It finally happened. The Indianapolis Colts have agreed in principle to trade a 3rd round pick in 2020 and a conditional 2nd round pick in 2021 to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Carson Wentz. This trade reunites a duo that nearly led to an MVP season for Wentz back in 2017 and, ultimately, a Super Bowl victory for the Eagles (even though Wentz missed that entire playoff run).
However, that was three years ago, and a lot has changed since then. Wentz has steadily regressed over the years and has seen his DVOA drop in each season since that 2017 run. While the Colts may be the best chance for Wentz to resurrect his career, this is a risky play for the Colts and could certainly backfire.
With that being said, there is plenty of time to talk about the downsides of this trade throughout this offseason. Today, I want to look at a concept that the Colts used a lot in 2018 but steadily lost over the next two seasons; the RPO. The run-pass option was a major element of the Colts’ offense in 2018 but slowly faded away with two physically limited quarterbacks in Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers as starters in the 2019 and 2020, respectively.
So today, on the heels of this crazy trade, let’s look at how Carson Wentz can bring the RPO back to Indy.
The Colts loved to utilize this type of design to success back in 2018 with quarterback Andrew Luck. It was mostly effective due to the quickness of Luck’s release and the fact that Luck just played the game at a different level mentally. He was excellent at diagnosing plays pre-snap and understood when he had proper leverage to attack in the short passing game off of the RPO. Here, he recognizes Eric Ebron having the inside leverage and pulls the ball quickly for the pass over the middle.
Colts utilizing RPO with Andrew Luck and Eric Ebron back in 2018. Luck pulls it and hits Ebron for a productive gain on the slant pic.twitter.com/WknaDzSD8n— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 18, 2021
On top of having a player like Luck who knew when and how to attack defenses, the Colts also had a dynamic grouping of players that they could do multiple things with on offense. While they have had those same players— and even a few more added— over the last two seasons, it was harder to execute these looks with two quarterbacks who can’t athletically throw the football or threaten defenses with their legs. Here, Luck fakes the sweep run to Marlon Mack before quickly pulling the ball out and throwing the tunnel screen to Nyheim Hines. I think we could see a lot of this in 2021 with Wentz, Hines, and Jonathan Taylor.
Two running backs on the field, Colts sell the run action by pulling Quenton Nelson. Luck pulls it and throws the tunnel screen to Nyheim Hines for a good gain. pic.twitter.com/PoJBqepfEQ— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 18, 2021
This element of the offense has been lost over the past two seasons, especially in the redzone. In 2018, Andrew Luck led the NFL with 35 touchdown passes in the redzone. Over the past two seasons, the Colts have ranked more towards the bottom of the league in redzone percentage. By adding a quarterback who can make things happen with their legs again, the Colts can bring back some of the redzone RPO concepts that worked in 2018. The best example was the game-winning touchdown against the Raiders in week 8 of the 2018 season.
Redzone RPO to Jack Doyle for the game winning touchdown in week 8 against the Raiders in 2018 pic.twitter.com/5IPSKoXlzW— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 18, 2021
Carson Wentz and the RPO
I will preface this by saying that even at his peak, Wentz was never the quarterback that Andrew Luck was. I am not trying to draw that comparison whatsoever. However, they can operate this style of offense in a similar capacity. During the best two years of Wentz’s career, 2017 and 2018, the Eagles ranked 2nd and 3rd in RPO usage, respectively. That was easy to see in one of their playbooks I have from the 2018 season as it was just littered with RPO plays.
Wentz doesn’t process the game in the same way that Luck once did but this style of offense can make things easier for him by giving him that one quick read to attack. When he is just asked to focus in on one target and is also allowed to utilize his mobility, he can be effective. On this RPO flat pass in 2019, he is just reading that off-man slot corner. Also, notice how similar this play is to the Doyle play shown above. There's a lot of overlap in this formation between the Colts and Eagles.
Clip from 2019 now... Looks fairly similar to the RPO play I clipped from Luck to Doyle early right? Very similar play concepts pic.twitter.com/cFfKNhYAN6— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 18, 2021
The biggest benefactor in the return of this style with Wentz would be the tight end group in Indy. Tight ends like Mo Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle have built their reputations up as two of the best blocking tight ends in the league. With more RPO looks, the Colts could use that reputation to their advantage and have either player sell the run block before delaying over the middle or into the flat. This would give Wentz an easy pass option that could open up the run game. This was a key connection with Zach Ertz for Wentz from 2017 to 2019.
Now getting to Wentz, we have him operating an RPO peek play with Zach Ertz over the middle of the field pic.twitter.com/q5FqUt49Xq— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 18, 2021
Having a player like Michael Pittman Jr.p could be a huge benefit in this offense too. Wentz lacked the confidence to throw it over the middle to some of his receivers on these Eagles teams but he did develop a great rapport with Alshon Jeffrey. If he can build up that same chemistry with Pittman Jr, we could see a lot of these peek routes over the middle on basic run concepts. Wentz has a quick enough release with the ability to change his arm angle when needed to make this type of play very effective.
Quick RPO slant to Alshon Jeffrey by Wentz. Could see Pittman Jr benefitting from these plays in 2021 pic.twitter.com/81yylEPbZK— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 18, 2021
While I am still skeptical on the long term impact of this trade, I am very intrigued by the return of the RPO offense in Indy. The 2018 season was one of the more enjoyable offensive systems I’ve seen in a long time and I think Carson Wentz can bring back many of the elements that worked that year.
Now, Wentz is not Andrew Luck, but he doesn’t have to be to work out of this scheme. If he can get the ball out quickly and make confident decisions, this type of offense can work again in Indy. Think of it as the “Jacoby Brissett package” but actually letting the quarterback throw the ball. With players such as Nyheim Hines, Michael Pittman Jr, and Mo Alie-Cox on this offense, I think we could see the RPO return in a big way in 2021.