What the f**k will the Colts' offense look like?
Jeff Saturday (!) has taken over as the head coach. Parks Frazier (!!) is in as the play-caller. What will they run?
No, you did not take acid. Yes, Jeff Saturday, an ESPN analyst with zero coaching experience at the college or pro levels, is the new Colts head coach – at least on an interim basis. “This is for eight games, hopefully more," Irsay, the Colts owner, said at Saturday’s bizarre introductory press conference.
It’s a move without precedent. The last time a professional football franchise handed the keys over to a coach with no experience, the Beatles had yet to release a record, the average US house cost $12,000, and the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic had yet to begin construction on the Berlin Wall.
The Colts followed that up by tabbing 30-year-old Parks Frazier to be the team’s offensive play-caller. Frazier is Indy’s answer to Dwight Schrute, a former PA to ex-coach Frank Reich (fun fact: Reich ministered at Frazier’s wedding), and the Assistant to the Head Coach, before picking up the title of assistant quarterback's coach.
No one knows what’s going to happen here. And I’m not sure anyone has a sense of what the Colts offense will even look like moving forward. Like Reich, Saturday will likely devolve all power to Gus Bradley on the defensive side of the ball. But on offense, the former center probably has some ideas of his own, even if Frazier is dealing with the play-calling duties.
The Frank Reich offense went off the rails the moment it became clear that Matt Ryan was cooked. Ryan moving from the genre of window thrower to landmark thrower torpedoed all that was right and good about The Reich Offense™ over the past couple of seasons. And the team’s declining offensive line – dropping from one of the best in the league to one of the worst – submarined a lot of the team’s core concepts.
Indy, it should be noted, allocates more of its cap to the offensive line than any team in the league. Some 19.5% of the team’s budget is spent on a group that has ranged from woeful to dispiriting to having this writer wonder if they’re actively trying to throw games.
It’s been a disjointed mess – and forced a shift in focus on the offense from one built to stack one concept on top of the other into a unit paddling upstream, trying to find anything that works on a drive-to-drive basis.
One of the core tenets of the Reich offense was how much was built out of the fun and games in the run game. It had little to do with some chest-thumping notion of ‘establishing the run’ and more to do with how the coach got to his platter of play-action and RPO designs, which have been the bedrock of his system since he was a part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl run. You’ve seen it all: The motions, the shifts, the creative use of trap and wham designs, all of the vintage Jim Harbaugh stuff dressed up in a blurred-by-motion package.
At its apex, it was *chef’s kiss* with those fundamental designs leading into play-action staples that allowed simple completions, no matter how dodo-headed the quarterback or how much his arm creaked.
By the end of his tenure, much of the confuse-and-clobber nature of the Reich offense had dissipated. The running game was less creative. The offensive line was not executing. The play-action figures had declined. And in the straight dropback game, an immobile Ryan was prime meat ready for hunting. Defenses teed off. Ryan couldn’t move. The offense fell from one with top-five expectations into an omnishambles, with little discernible identity or any one thing they could count in.
Moving to Sam Ehlinger, a bid to get more mobility and arm talent into the offense, didn’t change the fundamental concerns with the group up front or the lack of continuity within the offense.
Right now, the Colts have the worst offense in the NFL – they’re 32nd (by a decent margin) in EPA per play. They rank 31st in rush EPA/play, an embarrassing mark for a side that features the league’s most expensive offensive line and Jonathan Taylor (not to mention having Nyheim Hines before the trade deadline). You can point the finger in a number of directions: The issues up front; the lack of a threat in the passing game; the changing of some crucial designs; a shift in focus in how Reich got to certain designs, ones that were likely forced on him by personnel concerns rather than the coaching opting for a stylistic shift.
With a depleted receiver core, Reich’s focus this year was on beefier formations, featuring multiple tight ends, something that should unlock more creative designs in the run game and allow Ryan/Ehlinger to play matchup ball in the passing game – adding an extra gap to the offensive front allows a side to do more interesting things in the gap-scheme run world; there are more players to pull and move and more angles to attack. Balancing that new-found run world with a chance to take advantage of tight-end bodies matched up with linebacker types in the passing game (or who could stay in to help out with a beleaguered offensive line) became the focus.
It was a dud. Through the first nine weeks of the season, the Colts averaged just 3.2 yards per carry when running the ball with two tight ends on the field, one of the lowest marks in the league. When targeting tight ends, the Colts found some success through the air… unless there were two on the field. In those heavier personnel groupings, the Colts passing game dropped from being fairly efficient to the worst in the NFL – Indianapolis ranks last in EPA per play, by some distance, with two tight ends on the field. They are the only group in the league to fall below the -.200 threshold; they’re one of only six teams to have a negative EPA/play in heavier sets. Maybe calling it a ‘dud’ is being kind.
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