Reich’s plan to use wealth of tight ends in Colts offense is paying off
INDIANAPOLIS — Frank Reich thought he could exploit the Indianapolis Colts‘ tight end advantage. Defenses still haven’t solved it.
Less than a year after helping the Philadelphia Eagles win their first Super Bowl, Reich brought the philosophy to his first head coaching job and is getting similar results.
“I did expect we were going to spread it around, that’s just kind of how we roll,” Reich said Monday, a day after beating Oakland. “Now it’s probably exceeded expectations, but the expectations were pretty high to start.”
There’s been little to quibble with through the first half of the season.
Only three tight ends in the league have more receptions than Eric Ebron (36), a free-agent signee who finally appears to be meeting the hype of a first-round draft pick. Only Antonio Brown (eight) has more touchdown catches than Ebron (seven).
Pro Bowler Jack Doyle has 15 receptions in three games and caught his first scoring pass Sunday, giving Indy a league-high 12 TD catches among four tight ends.
The group played so well Sunday, it pulled off a feat more rare than Adam Vinatieri becoming the NFL’s career scoring leader, Marlon Mack becoming the first Colts runner with back-to-back 100-yard games since 2007 and Andrew Luck avoiding a sack in a third straight game for the first time in his pro career.
Ebron, Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox became the first tight end trio to each catch a TD pass in the same game since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
And they did it in style.
Cox’s first career score came on an acrobatic, one-handed grab that Reich quickly dubbed one of the best catches he’s ever seen. It’s the first time fans witnessed what the former college basketball star and undrafted free agent can do on the football field.
Ebron’s score came as he tap-danced along the sideline for the tying score in the third quarter.
Doyle gave Indy the final lead change of the game with a 10-yard catch-and-run that ended with Doyle diving just inside the pylon.
“What an awesome job our tight end group does to complement this offense, to complement the wideouts, to complement each other in the way we play,” Luck said. “I think there’s a lot of different personnel groups that run out on that field. It basically allows us to be successful in all those personnel groups, and I think that puts a lot of pressure on a defense.”
It’s all by design.
Reich saw how effective the tight ends could be during previous stints with the Colts, Chargers and the past two seasons in Philadelphia.
So when he returned to Indy and found the reliable Doyle and Erik Swoope, another college basketball convert, on the roster, Reich decided to start building around tight ends. The Colts lured Ebron from Detroit, where he fell out of favor because of his reputation for drops, and signed Ryan Hewitt in early September after he was cut by Cincinnati.
Alie-Cox has proved to be a pleasant surprise after spending last season on the Colts’ practice squad, reacquainting himself with a sport he hadn’t played since transferring to a non-football-playing high school in Virginia.
“I bet in the last month there’s probably been three, four, maybe even five ‘wow moments’ on the practice field involving Mo, although the one in the game might have been better than all those we saw on the practice field,” Reich said. “I remember when we got here and Chris is telling me about Mo and saying he really thought Mo had something to him.”
Now it’s translating to success on the field.
Indy (3-5) heads into its bye week on a two-game winning streak, in large part because its tight ends have been able to stretch the field and continue to play their part in protecting Luck and creating holes for Mack.
If they keep it up, the Colts could play their way back into the AFC South race. They’re just two games out of the division lead with home games looming against Jacksonville (3-5), Tennessee (3-4) and Miami (4-4) following the bye and the second-easiest schedule remaining.
“As we’ve said all offseason, the tight ends are a point of strength for this team and this offensive roster,” Reich said. “They showed up big (Sunday).”
NOTE: Indy signed offensive tackle Antonio Garcia to the practice squad Monday.