The Indianapolis Colts’ offense has surprisingly been a pretty big let down on the season. The Colts have suffered a few injuries but overall this has been a big disappointment considering the weapons the team added this offseason, including Michael Pittman Jr., Jonathan Taylor, and most notably Philip Rivers. The biggest areas of struggle have been in the most important spots as the offense ranks 24th in 3rd down conversion rate (39.19%) and 27th in red zone touchdown rate (52.17%). The offense also ranked 25th overall in DVOA heading into last week.
That changed in a big way on Sunday as for the first time this year, the Colts were carried by a strong offensive performance rather than a defensive one. They converted all four of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns and converted on 64% of their third down opportunities. They finally looked like the offense we expected to see coming into the year.
While quarterback Philip Rivers deserves a lot of credit for how he played, I want to point at Frank Reich’s game plan as well. Up until this point of the year, I have been pretty vocal about my criticisms of the Colts offense and how predictable and lethargic it has looked all year. On Sunday however, Reich deserves a lot of credit as he was instrumental in the Colts’ comeback.
Today we will look at a few of these ingenious passing concepts that Reich dialed up while also wondering why we haven’t seen game plans like this all year.
Unleashing MoJo deep
The Colts needed to attack vertical and get explosives plays in this game after falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter. Reich decided to do this by utilizing his speedster in Marcus Johnson in space. At the bottom of the screen, the Colts have Trey Burton and Johnson against what looks to be zone coverage. Reich loves utilizing these potions in a scissor type route combination (that we while look at later) to free up the tight end on the out route from this lineup. Here however they throw a curveball at that.
Johnson starts to run what looks like a typical clear out post route to pull the safety out of the play. As he approaches the safety though, he breaks down his route and flashes back on a corner route. The leaves the safety in the dust and Johnson is able to get a huge gain on the play. I love the concept of taking a your own tendency and breaking it to fool the defense.
Marcus Johnson vs a safety in space... man this is such a great call to isolate Johnson deep. Think this should have been called a TD too. pic.twitter.com/wYe3PcFxDM— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) October 19, 2020
Flashing Back to 2018?
The 2018 Colts season was a fun season. Andrew Luck was throwing bombs, Frank Reich was rolling as a play-caller, and the Colts had a top red zone offense. Why? They understood how to utilize route combinations with the tight end in the red zone. With the offense struggling in this area of the field this year, Reich decided to go back to some of what worked back in 2018.
Here the Colts have Burton and T.Y. Hilton at the top of the screen. Remember how I said the Colts love crossing the tight end and receiver on this formation typically? Well they do that here as Hilton clears out the defenders and Burton slips outside behind him for the score. This reminded me of a similar play-call in 2018 with Eric Ebron. The Colts were in a stacked look on that call but the route combination and result were nearly identical.
We got back to some 2018 Frank Reich offense on Sunday. Doesn't this touchdown to Trey Burton look familiar? Colts ran a very similar play for a redzone touchdown with Eric Ebron in 2018. Love crossing the WR and TE close to the goal line. Make the defense constantlly think! pic.twitter.com/GTo26d8IL5— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) October 21, 2020
Philip Rivers command at the line
Getting away from Reich love for just a second, Philip Rivers was phenomenal all game long. He ran this offense to perfection and was extremely accurate and on time all game. The area that impressed me the most though was how controlled he was at the line pre-snap. He was constant with his audibles and consistently put the Colts in favorable plays all game.
Here Rivers recognizes the Bengals are blitzing with man coverage likely behind it. He then audibles to put running back Jonathan Taylor on the weak side of the play. He does this so he can have a quick outlet out of the backfield with the speedy back in space. The result is a coverage breakdown for the Bengals as Taylor is wide open in the flat for the big gain.
Philip Rivers also commanded the line of scrimmage pre-snap on Sunday. Rivers notices the likely blitz/man look by the defense. He audibles to a backside wheel to Jonathan Taylor figuring he can get his RB with a quick one on one in space. The result however is a busted coverage pic.twitter.com/vVrEsz7BnH— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) October 21, 2020
Redzone switch releases
We finally got to see some switch releases in the red zone from the Colts on Sunday. For those of you who are unaware, a switch release is essentially when two pass catchers cross by each other off the line of scrimmage. The advantage of this is it works as a moving screen in a way and can give the offense a favorable match up or position in the route.
Here in the red zone yet again, the Colts dial up a beautiful switch release between Jack Doyle and Trey Burton. Burton starts on the outside originally but breaks in front of Doyle off the line. This puts Doyle’s man in a bind as he is given the choice of either going over Burton and leaving himself vulnerable to an inside pass or going under and being stuck in trail if Doyle goes outside. He elects to go under and Doyle is able to get a step en route to a beautiful touchdown catch in the corner. I break it down audibly in this tweet below:
AUDIO BREAKDOWN ️:— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) October 21, 2020
Frank Reich really got back to his roots on Sunday. Love this play out of the two tight end set to free up Jack Doyle for the GW TD. Use the three point stance tight ends in a switch release to get Doyle open space to the outside. More of this going forward! pic.twitter.com/Ma2atiwqd2
And lastly.. this beauty of a call
Finally, my favorite play of the game featured Reich just toying with the defense. On a pivotal 3rd and long late in the game, the Colts motion into a stacked release with Johnson and Burton. Reich draws this play up so beautifully as it is designed to use a defender’s momentum against them in man coverage. Burton sells the switch release off the line as he flashed behind Johnson on a quick inside move. This has the safety over top in man crashing hard inside as he wants to get to his man before he can run for the first down.
Where this play gets awesome is when Burton breaks back outside, behind the switched release, for the wide open catch in the flat. The safety was put into a major bind on this play and the Colts feasted on it for a first down. I broke this one down as well audibly in the tweet below:
AUDIO BREAKDOWN (Pt. 2):— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) October 21, 2020
Frank Reich truly was on his A game on Sunday. Motions the tight end inside to identify man coverage. Then sells a switch release with the TE potentially running a slant. Once safety in man commits inside, TE whips back out, using the stack as a screen pic.twitter.com/7B8G7ukrhw
The Colts passing offense was pretty lethal on Sunday. The only question that needs to be asked though is where was this all year? Yes, Rivers was clicking more than normal but he was perfectly capable of running this high tempo, vertical offense all season. Why did it take this long to see the play-caller in Frank Reich that we all know and love?
I truly don’t know the answer to that. My colleague Chris Shepherd wrote a fun conspiracy piece where he theorized that Reich was saving his best plays for better opponents. While a fun idea, I doubt that is the case. My best explanation is that sometimes it takes Reich getting into a dire situation to really open up his offense.
He is a good coach but he suffers from the typical coach mindset of overthinking some things in the offense. Remember back in 2018 when the Colts started really slow on offense and it took them getting blown out by the Texans to finally get Andrew Luck and the offense going (the Colts came back in that game too but that one ended in an overtime loss).
Maybe this is the wake up game for this offense? Maybe they will finally start being more aggressive now that they know they can do it. I’m not sure the answer to any of the questions I am posing at the moment but all I do know is Frank Reich called an excellent game on Sunday and was a big reason why the Colts’ won. Let’s hope this continues going forward.