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Why Shane Steichen should be in the Coach of the Year conversation

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Shane Steichen has proven to be one of the best young coaches in the NFL and certainly one of the best, if not the best of the rookies. His offense, from the tremendous RPO concepts to the zone based run blocking system to some nice route concepts that suit Pittman and Downs well are what has helped the Colts become a playoff contender.

What is baffling is that no one is talking about Shane Steichen as a serious Coach of the Year candidate. It’s as if people forget that the Colts have already beaten their 2022 win total by 2 games and should easily double it. In fact, the Colts might even make it to 10 wins, which would be one of the better one year turnarounds in the past 5 years.

It’s time Steichen gets some respect.

The current odds make no sense

According to the Draftkings Sportsbook, Steichen currently ranks 4th at 11-1. He is tied with Nick Sirianni and above him are Dan Campbell at 2.40-1, Demeco Ryans at 4-1 and Mike McDaniel at 6-1. Steichen should be right up there with them and should probably be in the top 2.

He should be above Mike McDaniel as McDaniel and the Dolphins made the playoffs last year and right now they are on track for the #3 seed in the AFC. They won 9 games last season and put up a great fight in their playoff loss. While his offense has taken a big step forward and is innovative in many ways, the Dolphins have yet to beat a legitimate opponent. Steichen and the Colts not only have an innovative offense (although not as elite as Miami’s), but they also have win versus top flight opponents (namely Baltimore, but also a dominant win over the Texans).

He should be above Demeco Ryans because everything Ryans has done so far this year, Steichen has done it better. They have the exact same record except Steichen doesn’t have the luxury of having a superstar rookie quarterback since the Colts lost theirs early in the season. The Colts have the same record as the Texans, have more points for (despite the Texans having the better quarterback) and even hold a win over them. Steichen should definitely be above Ryans.

The last man to beat is Dan Campbell. Campbell is a legitimate candidate for coach of the year, but also has flaws. The Lions won 9 games last season, had a +26 point differential and were extremely close to making the playoffs. As of this writing, they are projected to win 12 games, have a +55 point differential and have a 99.4% chance of making the playoffs. That is certainly an improvement from last season but is it better than the current turnaround the Colts are showing? I can’t say for sure.

Measuring the Colts’ turnaround

Last season, the Colts were in complete shambles. They fired Frank Reich for Jeff Saturday with the latter being a complete disaster. Anyone coming in to take the Colts’ job would be an immediate upgrade over Saturday and you can’t even compare the two. With almost the exact same offense minus the quarterback, the Colts put up 289 points. As of this writing through 11 games, the Colts have already put up 269 points. While Gardner Minshew and a few games of Anthony Richardson are certainly an upgrade over Matt Ryan and Nick Foles, you can’t say that Minshew is a major upgrade. He has played well at many points over the season, but at his best he’s a top 20-25 quarterback in the NFL. The 44% increase in points is certainly an indicator that Steichen has transformed the offense into something much better.

When measuring the performance of the top players, it’s clear the 2023 version of Michael Pittman Jr and Jonathan Taylor are in much better positions to succeed and are performing better. On top of that, we’ve seen tremendous impacts from Zack Moss and Josh Downs. In 2022, the top 2 receivers on the Colts totalled 162 catches for 1548 yards. In 2023, the top 2 receivers are currently on pace for 192 catches for 2086 yards, which is a an 18.5% and 35% improvement, respectively.

What has been also impressive is the tremendous improvement of the offensive line. The zone based run blocking system has been helpful with Braden Smith grading out as one of the best zone blocking offensive linemen in the NFL, according to PFF. The other 4 starters all have average or above average grades, which is an improvement from last season where the Colts had one of the 5 worst offensive lines in the NFL by most metrics. In 2022, using the same metrics of PFF, not only where their grades worse, but the Colts were more balanced in their blocking schemes, which meant that they ran more man blocking and gap/pull blocking schemes, which doesn’t suit the line as well. Running more zone was a benefit for the entire group. The resurgence of Ryan Kelly, the tremendous improvement of the Bernhard Raimann and the implementation of a zone based blocking system is what can be credited for the drastic turnaround of the offensive line. Steichen’s fingerprints are all over that group’s good play.