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I want to preface this article by saying one thing. I don’t like bashing players, coaches, and personnel staff.

Before I started this silly little Twitter/X account that I never thought would go anywhere, I spent brief time around both a CFB and NFL building. From my time there I can tell you one thing: These guys are relentless workers. They sacrifice time away from their family, friends, and other endeavors to put out the best possible product on the field. That goes for everyone from the GM, HC, and QB, to the equipment, ticket sales, and social media staff. From my time seeing it up close and personal, I can 100% acknowledge that I have some bias or a different appreciation for players, coaches, and personnel staff that I know are hard-working people.

I think it’s also important to recognize that I don’t know what the Colts are asking of their players and I’m not in the meeting rooms to know how they are teaching certain concepts. That’s why the majority of my content is positive and I will never pretend to have all the answers. If you’re going to be someone who covers this sport in particular, you have to understand that you will always have some missing pieces in your analysis, unless you know someone directly inside the team’s building who can fill in those gaps.


That being said, I won’t try to sugarcoat what’s on film or my analysis. What’s on tape is what’s on tape. But there are some times where point blank, I have to say I don’t know, and that’s ok.

Because if you’re not in the meeting rooms or inside that building, you don’t have it all figured out…I promise you.

Ok now to the article because this all becomes relevant later.



The narrative around Alec Pierce has taken a life of its own. I’d make the argument it’s up there with one of the more polarizing topics among fans. Selected in the 2022 draft, as a part of Frank Reich’s last draft class in Indy, Pierce was touted for his unique size/speed combination and his ability to highpoint the football. If you asked me “What’s the one trait that Chris Ballard covets among WRs?” My answer would probably be the ability to “play above the rim”. Micheal Pittman, Alec Pierce, and Josh Downs were all players who possessed this ability coming out of college.

In his first two seasons, AP has proved he has an innate ability to threaten corners vertically, track the ball in the air, and come down with the catch. He’s the football version of a big man in the post.

But the notion that “Alec Pierce was open downfield all day but Gardner Minshew stinks so he couldn’t throw to him” is pushing the line of lazy analysis, being incorrect, and is borderline unfair. I don’t know Alec Pierce personally, but I’d go out on a limb and say even he’d agree with me.


That idea is just an excuse, and it’s a really bad one. It implies that the QB wasn’t good enough, the offensive line can’t block long enough, and the play calling doesn’t call enough shot plays or downfield passing concepts. The deep ball in the NFL is not just a QB accuracy/arm strength play or a big fast strong WR play. Those are crucial cogs in the operation, but you need all 11, plus a creative play caller to be successful in that area.

Let me acknowledge what everyone’s thinking because I have this gut feeling I just pissed a bunch of people off. No, Gardner Minshew wasn’t in the upper echelon of QB play in 2023. He turned down some open reads (some of them Alec Pierce) and it wasn’t all perfect. There was a stretch around the time of the Germany game, where the offense was struggling and his play just wasn’t enough to overcome it (a quality a lot of the great ones in this league have). But Gardner Minshew took a lot of blame around that time, for issues that were not just his fault (I’ll explain this later). He had one hell of a season, and the Colts wouldn’t even have sniffed a Week 18 play-in game without him.




You can nearly pick any stat you want and it will paint the picture of Alec Pierce’s role in the offense. It’s no secret that Alec Pierce is the “deep threat” in this offense.




But to show what he can bring to the table, let’s look at his most productive game from the 2023 season: Week 13 vs. Tennessee

Here’s the first shot play from Indianapolis in the 1st quarter.




The Colts are running a concept many would call “Viper”. I did a ton of digging to figure out exactly what the Steichen offense calls this concept and I was unable to find the exact terminology. So for all intents and purposes we’re gonna call this concept “Viper”.

The Colts motion from 2×2 to get to a 1×3 “nub” formation. In a Nub formation, your TE will be on the line of scrimmage attached to the core, with all the other eligible receivers on the opposite side. (In a lot of systems it’s referred to as a ‘Trey’ formation). It’s a popular formation because your run strength (the Y-TE) and the passing strength (most WRs) are on different sides which makes it difficult to align defensively.


In a “Viper” concept, the #3 receiver (Josh Downs) will run a special or thru route. His job is to “collect” that weak side safety. The #2 receiver (Michael Pittman) has a Dig, Basic, In, etc. route. His job is to get to his landmark to put the strong side safety in a bind. Alec Pierce, who gets the ball, is running a big post and is an alert on the play. An “alert” is when a route immediately becomes the QB’s first read in a concept based off of a pre or post-snap indicator (a particular coverage or technique) from the defense.

“Viper” is a GVA or “Good vs. All” concept, meaning that the play has answers for whatever coverage the defense wants to play. That being said Quarters coverage is a premiere look for this play.


