The main topic this week surrounding the Indianapolis Colts’ 38-31 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been the playcalling of the Colts’ offense.
With Colts running back Jonathan Taylor coming off a performance that put him in the MVP conversation, the Colts at one point threw the ball on 26 straight plays on Sunday. For a team whose mantra is “Run The Damn Ball,” this seems preposterous.
For many fans, this is the main reason the Colts lost to the defending Super Bowl champs. It wasn’t the five turnovers that did them in (the Colts are 2-21 since 1984 when turning over the ball 5+ times, per Mike Chappell), nor the inability to keep Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette out of the endzone (who had four scores on the day). The Colts should’ve run the ball more, plain and simple.
The only problem is, the Buccaneers were bound and determined to stop the run, and Colts quarterback Carson Wentz was dealing. While his final stat line doesn’t look incredibly special, as he went 27-of-44 (61.4%) for 306 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions, Wentz had gotten the Colts out to a 24-14 lead at the half.
“We couldn’t get anything in the run game, just couldn’t get one run to hit in the first quarter.” Colts head coach Frank Reich said after the game. “It did feel like one run hit in the first quarter then we open it up, we start play-actioning on first down and hit the big play to Ashton (Dulin). Things started opening up a little bit and Carson was hot. We were open. We knew going in that their defensive front was the strength of the team and we felt like we could get after them a little bit in the secondary. If anything, maybe we should have gotten more aggressive throwing.”
On this week’s installment of “Wentzday” on Horseshoe Huddle, we’ll dive into the film not only looking at Wentz’s performance but to show the reads the Colts offense was making were correct. As you look at the film clips, keep an eye on the defensive “box” which is the imaginary rectangle on the other side of the offensive line stretching 3-5 yards downfield and how many defenders are up playing the run.
Wentz to Pittman Not In Sync
We’ve gotten used to the sound connection between Wentz and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. this season. But this week was not their best performance.
The two started off shaky on Sunday, with Pittman stumbling on his break on a third-down throw. A couple more drops helped to stall drives in the first quarter.
The two did start to connect later in the game. After missing on the first three throws, Wentz connected with Pittman on four throws for 53 yards, including some big conversions.
It’s obvious by now how much trust these two have developed with one another. Pittman is easily Wentz’s go-to target, especially on third down. They’re not off with one another often, and the Colts are hoping it stays that way.
Old Heads Join the Fun
Almost all of the Colts’ offensive attention has been centered around Wentz, Taylor, and Pittman this year, and for good reason. However, this has caused guys like wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle to take a back seat. They turned back the clock on Sunday.
Doyle has been getting more involved in the offense recently and has turned into Wentz’s favorite option at tight end. These throws from Wentz to Doyle all show great timing and accuracy.
Injuries have kept Hilton off the field this year more than any other in his career. Though not the deep threat he used to be, Hilton still possesses incredible route running and sure hands. The touchdown from Wentz to Hilton in this next clip was “The Ghost’s” first score of the season, and put the Colts up by 10 before the half.
While neither are the main focuses in the offense like they used to be, both Hilton and Doyle can still get the job done and be relied upon in tough spots. Enjoy them in the Horseshoe while you still can.
A Rocket to Dulin
This next throw from Wentz ranks up there with his best throws of the season and may be the very best. Off the play-action fake, Wentz has wide receiver Ashton Dulin, one of the fastest players on the team, streaking down the seam on the right. Wentz calmly steps up in the pocket and launches it 58 yards in the air right into Dulin’s hands. It’s basically an extended handoff and an easy touchdown.
Dulin has gone from a player used only for special teams’ purposes to a guy the Colts like to stretch the field with. He’s also used on running plays because of his physicality in the running game. A back end of the roster player having a major impact.
Turnovers Kill The Colts
As mentioned before, the Colts have only won twice since they came to Indianapolis when turning the ball over five more times. Sunday was no exception, with four of the five turnovers coming on offense.
This next clip shows three of those four. For the purpose of this piece, we’ll focus on the second as Wentz is intercepted on a deep ball by Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. intended for Pittman. The blame can be attributed to both Wentz and Pittman. Wentz could certainly lead Pittman a little further as he walls off Winfield and there’s a clear field in front and to the left. Pittman could also fight harder on the jump ball as his 6’4” frame has seven inches on 5’9” Winfield.
The set of clips below show the three sacks on Wentz by the Buccaneers, including the strip-sack by linebacker Shaq Barrett after the half. Wentz has been sacked a total of 21 times this season, and Sunday was the first time he had been sacked more than twice since Week 2.
The strip-sack loomed large as it completely changed the complexion of the game. Left tackle Eric Fisher is beaten badly by Barrett, who gets the sack right as Wentz is getting ready to release the ball. If Wentz has a half-second longer, it may end up being a touchdown to tight end Kylen Granson. Instead, the Bucs recover and end up scoring to make it 24-21.
No matter how many times you run the ball or throw the ball, it is incredibly difficult to win when you turn it over that many times. The Colts gave the Buccaneers way too many opportunities because they didn’t take care of the ball.
RPOs: Runs Turn to Passes
If you have been watching the clips carefully, you have seen that the Bucs played the run on almost every single play. Loaded boxes and selling out for play-action fakes were the name of the game for Tampa Bay, and they made it known that Taylor was not going to beat them.
The next clip shows some of these examples with the RPOs the Colts called. RPOs are called runs, with the pass being a secondary option if the defense is playing the run. Both of these plays show loaded boxes that would have gone for no gain if a run was called. Instead, Wentz makes the correct read, getting the ball out to his receiver quickly for nice gains.
All told, in the 15 first and second down plays during the 26 straight passes, eight of those were called for Taylor (three passes, five runs). On each of the runs, the Bucs were playing it and the Colts checked into a better play. They called runs for Taylor, but the Bucs were playing to stop it.
Wading through the turnovers and playcalling controversy, Carson Wentz actually played one of his better games of the year. He had success against one of the best defenses in the NFL and had the Colts’ offense rolling in the first half. Something that can’t be overlooked either is that Wentz led touchdown drives before the end of the half and to tie the game towards the end of the fourth quarter.
While Wentz had a part in three of the five turnovers, the strip-sack and interception to end the game were not on him. Fisher did not do his job, and the Hail Mary at the end of the game was a prayer for the win. Overall, Wentz displayed great decision-making and accuracy as the Colts scored over 30 points once again.
Sitting at 6-6, the margin for error is next to none as the Colts try to secure a Wild Card berth. Next up is the Houston Texans, who the Colts throttled 31-3 earlier in the year. Wentz had 223 yards and two touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 127.7 that day, and I’d expect much of the same this week in Houston.
- Wentzday: Breaking Down Colts QB’s Performance vs. Seahawks
- Wentzday: Colts QB's Playmaking Ability on Display vs. Rams
- Wentzday: Hobbled Colts’ QB Struggles vs. Titans
- Wentzday: Colts’ QB Takes Care of Business vs. Dolphins
- Wentzday: Colts' QB Shines Despite Loss to Ravens
- Wentzday: Colts' QB Lights Up Texans' Defense
- Wentzday: Colts' QB Delivers When it Counts vs. 49ers
- Wentzday: Colts' QB Starts Fast, Ends Tragically in Loss to Titans
- Wentzday: Colts' QB Has Near "Flawless" Performance vs. Jets
- Wentzday: Colts' QB Feels the Pressure vs. Aggressive Jaguars Defense
- Wentzday: Colts' QB Becomes Game Manager vs. Bills
Have thoughts on the overall assessment of Carson Wentz coming out of the Week 12 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know how you feel!
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