What Has Happened to Colts Tight Ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener?
One of the biggest remaining questions for the Indianapolis Colts is why their talented tight end tandem of Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener has seen such diminished production in the team’s passing attack this year compared to last season.
Having only scored 2 offensive touchdowns in their last 3 games, the Colts offense is clearly sputtering. The offense is averaging 238.3 passing yards per game (19th) compared to 305.9 (1st) respectively from just last season.
While the absence of star quarterback Andrew Luck–who’s recovering from a lacerated kidney, has certainly played a significant role in their passing offense’s obvious decline this season, there’s simply more to their offensive demise than that.
Right now, the Colts tight end duo has largely become an afterthought within the offense. It’s surprising because it comes just a year after Allen and Fleener combined to become the first pair of tight ends in NFL History to each have 8 receiving touchdowns on the season:
For all of the chatter about newly implemented offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski‘s “Chud-Effect” regarding his emphasis and effective utilization of the tight end position, the Colts tight end duo continues to suffer from diminished production.
Each of their tight end’s receiving numbers are down considerably from last season, especially in the total receiving yards and touchdown department across the board:
For Allen, he’s been called upon to pass block more in order to help an otherwise shaky Colts offensive line in pass protection. Having been largely relegated to a glorified offensive tackle, his run receiving routes are significantly down from last season as Bleacher Report’s Kyle Rodriguez astutely points out:
Less run routes means less of an opportunity to make an impact in the Colts passing offense as a receiver, which Allen has clearly fallen victim to. As shown above, his targets and receptions have been nearly cut in half from last season.
Dec 6, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener (80) runs after a pass reception against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 45-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
To add further insult to injury, it hasn’t helped that the Colts have emphasized more 3-wideout sets at the expense of two tight end formations this season either.
Regarding Fleener, his decrease in receiving production seems to be much more self-inflicted, but like Allen, he’s also likely fallen victim to the increased usage of 3-wideout sets.
Still, as shown above, Fleener could even surpass his catch total from last season of 51 catches–which he trails by 6 receptions with 2 games left to go, so it’s not all necessarily gloom and doom here.
However, his lack of receiving yards this year is concerning, considering he had nearly double that amount of receiving yards last season. For whatever reason, Fleener hasn’t shown much yards after catch (YAC) ability this season, as he’s tied at 276 out of 300 qualifiers for the lowest in the league this season by averaging 2.9 YAC per reception.
Compare that to last season, where Fleener averaged 6.0 YAC per reception and was ranked 137 out of 300 qualifiers respectively.
It’s a sad state of affairs that coming off an impressive 8 touchdown season last year, Fleener’s biggest catch of this season may have been this game-ending interception on a Matt Ryan desperation Hail Mary pass in a Week 11 win against the Atlanta Falcons:
However, while the Colts have de-emphasized their tight ends in the red zone to a degree–especially in Allen’s case, it may not be quite the differential one would reasonably expect given such a significant decrease in the tight end tandem’s touchdowns this season:
It’s just that the Colts offense was highly efficient last season in converting those limited targets in the red zone into touchdowns for their tight ends, which has been a major difference between last year and this season’s production.
Specifically, in each tight end’s case, the team has roughly cut their red zone TD to Target % conversion rate in half from last season–which can explain the significant decrease in receiving touchdowns from the pair this year.
Going forward, in order to get back to such two tight end receiving production again, the Colts must shore up their offensive line in order to allow Allen to be deployed more as a receiver one again instead of nearly exclusively as an extra blocker. While in Fleener’s case, the issue isn’t quite as black and white to solve and questions remain.
Sep 21, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen (83) and Coby Fleener (80) react to a holding call during a game against the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports