INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni spoke to local reporters today via video conference. What's the latest on the Colts' efforts to improve their yards-per-carry average, how the staff is approaching keeping rookie running back Jonathan Taylor fresh, the obsessive nature to remain unpredictable in play calling and much more?
You can check out that entire session above, but here are some top takeaways:
» Sirianni isn't concerned about the team's average yards-per-carry figure, which currently ranks last in the NFL: Coming off a season in 2019 in which the Colts ranked seventh in the league in rushing, and 10th in yards per carry, the Indy offense has high hopes for its run game entering the 2020 season. Not only were all five starting offensive linemen returning, as well as starting running back Marlon Mack, top third-down back Nyheim Hines and a key piece of depth in Jordan Wilkins, but the team also used a second-round pick to select Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, the most explosive running back in his class, in this year's NFL Draft.
Through the first four games of the year, while the Colts certainly haven't been slackers in terms of their total rushing yards — they rank tied for 15th in the NFL with 115.3 rushing yards per game — they haven't gotten the production they would've liked from a yards-per-carry standpoint, as the team currently ranks dead last in the NFL in that category (3.52).
Lots goes into that figure, of course, and it's still very early in the season. Sirianni said he's not worried about it at this point, and figures that number will creep back up eventually.
"We're doing the things that we need to do to win football games," Sirianni said of the Colts, who are 3-1 and have won three straight heading into this Sunday's road game against the Cleveland Browns. "You mentioned the kneel downs and stuff like that, it's also four-minute runs at times. Those aren't going to – you're going against a very heavy box. The box is stacked against you. They have one more guy than you can block, and we've been in four-minute mode the last three weeks. So, I think that definitely plays into it as well.
"I think we're in a good position," Sirianni continued. "I'm not concerned about it. I know some of these runs will start to break out of there and get some explosive runs, more so than what we've been getting."
» Sticking with the run game, Sirianni said the Colts have been mindful of keeping the backs fresh throughout the ballgame: Mack entered the season as the workhorse at the running back position, and for good reason, as he was coming of his first-career 1,000-yard rushing performance. But he went down with a season-ending Achilles injury Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, causing a little bit of a shuffle in terms of how the team wanted to utilize the running back position moving forward.
Taylor has stepped into the starting role the last three weeks, and he's done quite well for himself, averaging 76 yards in his three starts and scoring two touchdowns. But Taylor also isn't being utilized quite as much overall; he was in on 67 percent of the snaps for his first start against the Minnesota Vikings, but saw that number drop to 41 percent the following week against the New York Jets and was at 46 percent last Sunday in the Colts' 19-11 win over the Chicago Bears.
It's not that Taylor doesn't have the ability to take on more of a workload, Sirianni said, but the coaches also are trying to be mindful of keeping a fresh back out on the field at all times. Then, especially late, Taylor is more apt to excel against a tired defense not exactly looking forward to bringing him to the ground play after play.
"I have a ton of confidence in Jonathan, and he could carry the ball 25 times a game," Sirianni said. "We just have a lot of confidence in the other guys as well and they do things really well also and we want to let them shine as well and keep everybody fresh.
"Those defensive guys aren't getting a break," Sirianni continued. "They are still having to tackle Jordan and Nyheim. Then Jonathan comes back in in the fourth quarter with that big four-minute drive and it gets harder and harder to tackle him."
Hines has been in on 33.5 percent of the Colts' offensive plays to this point of the season, while Wilkins has seen action on 16.6 percent of the offensive snaps.
» The Colts' offensive coaching staff is obsessed with staying on top of its tendencies on a weekly basis: While it's important to simply do what you do best at times, at the NFL level it's also important to make sure as an offense you're not too predictable in your play calling.
The Colts, Sirianni said, are obsessed with being as unpredictable as they can be throughout any given ballgame.
"That is something that is constantly on our minds," Sirianni said. "We know how we look at defenses and we know how our defense looks at other teams. We don't want to tip our hand in any way. In any sport, you don't want to let the person trying to defend you any little tell. We're really obsessed with that."
Sirianni said offensive quality control coach Parks Frazier has been tasked with evaluating the Colts' offensive play calls on a weekly basis and then, usually on Tuesdays, reporting his findings back to the staff.
"Parks Frazier does a phenomenal job of giving us our tendencies when we start the week," Sirianni said. "As a matter of fact, that's the meeting I'm about to go to after we talk right here, just talking through tendencies and how we cover tendencies. A huge part of what we do, a huge thought of what we do – just as much as we think about plays and players for our team and their team, we think about our tendencies and how we can break any tendency we have that can tip our hand."