If you were looking for in-depth film breakdown, or one of my opponent scouting reports you’ve arrived at the wrong article. Welcome to the latest conspiracy report where I, Chris Shepherd, will examine a nefarious plot and expose it for what it really is. Now sure, I won’t be able to provide you any “proof” and no, I don’t have any sources (that you know of). What follows should be treated purely as entertainment that includes plausible (and not so plausible) scenarios that no one employed by NFL teams would ever admit to and I accept no responsibility for anything you do with the information I’m about to give you. In fact I accept no responsibility for anything you’re about to read here.
In this bye week exposé of NFL conspiratorial glory, I’m going to blow the lid off of Frank Reich’s developing plan to save the best part of the Indianapolis Colts playbook for the toughest part of the teams post-bye week schedule.
But can I prove it? I don’t know, is the Pope Mormon?
The evidence that follows is so strong, you’ll be forced to admit that it’s pretty good evidence. Hold on to your tinfoil hats, kids it’s about to go down.
In the second half of the 2018 season the Colts offense was a well oiled machine. Frank Reich’s offense was being executed to perfection by Andrew Luck. It wasn’t just that the system was good but it was creative. Reich was using different formations, route combinations, pre-snap motion and a whole host of concepts designed to beat modern NFL defenses.
2019 was a weird year for reasons I’m not going to rehash here but anytime you lose a quaterback the offense has to change and creativity was seemingly scraped in order to simply survive the season.
Now, in 2020, Frank Reich has another talented (albeit old) quarterback who can run his entire system, from the basics to the more exotic and creative looks the coach can draw up. But for the most part, Reich’s play calling and his offense has been incredibly bland. It’s been basic. It’s been so focused on running the ball even though the run game hasn’t been able to get going.
Reich hasn’t forgotten the plays he called in 2018. He didn’t just hit the wall that was the 2019 season and say “well that’s a wrap on creativity”. Reich is still going for it on fourth downs, he’s still saying the same kinds of things he’s said in the past. He’s still the same guy. So why isn’t he calling the teams best plays? Why has he insisted on relying on winning low scoring contests with vanilla passing concepts when he didn’t have to?
That link is an IndyStar article from Jim Ayello and Nat Newell. It’s an interesting look into the Colts coaching staff’s obsession to remain as tendency free as possible. From the article:
“(Tendencies are) constantly on our minds,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said recently. “We know how we look at defenses and we know how our defense looks at other teams. We don’t want to tip our hand in any way. In any sport, you don’t want to (give) the person trying to defend you any little tell. We’re really obsessed with that. I learned a lot of that from Frank (Reich) when we were together in San Diego, just being obsessive about, ‘Hey, we don’t have any tells here, right? The tackle isn’t giving anything away? The back is not giving anything away? Our tendencies aren’t giving anything away?’
“It would amaze you about how much we look at and how much we think about that.”
So tendencies are “constantly on our (their) minds”. They’re “really obsessed with that.” We would be amazed.
Next Frank Reich had this to say:
In theory you would say, you should get more middle field open coverages so you’re not getting as heavy of a box,” Reich said. ”But in this league, you just have to mix it up and that’s really how I think about it. … I’m always looking at our self-scout and what my play-calling tendencies are. I don’t mind getting into a little bit of a, ‘For the (first) four games you have called a lot of runs on second-and-seven-to-10.’ That doesn’t bother me too much.
Do I even really need to continue?! He, the man himself, just told us he doesn’t mind calling plays that might not be as effective in the short term so that he can be less predictable in the future!
They’re obsessed with tendency! We would be AMAZED at how much time they spend on that stuff! FRANK REICH SAID HE DOESN’T CARE IF HE CALLS A LOT OF RUNS ON SECOND AND LONG IN THE FIRST FOUR WEEKS WHEN THE TEAM WAS AVERAGING 2.2 YARDS PER CARRY ON THESE RUNS AND HE DOESN’T CARE BECAUSE IT MAKES HIM LESS PREDICTABLE IN THE FUTURE!
Okay, I think I’m better now. I just had to get that out.
Frank Reich trusts his quarterback.
I’ve seen some people suggest that the reason Frank Reich hasn’t been calling plays the way he has in the past is because he doesn’t trust his quarterback to execute.
To that I say; uh, what?!
From the same article we looked at in Exhibit B:
“If I feel good about the call, we’re going to continue to call it because we’ve got an elite quarterback, so they always have to fear the pass a little bit,” Reich said. ”If we think we’ve got the right run call, I’m going to call it. I feel like we’ve got the backs that we can gain big yards on second-and-long, but you’ll see that over the course of the year come and go. We’ll mix it run and pass.”
Still after four weeks of not opening up his offense, after four weeks of the blandest of bland play calls, after four weeks of the media talking about a washed up Philip Rivers, Frank Reich was still calling him elite.
I’m not going to go back and find every instance this offseason of Frank Reich praising Philip Rivers. I’m not going to do it because I don’t have enough time this week to find and list them all. Since Rivers signed on the dotted line and became a Colt, Frank Reich has been singing his praises.
Reich has called him “elite” more times than I can count. Reich has said over and over again “Philip has played in this offense, he knows the system”. Not that Rivers is familiar with the system, it’s that it’s the same system.
If Frank Reich is telling the truth and he believes that Rivers is elite, and I believe that Reich does actually believe that. And we know that Rivers knows the system, how does it make any sense at all that the play calling has been so basic through five and a half weeks unless it was intentional?
The Bengals game.
