In Jeff Saturday’s first game as head coach, the Indianapolis Colts beat an inept Las Vegas Raiders team on the road. Given that Saturday didn’t meet some of his coaches until Wednesday, it’s fair to ask what impact he actually had on the outcome of the game. Did he actually do anything at all? And what impact will he have moving forward? This week the Philadelphia Eagles come to town and we’ll start to get some answers. Here’s what to watch for this weekend:
- How Will Parks Frazier Follow His Inaugural Performance as a Play Caller?
Parks Frazier called a great first game as an NFL play caller. I refuse to take anything away from him, he had a job to do and he went out and did it well. The entire offensive staff deserves a lot of credit for the 25 points they were able to score.
But (there’s always a “but”) the Raiders' defense is, by almost every metric, really bad. I know this isn’t what any Colts fan wants to hear right now but the Raiders' defense wasn’t really able to game-plan for the Colts. They have shuffled so many players in their defensive backfield and linebacking corps that it has severely limited what they can do on that side of the ball. If you don’t believe me, that’s fine, here’s someone else you probably won’t want to believe either:
Raider Defense vs IND— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) November 14, 2022
...not sure I've ever seen a defensive scheme so vanilla and non-disguised. They lined up and they just played
Matt Ryan is a vet - knows where to go on quick game vs everything. Just nickel/dime them in pass game & ran the ball. Nice game from Smith/Fries pic.twitter.com/FNsnbUmH02
Not only were the Raiders players introducing themselves to each other in the huddle, Jim Irsay gave Jeff Saturday the freedom to bench the quarterback he told Frank Reich to start for the rest of the season. So even if the Raiders were able to put together a really detailed game plan to beat the Colts, they spent all week preparing for Sam Ehlinger as Saturday declared him the starter in his introductory press conference. Then in the moments leading up to last Sunday’s game, it became clear Matt Ryan was going to be the one under center.
Again, I am not taking anything away from Parks Frazier, he did exactly what he needed to do to get a win. That said, the Eagles are going to make life much harder on the 30-year-old play caller. The one thing Frazier has going for him this week is the fact that the Eagles struggle to stop the run. They seem content to let teams run while boasting the second-ranked passing defense in the league, in 2022 that’s a good strategy but most teams don’t have Jonathan Taylor.
Either way, Parks Frazier is going to face a far more difficult challenge this week, and how he handles it will be very interesting for week 11 and beyond.
- How Will Gus Bradley Handle Jalen Hurts?
Jalen Hurts is a legitimate passer in the NFL. He is currently the man behind the 11th-ranked passing attack. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns to only three interceptions and is completing nearly 68% of his throws. With all of that being said, I’m not even remotely concerned with Hurts’ ability to throw the ball. It’s his legs that have me worried.
Under old defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, the Colts employed a mush-rush designed to keep mobile QB’s, like Hurts, in the pocket. This approach resulted in an uninspiring pass rush that most often did keep QB’s from running all over the field. Gus Bradley’s defense takes a much different approach. Bradley’s defensive line pins their ears back and goes after the passer.
I like Bradley’s approach to pass rushing.
That said, it will open rushing lanes that a good athlete like Hurts could look to exploit. Especially considering that the Colts have been mostly very good in coverage this season. If Hurts finds the Colts in man coverage (backs turned to the QB) and none of his receivers open, all it’s going to take is DeForest Buckner taking a wide angle, and Hurts will be gone. So it’s worth watching for how Bradley will approach Hurts and the Philly offense.
Will he use a spy? Will he play more zone with eyes in the backfield? Will he even care if Hurts has a big day on the ground? Time will tell but it won’t take long on Sunday to figure out which poison the Colts' defense has chosen.
- What is Jeff Saturday’s Role?
Having been an NFL coach for six days, it’s fair to wonder what kind of an impact Jeff Saturday could have really had. As reported by Zak Keefer, he didn’t know how to use his headset or tablet:
…On the sidelines at Allegiant Stadium a few hours later, he kept fiddling with his headset, looking like he didn’t have a clue how to work the thing. He needed help watching replays on the tablet, so an assistant had to show him during a timeout.
A lot of people have pointed to his leadership during his first six days as coach. Things like accountability, passion, and making genuine connections with seemingly everyone he came in contact with throughout the week. To his credit, he was able to hold together a locker room on the brink of collapse, through nothing more than his charisma.
Some might attribute Will Fries starting at right guard to Jeff Saturday’s arrival and while that can’t be ruled out, offensive line coach Chris Strausser benched Matt Pryor in their most recent disaster in Foxborough against the Patriots. So it doesn’t seem fair to declare Saturday the sole reason the much better Fries got the nod. Fries also got the start back in week four and struggled. It is maddening that he only played one offensive snap between weeks five through eight before playing 81% of snaps against the Pats and 100% against the Raiders. Ultimately I don’t care who gets the credit, I’m just glad Pryor isn’t on the field.
In retrospect, it isn’t surprising that Jeff Saturday said himself that he just let his coaches coach and his players play. He had been in the building less than a week, what else was he going to do? But now that Saturday has had a little (a very little) time to settle into his role, how will he shape the direction of the team moving forward? Are we going to see big changes schematically? Will the game-day strategy be noticeably different? Is Jeff Saturday going to mold the team in his image or is he just in the building to make sure everyone is doing their job, hold them accountable when they don’t, and give good locker room speeches?
Really, there is no wrong answer for an interim coach. Especially one who just got dropped into freshly chummed water without so much as a pair of water wings. Nonetheless this week we might begin to see what Jeff Saturday’s role will be for the rest of the 2022 season.
Last week I had major concerns that general chaos could consume the offense with a new, inexperienced, play caller in the middle of the season. I believed (and still do) that if the Colts' offense was able to avoid the kind of unforced errors that could have easily come with such massive changes in the middle of the week, the entire offensive coaching staff would deserve massive amounts of credit. And here we are, needing to acknowledge the tremendous job everyone coaching under Jeff Saturday did last Sunday.
This week is a new test and a big one at that. I’m not expecting a win, if I’m being honest I’m not even expecting the game to be that close. But I’ve been wrong before and I hope I’m wrong this time.