The Philadelphia Eagles trailed the Colts by six points with just under 90 seconds left in their Week 11 meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium. Facing third-and-goal on the seven-yard line, then-Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen called for quarterback Jalen Hurts to take a designed carry up the middle.
You probably remember the result of the play. Hurts darted, untouched, seven yards for a go-ahead touchdown that ultimately netted the Eagles a 17-16 win over the Colts.
But the backstory of how Hurts sauntered into the end zone is a showcase of Steichen's creativity and flexibility when it comes to scheming, designing and calling plays. Last season, Steichen said there are "endless" ways to scheme up run/pass concepts.
"You can do so many different things with a play to dress it up," Steichen said.
Heading into Week 11, the Colts' defense had alerts in place for designed Hurts runs – but those were based, primarily, on the Eagles being in empty (no running backs in the backfield). Hurts did have some rushing attempts out of shotgun with a running back lined up in the backfield, but those were on read options or other concepts where Hurts could pull and run or hand off to a running back.
From Weeks 1-10, Hurts carried 11 times for 77 yards on designed quarterback runs (as in: not read option plays, scrambles or sneaks), per Pro Football Focus. Of those runs, 10 came in empty formations; the other was with a back in the backfield, but with a 2x2 set (two receivers/tight ends to each side of the formation).
So when the Eagles lined up on third and seven play in a 3x1 formation (one receiver to the right, three receivers/tight ends to the left) with a back lined up to Hurts' right, the Colts did not alert for a designed quarterback run. The Eagles hadn't put a quarterback run in from that formation on film in 2022.
"Alerting for the quarterback draw was really an empty (thing)," defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said after the game. "And then they had a running back right there. So, it was a good play call by the offensive coordinator, but we still have to make those plays."
The Colts' defense made no excuses, certainly. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said he wished he hadn't tried an outside swim move, which opened up the middle of the field, in an attempt to pressure Hurts if he were to drop back to pass. And defensive coordinator Gus Bradley a few days later explained the team's preparation.
"We were basing on third-and-(seven) in that situation and everything that we've had, it wasn't a quarterback draw," Bradley said. "They spread you out and they try to isolate you, work pick routes and things like that."
Because the Colts weren't alerting for a quarterback run – which, again, was not because of any deficiency in scheme or execution – linebacker Zaire Franklin stayed on covering tight end Jack Stoll on the left side of the play. And that was because there was another layer to Steichen's playcall: Six days earlier, Hurts faked a goal-to-go quarterback draw, pulling a Washington Commanders linebacker in toward the line of scrimmage, then threw a jump pass for a six-yard touchdown over that linebacker's head.
"They were scheming it up very well," Franklin said. "Usually, they run a quarterback draw out of the empty. ... It's tough because against (Washington), he did the jump pass. So, I didn't want to leave (Stoll) and give up the touchdown. Really, just a good call by them. Just have to better in that situation."
This is much more about Steichen – along with an Eagles' coaching staff that was highly collaborative on red zone schemes – dressing up a play to make things extremely difficult on a good defense (the Colts held the Eagles to their lowest point total of the season – 17 – in that Week 11 contest). Steichen took a concept Hurts excels at – a designed run – and disguised it well in a critical situation. Most defenses in the NFL would've been caught watching Hurts jog into the end zone untouched on that play.
"We did it out of the 3-by-1 set which everyone saw," Steichen said last year. "It was just a different way of doing it because we've been doing it from different sets, but just to give it a little different wrinkle from that look and it worked out well."
And it's one example of the offensive mind Steichen is, and the kind of scheming he'll bring to the Colts' offense in 2023 and beyond.
"It was too difficult at the end," Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay said with a laugh on Tuesday, "with them having four downs and 12 players on the field with Jalen as a runner and thrower."
New Indianapolis Colts head coach Shane Steichen arrived at the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center on February 14, 2023.