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Film Room: Breaking down the Colts’ go-to deep shot play out of 12 personnel

Colts need to take more shots out of 12 personnel in 2020

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

It is no secret that the 2019 Indianapolis Colts had one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL. In a league that is so predicated on passing the football, being near the bottom in stats such as yards per attempt, passing yards, and explosive play percentage is not a formula to string together wins. While the Colts do like to run the ball behind their dominant offensive line and with their talented running back group, they need to find a way to successfully attack downfield more in 2020 in the passing game.

What if I found a way that the Colts can incorporate their passing game and build it off of their rushing game? The Colts can build deep shots out of formations they like to run out of and find more success in 2020 with a better quarterback and better pass catchers. For this piece, we will be looking at a play that was one of the Colts’ go-to shot plays in 2019 out of 12 personnel and see why this play could have more success in 2020.

Philadelphia Eagles Origins of the Play

Colts Head Coach Frank Reich spent 2016-2017 with the Philadelphia Eagles as their Offensive Coordinator and found a ton of success there as the team went on to win a Super Bowl in 2017. One of the reasons why their offense was so successful was their usage of 12 personnel — a play set that features one running back, two receivers, and two tight ends on the field. While I was unable to find the stats on their usage of 12 personnel in 2017, I did find that the Eagles have accounted for the highest usage rates of 12 personnel in 2018 (36%) and 2019 (52%) according to Sharp Football Stats.

The Colts have been in the top half of the league in 12 personnel usage since Reich was hired as they ran it at 18% in 2018 and increased that to 26% in 2019. So why am I boring you with random statistics on 12 personnel? Because the Colts want to run the ball and with a real solid tight end trio in Jack Doyle, Trey Burton, and Mo Alie-Cox, they may finally have the personnel to run more 12 personnel in 2020.

Getting to the play I want to discuss today though. I recently gained access to a 2018 Training Camp install playbook from the Eagles in 2018. This playbook details a certain shot play that the Colts ran a lot in 2019 out of 12 personnel. The play is called “Wide Waffle ‘X’ Deep Cross.

This play is straight from the Eagles playbook and they did run it a few times over the past few years. Here is an example I found from 2017 where they tried it on their opening play of the season against the Redskins. The ball did end falling incomplete but there was an opening there for a split second.

The 2018 Colts Usage of the Play

When Reich made his way to Indy following that season, he brought over so many elements of the Eagles’ playbook with him. One was calling this play out of 12 personnel to take a shot down the field. The only real difference was with the Colts, the preferred route seemed to be more of the crosser rather than the deep shot as the ‘X’ receiver was able to make the most of the open field in man coverage. The Colts likely would have run this and 12 personnel overall more in 2018 if it weren’t for Jack Doyle’s injuries piling up early in the year. Still, here are two successful examples of the play in 2018 where the Colts hit Ryan Grant and T.Y. Hilton for big gains, respectively.

The 2019 Colts Usage of the Play

The 2019 Colts saw an uptick in 12 personnel usage mainly because of the health of Jack Doyle and the development of Mo Alie-Cox. This led to more uses of “Wide Waffle ‘X’ Deep Cross” last year. While it wasn’t the most successful play for the team in terms of efficiency, much like most of the passing offense last year, it was able to result in a few big plays such as a few hits on the crosser, a big pass interference on a shot to Deon Cain, and a near touchdown to T.Y. Hilton. With the Colts’ increased emphasis on the run game, this play was a bigger part of the offense in 2019.

Usage for 2020 and why I even bring it up

So it seems weird to dedicate an entire article to one shot play that the Colts’ didn’t even run that much over the last two years. The main reason why I focused on this play in particular is that we know the Colts want to run the ball going forward. They are not being quiet about it whatsoever and they have hinted at using more tight end sets, which could include more 12 personnel. With that increased emphasis on the run game and more tight end sets being on the field, I think this play could be more of a staple next year for big shot plays.

The Colts upgraded the quarterback position from a player who had a good arm but was very passive and inaccurate down the field to a veteran player who plays aggressive and isn’t afraid to get the ball down the field. I think with Rivers at the helm in 2020, this could be a play we see more shots taken on.

On top of that, the Colts also added Michael Pittman Jr who could run either of these primary routes to success for the Colts. His combination of size, speed, and strength could make him an option on either route. The speed that the Colts have on the outside in T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, and Marcus Johnson would lead to the ‘Wide Waffle’ deep route being open more in 2020 as well.

Overall this play isn’t one that will be run a ton for the Colts but I do think we could see it more as a regular shot play in 2020. With the increased emphasis on the run game and involving tight ends more overall, mixing in a few shot plays out of these heavy formations could net big results. This is a play that Reich has had in his back pocket since 2017 and I think we will see it used more in the future with these explosive weapons on the Colts’ team.