INDIANAPOLIS – It proved to be the right time and the right place.
More to the point, it was the right pace.
Intent on implementing the no-huddle offense at some point, Frank Reich and his offense staff decided the target date was the Indianapolis Colts’ week 6 meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“You do what you have to do for each game to give yourself the best chance to win,’’ Reich said Monday.
That meant going up-tempo, no-huddle. And it meant something of a crash course for the offense.
“We did a couple of walkthroughs . . . just talking through the procedures of how we’re going to approach it and how it’s going to be called,’’ tight end Kylen Granson said. “But the implementation was pretty quick.’’
It’s not as if Reich flipped to that chapter of the playbook following the week 5 overtime win at Denver and overwhelmed everyone with an unfamiliar game plan.
Matt Ryan was the catalyst as the offense worked at a much quicker pace than normal during training camp, and it was obvious that was the comfort zone of a 37-year old quarterback heading into his 15th season.
Also, practice leading up the Jaguars game offered everyone an opportunity to prepare for what was to come.
The objective – for Sunday and against the Jaguars – was to put the football and the game in Ryan’s hands.
“He just sees the field in complete control,’’ Reich said after Ryan led the Colts to a 34-27 win over the Jaguars. “Matt handled it perfectly.’’
Ryan completed a franchise-record and career-best 42 passes on 58 attempts for 389 yards and three touchdowns. The no-huddle approach helped tighten up his protection that had allowed 21 sacks in the first five games – the Jaguars had zero sacks after getting to Ryan five times in the week 2 blowout – and enabled the offense to get into a game-long rhythm that had been missing.
The quick passing game also lessened the effectiveness of Jacksonville’s pass rush and enhanced efficiency. The offense converted 10-of-15 third downs, its most conversions since week 4 of 2018 against Houston.
“It was a good change of pace for us,’’ Ryan said. “I thought we played with good tempo, used the speed when we needed it, but also we were able to check out of some things and get into some looks that we wanted to get into.’’
There was no arguing with the results.
Over the season’s first five games, the offense managed a league-low six touchdowns on 55 possessions. There were 14 three-and-outs and 19 possessions that failed to generate a first down.
The amped-up approach against Jacksonville didn’t result in instant gratification. The Colts punted on their first two possessions.
But then, things began clicking. The final seven drives: field goal, punt, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown.
Each of the four TD drives involved at least eight plays.
Ryan was at his best on the final two drives: 11-of-15 for 115 yards, touchdown passes to Jelani Woods and Alec Pierce, and a 134.7 passer rating. The offense converted all five third-down situations, including Ryan’s game-winning 32-yard TD to Pierce on 3rd-and-13.
The crispest offensive outing of the season begs the question: Why not make more liberal use of the no-huddle?
Reich’s overriding objective is to attack defenses with multiple formations and multiple personnel groupings.
“If you go no-huddle, then you just have to say we’re going to be less multiple than we are when we’re huddling, and that’s fine,’’ he said.
Reich pointed to when Peyton Manning ran the no-huddle during his long career with the Colts.
“It was basically 2-by-2 (two receivers, two tight ends) and 3-by-1 (three receivers, one tight end),’’ he said. “The receivers stayed static.
“We did get in more formations than that, so we had a little variety to what we were doing and that worked well. We’ll continue to evaluate that week-to-week and move on from there.’’
An in-game advantage of the no-huddle includes not allowing a defense to substitute on the drive, which can wear down defenders.
“Just as tired as we’re getting, the defense is getting even more tired because they’re having to also adjust and communicate on the move,’’ Granson said. “Yeah, you’re going to get tired if the drive gets stretched out, but it’s nothing too bad.
“They’re just as tired as we are. It’s who’s going to tap out first, and it’s not going to be us.’’
Wideout Keke Coutee is in the NFL’s concussion protocol after suffering a concussion on a punt return late in the second quarter. He remained on the turf for several minutes before being helped to his feet and taken to the locker room.
“Feel bad for Keke,’’ Reich said. “I mean, he’s a competitive playmaker and a ferocious competitor.’’
The concussion is expected to keep Coutee out of Sunday’s game at Tennessee.
Safety Julian Blackmon was in uniform Sunday but missed his third straight game with an ankle injury. He was a full participant in last Thursday’s practice, but limited on Friday.
“He didn’t make the progress physically to really get to the point where there was any kind of decision that needed to be made,’’ Reich said.
Blackmon only would have stepped on the field in an emergency role.
The Colts created a stir locally last week when they elevated Sam Ehlinger to the No. 2 quarterback spot ahead of Nick Foles.
Reich continued to endorse Foles – “I think he’s incredible,’’ he said after Sunday’s game – and described the decision as “philosophical.’’ There are situational packages for Ehlinger that would not work with Foles as the backup.
“And Sam earned that right now,’’ Reich said. “Like I said, I love Nick and everything. But Sam also earned the right by what he did in preseason and how he’s continued to look. They’re both backups.’’
Don’t expect Foles to return as the backup anytime soon.
“I wouldn’t anticipate changing it,’’ Reich said.
Busy day for Jackson
Deon Jackson continued to carry a heavy load with Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines out with injuries.
The second-year running back piled up 121 total yards from scrimmage against the Jaguars: 42 yards on 12 carries and 79 on 10 receptions. Jackson set career highs with 62 yards on 13 attempts in the week 5 overtime win at Denver.
The 10 receptions are tied for 4th-most by a running back in team history, and the most since Joe Addai had 10 against Tennessee in 2009.
Lydell Mitchell and Joe Washington share the club record with 13.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.