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Charting the Colts Offense- Week 3, Better than last week, still has a long way to go

The Colts offense has a lot of room to grow.

Kansas City Chiefs v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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 three win over the Kansas City Chiefs. 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.

Tendencies Are Developing

We are through three games where we’ve watched the Indianapolis Colts offense struggle to get yet another quarterback acclimated to a new offensive system. While I expect these numbers to change throughout the season we have enough data to see some things start to develop but the numbers we’re seeing don’t yet tell the whole story.

For example, the Colts have lined up with at least three receivers on one side of the field (there was one play with four, Jonathan Taylor was lined up wide of a three-man bunch inside the numbers) 50 times. That’s about one out of every four plays and when in this formation the Colts have called designed runs just twice.

Without context, this is extremely troubling. If teams can correctly predict (with 96% accuracy) when a team is going to run or pass on 25% of their offensive plays just by looking at how a team lines up their receivers, that’s a problem. When you consider the fact that the Colts have only used trips formations with the lead seven times, you might begin to question if the Colts want to be in trips formations 25% of the time. It seems more likely they have been forced into more passing situations by game situations. Considering the best way to come back from large deficits isn’t usually by handing the ball off, predicting a losing football team is going to be throwing isn’t exactly difficult to do.

So maybe we shouldn’t be too concerned with tendencies like these, yet. We should definitely be concerned with their tendency to need to use pass-heavy formations, while trailing, so often.

I’m sure portions of those last paragraphs will be screenshot and shared on social media to fit a narrative, but I’m asking you not to do that. Football, as with everything in life, is better understood with context.

Multiple TE Trouble

40 times this season the Colts have lined up with multiple tight ends on the field. Those plays have averaged just 3.75 yards per play. Usually when teams bring in extra tight ends it gets easier to open holes for your running backs. When the 2022 Colts have tested this theory they have rushed for 3.0 yards per carry on 24 attempts. They have dropped back to pass 16 times with multiple TE’s on the field. Three times on those 16 attempts Matt Ryan has been sacked. 25% of the teams' sacks have come from 16 snaps with multiple TE’s.

This isn’t good- but you didn’t need a certificate from a totally made-up online football university to know that.

A few things to consider about this staple of the Colts offense that is not going well:

  1. The Colts don’t have an Eric Ebron-like receiving TE on the roster. And as a result of the Colts trailing for most of the season, the offense is limited with what it can do with multiple TE’s on the field at once. If you need to drive 80 yards to win a game in the fourth quarter, you’re not going to take a receiver off the field to trot out Kylen Granson and Mo Alie-Cox, are you?
  2. They are relying heavily on first and second-year guys to play a large role. Tight end is one of the hardest transitions for most players to make and we’re seeing that in action. I have it on good authority that the Colts were bidding for a veteran TE this past off-season but the Vet chose a different offer because the only QB on the roster at the time was Sam Ehlinger. You can be upset with the decisions or lack of results in free agency if you want, I’m just telling you these guys are young and that’s part of the reason these numbers are what they are through three games.
  3. The other side of these tight ends being young is that we should expect to see these numbers improve throughout the season as they gain more experience.
  4. The sample size is still small.

Third Down

After converting just two third downs against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week two, the Colts went six for fifteen against the Chiefs. If you asked anyone employed by the Colts if a 40% third down conversion rate is good enough and they would tell you no. But it was good to see the Colts recover somewhat after an incredibly discouraging game the week before. This week the third downs only seemed improbable, not impossible and we should really appreciate the little things because the big things aren’t guaranteed to come.

Red Zone

I classify the red zone as anything from the 25 to the end zone. This week the Colts only got four drives to the red area but they turned all four drives into points- a massive improvement over the first two weeks of the season. If they can manage to continue converting drives that make it inside the 25 into points and they figure out how to move the ball there on more than 40% of their drives, then we’ll all have a merry Christmas. There’s a long way to go before we have that talk, I’m afraid.

Use the Chart

I had someone reach out to me on Twitter who has offered to take a look at the spreadsheet and I am excited to see what they might come up with. I have yet to ask them if they would like to be known- I’m assuming so but for all I know this guy is in whiteness protection so I’m going to wait to hear from him before giving him a shout-out.

In the meantime, dig through the numbers and let me know what you find. I spend so much time actually doing the charting, I’m struggling to find time to pull more interesting things out of the chart. I know there are nuggets in there because every time I look I find something else, I just don’t have enough time to do all of the digging I would like to do. It’s like working 80 hours a week to be able to afford a crazy nice house, only to buy the house and realize you’re only home long enough to sleep. Someone come enjoy my house for me, please.