The Cincinnati Bengals were supposed to be struggling on offense. Their offensive line was supposed to be a mess. Joe Burrow was supposed to be bad under pressure and he was supposed to be under pressure a lot.
The Indianapolis Colts were supposed to have the league’s best defense. Their defensive line was a force to be reckoned with. DeForest Buckner was supposed to be unblockable no matter what you threw at him.
The first 16 minutes of the Colts’ week six matchup against the Bengals were supposed to go differently.
The loss to the Jaguars in week one was a disappointment but it was the first game of the year. There was no preseason, everything was just a little off and the Jags beat the Colts, a bad loss but understandable in the grand scheme of things, after all it was just one loss on the road. The loss to the Browns on the road in week five was too bad but the Browns are a good football team. I understand their loss to the Steelers has people doubting that now, but the Steelers and Browns play each other differently, there’s a whole psychological thing there between those two AFC North teams, the Browns had a bad day in Pittsburgh, but they’re a playoff caliber team without question. A regular season loss on the road to a team that should make the playoffs is hardly a loss to panic over.
But the Bengals, at home, before the bye? If the Bengals win that game, it’s officially time to panic.
Down 21-0, Frank Reich realized that his obsession with tendency needed to be put on the back burner. He realized that it was time to open up the playbook to the pages labeled “The Good Stuff”, dust off the cobwebs and get to work on an epic comeback, or else he was going to have a very rough bye week.
What followed was an offense so inspired, so creative, it attacked and defeated a good Bengals pass defense. No, really, the Bengals are still ranked fifth in completion percentage with 61.5% and before Rivers carved them up for 371 yards they were near the top ten for passing yards allowed per game with just 228.6.
And they did it, seemingly, out of nowhere.
They pulled those plays during the Bengals game out of nowhere.
Frank Reich hadn’t been calling those kinds of plays before last Sunday, he just hadn’t done it, but yet they called them, executed them and they did it without anyone being confused.
Frank Reich wasn’t frantically meeting with Nick Siriani on the sideline with a whiteboard pulling out his hair to try to come up with a bunch of effective plays on the fly. None of the receivers, including Marcus Johnson who spent much of the early part of the season on the practice squad, were befuddled by these plays. These weren’t new. These weren’t exotic. You can’t even say that the lack of creativity early in the season was due to the receivers inexperience as they were executing against the Bengals, flawlessly.
It was just the offense and these were the plays that Frank Reich had been sitting on so that opponents later in the season, when the schedule got tougher, wouldn’t have these concepts on tape. Frank Reich is planning to trot out a bunch of concepts that other teams haven’t been able to scout because he’s been calling a bunch of basic, boring plays.
Frank Reich has two offenses, the one he’s shown the world and the one he has locked away for a rainy day.
Frank Reich has a hidden offense.
The narrative that Philip Rivers is washed up.
If you Google “Philip Rivers washed” this is what comes up:
But we know Frank Reich believes that Rivers is “elite”. If Reich believes Rivers is elite and the rest of the world is talking about Rivers being finished as a player, wouldn’t Reich want to do everything in his power to showcase a star player by playing to his strengths and letting him fill up the stat sheet on his way to big wins?
No. Not if the goal is to lull your late season opponents into believing that the narrative surrounding Philip Rivers is true. If you’re Frank Reich and you believe that Rivers truly is still elite but you’re trying to hide the true nature of your offense, there is no better way than doing nothing to change that narrative.
Of course teams will plan for him, but their plans are going to be different if he’s regularly throwing for 300+ yards per game than if he’s averaging 180 yards one touchdown and 1.5 interceptions per game. If you believe he’s capable of being that elite quarterback when the offense decides to get creative again, there’s nothing better than your opponents underestimating him.
I’ve given you at least six irrefutable points of evidence to consider, they are:
- Frank Reich has previously used highly creative play calling and design to win games.
- Frank Reich is obsessed with being unpredictable to the point of being ineffective for the cause.
- Frank Reich has a quarterback that he believes can execute his entire offense.
- Frank Reich was forced to be more creative when losing big to a bad opponent.
- Frank Reich’s players were able to execute creative concepts despite not using them in the first five games.
- Frank Reich has motive to want the rest of the NFL to believe Philip Rivers is washed up.
When you consider all of these things separately, it doesn’t seem like there’s much there.
Yeah, Reich was good in 2018, so what?
Yeah, Reich calls a lot of dumb runs on second and long, what about it?
Yeah, Reich thinks Rivers is good, so do Rivers’ 37 kids, who cares?
Yeah, Reich got desperate against the Bengals, that was Eberflus’ fault how does that guy still have a job?
Yeah, it’s the receivers job to run routes, what’s the big deal?
Yeah, Philip Rivers’ numbers stunk most of the first six weeks, he’s washed up, right?
But when viewed together it’s so glaringly obvious that Frank Reich, Nick Siriani and the Indianapolis Colts offensive staff are saving their best stuff for teams like the Ravens, the Titans (twice) the Packers and the Steelers. They didn’t want to tip their hand and show those teams what they plan to do against them when they were playing teams like the Vikings and Jets. Even the 5-1 Bears were beatable on the road with bland offensive play calling and perhaps the most well put together roster in the Indianapolis era.
The Colts have prepared to play every opponent this season, but their long term plan is quite the slow burn. They’re hiding what they plan to do when the opponents really start to matter and playoff seeding starts to come into focus.
If it works, Frank Reich will have been an absolute genius. If it doesn’t work, then these first six games of the season were needlessly boring slog fests of defensive domination and offensive ineptitude.
Either way, the Colts are saving the good plays in Frank Reich’s secret offense for after the bye.