Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Run vs. Pass, AFC South And Wild Card Playoff Race, Hard Knocks

Ahead of an AFC South road trip to Houston to face the Texans, Colts fans had questions about a number of topics ranging from Frank Reich's playcalling to if winning the division is still a possibility. 

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Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here, or by taking part in the Colts.com Forums. You can also send your questions to @JJStankevitz on Twitter.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Montrell Lawson, Brunswick, Ga.: Big time Colts fan since 1999! Why are we not running the ball enough?!!! When we run the ball we win! We keep losing when the Titans lose! We gotta stop have a better plan going into the game! Statistically that's how you beat a good Tom Brady team, you run the damn ball! That's our team's slogan! I have bad days when we lose because I'm so passionate about my team!

JJ Stankevitz: I had a lot of questions along the line of Montrell's this week, but I like the passion here, so I went with his.

And who better to answer your question than Frank Reich, who gave a clinic on coaching, playcalling and offense earlier this week when talking about this topic.

"I'll just say this, assuming everybody is OK with the first half – I understand when in the second quarter the run/pass ratio was heavy pass and it works, it's OK, but when it doesn't work it's not OK," Reich said. "I understand that, so let me just talk about the second half. We come out, we go right down the field two times and feel good about what we're calling. There's 15 first and second-down calls in the third quarter and eight of those 15 plays are directed to Jonathan (Taylor) – three passes and the rest were RPO runs.

"This is kind of a philosophical thing and I realize not everybody will agree with this and not everybody will like it, but this is just kind of who we are and who we're going to continue to be because when you're a one-back offense and you have to find creative ways to handle all the run blitzes – because we have Jonathan Taylor and the offensive line we have, teams get very creative with run blitzes and in heavy boxes. So, one of the ways to combat that is formationally to do things and another way is RPOs. So, we're going to continue to not major in RPOs, but it's going to be a part of what we do.

"I'll just give you the numbers on those in the second half. We had six RPOs in the second half that were called runs to Jonathan and it ends up getting thrown and on those plays we averaged seven yards a play. One thing that I think is important to note is, it's interesting about RPOs – they are throws, but you're calling the run and if you average seven yards a play on a run, you're going to be real happy with that. I'm really happy with the productivity of our RPO game. It's been exceptional and it was exceptional in this game as well. Incomplete, plus 15, plus 11, plus seven, incomplete, plus seven – that's almost seven yards a play. So, happy with that.

"That being said, it's like Chris (Ballard) and I were talking about, there's something about the attitude of calling downhill runs that have no other options. You've just got to call it and run it. I understand that that's a big part of the game and that's got to be a part of who we are so we'll continue to mix that in there. There is a time and place for that. I really felt like the way for us to win this game against this defense we were going to have to throw it a little bit more than normal. I thought we did that effectively, just have to limit the turnovers."

James Reed, Chana, Ill.: Why can't the Colts play a complete game? They have teams beat and then they allow them back in.

JJ Stankevitz: Well, the Colts did play a complete game two weeks ago in dismantling the Buffalo Bills, 41-15. But I get your point – the Colts have lost three games in which they've had double-digit leads (Ravens, Titans, Buccaneers).

I thought this was interesting, though – Darius Leonard was asked this question on Thursday and said the issues that led to the loss against Tampa Bay were not the same ones that cropped up against Baltimore and Tennessee.

"If you watch the tape, we fixed the problem," Leonard said. "If you look at the games we lost against Tennessee and Baltimore, those were games where it's moreso communication and stuff like that, if you really see it. I think this last game, there's absolutely no way you win a ballgame with five (turnovers) and two PI's. That's just plain and simple.

"Those are things that I feel like we were trending in the right way – that's why you didn't ask me the question weeks before, because we fixed the problem. But when you turn the ball over five times and have two penalties that cost you, you list ballgames. That's nothing with schemes that we need to do, just find a way to protect the ball and find a way to not get a penalty. That's all it is."

I got the sense this week the Colts are frustrated yet confident after that loss to Tampa Bay – if it were the same issues that cost them games against the Ravens and Titans, maybe that confidence would've been dinged a bit. But they weren't, and the Colts are heading into the final five games of the season knowing how good they are, and how they can cut down on those turnovers and penalties in massive games ahead against the Patriots, Cardinals and Raiders.

My Cause My Cleats celebrates the positive impact that players make in their communities by providing them with a unique opportunity to highlight the charitable partners that they are passionate about on their cleats. On December 5 at the Houston Texans, 60 members of the Colts organization, including players, head coach Frank Reich, General Manager Chris Ballard and the Irsay family will sport custom designed cleats.

Leslie House, Middlebury, Conn.: Are you finding the crew filming Hard Knocks more of a distraction?  Or do you find the focus to the "little details" are better knowing it is on film?

JJ Stankevitz: Most players and coaches I've talked to don't even notice the NFL Films cameras anymore as it relates to their day-to-day routine. Those camera crews have been here for a while now and do a good job blending into the background when they're around. It hasn't been a distraction – instead, "Hard Knocks" is giving us an unprecedented look at a team battling to make the playoffs late in the season.

Zach Hoffman, Ft. Myers Beach, Fla.: With the Titans struggling and a tough schedule remaining for the Colts, so you think it is realistic that we can still take the division? If not, you thoughts on the wildcard with it so tight in the AFC?

JJ Stankevitz: So let's re-rack things here before I get into answering this. The Colts are 6-6 and the Titans are 8-4, and Tennessee has the AFC South tiebreaker over the Colts by virtue of winning both meetings this season. The Colts, then, have to be three games better than the Titans over the final five this season.

For example: If the Colts go 4-1, the Titans have to go 1-4 down the stretch for the Colts to win the division. Yes, the Titans are struggling after consecutive losses to the Houston Texans and New England Patriots – losses in which they managed just 13 points in each game.

Tennessee's remaining schedule is: Bye (Week 13), vs. Jacksonville (Week 14), at Pittsburgh (Week 15), vs. San Francisco (Week 16), vs. Miami (Week 17), at Houston (Week 18). At a minimum, the Colts will need the Titans to lose three of those games to have a shot at the AFC South. It's not impossible, especially not in this 2021 season loaded with parity and upsets, but Football Outsiders gives the Colts an 8.3 percent chance to win the AFC South.

Meanwhile, the AFC wild card race is completely up for grabs. The current wild card standings, with the top three non-division-winners making the playoffs, are:

5. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
6. Buffalo Bills (7-4)
7. Los Angeles Chargers (6-5)
8. Denver Broncos (6-5)
9. Las Vegas Raiders (6-5)
10. Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
11. Cleveland Browns (6-6)
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1)
13. Miami Dolphins (5-7)

Once the Colts are through this weekend's game against the Texans and then their Week 14 bye, we'll have a clearer picture of how things are setting up. In the next two weeks, these other eight teams play:

  • Bengals: Chargers, 49ers
  • Bills: Patriots, Bucs
  • Chargers: Bengals, Giants
  • Raiders: Washington, Chiefs
  • Broncos: Chiefs, Lions
  • Browns: Bye, Ravens
  • Steelers: Ravens, Vikings
  • Dolphins: Giants, bye

After Week 14, every team will have played 13 games, too, so it'll be a little easier to envision how things may set up from mid-December through early January.

But for now, the Colts' sole focus is on themselves and this weekend's upcoming game against the Texans. As Reich said on "Hard Knocks" this week: "We don't know what to tell our wives as far as who to root for. In our family, my kids are texting me, who am I rooting for here, dad? I don't know. The Colts. We just gotta keep winning. That's all that really matters."

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