Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Red Zone Field Goals, Derrick Henry, Julio Jones 

The Colts head to Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans this week and fans had questions about last weekend's loss to the Rams and how this defense will try to contain Derrick Henry and Julio Jones. Check out what questions fans had ahead of the game in this week's Colts Mailbag. 

2020_colts_mailbag 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 Forums and the Colts' Reddit. You can also send your questions to @JJStankevitz on Twitter.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Derek Kinsey, North Vernon, Ind.: Could someone ask Coach Reich what is apparently so wrong with starting a game up 3 to nothing? And is there something wrong with our kicker because coach rarely uses him? Despite the fact that he hardly ever to never misses.

JJ Stankevitz: I got a quite a few questions about those two red zone drives that ended with zero points against the Rams. Let's start with the general premise of this question: That Frank Reich doesn't want to kick field goals.

The lede: It's false.

The Colts opened the 2021 season by driving into a goal-to-go set of downs, which ended with Reich electing to take the points with a 21-yard field goal. So the premise of this question is already flawed, though I understand the frustration with losing a game to the Rams by three points and getting zero from the first drive of the game. Trust me, that frustrated Reich and the Colts, too.

Also, Rodrigo Blankenship is fine and he made three field goals on Sunday, including the game-tying try (on which Reich elected to kick instead of going for it, which he said he had the green light to if he wanted).

And! The Colts have attempted the fourth-highest number of field goals since the start of the 2020 season, with Blankenship taking all 41 of those.

But let's look at numbers here to help you understand why the Colts went for it on fourth and one instead of kicking a field goal.

Since 2010, 54 percent of all offensive plays run in goal-to-go from the one have resulted in a touchdown. And of the 731 plays ran on fourth-and-goal from the one, only 17 percent have been field goals. The vast majority of coaching decisions in this situation call for a shot at seven points instead of three.

(Shout-out to Stathead for those numbers.)

What compounded the Colts' problems with missing the fourth-and-one try is that Carson Wentz got sacked for a loss of nine on the play. Had the play merely resulted in an incompletion, the Rams would've been backed up into their own end zone and wouldn't have had the kind of breathing room that might've helped jump-start a 90-yard scoring drive.

So again: I get the frustration here. But Reich's decision to not kick a field goal was not the problem.

Jerome Gau, Fox Point, Wisc.: During the opening drive, with inches needed for a touchdown, Carson Wentz couldn't score on a quarterback sneak? I question the play calling.

JJ Stankevitz: This is a fair question about that first drive, and it's one Reich addressed when he was asked Monday if there was anything he wished he did differently with those fourth-and-one calls.

"In hindsight I think maybe I should have just called a quarterback sneak right there with inches to go," Reich said. "It was third-and-inches. That was one of the questions that went through my mind last night.

"We don't run very many quarterback sneaks down there. When you think about the four years that we've been here, we don't run that many quarterback sneaks down there. Maybe that would have been one instance where we had to."

Some additional context: Reich called for a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line four times in his head coaching career, all with Jacoby Brissett from 2018-2020.

Tanner Edge, West Terre Haute, Ind.: Hi, I just wanted to say that I love how you guys have implemented some "Stank Bombs" into the Colts Official Podcast!

_My question revolves around our O-line and run game identity. It seems like we have been mainly a zone scheme offense over the years. Will we start to see more power runs dialed up to get our ground game sured up after a sub-par rushing attack in our first 2 games of the season? We have some maulers up front (Nelson, Kelly) and the new addition of Fisher. Excited to see how we progress on offense the rest of the season! _

#BleedBlue #ColtsForLife

JJ Stankevitz: I have Jeffrey Gorman to thank for the Stank Bomb segment on the Colts Official Podcast. Also, speaking of Jeffrey.

Anyways, I'll say this - the Colts figured out how to get their run game with Jonathan Taylor last year and there's no doubt in my mind they can find some solutions. Taylor won't averaged 3.3 yards per carry for much longer, I imagine. Thanks for listening to the podcast!

*_Brian Burton, Indianapolis, Ind.: How do the Colts hope to contain the awesome Derrick Henry and what rushing number do they consider a win?_ *

JJ Stankevitz: Let's start with what a good number may be. Since the start of the 2019 season, the Titans are 6-10 when Derrick Henry rushes for fewer than 100 yards. If you want to get crazy, the Titans are 1-4 since 2019 when Henry rushes for 60 or fewer yards.

And when Henry rushes for 100 or more yards, the Titans are 15-2 (although one of those two losses came against the Colts last year). So let's start there. Keep Henry under rushing 100 yards, preferably even lower.

But how do you keep Henry, who's going on his third season as the best running back on the planet under 100 yards?

Step one is having all 11 players on the field staying on their assignment, being in the right gaps and tackling Henry low. And step two?

"We're going to have seven-plus to the ball on every play," safety Julian Blackmon said. "That's our goal."

But it has to be a 60-minute effort against Henry, who in his career is averaging almost a yard more per carry in the second half (5.4 YPC) than in the first half (4.5 YPC). Those splits are even more pronounced in 2021 thanks to an outrageous second half in Week 2 against the Seahawks: Henry is averaging two yards per carry in the first half and seven yards per carry in the second half of his two games this year.

Henry's ability to get stronger as games go on is certainly something the Colts are aware of heading into Week 3. The effort has to be there for all four quarters, otherwise he's liable to pop a 60-yard, game-changing, highlight-reel run.

"Nobody's like him," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "Derrick is on a level of his own."

Damon Crawford, Virginia Beach, Va.: How will the Colts correct some wrongs with the next game against the Titans to not allow big chunk plays down the field now that they have Julio Jones. Also what, if anything, can be learned from the Titans/Cardinals game to stop the run?

JJ Stankevitz: Dropping one of the greatest receivers of all time in Julio Jones into a Titans' offense with Henry, A.J. Brown and Ryan Tannehill certainly presents challenges to any defense.

"When you have one really good receiver, you can tilt the field a little bit so you can roll up to those guys," defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "When you add the second guy there it creates an issue. It creates an issue. Typically, teams will have one good receiver and then a tight end and that creates a little bit of the same problem. When you have two receivers that create mismatches, then you have problems on both sides of the field. It's a challenge and it's a challenge for every defense that's going to face this group with those two elite receivers."

The Colts have allowed seven passing plays of 20 or more yards through two weeks; that's right around the middle of the pack of the NFL but is more than this defense would like to allow. The Titans' passing offense hasn't been quite as explosive as you might think with Brown and Jones, though - only the Chicago Bears have fewer passing plays of 20+ yards this season than Tennessee's three.

As for the Titans/Cardinals game, Arizona's front got after Tannehill and took Tennessee out of its gameplan early - especially with Chandler Jones sacking Tannehill five times. The Cardinals had a 24-6 lead at halftime and, after the Titans scored to open the third quarter, struck back with a touchdown of their own.

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