Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Offensive Line Fixes, Jelani Woods' Usage, Week 4 Matchup vs. Derrick Henry, Titans

The Colts Mailbag returns for Week 4 with questions on the offensive line, Jelani Woods, Jonathan Taylor and this weekend's AFC South clash with the Tennessee Titans. 

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The Colts Mailbag is back! Colts.com 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 Colts.com Forums. You can also send your questions to @JJStankevitz on Twitter.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Martin Hysek, Stockholm, Sweden: Hej JJ!

Hello from Sweden!

All off-season the talk was we can't start slow and yet that's exactly what happened. This was basically the topic everybody was concerned about. Now, Tony Romo explained a bit in the broadcast how the communication is an issue, how do you think the Colts can improve on that this week, when they haven't been able to throughout the last three games.

I'm really encouraged about how the defense played and hope they get the offense to pull themselves up!

Go Colts!

JJ Stankevitz: Everything we've heard this week is that Romo was right – communication issues are why the Colts haven't been consistently picking up blitzes. But it's not 100 percent on the offensive line.

"That's the main issue right now, is just communication, being on the same page – everybody, quarterback, O-line, running back just being all on the same page and getting that cleaned up," offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. "So that pre-snap, JT (Jonathan Taylor) knows exactly where his eyes need to be, Matt (Ryan) needs to know where his eyes need to be. So, just getting that communication fixed is what we're stressing right now."

Whether it's in meetings, walkthroughs or practice, the Colts are emphasizing getting those communication issues cleaned up. Ryan has been pressured in under two seconds on eight blitzes this season, tied for the sixth-most in the NFL. Four of those came against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, with Ryan being sacked, strip-sacked, throwing an incompletion and then on the last one, throwing the game-winning touchdown to Jelani Woods.

The NFL is a copycat league, and until the Colts prove they can consistently stop free rushers from getting after Ryan, opposing defenses will keep sending blitzes designed to stress the team's communication.

"It's very uncharacteristic of our team, but we have to own that we put that on tape," head coach Frank Reich said. "I think we all take that pretty personal. And it's not just — we talked about this, it's all 11 guys. Obviously we talk about the O-line but we talk about all 11 guys, tight ends are involved, quarterbacks, running backs, receivers getting to the right spot at the right time. So it's a collective effort.

"This is a good week to try to get that back on track. This (Tennessee Titans) front with (Jeffrey) Simmons and Denico (Autry) and all the pressure packages they have — simulated pressure, zone dog simulated pressure, man pressure, they do it all and they disguise it exceedingly well. You can't tell what's coming and what's not coming. We're going to have to be on point."

Dylan Durnal, Lebanon, Ind.: Hello JJ, As I'm sure everyone as seen the Colts offensive line is not playing so great. Matt Ryan is often running for his life out there. Is there any talk from the team to try and fix the O-line issues.

JJ Stankevitz: I'm going to push back on the assertion that the O-line isn't playing so great. Yes, every member of that group admits there are things they need to clean up and improve. But the issue, to go back to Martin's question from across the pond, is about communication – not talent.

If the Colts had a talent issue on their line, you'd see a lot more straight four-man (standard) pressures hitting home because the linemen were consistently losing one-on-one matchups. If you turn on the tape, and watch the entirety of the Colts' pass-blocking snaps, you'll see that is decidedly not the case.

Again, the Colts' offensive line isn't shying away from taking responsibility for Matt Ryan being the fourth-most sacked quarterback (12 times) in the NFL entering Week 4. But these guys are not getting their butts kicked on a regular or semi-regular basis. That's just not happening.

Notably: The Colts' offensive line has allowed the fourth-lowest pressure rate (19.7 percent) in the NFL entering Week 4, per Pro Football Focus.

"When I watched our tape yesterday, our protection, the one-on-one matchups, I felt like our protection was pretty good," Reich said the day after the Colts' win over the Chiefs. "The fundamentals and technique and the guys blocking one-on-one – I mean, it wasn't flawless, but there was a lot of good stuff."

Jordan Kennerknecht, Roanoke, Va.: After the upset win over KC, is this the beginning where we are going to see Jelani Woods and Kylen Granson more in the offense?

JJ Stankevitz: Both Woods and Granson did some important things against the Chiefs. Woods, of course, caught two touchdowns, using his athletic, 6-foot-7 frame to flash open in the end zone in the first quarter. And then in the fourth quarter, Woods' size and speed shined when he flashed open against 6-foot safety Juan Thornhill to snag the game-winning touchdown.

