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The NFL draft gave Colts fans a lot to be excited about. Chris Ballard and his scouts certainly seemed pleased with their work judging by With the Next Pick. The usual caveats apply about waiting until these prospects actually play some football before we judge them, but Indianapolis has reasons to be excited. After a free agency period that had gifted the defense two elite players in Yannick Ngakoue and Stephon Gilmore, their first few picks of the draft focused on the offense. This was necessary given the Colts’ lack of offense playmakers last year beyond Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. (although Nyheim Hines should have a bigger role next year).

Chris Ballard drafted Alec Pierce, Jelani Woods, and Drew Ogletree to give Frank Reich’s offense more playmakers. It doesn’t take a detective to realise all three players are tall. Pierce is 6’3, Woods is 6’7, and Ogletree is 6’5. They join an offense with Pittman and Patmon at 6’4 and Strachan and Alie-Cox at 6’5. An offense with those traits and physical attributes creates a lot of opportunities for coaches and coordinators. But when I think of an offense that tall, I instantly think of the red zone and how dangerous this team can be on the goal line.

Indianapolis ranked 19th in red zone scoring last season, ranking slightly higher but scoring slightly lower than the previous year. However, it was significantly worse than their red zone offense in 2018 and 2019. Notably, Indianapolis’ red zone offense has gotten less efficient over the past two years despite drafting the best running back in football in Jonathan Taylor. It won’t surprise you that Indianapolis had good and sometimes great red zone efficiency with Andrew Luck at quarterback. However, it remained strong with Jacoby Brissett under center and got worse during Rivers’ season. That suggests that replacing Carson Wentz with Matt Ryan won’t solve all the issues.

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I do expect Ryan to help the Colts’ red zone offense improve. I remember throws to Pittman and Alie-Cox in the end zone last season that Wentz just flat-out missed, throws I expect Ryan to make this season given his superior accuracy. I also expect Ryan’s improved timing to help Frank Reich scheme up more red zone plays that are timing-dependent. With that being said, how good has Matt Ryan traditionally been in the red zone? As you can see, there has been significant variety in how good Atlanta’s offense in the red zone was with him under center.

 

Year

2021

2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

Ranking

24

26

25

10

23

8

18

6

10

 

Broadly, Atlanta’s red zone offense was strong when Atlanta’s offense as a whole was good, but much less effective when he had weaker offensive weapons at his disposal in recent years. Last year Atlanta wasn’t particularly efficient in the red zone, but Ryan did well to avoid giving the ball away. This suggests that Ryan isn’t going to transform a mediocre offense into red zone killers but will make good use of the tools at his disposal. This year Ryan could have some excellent red zone weapons at his disposal and a play caller in Reich who knows how to utilise them.

Indianapolis did have Pittman, Patmon, Alie-Cox, and Strachan on their offense last year, although Patmon’s and Strachan’s involvement was limited given the raw talents they are. Patmon did score the game-winning touchdown against Arizona, which made us all think the Colts were going to the playoffs. Strachan didn’t play in his rookie season last year as he came from such a small school in Charleston. I think Frank Reich will utilise Strachan more this season, although I’d caution Colts fans against expecting too much from him. Given his height and strength, I think it would make sense for Indianapolis to focus on involving Strachan as a red zone threat this season before hopefully utilising him more widely in future years.

The addition of Woods and Ogletree matters because having more tall red zone receiving threats asks more questions of defenses. A defense may have one or two particularly tall players or adept at shutting down tall receivers. However, if an offense has three or four tall weapons, defenses have to mark one of them with a defender who is particularly short or not very good.

Say the Colts use Pittman, Strachan, Alie-Cox, and Woods for a red zone passing play. Does the defense focus on the Colts’ tallest weapon in Woods or their best in Pittman? How do their third and fourth best defenders cope with Alie-Cox and Strachan? Having so many lofty red zone targets increases the chance of one receiver being significantly better or taller than the defender tasked with stopping them. This is another way Ryan’s accuracy should help. With particularly tall receivers, there should be places Ryan can put the ball that only the receiver can get to. Ryan should be more effective in putting the ball in those places and at the right time than Wentz was last season.

If the Colts’ surplus of giant offensive weapons can improve their red zone passing game, it will present defenses with some significant dilemmas. Jonathan Taylor is a dangerous weapon on the goal line against any defense. But as in any aspect of football, that which is predictable is easier to deal with and respond to. Because Indianapolis wasn’t particularly effective at passing the ball in the red zone, defenses could focus on stopping Taylor on short inside runs. A better red zone passing game would make it easier for Taylor to score on short touchdown runs, whilst Taylor’s threat will limit how many defenders teams can use to stop Colts receivers. I also expect the Colts’ offensive line to play better in 2022 than it did last year, which will help Taylor on the goal line.

When Indianapolis is in the red zone but not on the goal line, they can also utilize Taylor, and particularly Hines, on short passes designed to put them over the goal line in the corner. Having these different options to score should keep opposing defenses honest and give Frank Reich more options to play with in the red zone.

Improving your red zone offense is invaluable to any team but is particularly beneficial to a team that lost so many close games last season as the Colts did. Too often, Indianapolis would build up substantial leads in the first half yet leave too many points on the board in the red zone. Then, teams like the Rams and the Buccaneers would come back in the second half and snatch the win.

I expect a significantly improved Indianapolis defense to make it much more difficult for teams to come back in the second half. Still, a better red zone offense would help kill games off altogether by building bigger first-half leads. That could be just the boost Indianapolis needs to win the AFC South and return to the playoffs.

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SebastianBench

I'm a Colts fan from the UK. I started supporting the Colts when me and my brother bought Madden 08 and I choose The Colts because they had the best offense and worst defense in the game. My passion for the Colts and the NFL has really bloomed over the past five years and continues to go from strength to strength. For this I can thank finding the right friends and the magic of NFL Redzone. Twitter: @BenchSebastian

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