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Colts Mailbag: Alec Pierce Trending Up, Offensive Line Combinations, Seeking Solutions On Offense

The Colts Mailbag returns for Week 6 with questions on Alec Pierce's ascent, what's next for the offensive line and how Frank Reich may try to get the Colts' offense clicking starting Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

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The Colts Mailbag is back! readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

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

Let's get after this week's questions:

Joshua Graves, Indianapolis: Why is Alec Pierce so good?

JJ Stankevitz: Simple, to the point. I like it! Pierce has 15 catches for 222 yards (14.8 yards/reception) since returning from the concussion that held him out of the Colts' Week 2 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

There are a few different ways to take this, but I want to focus on what Pierce has been doing against press coverage looks over the last three weeks. Why that specific thing? Because of what general manager Chris Ballard said about the transition from college to the pros for wide receivers before he took Pierce with the No. 53 overall pick in the NFL Draft this spring:

"The hardest thing to see how they're going to make the transition to handle – how are they going to handle press coverage, how are they going to handle cloud coverage, how are they going to adjust," Ballard said. "I think it's one of the harder positions to really come in and make the adjustment. They have to be smart and they've got to have a level of instincts to really be able to do it."

So with that in mind, here's what Pierce has done against press coverage looks over the last three weeks:

  • 10 targets
  • 7 receptions
  • 103 yards

Five those seven receptions were contested catches, per Pro Football Focus, tied for the most in the NFL against press since Week 3.

And with Pierce making plays – with the proper depth and timing – against press coverage, he's accelerating the trust his quarterback has in him, especially in late-game moments. Pierce has three catches, including a difficult one where the ball was spinning end-over-end after Matt Ryan's arm was hit while throwing, for 33 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Colts' 12-9 win over the Denver Broncos in Week 5.

"I just think he's just the same guy whether it's midway through the fourth quarter or second series of the game," Ryan said. "He has that same look in his eye the entire game. The moment's not too big when the ball comes to him or doesn't. He goes to work and so, it's the mindset really.

"Then, his ball skills. His ball skills to me are really impressive. We had a ball that got tipped or whatever and was kind of flying around. It was a strange, strange play but he made a contested catch after that too which was a huge play for us. I've been impressed with that. His ball skills and just his attitude has been awesome."

Hannah Carson, Jacksonville, Fla.: What changes (if any) can we expect to see with the O-line this week? Do you expect the Colts to look at doing more quick passes and screens so Matt doesn't have to sit in the pocket for long?

JJ Stankevitz: We'll get to the quick game stuff in the next question. As for changes on the offensive line, we'll see – but we do know the plan is for Bernhard Raimann to continue forward as the Colts' left tackle. Quenton Nelson isn't going anywhere at left guard, and as long as Ryan Kelly is healthy, he's the starting center (Kelly did not practice on Wednesday with a hip injury).

So that leaves the right side of the Colts' line as the question mark here. Will Braden Smith stay at right guard or go back to right tackle? And based on where he is, who will be next to him – Matt Pryor, Will Fries, Dennis Kelly, someone else?

"We all know that Braden was a right guard in college, right, and probably his natural position," Reich said. "Right guard is probably his natural position. To his credit, we needed a right tackle early (in his career), and he moved out there and proved he could do it and proved he could do it at a high level. We thought it made sense, right? Let's look at the – Matt Pryor, he's played right tackle and right guard, but a lot of it has been right tackle. We thought that was a good move."

The Colts return to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center practice fields in preparation for this week's AFC South matchup versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Peter Hoffman, San Pedro, Calif.: Hi JJ! Thanks for the great job that you do in all your reporting. Love your Instant Reaction radio show and Five things learned column. With all of the offensive struggles through the first five games this year, why can't the coaching staff formulate a better game plan to set up Matt Ryan for success in the first three quarters. It seems he does way better in a 2 minute style type of offense. He turns over the ball or gets sacked when he drops back and holds, holds, holds onto the ball looking for an open receiver. The line cannot hold up at this point, so until that is fixed, why don't the coaches work on getting the ball out of his hand quicker to help Matt out?

JJ Stankevitz: A lot of why you're seeing Ryan hold on to the ball like that is because the Colts have faced more second and third-and-long plays than they'd like. The Colts lead the NFL with 125 plays on second/third down with seven or more yards to gain; on those plays, the Colts have taken the third-most sacks (nine) and thrown the most interceptions (five).