So you may be wondering… how does Gardner know its quarters? And why does Alec Pierce’s route become an “alert”?

This is good to know for when you’re watching a football game on TV next fall: Anytime an offense comes out in a 3×1 or 1×3 formation, the immediate key for the QB is the weak side safety. The reason for that is because a weak side safety vs. that formation has one of two jobs: he can help double the single receiver side if the offense puts their Davante Adams or Justin Jefferson at that spot, OR he can look to help play the vertical release of the #3 receiver (an LB would normally be responsible for the #3 WR so defenses have their weak side safety cheat that route to support the LB). Nick Saban calls this technique by the weak side safety “Poach”, while Vic Fangio calls it “Trix”.

So notice when the ball is snapped, right after the run fake, Gardner’s eyes snap to that weak side safety. Once he sees him cheat Josh Down’s vertical route he knows Indy’s got them. In quarters coverage since that weak side safety has any vertical of #3, the strong side safety has a 2-1 read. That means his job is to take the vertical of 2 first and then 1. With both Alec Pierce and Michael Pittman Jr running vertical, he will be made wrong no matter what. If he immediately gets depth on the play and looks to give inside-and-deep safety help on Alec Pierce’s route then Gardner will throw the dig or basic from Pittman for an easy first down. If he plays the concept flat-footed and looks to match Pittman’s dig route, well now the Colts have a big post route against an outside leveraged corner 1-on-1 with no safety help.

It’s the perfect play call and a great route from Alec Pierce. He does a great job of stemming the corner outside before breaking back in on the post to create space for Gardner to throw the ball. It’s also an outstanding job by Gardner Minshew. You seriously can’t ask for better ball placement than that. And most importantly, the pass protection on this play is top-notch. The Colts are in a counter-gap protection that is designed to better sell play action. Look at Big Q’s take on this bull rush from Denico Autry. He makes it look like no big deal, but I promise you most teams don’t have a guy that can do that. And then look at Will Fries come over and put the nose on his ass. It took all 11 doing their jobs, and then a great play call to make this happen, but no doubt Alec Pierce has built up speed and can track a ball down the field.


Ok now to the deep shot in overtime.




The Colts are in a… you guessed it a 3×1 formation, and the Titans are playing …. yep you got it quarters coverage. However, it’s a little bit different based on the formation that Indy is playing. It’s now more of a trips formation since Alec Pierce, and not a TE, is isolated on the single receiver side.


In 3×1 formations there are various checks you can make to combat the advantages the offense is trying to create. Another popular answer for trips formation(s) is what Nick Saban calls “Stump” and Vic Fangio would call “Area” (these checks are also called a bunch of other things in other defenses but those are the popular two and the ones I am most familiar with). In Stump or Area, the strong side corner is in deep third while the strong side safety, trips side linebacker, and nickel will match the #2 and #3 receivers based on their releases.

If we’re getting super super super nuanced, this isn’t exactly Stump or Area because of the way the Mike backer pushes with the #3 receiver, but again for all intents and purposes let’s just call it that because the idea is the same.

In the 3×1 formations, the key read is still the same: the weak side safety. And he still only has two possible two jobs: cheat the vertical of #3 or bracket the #1 WR. At the snap, he flips his hips toward the three-receiver side and at the point…yet again… the Colts know they have one-on-one vs. press on the outside. It’s another fantastic route from Pierce and another dime from Minshew in one of the biggest moments of the season.


Alec Pierce puts it all on display here. The Titans went and got L’Jarius Sneed for a reason. No DB in Tennessee could handle this Colts receiving corps in early December. And for Pierce, it’s very clear in his first two years, when he gets his opportunity, especially in the game’s biggest moments, he makes the most of it.

My favorite quality of Alec Pierce’s is his ability to get after it in the run game. On called runs, a lot of WRs take it as a chance to catch their breath and rest. After all, a guy like AP, who led NFL WRs in snaps taken in 2023, deserves a rest every so often. He never wants it though, he is an all-gas no breaks type of player, who is as reliable as a run blocker as there is.




As I noted before, I don’t like bashing guys. But trying to give an analysis like it’s all sunshine and rainbows is unfair to the people who are reading my Film Rooms looking to learn more about the nuances of Colts football. So here’s where I believe the second-round pick has fallen short, by the numbers and the game film.

Alec Pierce is statistically one of the worst “separators” in the NFL, according to NextGenStats.



Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be an elite separator to be a good wide receiver (look no further than Anquon Boldin or DeAndre Hopkins).

