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Charting the Colts Offense- Week 2. It was bad, but there is some good news. No, really.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Win, lose or draw, I’m going to pour over the tape and chart the 2022 Colts offense so that I can bring to you, dear reader, the most comprehensive account of the Indianapolis Colts offense anywhere online. If I do my job well I expect that the information I uncover here will eventually be used (most likely without attribution) by fans and other media outlets alike. Some credit would be nice, but knowing 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 two loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. 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 the play started at the Colts’ own 24-yard line. You’ll notice columns like the ones for first downs and touchdowns are noted with 1s 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 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 TEs 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 need to go back and add to my week one data. I have added more charting points as I’ve realized what I forgot to include in my initial spreadsheet. I promise you I will update that info as soon as I can bring myself back through the absolute nightmare that was charting week one.

If anyone out there is 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 the film. Sacrifices were made.

A Good News, Bad News Situation

As it relates to charting the Colts, we have a real good news/bad news situation. I’ll start with the bad news: two games worth of data, especially two terrible games where the offense hasn’t seemed to find any sort of rhythm, isn’t enough to start showing tendencies. This offense is still struggling to find its way, and as a result, everything the offense does is going to change (to some degree). If you want me to tell you that the Colts are really bad on third down this season, I can. I can tell you that of the Colts' ten third-down attempts with less than five yards to go, they’ve only given the ball to Jonathan Taylor (far and away their best player) three times. I can tell you that when they’ve run the ball on third and less than five, they have converted 75% of the time, compared to only 33% when they pass on third and less than five.

These are facts according to my charting, but frankly, 10 data points are almost nothing, and while this information is interesting, it doesn’t tell us much.

The good news: it actually can’t get that much worse, and there’s just not that much we can pull from these two games. Now, suppose the offense still looks like a JV team scrimmaging against Varsity in week six. In that case, we’ll have enough data to point to a lot of really awful but interesting things- like the fact that as of right now when Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines are on the field at the same time together the offense is averaging 2.43 yards per play.

Good News About the Future of This Season

After two games, the Colts have more first downs inside the 25-yard line (three) than touchdowns scored (two). The Colts have been in the red area 8 times, and a 25% touchdown rate isn’t good, but in both games, the Colts have eventually gotten the ball into scoring position; they’re just struggling to convert.

History tells us with Frank Reich's offenses, these numbers are going to improve. We all hoped that this year would be the year that Reich’s offense would hit the ground running, I hoped it would happen too, but I’m not sure why any of us thought that was realistic.

If you listen, Frank Reich talks about his offense “staying on schedule,” which means getting positive plays on first and second down, setting up a manageable third down that your offense should convert.

If you’re feeling a rage burning inside of you, I get it but keep reading.

Reich isn’t trying to set up third downs. He’s trying to ensure he gets the ball in the hand of his playmakers with the hope that they can... make a play and pick up a big chunk of yards. But the offense does its best to make sure that if no one makes a great play, that if everyone just does their job, they’ll get positive plays to set up a manageable third down so that you can convert that and get another three cracks at creating an explosive play.

To some of you, this sounds like hedging your bets, and it will drive you nuts. And it’s pretty easy to think this all sounds super conservative when you haven’t spent your career learning about and crafting your philosophy and offensive system.

To some of you, this probably sounds like a solid strategy akin to long-term investing. You keep feeding relatively safe investments small chunks of money for a long time, and who knows, maybe something you’ve been buying for years takes off in an unexpected way, and you have a great windfall- that’s fantastic. But if that windfall never comes, you’ve been feeding your accounts, and eventually, compound interest will win in the end.

It’s late, and analogies are hard. I don’t care if this one sucks, you know what I mean.

Now, if you still feel the burning rage of one thousand Suns and you’re not interested in the “why” of any of this, if you find yourself thinking, “I just want results,” then this article probably isn’t for you, and that’s okay. Rage on, buddy. For everyone else, let’s figure out what’s happening.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the problem, and I have a pretty solid working theory; there are five new full-time starters on the offensive side of the ball. Matt Pryor, Danny Pinter, Mo Alie-Cox (loose fit, but it’s my call, and I made it), Alec Pierce, and Matt Ryan. On Sunday they were without Pierce and Michael Pittman Jr., so they had six players playing the majority of the team's offensive snaps that are in their second game playing in this alignment together and the problems have started up front.

Neither guard-tackle combo did very well on this play if we’re honest. For the first half of the game, the Indy offensive line had no answers for the stunts and loops that the Jaguars defensive line was throwing at them. But as I went through the tape, I noticed something.

As the game went on, they were figuring it out. This was a slightly different look than the one before, but the concept is the same, and this time, they handled it well, traded off blocks, and held up to the rush- a much better rep from the offensive line, and it was possible because they played like a cohesive unit.

The Colts have given up seven sacks through two games- that’s not good. But, of the five sacks they gave up in week two, three came in the first half and the two in the second half were due to Matt Ryan holding the ball too long, desperately trying to make a play for his offense. The first-half sacks were due to the aforementioned issues handling the Jags' stunts, and we have all seen Matt Pryor struggle against speed on the edge.

What I’m trying to say is that this offensive line is figuring out how to play with each other. I don’t think they’re as bad as they’ve looked; at times, they’ve looked really bad; I think they’re going to be fine with more time together.

So that explains part of it. What about the rest of it? Well, this article is already long enough, so I won’t go into how Reich hasn’t figured out how to use Alec Pierce to stay on schedule, and I’m not sure Matt Ryan has any chemistry with Mo Alie-Cox, but we’ll skip it and talk about Matt Ryan.

Frank Reich wants to stay on schedule on offense, his offensive line isn’t playing well (but they should improve as a unit), he has a quarterback he’s called two games worth of plays for, and his WR1 last Sunday was Ashton Dulin. I get that it’s been bad, Sunday’s loss was brutal, and a good Colts roster should have figured out how to overcome the Jacksonville Jaguars. I get it. A loss and a tie after what should have been two very winnable division games are bad. I get it.

But when you lay it all out and look at what Frank Reich and Matt Ryan are trying to do, it makes sense they’re struggling. In my opinion, just like in years passed, you can expect this offense to kick in between weeks six and ten. If Frank Reich could just get the same quarterback two years in a row, this wouldn’t be happening.

Use the Chart

If you have time, dig through the data on the spreadsheet and let me know what interesting (and probably terrible) things you find in the comments below. Seriously, there’s a lot of good info that can be pulled out, I’m only scratching the surface with this article.