The Secret to Success: Analyzing the Colts 13 Personnel in the Run Game

The Colts have been a top rushing team in the NFL for two years now. In this series, we will look at run concepts/designs that have led to this success. Next up is the Colts' usage of 13 personnel in 2020.
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The Colts have been one of the better rushing teams in the NFL for the past two seasons. With one of the worst passing games in 2019, the Colts still managed to be the 7th ranked rushing offense. In 2020 with a new quarterback and lead running back, they still managed to rank 11th in the league in rushing after a slow start.

With this success in the ground game, I decided to make a series on analyzing common run concepts/designs and breaking down how they led to success for the Colts' offense. For today's film room, I will be looking at how the Colts used 13 personnel to free up Jonathan Taylor in 2020.

How The Colts Use 13 Personnel in the Run Game

For those that are unfamiliar, 13 personnel is a formation that features three tight ends and one running back on the field. This formation is used mostly on the goal line/short yardage situations due to the extra size on the field for the offense.

The Colts utilized this formation on 8% of their offensive plays in 2020, which was the fourth highest rate in the NFL. While it wasn't a primary personnel set in the Colts' offense, it was key in a few games to get Jonathan Taylor rolling.

Taylor comes from a run-heavy offense in college that used jumbo sets and a fullback on a majority of their run plays. The Colts installing more 13 personnel in 2020 was a way for the team to get Taylor back to a rushing style that he was familiar with.

While this set is more of a smash-mouth power running formation, the Colts still found a way to use Taylor's speed. This is a great example of that against the Chicago Bears last season.

The Colts force the defense to stack the box with the heavy set. The tight ends on the outside pin the box defenders perfectly and open up the outside lane for Taylor (and a pulling Quenton Nelson) to swing to the sideline. Nelson takes care of the cornerback, and Taylor is able to turn the corner for a big gain.

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While the Colts incorporated those outside runs against stacked looks, they also weren't afraid to run into the heart of the defense with their bell cow running back.

This rush against the Jacksonville Jaguars is perfectly blocked, and Taylor is able to turn it into a huge gain. The combo block by Braden Smith on the backside clears the defensive line and Trey Burton does a phenomenal job of cutting off the box safety.

The reason why the Colts were able to instill this formation into their offense more in 2020 was due to the trio of tight ends they had at their disposal.

Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox are two of the better blocking tight ends in the league and Burton was a more than capable blocker. The ability of these three tight ends made the Colts more willing to run these power runs behind their blocks on the outside.

This rush against the Bears is a great example of this. This play is an inside gap run that Taylor wisely bounces to the outside. All three of the tight ends are able to hold down their blocks as Taylor gets to the corner for a big gain.

The tight ends were essentially an extension of the offensive line on the outside. They had great communication and awareness, something that is rare for tight ends in these blocking situations.

On this play below, the left side of the formation reacts well to how the defense attempts to disrupt the rush. Offensive tackle Jared Veldheer chips his man before picking up the linebacker shooting the gap. Alie-Cox helps Doyle secure his block before kicking out the defensive back in the run lane.

Perfect sequencing by the left side of the line with how they were able to chip and climb to the next block. The tight ends executed their blocking assignments at a high level on a regular basis last season.

Colts' Head Coach and play-caller Frank Reich loves to get interesting with this set as well. When you run this formation to success as much as the Colts did in 2020, teams tend to overplay rushes to the strong side.

Here, Reich pulls Nelson to the tight ends' side to sell the misdirection and throw off the keys of the linebackers. The ball is then flipped quickly to Taylor on the backside of the play, and Taylor's speed is able to do the rest for the big gain.

Final Thoughts

While 13 personnel wasn't a major part of the Colts' rushing attack in 2020, it was a great way for the team to get Taylor back to familiar roots and build confidence in the young running back.

The Colts have increased their 13 personnel usage every year under Frank Reich. While I don't think it will go up too much with the departure of Trey Burton this offseason, it is easy to see that Reich is finding creative ways to use this power formation.

The Colts have an excellent rushing attack that hits defenses in multiple ways. This is just one of the minor ones, but it was super effective in 2020 with Jonathan Taylor.

Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.

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