Colts Rare Pass Protection Success Comes From Intense Preparation
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INDIANAPOLIS – It would be unfair, and inaccurate, to just credit the 5 guys up front.
The inaccurateness comes from the Colts having started 5 different line combinations in the first 6 weeks of the season. A total of 10 offensive linemen have made up those combinations, with a trio of those guys (J’Marcus Webb, Joe Haeg and Matt Slauson) now on injured reserve. Whereas an O-line like the Jets have had the same starting combination every week this season, the Colts have had anything but that.
The unfair aspect of things comes from how Frank Reich and the Colts address pass protecting each week. The work includes about 10 days of preparation, involves at least a half dozen coaches and begins with the team’s quarterbacks coach (Marcus Brady) looking an opponent ahead.
Reich calls it ‘SOP’---which stands for Standard Operating Procedure.
“We have a very formal way and a very systematic way of how we approach protection and how we call it and how we make our calls and adjustments in a game,” Reich says.
“It’s something we put a lot of time and effort into and it’s paying dividends.”
That’s an understatement.
After six weeks, and given all the different faces up front, the Colts rank 3rd in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass.
The Colts have allowed just 10 sacks in 289 pass attempts. The 3.46 sack percentage is better than all but two teams in the NFL.
This is the Colts we are talking about, a team that spent the previous 6 seasons trying, and failing, to keep Andrew Luck upright.
The ‘SOP’ begins with Brady, who starts his work some 10 days before that actual game. So, for example, last Thursday, Brady looked at every blitz that Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier had dialed up over the past year, year plus. That’s the team’s quarterbacks coach handling the start of the pass protection responsibilities.
“He grinds his butt off just getting it ready,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni says of Brady working well ahead of time. “He really puts in endless hours to get that tape ready, putting the plan together and presenting it to us as coaches.”
Those coaches include Sirianni, Reich, offensive line coaches Dave DeGuglilelmo and Bobby Johnson, along with running backs coach Tom Rathman.
When game week arrives, it’s time to dive even deeper into the type of looks that will come on passing downs.
“On Monday, (Brady) looks at the last game they played,” Sirianni explains. “On Tuesday, we look at it as a staff, all the looks he has put together. Then on Wednesday (the first practice day of the week), it goes in with the players. We start early on a Wednesday going with the players and looking at all the blitzes that they’ve shown. Maybe all the blitzes that that coordinator has hit on us in the past whether it’s Philadelphia or San Diego or Indianapolis with Andrew.
“It’s just hours upon hours of making sure we protect Andrew. At every position, we are in a meeting early in the morning that Coach Reich runs with all the offensive linemen in there, the quarterbacks and the running backs just so we are all on the same page. That meeting is repeated again. And obviously, the countless amount of blitz periods we have in practice and blitz looks we get in practice. That just continues and continues. During special teams, Coach Guge does a blitz period where we get even more reps. It’s really well thought out by those guys and it’s a grind. It’s a grind, but by the end of the week those guys have that. Andrew and Ryan Kelly know the looks like the back of their hand. They know the calls that they make off those looks and they know the adjustments that they would make, even in looks that a team hasn’t even shown. So again, I can’t say enough about our coaches of how well they’ve prepared the players and then again, about the players and how well they’ve prepared themselves, particularly Andrew and Ryan, to see all the looks.”
The hard work has definitely paid off.
“There’s a lot of work that guys do behind the scenes,” Luck says of the vastly improved pass protection. “A lot of advance scouting to get us ready and prepared so when we come in on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday we start going through their pressures, their sub-pressures, their base pressures, their exotics, their standard pressures. Each defense has a personality of its own. It takes everybody. It’s not just 5 guys.”
When Reich first took this head coaching job and started fielding the constant questions about the lingering issues in pass protection, he hardly seemed worried.
He had a plan, an extensive one, to keep the meal ticket standing.
“I think it’s something special that we do,” Sirianni says of the intense pass pro prep. “I know that was kind of something that Frank had always done. He carried that into the way we did things in San Diego and I know that he carried that into the way they did things in Philadelphia and here we are in Indianapolis doing it the same way.
“Keeping Andrew upright is obviously the main priority, so we will go to all ends that we need to, to do that.”