Colts' Triple Option was Deadly in Short-Yardage Situations in 2023: Film

The Indianapolis Colts utilized an extended triple-option pass to convert on a handful of third downs last season.
Oct 1, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson (5) runs
Oct 1, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson (5) runs / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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The Indianapolis Colts had a fairly productive season on offense in 2023, scoring the 11th most points per game despite starting their backup quarterback for a majority of the season. There is still room to improve, particularly on third downs and in the red zone, but 2023 was a good sign for the future of this Colts offense.

The brightest spot on the team was head coach Shane Steichen's masterful playcalling. Steichen doesn't rely on the trendy Shanahan-style schemes dominating the modern-day NFL. Rather, he is producing results with his own unique style. The best way to describe Steichen's scheme is a mixture of influences from coaches like Chip Kelly, Norv Turner, and Lincoln Riley.

Steichen's offensive system has a lot of college influence in its design, and it is very apparent in how he incorporates RPO/option runs into his scheme. One of the more prevalent calls in his offense last season was the extended triple option. Despite starting Gardner Minshew for a majority of the season, Steichen found unique ways to mix in the extended triple option into his offense.

Extended Triple Option By Design

A triple-option playcall is exactly what the name implies; a call that gives the offense three different options to attack a defense. Most people are familiar with the run-only version of this play, made famous by the college option-heavy teams of the past such as the Army, Navy, Air Force, and (the once great) Georgia Tech systems.

The run-only version of the triple option was quite effective back in the day, but the rise of the RPO game has allowed offensive minds to find a new way to exploit defenses through triple options. The Colts' version of the triple option incorporates a pass element into the read rather than condensing the box and relying solely on the run game.

The play designs below are a few calls from Steichen's time with the Philadelphia Eagles. Logan Radke (@LoganRadke) created these diagrams during his Eagles' offensive study in 2022 and these exact plays are the ones that Steichen carried over to the Colts in 2023.

Extended Triple Option Slide
Extended Triple Option Slide / Logan Radke (@LoganRadke)
Extended Triple Option Bubble
Extended Triple Option Bubble / Logan Radke (@LoganRadke)

Radke charted the Eagles running these plays far more than the Colts did this past season, but that discrepancy makes some sense with the noticeable difference in athleticism between Minshew and Jalen Hurts. Still, it is useful to see the roots of a design so prevalent in the Colts' playbook.

Execution of the Play

An effective triple-option design makes use of all three options, depending on how the defense reacts to the initial call. If one of the options is more window dressing than an actual threat, it limits the utility of the play in the long run. Luckily for the Colts, they were able to find success with all three options in their triple-option designs last season.

The primary read on the play is the backside defensive end. The quarterback is operating like a standard read option off the snap, watching that defensive end as the conflict defender and make a give/take decision based off of that players' first few steps. If that defensive end crashes down the line, the quarterback keeps the ball. If the end stays home, the quarterback gives to the running back.

Running back Zack Moss ran for a touchdown in Week 2 against the Houston Texans on an extended triple-option bubble call. Minshew gave to Moss on the sweep once he saw the backside end stay home, leading to the 11-yard score up the middle.

The second read on the play is the pass. The quarterback has to get the ball out quick if they decide to pass, as offensive linemen in the NFL are only allowed to climb one yard past the line of scrimmage (if they are not engaged with a defender). If the quarterback hesitates at all at throwing the football, it can easily lead to an illegal man downfield penalty on the offense.

The Colts' offensive line was wonderfully disciplined this season on these RPO/triple-option calls, as the offense rarely racked up penalties and they allowed for the quarterback to make the necessary reads on these plays. Major credit is due to the Colts' offensive staff and the players who obviously repped this countless times behind closed doors to perfect it.

Anthony Richardson made a throw to the flat on a triple-option design against the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. He correctly read the crashing defensive end and reached the edge of the defense on the boot in a hurry. From there, he fed the ball to tight end Kylen Granson in the flat for an easy conversion on third and short.

The third and final option on the play is the quarterback running the ball. If the quarterback makes the correct read to pull it initially, but doesn't find a receiver quick enough, it is on the QB to get up field and run. This option can be absolutely deadly with a rushing quarterback, as defenses can be caught shorthanded out in space.

The highlight of the season for Minshew came on a triple option call last year. Minshew correctly pulled this ball, but the Cleveland Browns' defense had a well-designed run blitz called on the play. This cornered Minshew before he could get to the outside of the defense, which led to the veteran quarterback getting vertical up the field as the ball carrier.

The unexpected happened after that, as Minshew shimmied his way past the defense for a 17-yard rushing touchdown on the play.

The Potential with Anthony Richardson

The Colts were able to find quite a bit of success with this play design last year, even with the run option on the play not being as dangerous as it could have been. With the return of Richardson as the starting quarterback, that final piece to the triple-option puzzle could prove to be deadly for opposing defense.

Overall, Steichen's offensive system is all about putting defenses in a bind and isolating playmakers out in space. The extended triple option maximized those two elements a year ago, and it has the potential to be even more potent in 2024 (and beyond).

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Zach Hicks


Zach Hicks is the Lead Analyst for Zach has been on the NFL beat since 2017. His works have appeared on, the Locked On Podcast Network,,, &