The Indianapolis Colts are the final team in the series of new coach effects. The team hired Frank Reich to be their head coach in 2018, and he won 10, 7, 11, and 9 games before he was fired during the 2022 season.
The struggles at the quarterback position define Reich’s tenure in the league. During Reich’s tenure, five different quarterbacks led the team in passing:
- Andrew Luck (2018)
- Jacoby Brissett (2019)
- Philip Rivers (2020)
- Carson Wentz (2021)
- Matt Ryan (2022)
After firing Reich, the team hired Jeff Saturday off a television set, and the remainder of the season progressed as one would expect. The Saturday era was plagued by clock and decision-making errors that are expected from someone with zero coaching experience. The one benefit of the Saturday era is the team earned the fourth pick in the NFL and will likely be in the market for a quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The New Era
After a flirtation with continuing the Saturday era, the team hired former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen as their head coach. From 2016 through 2019, Steichen was the quarterback coach with the Chargers under head coach Ken Whisenhunt. When the Chargers hired Brandon Staley as their head coach, Staley promoted Steichen to offensive coordinator, and he coached the offense during the successful rookie season of Justin Herbert.
Steichen was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021 as their offensive coordinator and oversaw the development of Jalen Hurts. During his time with Philadelphia, the team ran multiple different philosophies, including a pass-heavy start to the 2021 season, a run-heavy finish to the 2021 season, and an elite offense in 2022.
During his time with the Eagles, Steichen grew from a role where he shared the playcalling role with head coach Nick Sirianni to the team’s full-time play caller during their 2022 run to the Super Bowl.
With the Colts likely to start a rookie quarterback, Steichen’s 2020 season with the Chargers is an important lens.
In 2020, the Chargers threw on 52.7% of their early down plays in neutral game scripts, which ranked 18th in the league.
Overall, the team threw the ball one percent less than expected based on game situation in Justin Herbert’s rookie season.
During Steichen’s tenure in Philadelphia, the team was three percent under their expected pass frequency.
There are multiple factors for this.
First, Jalen Hurts is a mobile quarterback, and his rushing provided value for the Philadelphia offense.
Second, the team was among the most likely to go for fourth downs. In game situations where going for fourth down added expected winning probability, Philadelphia was the fifth most likely to go for it in 2021-2022.
This led the team to run on third and long nine percent under expectation to set up fourth and short.
Third, on third and short, the team threw the ball 20 percent less than expected, almost certainly because of the team’s rugby-style “Tush Push” quarterback sneak play.
These stylistic choices all had a good effect on the offense, as the Philadelphia Eagles ranked fifth in total plays and fourth in yards per play (5.9). If Steichen employs a similar approach flexible approach in Indianapolis, this will be a very favorable atmosphere for a rookie quarterback.
Colts 2023 Outlook
The Colts were a major disappointment in 2022. Their offensive line was a major struggle which led to the collapse of Matt Ryan’s ability as a passer.
In terms of returning players, Jonathan Taylor missed six games in 2022. He is entering the final season of his rookie contract and will likely be in contract extension discussions with the team this offseason.
Michael Pittman Jr may be the biggest beneficiary of a changing landscape. In his first two seasons with the Colts, Pittman had an average depth of targets (aDOT) of 8.4 and 9.8 before he plummeted to only 6.9 in 2022. His involvement in the offense so close to the line of scrimmage led to a career-high in targets (141) but left him as a low-ceiling player. With a better offensive line and improved quarterback play, Pittman could be a player who could rebound in efficiency.
The team also has second-year wide receiver Alec Pierce and tight end Jelani Woods as potential developing players in the offense to surround a rookie quarterback acquisition.
The team will open up 17.2 million dollars by cutting Matt Ryan and can restructure and extend multiple players to create more.
The team has picks in the first three rounds:
- 4th overall
- 35th overall
- 79th overall (from Washington)
The team is expected to be in the rookie quarterback market and is a candidate to trade up in the first round for a rookie quarterback. If the team successfully lands a quarterback, they could quickly return to the top of a weak AFC South.
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