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Charting the Colts Offense- Week 1: It Begins

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Win, lose or draw I’m going to pour over the tape and chart the Colts offense so that I can bring to you, dear reader, the most comprehensive account of the Indianapolis Colts offense. If I do my job well I expect that the information I uncover here will be used (most likely without attribution) by fans and other media outlets alike. Some credit would be nice but either way, knowing more about how Frank Reich’s offense operates can’t be a bad thing, right? At the least, we’ll be able to offer informed criticism instead of the all too common blind rage football fans usually wield on the internet.

So with all of that being said let's jump into the Colts' week one draw with the Houston Texans. Here’s the spreadsheet I’m using to track everything, below I’ll list some of the interesting things I noticed this week:

A couple of things to explain my charting: under field position, I’ll be listing it by the total number of yards the offense is away from the end zone. I don’t want to have to type “own” or “opponent” over and over again so if you see a number like “76” in the field position box it means that play started at the Colts' own 24-yard line. You’ll notice columns like the ones for first downs and touchdowns are noted with 1’s or a blank space. For every first down gained I’ll denote that play with a “1” in that box. The reason is I’ll be able to sort each row and look at all of the plays that earn first downs, touchdowns, etc. I will be using the same system for each player too. Players are listed by their jersey number. As players move off and on the roster, I’ll add them to the spreadsheet.

The “# in Slot Left/Right” will denote the number of players lined up in a two point stance outside of the tackle box. A tight end lined up behind the line of scrimmage near the offensive line is not in the slot and will not be counted as such. This is important data as it helps to determine formation. If we see that a play had 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends) but no slot players, it shows that both TE’s were used on the line. Conversely, if a play had 12 personnel and 1 player in the left slot and one player in the right slot we know that at least one tight end was in the slot- meaning there was someone lined up as an in-line TE or at RB. The system isn’t perfect but making it perfect is almost impossible.

I do have a couple of known issues with the data above. I didn’t think to start tracking bunch formations or RPO’s until the start of the fourth quarter and I just don’t have time to add them right now. I’ll have to go back and add them to the spreadsheet in the future.

If anyone out there is really good with spreadsheets, just know I am not. If you have pointers or tips for how to take this data and make it more easily useable, I’m all ears. If you would like to volunteer to help, I am also, all ears. But in the meantime, sorry for the amateur-hour spreadsheet, I spent the time I should have been learning about spreadsheets watching film. Sacrifices were made.

For me, the meat and potatoes of this entire exercise are third downs and plays inside the 25. This week we saw 16 third down attempts, with just six of them converted. They had 21 chances inside the 25-yard line and only came away with two touchdowns. We’ll start with the redzone numbers.

In The Red

Interestingly of the Colts' 21 red area plays, 17 came out of shotgun. Seven of their 10 rushing attempts came out of gun. I don’t know if this is as interesting as it is shocking, but the Colts ran five plays inside the five-yard line and only two of those plays were runs, one in a shotgun, the other from under center. What happened on the one play they snapped the ball from center and then handed the ball off to Jonathan Taylor inside the five-yard line?

If it seems like Frank Reich got the play calling a little backward, running between the 40’s and passing near the goal line while having a great goal line back... well you might be on to something.

There was one goal-line play I wanted to touch on that I hated during the game but having looked at the tape, I’ve softened my stance on it.

On 4th and goal from the two, the Colts dialed up a read option from the wildcat formation. Let’s take a look at the play. The Texans' defensive end #52 is designed to be unblocked on this play. The play is designed to give him two choices, make him choose and no matter what he chooses, if the QB (Hines) does his job the defender can’t be right, usually. At first, it looks like the DE is going outside to take on Jonathan Taylor which gives Nyheim Hines the read to pull the ball and run it himself, it’s a simple read that must be made quickly and Hines made the correct read. He pulled the ball down and started to run.

Unfortunately that DE made a fantastic play, he never wanted to take away Jonathan Taylor, he just wanted to get Hines to keep the ball so that he could crash down and make a play, which is exactly what he did.

The reason I don’t hate this play as much now is that the defender made one heck of a play. Had that defender made an average play and just made a choice, Nyhiem Hines might get into the endzone untouched, or JT would have run over a cornerback on his way in to score six points. It was well designed and executed, it just got beat by a guy making an exceptional play.

It happens.

Third Down

The Colts were not good on third down. And I’ve got good news and bad news about my third down charting this week. Good news: I did it. Bad news: I’m not sure what to make of it yet. I’m just not seeing any signal through the noise, probably because there’s just not that much there yet.

Some more bad news: I swear I charted every play, (I think I can prove it, I’m pretty sure my eyes are bleeding from watching the tape), but for some reason, I only have 14 third down attempts instead of the 16 they had. I’m not sure what happened but I promise I’ll get it together, next week.

More interesting things I noticed

So many blitzes

Much was made about Matt Ryan being under pressure so I made sure to really watch his line as I was going over the tape and something jumped out at me: these Texans were blitzing A LOT for a Lovie Smith defense. So I looked up the numbers on Pro Football Reference and in two games last season the Texans sent just 15 total blitzes, last Sunday he sent 20.

It’s no wonder the Colts didn’t look like they knew what they were doing, they didn’t prepare for Lovie Smith to change his stripes after a million years coaching. So why did Lovie do it? He was desperate. He threw every unscouted look he could at the Colts and it resulted in his guys getting pressure on Matt Ryan pretty often.

I’m not saying the offensive line was perfect, we all saw Braden Smith get murdered on the strip sack, what I am saying is that I’m feeling a lot better after watching the tape.

Promises were made

Full disclosure: I’m not entirely sure they’re setting anything up for week three against the Kansas City Chiefs. But, gun to my head, that’s the guess I’m making based off of what I saw.

What I saw

Matt Ryan is much more spry than I was led to believe but that’s not what is important here. It is Parris Campbell’s motion. This wasn’t the best example from the game but the only thing more tired than I am while writing this, is apparently NFL GamePass because it’s not working very well right now so this is the best clip I can give you. Even so, the very action of Campbell going on this jet motion is important.

When I was doing my charting the term “jet” didn’t enter my mind for far too long but every time I said something about the receiver in motion being at the QB at the snap... just know I was misusing “jet” as well I probably should have called it “fly motion”, we’ll all live through this tragedy. Either way, every time Frank Reich sends Campbell in motion from one side to the other, without giving him the ball, he’s conditioning anyone watching the tape to not worry about that motion. It’s just window dressing designed to help his QB read the defense before the snap and get defenders moving and out of position.

If Reich can get defenders to be wary of following that motion to try to cheat and get a run stop on Jonathan Taylor instead... well then that defense is primed to get hit with a Parris Campbell run around the edge. I have no way to know if he’s saving it for the Chiefs or not, but I know in my bones Frank Reich is trying to lull future opponents to sleep on this concept and he’s going to use the still speedy and currently healthy Parris Campbell to try to hit an end-around homerun.

So week one of my charting is in the books. Over time this series will develop and I’ll improve some areas, change some things, and add and remove different sections but for now, this one will have to do.

Please take a look through the spreadsheet and let me know if you can find anything interesting! Secret time: I’m running on about three hours of sleep and the Colts were jerks and made me chart five whole quarters (don’t do the math, just go with it) of a football game and by the time I was done my brain was mush. There’s a very real chance a handful of smart third graders could pull out more useful info from that spreadsheet than I was able to tonight. So let me know what you find!