INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich this week sat down for a one-on-one conversation with Colts.com's Matt Taylor as part of 1075 The Fan's "Colts Roundtable Live." What did Reich have to say about the bye week evaluations, Philip Rivers' big-play ability coming off a huge performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, Marcus Johnson's impact and more?
Here is that entire interview, which you can also listen to above:
I'm sure you would've loved to have a better start last Sunday against the Bengals, but you get down 21-0 early and have to fight your way back into the game and win it. How satisfying was it to see your team respond in that fashion, now heading into the bye week?
Reich: "Yeah, no doubt. I mean, we talked about it in the locker room afterwards, that we've got a lot to prove yet, but one of the things you need to prove is that you can win a game like that; that you get down early and you're not playing well and you turn it around and shut them down in the second half and score a lot of points in a hurry. So that was a big deal."
I know you did not abandon the original gameplan completely down 21-0, but what subtle changes did you have to make as a playcaller facing that early deficit?
Reich: "Well, obviously a little bit more pass-heavy, and then you end up tending to go more to your dropback mode rather than your playaction mode. Philip (Rivers) handles both of those well, but we just got in a mode where it was more just kind of drop back, quick-rhythm stuff, there was a few shots here and there, and then mix in a couple runs just to keep them honest."
You've been with Philip Rivers a long time. When he's in the zone like he was against the Bengals, do you just know it? Can you recognize it when it's happening that this guy's just totally locked in?
Reich: "Yeah. I mean, there's no doubt. And he was locked in. We all could feel it. And the guys were making plays for him, and I just think it built confidence, and it was a thing to see."
You had seven passing plays that went for more than 20 yards last Sunday. How happy are you with the big-play ability of the offense so far this season — none bigger than that 55-yard bomb to Marcus Johnson?
Reich: "Yeah, really happy. And Marcus — really happy for Marcus. He's consistently been making big plays in every game he's been in, so that's good; Philip has confidence in him. Of course, Philip has had a knack of doing this his whole career. You just follow his career and you know that he just has a knack of getting the ball deep and stretching the field and is very accurate in doing so."
Speaking of Marcus Johnson, you made some moves last Saturday, and among those, you bring Marcus Johnson to the active roster from the practice squad, but you also brought up rookie wide receiver DeMichael Harris from the practice squad. Those guys were active over some other receivers you already had on the active roster on Sunday; what went into the call in bringing up Harris and seeing what he could do?
Reich: "You know, every receiver has a little bit of a different flavor to them and skillset, and here's the thing: DeMichael's been on the practice squad, but he's been lighting it up in practice. You know, Jacoby has done a really good job of running scout team reps and throwing the ball to DeMichael and for us, really, getting even more of a look at what he can do. We saw some things early in training camp and felt like DeMichael could be a player that could help us out, even this year, and we put him up and just figured we'd give him a shot and give him a few plays to go to him, and know that he has speed and elusiveness. And you could certainly see that on Sunday."
Fan question from Keith — "Where did Philip Rivers improve the most from last week in Cleveland to this game against the Bengals?"
Reich: "Well, I think it was, first of all, we played better as a team, and the supporting cast was better. You know, the plan was better, we played better. So he did a good job of managing that. But then, we were really good situationally; third down and in the red zone, I mean, he made play after play after play, and that's exactly what we need — we needed every one of those."
Fan question from Ben — "I know the team was high on Julian Blackmon before the season after the draft, but is he surpassing even your highest expectations so far this season?"
Reich: "He's doing well. I mean, it's early — and, believe me, we are excited, and he is doing well and making plays. And not only that, you can just see the kind of leader and player that he is. We just want to continue to see more of it, but he's off to a great start."
Fan question from Grant — "Let's keep Marcus Johnson on the active roster all season." … What makes him such a deep ball connection with Philip Rivers? Why is that connection down the field working out so well right now?
Reich: "You know, he's got speed, but the other thing with Marcus, as far as the ability to catch a ball, there's a specific trait — you know, a tracking trait — where you're tracking the deep ball, and Marcus is particularly skilled at that. He tracks the deep ball very well, and Philip has a lot of confidence and belief in that, and so that's been a big part of the success he's had."
Fan question from Bruce — "What's been our problems on defense in the last two first halves? Are we just not ready to play, or are we caught off guard with what the offenses are doing to us?"
Reich: "Well, it's not just one thing. I mean, first of all, part of the answer is going to be they've got good players, too, and they're going to make some plays. But, you know, we set the bar really high as far as our standards as far as defense, so, yeah, the last two first halves of football have not been up to our standard. So, some of that's been a little bit of third down; this past week, it was a little bit of third down, we just couldn't get off the field on third down. So we'll continue to work on those things and fight to get better, but overall on the year, the defense has been playing great. We just need to put together a 60-minute game in that regard."
Fan question from Matt — "I love using Trey Burton in the wildcat. Can we expect more of that this season?"
Reich: "Well, you know, Trey's a talented guy, and we like to find different ways to use all the guys. So, yeah, we'll continue to look at all the options — I don't know if it'll be more wildcat, but we continue to find ways to use Trey's unique giftset."
I'm sure Burton was saying, 'I'm a former quarterback. I've thrown a touchdown pass in the NFL. I can put it in the air as well, here. Give me that option."
Reich: "No doubt. I've seen him do it, so you never know."
Fan question from Shannon — "How can we get T.Y. Hilton going?"
Reich: "I mean, T.Y.'s playing well. He hasn't had the production that we'd hope for at this point, but, like, even in this last game, there were just several times he just got a bad break. You know, we had the one catch that we challenged that we thought was a catch, but it got overturned. There's another one, he's wide open on a deep in-cut, but it was one of the few times in the game where Philip got pressured and had to step up and throw the checkdown. And then that same thing happened twice. So, T.Y.'s fine. He's always a focal point when we're making the gameplan, of how to get him the football. He's running good routes and doing his job, he's a great team player; hopefully we'll just keeping mixing it in there and he'll end up having a great year."
Fan question from Chris — "It seems like the draw play always works well for us. What is it about the draw that creates big running lanes for Jonathan Taylor?"
Reich: "Well, you know, when you're throwing it well and teams are teeing of … what makes a draw work is when the defensive line is teeing off to rush the passer, and you use their momentum against them; you let them run up the field, and then that's the idea of a draw or screen. And I think he might be alluding to some of our screens, too, which have been particularly successful. But the back is a big part of that; he's got to set that up well, and then we've got athletic offensive linemen that are able to block out in space."
Fan question from Jerry — "How upset are the players that they can't travel outside of the city during the bye week per NFL rules because of daily COVID-19 testing?"
Reich: "Well, I think they're upset, but I think they know this is a unique year. And there's nothing they can do about it, so there's no reason being too upset; no reason being too upset because it is what it is. I mean, it's just life in the NFL and life in the world right now as we're dealing with a pandemic that is very serious, and it's part of our protocols as NFL players and our responsibility is to test daily, and we need to do that here. So we're committed to that."
What is the bye week like for you and the coaching staff? I know you're going to be working pretty much all week, but do you get any time for yourself to kind of decompress and step away from football a little bit?
Reich: "Yeah, we'll work all week, we'll do some self-scout stuff and do some advance on some of the opponents that we have coming up. And then this weekend we'll be able to relax with family. Obviously I have a big foundation event for our foundation, kNOT TODAY, this weekend — a ribbon-cutting ceremony for that on Friday — so, looking forward to that, and then have some family in this weekend to be able to have some family time."