For the Colts, it's less about calling more quick game and more about, as an offense, being more efficient on first down. The Colts have had 99 first down plays go for three or fewer yards, second-most in the NFL; Ryan's average time to throw on first down is 2.63 seconds, per PFF, which is 15th-quickest out of 33 starting quarterbacks.

"We're like every team – we say the way we're going to help in the protection area is we're going to call quick game and then what we call rhythm passing game, which is kind of five-step timing stuff," Reich said. "Then you've got to run some play-action to help it, you've got to run the ball.

"What we've talked about more than anything is what's been giving us a problem, is we've just been behind the sticks not just on third down but really even on second down – a lot of second-and-long, a lot of third-and-long. When you give defenses a chance to pin their ears back, you're swimming upstream. We've just got to be efficient on first and second down. Some of that involves quick game but that's not the only answer. We do run a fair amount of it as we go."

Walter Blackburn, New Philadelphia, Ohio: With the offense struggling, how do you think Frank is going to change the play calling?

JJ Stankevitz: We'll see starting this weekend, but the extra time afforded to the Colts between Week 5's Thursday night game and Week 6's Sunday afternoon kickoff could benefit Reich's coaching staff in identifying some things that could boost the offense.

"You get a chance to do a little extra work this weekend," Reich said. "We always talk about our self-scout, which we do week to week, but you just double check all that stuff. You also probably, I think a lot of us as coaches get a chance to watch a little bit more than normal of some film from around the league just looking for ideas, a tweak or two here and there, an idea or something."

Dextin Baker, Phenix City, Alabama: What could the Colts do as a TEAM to avoid costly penalties? We just have to be more disciplined when it comes to things like that.

JJ Stankevitz: The Colts have had 34 flags thrown on them this year (31 were accepted), which is tied for 16th in the NFL. The breakdown of those penalties:

  • 6 offensive holding
  • 5 defensive holding
  • 5 false start
  • 4 defensive pass interference
  • 3 delay of game
  • 2 ineligible receiver downfield
  • 2 roughing the passer
  • 2 unnecessary roughness
  • 1 offensive pass interference
  • 1 defensive offside
  • 1 offside on kickoff
  • 1 running into the kicker
  • 1 illegal use of hands

From 2018-2021, the Colts were the eighth least-penalized team in the NFL; last year, they were one of five teams to be flagged fewer than 100 times. So when the team talks about cutting down on self-inflicted mistakes, penalties are certainly part of that conversation.

"I know we can do a better job at eliminating some of those," Reich said.

As a part of CrucialCatch, the Indianapolis Colts joined with A Kid Again Indiana and Ashley HomeStore to host the Colts Heroes Fashion Show, supporting young people battling cancer and life-threatening illnesses. Colts players, Cheerleaders, and team mascot "Blue" were all on hand in costumes to walk the runway alongside more than 20 costumed kids from A Kid Again - a national organization with a mission to foster hope, happiness, and healing for children with life-threatening health conditions and their families.

Jeff Stanley, Alexandria, Va.: The Colts seem to use the shotgun more than other teams and it doesn't seem to fit Jonathan Taylor's style. It also does not seem to be as effective holding linebackers in play action. Do you have any analytics on the Colts use of the shotgun? The percentage of runs out of the shotgun versus under center? How effective is he and the Colts in each scheme in run, play action, or known passing/running situations?

JJ Stankevitz: Here's what I have for you, Jeff. Taking out goal-to-go runs (which will skew the yards per attempt average down), here's Taylor's breakdown in 2022:

Table inside Article
Set Attempts Yards YPA Explosive runs
Shotgun 40 193 4.8 5
Under center 39 135 3.7 5

Last year, Taylor's breakdown did skew more toward under center runs (193 carries, 1,241 yards) than shotgun (108 carries, 606 yards). But the Colts had different personnel around him in 2021 – notably, a different quarterback (Carson Wentz) and one of the most accomplished run-blocking tight ends in the NFL (Jack Doyle). The Colts are still figuring out how to best scheme and execute their run game with the personnel they have, just like they did last year. Through four games:

Table inside Article
Year Attempts Yards YPA TDs
2021 58 274 4.7 1
2022 81 328 4.0 1

Taylor went on to average 5.6 yards per carry over the final 13 games of the 2021 season. The Colts figured something out around this time last year, and believe they can figure something out again in 2022.

"We're four games into it and it's not been good," Reich said. "We, I, have to take ownership of that and I believe in the players that we have. We've got the guys here that we need and I believe we have the roster that we need. So, we'll figure it out."

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