How Shane Steichen has transformed the Colts into a top-10 scoring offense

The Indianapolis Colts offense has flipped the script in 2023 under the leadership of first-year head coach Shane Steichen.

Cleveland Browns v Indianapolis Colts
Cleveland Browns v Indianapolis Colts / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

When head coach Shane Steichen took over the Indianapolis Colts in February of 2023, he inherited a troubling situation. In 2022, the Indianapolis offense averaged just 17 points per game — second-lowest among all teams — as the unit navigated a mid-season coaching change and cycled through three starting quarterbacks. Steichen, who was a highly successful offensive coordinator for both the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers, walked into Indianapolis needing to breathe new life into the Colts' offense.

We're now 11 weeks into the season and the results have been impressive. The Colts wield the ninth-best scoring offense in the league, averaging 24.2 points while racking up 336.1 total yards per game. Despite significant obstacles and matchups with stout defenses, Indianapolis has surpassed the 20-point mark in all but one game. At the same time last season, the Colts had failed to reach that total in 7 of 11 games.

Steichen has turned the Colts' offense around in an extremely short amount of time. The playcalling is more creative and efficient. The game plan is adapted on the fly depending on the situation and the team is taking full advantage of the strengths of their best players. This offense looks a lot different than it did last year and Steichen has played a massive role in that transformation. Back in February, Steichen clarified his offensive philosophy in his introductory press conference: "We're going to throw to score points and run to win." So far, he has kept his word.

Shane Steichen is balancing the short passing game with explosive plays to expose opposing defenses

Indianapolis was delivered an early blow when rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5 and Gardner Minshew took over. Minshew is a capable backup but he lacks the talent to be a high-level starter — and yet the Colts' passing offense has still been more productive than previous seasons, recording 229.8 yards per game through the air.

Understanding Minshew's limitations with the deep ball, Steichen has relied on short, easy completions. Around 60% of the Colts' pass attempts in 2023 have been quickfire throws targeting shallow routes like slants and screens. Minshew has been able to complete those types of passes at a rate of well over 70%, which helps the Colts build some rhythm and momentum. On top of that, peppering defenses with short throws opens up holes down the field.

The Indianapolis offense hasn't been very explosive in recent years, but that was bound to change given Steichen's emphasis on big plays. The Colts are trying to connect on the deep ball way more often this season — 18.8% of attempts have been deep throws versus just 9.7% in 2022. To put it in different terms, Indianapolis has completed 30 passes of 20+ yards. That includes six 40+ yard throws, which is already more than all of last season and ahead of elite offenses like the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions.

Indianapolis's aerial success is also driven by Steichen's use of diverse concepts to help cover up flaws like Minshew's iffy arm, a banged-up offensive line, and a thin receiving corps. The Colts have frequently leveraged RPO plays and pre-snap motion to give the offense more time and space to operate. Steichen's imaginative playcalling keeps defenses off-balance and makes life a lot easier for his players.

Colts are running the ball more often as Shane Steichen trusts the talent of his elite backfield

While it hasn't always been consistent, Indianapolis is leaning on the running game noticeably more than last season. The Colts are currently running the ball on 44.1% of plays which translates to 28.6 carries and 118 rushing yards per game — those are all top-10 marks in the league. That's a huge jump in production from 2022 when Indianapolis ran on 39.8% of plays and averaged the 10th-least rushing yards per game.

A major reason the Colts have been able to run the ball so well this season has been the team's individual talent which Steichen has clearly recognized. From ultra-mobile QB Anthony Richardson to running backs Zack Moss and Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis has usually had at least two dynamic runners available at all times. Also, the Colts' improved o-line sports the 12th-best run block win rate in the NFL with breakout left tackle Bernhard Raimann leading the way. It's no surprise that Steichen is running the ball in Raimann's direction (on 16% of rushes) a lot more often than the Colts did last year.

A strong ground game gives Minshew a much-needed security blanket and opens up more opportunities for the passing game. Given the inconsistent play at QB, Steichen's ability to maximize rushing production has been critical in several of the Colts' wins this season.

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