No quarterback had more deep passing attempts than Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck did from 2012-2014, and between deep drops, a suspect offensive line, and a propensity to hang on to the football, Luck took a lot of hits. He spent much of the next three years dealing with injuries, with shoulder surgery keeping him out of the 2017 season entirely. The arrival of new head coach Frank Reich brings a new offensive philosophy, one predicated on getting shorter, quicker passes out. This will produce easier, more consistent gains, create opportunity for yards after the catch, and limit the beating their franchise QB takes. We only have one week of the 2018 season as a sample, but we can see examples of this new philosophy at work, as the Colts attacked the Cincinnati Bengals repeatedly with short in-breaking routes in Week 1.
Reich peppered the Bengals with slants, drags, Texas routes, and digs to attack the middle of their defense. This attack is probably partly philosophical, but also a response to key missing personnel. Cincinnati was missing star linebacker Vontaze Burfict, leading a more vulnerable middle, while the Colts were missing left tackle Anthony Castonzo, providing even more incentive to get the ball out of Luck’s hands quickly.
The above video shows Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni using spacing and tempo to create empty areas in the middle of the field, which they then attacked through in-breaking routes. They used late motion to create space for a quick slant from the slot (0:10 mark of the video). Vertical routes cleared out underneath zones for running backs to attack with Texas routes (0:30). They employed a quick tempo and motion to generate mismatches, with a linebacker on a slot receiver at the 0:40 mark. Finally, they got an easy touchdown completion after sowing confusion with a hurry-up attack (1:12). (ITP colleague Mark Schofield broke down how the Colts used motion to help create their first touchdown as well, a deep pass to Eric Ebron).
The returns on this approach were mostly positive. Luck completed 39 of 53 passes for 319 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, in his first action in more than a year. The Colts scored on half of their ten substantial drives, though two costly red zone turnovers kept their point total to just 23. Luck was only sacked twice, though he was hit a few more times, as the refs flagged the Bengals three times for unnecessary roughness on the quarterback. All in all, it was a promising debut for Reich, suggesting he can get the 29-year-old Luck back to his Pro Bowl form, but in a somewhat different fashion.