Woods played a season-high 16 snaps (23 percent) against the Chiefs.

Granson played 30 snaps – 17 on run plays and 13 on pass plays – and earned the Colts' highest Pro Football Focus run blocking grade (77.6) of the afternoon. He also caught two passes for seven yards.

The Colts ran 15 plays with two or more tight ends on the field against the Chiefs – about 21 percent of their offensive snaps. That's a shade below where they were last year, when the Colts ran about 23 percent of their plays with two or more tight ends on the field. But the personnel this year is different – the retirement of Jack Doyle, one of the most accomplished run blocking tight ends in the NFL, was always going to lead the Colts to change up what those two tight ends sets could do. We're seeing that process play out in the season, and maybe it means more Woods and Granson on the field – but, again, that'll be a week-to-week gameplan thing.

Andrea Settembrini, Vestal, N.Y.: Will Jelani Woods be getting more targets in the red zone?

JJ Stankevitz: It's not just that Woods is 6-foot-7 – he has 34-inch arms, a 82-inch wingspan and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. According to Mockdraftable.com's database, among all tight ends drafted since 1999, Woods is in the 97th percentile for height, 93rd percentile for arm length, 89th percentile for wingspan and 88th percentile for 40-yard dash.

There is, of course, much more that goes into getting red zone targets than pure size and athleticism. But Woods has impressed coaches with how he's picked things up in the Colts' offense, especially after sixth-round pick Drew Ogletree suffered a season-ending torn ACL during training camp. As he continues growing his game and developing his technique, he very well could see more targets in the red zone.

View the top photos from the Colts 20-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Kevin Davids, Evansville, Ind.: With the big win over KC I can't help but notice the fans and media are still talking about that win. What process does the players/coaches take to turn the page on that win and focus on Tennessee and filtering out the "outside noise" that could have its own internal negative impact?

JJ Stankevitz: This team is pretty good at tuning that stuff out. They did last week and remained confident in their process after being shut out by the Jacksonville Jaguars. This week, coming off a win, it'll be no different – the Colts celebrated their win on Sunday and collectively flushed it by Monday morning, when the focus started shifting toward a physical Tennessee Titans team that's won consecutive AFC South titles.

The process, to answer your question, is to not deviate from the plan put in place from April through August. Win or lose (or tie), the mentality of this team remains the same. And that's been to the Colts' benefit over Reich's time as head coach, allowing them to pull out of slow starts or in-season lulls to remain competitive.

Matt West, Chattanooga, Tenn.: Hello from deep inside enemy territory! I was wondering if you could help explain how the practice squad works now? For example, when Chase McLaughlin was signed it was to the PS and was activated right before the Week 2 game.

JJ Stankevitz: Good question! Players can be elevated to the active roster from the practice squad for a game three times during a season. After the game, they're returned to the practice squad. So the Colts can follow the same process with kicker Chase McLaughlin this week after elevating him to the active roster for their past two games.

Landin Birge, Pittsboro, Ind.: The Titans haven't been very good against the run game so far this season. Do you think this is a game where Johnathan Taylor gets 30 carries? Or do you think they will run a balanced scheme?

JJ Stankevitz: You're right that the Titans haven't had success stopping the run yet – they're 32nd in the NFL in yards per carry allowed (5.8), and they've allowed 12 runs of 10 or more yards, the third-most in the NFL.

But no one with the Colts is doubting Tennessee's ability to stop the run, not when they've faced a front seven highlighted by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons and versatile defensive end Denico Autry. Mike Vrabel's Titans always present a physical challenge, and it's one for which the Colts will have to be prepared on Sunday.

"They are a physical team," Reich said. "You always expect that when you play them. It starts up front. It start up front on both sides of the ball, running the ball, stopping the run. I just think in this day and age, we're in passing league but we play this game against these guys and a lot of it comes down to the run and stopping the run. So, that's being physical but also executing. We respect that. We respect how physical they are. So, we need to match that."

On the 30 carry question, though, Taylor usually gets that workload based on the flow of the game. If the Colts are able to pound the run, he could get there – like he did in Week 1 against the Houston Texans, who are 31st in rushing yards allowed per play entering Week 4. But if the Colts can be balanced on offense, they will be. We'll just see how things play out Sunday.

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