A popular analogy among coaches and talent evaluators is that WRs can “win at breakfast, lunch, or dinner”. What they mean by that, is that a WR can win at the release phase, the break point, or the catch point. It’s no surprise that Alec Pierce is near the league’s worst in separation because I like to say he wins at dessert. When Alec beats a DB, it’s usually on “shot” plays with max protect or 5-7 step drops with long developing routes. While being a good separator isn’t a barrier to entry to being a good WR, it takes other “clubs in your bag” to overcome the inability to separate. Pierce just doesn’t have those, or at the very least, hasn’t found those yet.


Here’s a rep from the Tampa Bay game that sums it up well.




AP is getting pressed at the line of scrimmage and just doesn’t have any answers, or answers he feels comfortable using, to fend off physical press corners that aren’t afraid to get their hands on him. It wasn’t a one-off either. The video linked above is a part of an X thread that shows some plays where the mental element of the game just hasn’t clicked yet for AP. In some plays, it was difficult to determine what his route was in the concept or what his plan was at the line of scrimmage. To put it bluntly, there were plays on tape where it felt like AP would just run his route, not care how the DB was playing him, and just run toward the coverage.


He’s a great example of this from the New England game that sums up the lack of detail in the routes well.




The Colts have cut Alec Pierce’s split down (lined him up tighter to the core). Often it’s for two reasons: either to create space to run an outside route or to cheat inside to run a crosser. Defenses will usually have their DB line up in outside leverage to this look, because they would rather funnel the crosser to where their help is than give the easy play outside.

Alec gets a free release on the play, which is normally a good thing for him because of his build-up speed. When Gardner lets that thing go AP is at the 39-yard line. Look at how he drifts upfield as he gets past the hash. He starts to “banana” the route, allowing the DB to undercut him. This is the one true thing you cannot do on a crosser. It’s a great way for PBUs and INTs to happen. Now Gardner probably plays this a tick late which is why the timing is off, but the point stands.

This lack of detail is probably why Alec Pierce did not have a diverse route tree in 2023. He only ran a small number of routes. Sports Info Solutions had Alec Pierce for at most 4 unique routes in a game, and 11 total for the season.




Indy has been doing work on the WRs in this draft for a reason. Alec Pierce, up to this point, just hasn’t been good enough to pass up on the talent in this draft. Frankly, that’s the case for a lot of wide receivers in the league right now. But with the amount of work Indy has done in the draft process, I think it’s fair to say that there will be a new face or maybe even faces in Reggie Wayne’s WR room next year. Alec Pierce will certainly have competition in 2024.

That being said Alec Pierce deserves a role in an NFL offense and hopefully one in Shane Steichen’s. The most impressive things that Alec Pierce does don’t show up on a stat sheet. He played the most snaps among WRs in the league last year for a reason. He’s tough, he’s relentless, and there wasn’t a situation Indy felt like he needed to come off the field for. Part of it was depth and necessity, the other part was everything I just mentioned.


As for Alec Pierce’s outlook with Anthony Richardson under center? It takes no genius to tell you AR has the arm to push the ball down the field, as well as the athletic ability to buy time in the pocket, but I don’t necessarily know if that automatically changes everything. In 2023 Alec Pierce had 6 targets in Anthony Richardsons 173 snaps meaning 3.4% of AR’s snaps were AP targets. When Gardner Minshew was in the game, he had 59 targets in Minshew’s 972 snaps for a whopping 6%. So if anything AP’s usage increased when Gardner was in the game.

The stat here isn’t exactly a perfect science obviously, there’s some confounding variables still. But the film backs it up as well. Targeting a receiver deep down the field comes at a cost. Your completion percentage drops and you can waste downs in a game trying to convert lower-percentage throws. That’s why play callers pick their spots when they know the defense will be at their least prepared, ie. in the Week 13 game vs. Tennessee. In both scenarios, the Colts had a great look for the call and were able to exploit the coverages Tennessee was playing. It all has to add up in the flow of the game for Shane Steichen to want a call a “shot play”. On a Steichen call sheet, there are maybe at most 4-5 different calls in his “shot” plays section. So being a guy whose best attribute is thriving in that scenario, limits the number of targets you’re going to get in a game.


To sum it up, Alec Pierce is a talented receiver who can do one thing very well. But there’s still plenty out there that he has to work on before he’s ready to be a legit option in the offense. However, if you wanna bet on one guy to figure it out, Alec seems to be that guy. You can see his competitive toughness on tape and in his press conferences. He did so much for Indy last year that never showed up in the stat sheet. He is as selfless of a WR as you’ll find. And while that’s all and well, for Indy’s offense to become truly dangerous in 2024, they’ll need an explosive option to line up next to Michael Pittman Jr., Jonathan Taylor, and Anthony Richardson.


More from The Blue Stable:

Film Room: Piecing Together Indy’s Puzzling Secondary

Film Room: Joe Flacco Brings Gun-Slinging Mentality to Indy

Film Room: Raekwon Davis Fills Gap in Colts DL

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