INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich on recently sat down with Colts.com's Matt Taylor to recap the 2019 season, discussing a multitude of topics, including what he liked and what needs improvement about the offense, Quenton Nelson's domination, T.Y. Hilton's toughness and much more.
Here's a transcript of that conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety below:
While you've acknowledged a need to improve in the passing game, what did it mean to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing mark this season?
Reich: "It's really important. If you look right now, the teams that are going into the playoffs — like the top-nine teams rushing, seven of those nine teams are playoff teams. So it's part of championship football DNA. So it's something that we can build on for the future. I'm really excited about the progress that we made there, and it's really important going forward."
What was your total evaluation of the passing game this season? What strides do you think you need to make there in the offseason?
Reich: "I think we need to have more chunk plays, be able to take advantage of a good running game and get good play-action game to get these chunk plays down the field, and then we also need to be more efficient. I think just higher-percentage completions. Where I do think a couple of the positives were: I think in third down and in red zone I think our passing game needs to get better, but was in winning range. But certainly a lot of improvement needed."
Finishing at 7-9 and looking at all the adversity you faced this season, can that help you next season?
Reich: "It does. I mean, there's some things that you learn going through adversity that you know forms something in you that helps you down the road be stronger. And I have no doubt that's what will happen from this year; that as hard as it was and the adversity and the struggles that we had to go through, you know, fighting through that will make us stronger for next year and beyond."
The offensive line started every game together in 2019. How special is that — should people not overlook that?
Reich: "It's rare. I wish I knew what the numbers were on that — I'll have to ask our analytics guys to see how many times that's happened over the last 10 years. I'm sure it's happened a few, but not too many. And that's a credit to those guys, that are just gutting it out. Because you know, it's not like they're fully healthy; they're gutting through things, but they wanna play for each other and that's what's really exciting."
Quenton Nelson a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro once again. You said earlier this season that he's having an even better Year 2 than Year 1 — how did he grow, how did you see him improve as a player?
Reich: "Just his consistency. You know, his consistency, fundamentals and technique, footwork. I think he's gotten better; I think he's worked at it. I think he worked at it all the way through last year, and I think he's just gonna continue to get better. That's a scary thought, but I'm really glad he's on our team."
How tough was the season for you as the head coach and play caller? Was it hard with guys going in and out of the lineup due to injuries?
Reich: "You don't really think about it being difficult. When you're in the moment and you're going through the battles, all you're doing is you're looking to your right and you're looking to your left and you're looking at the guys — the coaches and the players — you're doing battle with, and you fight and you scratch and you claw to be there for them. You don't wanna let your guys down. And so you fight and you scratch and you claw through it, and when you look to your right and left you're glad you got those guys with you. So part of the struggle is you embrace that; I mean, as a coach and as a player, you never wanna go through adversity, but yet you know it does help you."
How tough was T.Y. Hilton this season? A lot of guys would decide to shut it down going through what he decided to play through with the tear in his calf; he wanted to be out there for his teammates.
Reich: "Yeah, and that's why he's a leader on this team. You know, you listen to T.Y.'s interviews, and you're around this locker room, and T.Y. is — I don't wanna say a soft-spoken leader, but it's just he has a presence. He has a presence in the locker room, on the field, and then there's just something about it that when he makes plays, it just ignites us as an offense. So I just think he's still playing at a very high level and see him being instrumental in our success in the coming years."
Justin Houston comes over in the offseason and winds up with 11 sacks. Did you get what you wanted out of him, not only from a production standpoint, but from a character and leadership perspective?
Reich: "Yeah, we got everything and then some. And 11 sacks is a really good year — one of his better years in his recent years. And I just think there's still a lot left in the tank. I think he's in the best shape of his life; I think as he learns the system, as we continue to develop as a team — one of the things you know as far as sacks, the better we get as a team and start playing with a lead, it gives the defensive line more of an opportunity to get sacks, when the other team's trying to come from behind. So if he's getting 11 sacks on a team with a 7-9 (record), that shows you there's still a lot left there; a lot of production still there."
How about the rookies on the defensive side of the ball? Rock Ya-Sin played a ton, Khari Willis played a lot, Bobby Okereke too — how beneficial was their first seasons playing a ton in this defense right out of the gate?
Reich: "Man, the rookie class is a strong class, now. Obviously on defense, we picked all those defensive players. They are all really good players; we're excited about all of them. Bobby had a great year, Khari had a great year, Rock — all those guys. Excited about E.J. (Speed)'s development, Gerri Green — I mean, those guys are going to be a big part of the foundation going forward."
In totality, with the season over now, how will you remember this team? What are some things that come to mind thinking about this 2019 Colts group?
Reich: "Just the belief and conviction in each other, even through the adversity at the end of the year finishing 2-7, but guys really fighting to the end. Even after difficult losses and tough losses, just a belief, and the way we practiced, of the chemistry in the locker room, even in a season like we had, it just shows how authentic and how real it is. So I definitely won't forget that."
What's life like for you now? Do you take any time off after the season?
Reich: "You know what? We're still in evaluation mode here, so we'll work for a couple more weeks here, then I'll give the coaches a week off — and, you know, get a week off to breathe after the season; it's a long grind during the season, but we'll take a couple weeks here, and then we'll get a week off and get a little breath."