If the Indianapolis Colts’ offense looks familiar, well, you know why. New head coach Frank Reich has brought his brand of football and pieces from all of his previous spots with him to Indy and so far it’s paying off. The Colts’ ranked 29th in offensive DVOA last year, and Reich, along with the return of franchise quarterback Andrew Luck have begun to make strides in improving the efficiency of the offense.
So far Luck is completing 71.4% of his passes with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions and 5.9 yards per attempt. If that YPA looks low, it’s because it is. The Colts offense is less about stretching a defense vertically and more about utilizing west coast concepts to get the ball out fast on high percentage throws.
As a result of scheme and of Luck’s ongoing shoulder rehabilitation that kept him out of the game for over 600 days, the Colts have only thrown 4 passes that traveled beyond 20 yards in the air. Still, this is an offense that can, as they say, matriculate the ball down the field if you sit back and allow them to play their brand of football.
But what is their brand of football and what can you expect the offense to look like on Sunday when the Colts come to town? Let’s dig into some of the plays they’ll dial up against the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.
MESH-SIT RB WHEEL
The Colts have been uber-aggressive on on 3rd down and short. They’ve elected to pass 77% of the time in these situations and it’s been a boon for them by producing 8.15 average yards per play and converting a wacky 92%. They also use a lot of 12 personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends) from passing formations (sound familiar?), which they do here with newly acquired tight end Eric Ebron detached left of the line and Jack Doyle in the trips alignment.
What makes mesh work against man coverage is the natural rubs picks it creates, which the Colts would use repeatedly to exploit the Redskins’ coverage schemes. TY Hilton’s shallow cross causes traffic in the middle of the formation, allowing Ebron to release into space for an easy pitch and catch with YAC upside.
The other dangerous part about this play, which the New England Patriots found out about in the Super Bowl, is the match-up created for running back Nyheim Hines. He draws coverage from linebacker Ryan Anderson. That’s 4.38 vs 4.78 and something the Colts will likely try to replicate as the season moves forward. Speaking of which...
NYHEIM THE RECEIVER
Fourth round rookie Nyheim Hines is more than just a running back. In fact, he’s fairly new to his position, having spent his first year at NC State as a wide receiver. In his three years in college, Hines accumulated 89 receptions, 933 yards and a touchdown as a pass catcher.
This gives him an extra dimension to consider when he’s lined up in the backfield. It’s been a slow start for Hines in this regard, but if Reich decides to unleash him in a receiving role with fellow running back Marlon Mack dealing with toe and hamstring injuries, it could be a match-up to watch on Sunday.
This is a simple angle route from Hines, who draws coverage from Bengals’ linebacker Preston Brown. While Brown is a more fluid athlete than he’s typically given credit for, it’s 4.38 vs 4.86. Making matters worse, the Bengals bring a blitz, forcing Brown to dart left and giving Hines room to operate inside.
The Colts have used two-back sets that feature Hines as a receiver and in motion, so expect to see more of it against the Eagles.
It’s no secret that I’m in love with the Wham run concept; I’ve written about it here and here. It’s an Eagles’ staple and a darn effective one. Reich brought this design with him to Indy and so far it’s paid dividends.
The reason this fits so well with what the Colts do is that they love to pull rookie guard Quenton Nelson and run off his butt. Seeing that action puts linebackers in a bind. As you can see from the play above, Preston Brown keys this pulling action and fires across the formation. With the wham block taking the 3-tech out of the play there’s plenty of space for Jordan Wilkins to rip off a chunk play.
The Colts used this again in Week 2 against the Redskins, this time with Hines, who shows off some impressive contact balance and finishing for a smaller back.
Welcome to the NFL, Nyheim Hines' spin-o-rama - pic.twitter.com/EyYKhY3vuj— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) September 18, 2018
Along with the mesh-sit, the Colts used a variety of other intersecting route combinations to exploit the Redskins defense. It got to the point where Luck was checking into them at the line because the Redskins had no answers and serious communication issues throughout the game. Below we see another example of the Colts favoring the pass on 3rd and short for a key conversion on a drive that would ultimately put the game out of reach.
There were several examples of this throughout the game, but one was particularly telling. The Colts are not concerned with hiding the fact that they are going to pick your defensive backs... at all.
Not-so-subtle but effective pick to free up TY - pic.twitter.com/g0LNHULS3s— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) September 19, 2018
The Eagles defense is, as we know, typically fine with allowing the opposing offense to operate their quick passing game. They’ll put the onus on the Colts to execute and sustain long drives before clamping down in the red zone.
How Jim Schwartz deals with these concepts and match-ups will tell a large portion of the story. After last weeks leaky performance, the bright side of this battle of old work buds is that Schwartz is incredibly familiar with how the Colts will attack. Then again, Reich is equally informed.