The communication between first-time head coach Jeff Saturday, first-time playcaller Parks Frazier, quarterback Matt Ryan and the Colts' coaching staff was stressed late in the first half of Sunday's game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium.
After three consecutive completions from Ryan to tight end Kylen Granson, and then an illegal contact penalty on the Raiders, the Colts had the ball on the Las Vegas 45-yard line with one timeout and about 30 seconds left. Frazier called for a handoff to running back Jonathan Taylor, who gained six yards. Instead of burning a timeout, the Colts got to the line quickly and had Ryan throw a pass, which fell incomplete with eight seconds left.
With the clock stopped, Frazier again called for a handoff to Taylor, who was coached to get to a specific yard line and look to get down. He did that, accelerating for nine yards behind a strong push from the Colts' offensive line and allowing Saturday to call a timeout with three seconds left. Chase McLaughlin connected on a 48-yard field goal to send the Colts into halftime with a 13-7 lead.
That three-play sequence required strong, clear communication by the Colts' coaching staff and crisp execution from the players on the field. With time quickly evaporating off the clock, there's not much room for error in those two-minute situations. And everyone involved got a boost from that drive not just because of the result, but because of the process that led to three points going on the scoreboard.
"I felt pretty confident in the communication from me to Matt and from the staff to myself, and then from Jeff communicating to all of us," Frazier said. "But felt really good about the execution, the way players handled it. Thought that using the timeout when we did and communicating to JT on the second run that we were going to try to get down to a certain yard line and get down, and let's bang a timeout to stop (the clock) — the players executed it perfectly.
"That gave us a lot of confidence knowing we could get that done."
Notably, Frazier has been heavily involved in the Colts' two-minute game planning over his five seasons on the team's coaching staff. Calling running plays from near midfield with one timeout left carries some risk, but Frazier had high confidence in the play design, execution and communication.
From the sideline, Saturday was similarly pleased.
"It was 32 seconds, we're at the logo and I knew we had one timeout. I was going to stay by the side judge," Saturday said. "I knew, if it's in the middle, we're going to let this one roll, we're going to hit another one. JT did a fantastic job on that last run of getting down where I can bust the timeout at three seconds, making sure you're not trying to make that extra yard. We're trying to get ourselves in better field goal position.
"I thought execution was perfect, really did it well. Honestly, we knew we were getting a two-for-one. We were going to try to get points, come back out after halftime (with possession) and double dip. Unfortunately, we missed the field goal coming back out. That was a big point of emphasis for me with the guys. I thought they executed it tremendously. JT, hats off. It's hard for running backs, right? You see that open field and think, 'Man, maybe I can bust it,' but unless it was wide open, it's a get down, let's hit timeout. It all worked out great."
That late-half possession blocked the Raiders from taking momentum into halftime – they scored a touchdown to cut the score to 10-7 with just over a minute left in the second quarter. And while McLaughlin didn't connect on a field goal attempt on the Colts' first possession coming out of halftime, in a narrow, one-score game, those three points the Colts got just before end of the second quarter proved critical.
Coming into the game, Frazier was confident in his knowledge of the offense, his preparation and the ability of his players to execute his calls. But he didn't know how he would react to certain things as a first-time playcaller.
And from that three-play sequence to dialing up efficient and explosive plays all afternoon, Frazier navigated the challenges of his playcalling debut well.
"You don't know when you get in the moment how you're going to respond," Frazier said. "For me, just being in the moment and everything just felt natural to me. I think that gave me a lot of confidence moving forward in the game that when we got into it, I felt really comfortable."