INDIANAPOLIS – It was supposed to be a byproduct from having one of the better rushing attacks in the NFL.
While every other top-flight rushing team in the league last season was benefitting from it, the Colts were not.
“Play-action passing is a big part of what we want to do,” Frank Reich said early in his head coaching career.
That was not achieved in 2019, with a failing passing offense contributing to a 7-9 season.
“I remember last year Frank coming to me and saying, ‘We need to have a top-five rushing offense. It’s going to help us, it’s going to help us create more explosive passing (plays) with our play-action plays, and it’s going to help us defensively keeping them off the field,” Chris Ballard recalls.
Those explosive plays hardy came though, and the Indy defense struggled as the season went along.
The Colts finished 2019 ranked 7th in rushing offense, but they didn’t feel the other effects of that success enough.
Reich has mentioned on several occasions his displeasure in the Colts having a 6.5 yards per pass attempt number, which ranked 30th in the NFL.
That number looks far worse when you compare it to the other top rushing teams.
Below are the top-7 ranked rushing offenses in the NFL last year, with their passing yards per attempt number listed:
The top 6 rushing offenses averaged to rank 5th in the NFL in that extremely important passing game statistic.
While other teams relied on their run game prowess to still have a highly efficient passing attack, the Colts couldn’t find that.
Whereas Rivers hasn’t played with a very consistent run game in quite some time, he should have that with the Colts.
“He’s always been great in the pass game, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s been most efficient and played his best football when he has a good run game,” Reich says. “You get excited about the play-action game. You get even more excited about the play-action game. We did a pretty good job last year on explosive runs, but how many more are we going to have (with Jonathan Taylor)? What does that mean to the offense? How do we use that to set things up? How does that take the pressure off the defense?
“Those are all things that we get real excited about.”
With the likes of T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell on the outside, there should be more of a willingness from Rivers to test defenses with that speed.
If the Colts can again prove to be a stout running team, those opportunities in the pass game must be taken advantage of.
“I get excited about that with our running attack combined with how good Philip is in the play-action game,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni adds. “That’s obviously very exciting for us because they can’t stack the box. If they stack the box, Philip can make them pay with our receivers and tight ends. They don’t stack the box and they keep two high look, we can run the football.
“Obviously, very exciting and we become even more multiple of how we attack a defense, which is always to our benefit.”