One can say what they want about Jeff Saturday’s lack of NFL coaching experience, but since he became interim head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, there’s been no doubting the identity of the team.
That identity, or offensive philosophy, is rather simple — run the often on first down and get running back Jonathan Taylor as many touches as possible.
Taylor has seen at least 24 touches in each of the first two games with Saturday at the helm for the Colts. A lot of those carries are coming on first down.
When asked about the emphasis on the running attack, Saturday had a simple explanation as to why that’s been the team’s strategy.
“I’ll take 28 [Jonathan Taylor] against just about everybody,” said Saturday to the media on November 23.
Saturday then stressed that it’s not about plays, it’s about how the team executes when the stars have the ball.
Colts Featuring Heavy Dose of Ground Attack on First Down Under Saturday
In the first four years under previous head coach Frank Reich, Indianapolis often featured a run-first offense, but the team lost that identity in the middle of October this year. The Colts offensive line has really struggled this season, and Taylor missed a couple games because of an ankle injury.
Without Taylor in Week 6, the Colts attempted 58 passes against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Thanks to one of Ryan’s best games of the season — 389 passing yards and 3 touchdown passes — the Colts won despite the lack of a running attack.
But that’s not sustainable week-to-week, and Saturday, along with new play-caller Parks Frazier, does not appear willing to allow the run-pass balance of the offense to get that out of whack.
In two games with Saturday has head coach, Taylor posted 22 rushes in each game. He hadn’t recorded 22 carries in a contest since Week 1. Furthermore, over Taylor’s five games prior to the Colts hiring Saturday, he averaged only 15.2 carries per week.
Under Saturday, Taylor is almost averaging that many carries per week on first down.
Indianapolis ran the ball 62% of the time on first down over the last two weeks. Taylor ran the ball on those first downs an incredible 27 times.
Additionally, Taylor has also caught two passes on first down in the past two games.
That’s a heavy emphasis on establishing the run and getting Taylor involved.
Colts OC Parks Frazier Shares Change in QB Matt Ryan
Establishing the run, though, has only been part of the equation for the Colts offense under Saturday. The other has been taking care of the ball.
Indianapolis had a league-high 17 giveaways under Reich in the first nine games. Ryan was leading the NFL with 9 interceptions and 11 fumbles.
But the Colts have only turned it over twice in the past two weeks, and Ryan hasn’t made any major mistakes.
“I think it’s a testament to Matt. He acknowledges that that’s something he can’t do, is turning the ball over,” Frazier told the media on November 22. “He knew that all along, but I think he’s really taken that next step of saying, ‘I’m going to protect the ball.’
“Our defense is playing really well. It’s just we’ve got to do whatever we can do to win the game and I think he’s done an extremely good job the last two games of taking care of the ball, being smart, being a good decision-maker and then, we’ve done some good things.”
Unfortunately, returning their emphasis to the ground game and no giveaways didn’t lead to two Colts victories to begin the Saturday era.
But if the offense can just become a little more efficient in the red zone, on top of what it’s already doing with Frazier as play-caller, the Colts may have a chance to surprise some teams down the stretch.