation, and great awareness by Ebron to gain this separation so quickly.
Reich’s playcalling was excellent all day and this play is yet another example of it. Late in the game with the Colts expected to run the ball, he whips up this play call for Ebron. The play fake to the right freezes the defense while Ebron is able to work back across the formation. His speed is good enough to get to the outside before the defense can react. He makes the easy catch and gets the offense ahead of the sticks on first down.
While Alie-Cox is known more as a blocking tight end at this point in his career, he did get involved a bit in the pass game this past Sunday. Here he comes across the formation on a drag route. Brissett is able to look off his defender by looking at the in route over top which gives Alie-Cox enough separation across the formation. He makes the nice catch over the middle and is then able to turn up field for the nice gain.
Did I mention that Frank Reich schemed these tight ends open all day? Well he did it again for Alie-Cox on this play. Here he fakes the down block on the defensive end during the play fake. This freezes the linebacker in coverage as he assumes Alie-Cox is staying in to block. He then quickly turns off the block and makes himself available as a pass catcher. He catches the easy pass and gets up field for another nice gain. Beautiful play design by Reich to give Alie-Cox space on this route.
The main emphasis of this article is the tight ends in the pass game but I just had to add this play as well. Quenton Nelson got all the credit for this play, and for good reason, but look at the tight ends on the right side. Alie-Cox fights inside to seal off those defenders with a sturdy block. Doyle beats his defensive end to the spot on his down block and is able to pancake the end on the play. Even Ebron showed off some blocking ability here as he buries the outside linebacker with a strong block. The three tight ends here in 13 personnel all deliver with great blocks to spark the big run late in the game.
The Colts potentially have the best tight end group in the NFL with these three players. Although they have been fairly quiet this season, it was great to see them all as a major part of the gameplan on Sunday. They are each very talented in their own way, and Coach Reich was able to utilize each one accordingly.
Speaking of Coach Reich, he called an excellent game all day on Sunday. You can see in most of these clips that receivers and tight ends were running free all day. Hopefully, going forward, he can continually draw up plays to utilize these three tight ends and maximize their unique skill sets.