Shane Steichen tells story behind Colts big play with Zaire Franklin at fullback

In the Week 12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Indianapolis Colts put linebacker Zaire Franklin at fullback for one of the game’s most important plays.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Indianapolis Colts
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Indianapolis Colts / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

In Sunday’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Indianapolis Colts had a big decision to make. With just over nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Colts were facing a 4th-and-inches from Tampa Bay’s 49-yard line. Leading by a score of 20-17 at the time, Indy had to decide between punting or going for it. They chose to be aggressive and go for it.

That wasn’t surprising, though. The personnel that Indianapolis sent out on the field, however, was surprising. The Colts went heavy, sending out multiple tight ends, an extra lineman, and Zaire Franklin at full back. Seeing 44 lineup on the offensive side of the ball left everyone wondering what Indy had up its sleeve. Zaire Franklin is one of the hardest hitters in the league, surely he’d be used as a lead blocker in a short-yardage situation, right?

The Colts knew everyone would think that. That’s why they went with a play-action pass, releasing Mo Alie-Cox up the seam. Gardner Minshew found a wide open Alie-Cox for a 30-yard gain. Jonathan Taylor would run the ball into the end zone just three plays later.

It was a fun, creative play that was executed perfectly. Following the win, head coach Shane Steichen gave tight ends coach Tom Manning the credit for suggesting the play. Steichen was on board but there was one problem: Indy doesn’t have a fullback. In comes Zaire Franklin who’s always ready to step up.

Colts line Zaire Franklin up at full back against Buccaneers

The play worked out perfectly. It went so well, a quicker, more accurate pass would’ve resulted in a touchdown for Mo Alie-Cox. Either way, the 30-yard gain was good enough.

In his 11 games as head coach, Shane Steichen keeps some tricks up his sleeve. He typically has the perfect play design on short-yardage, gotta-have-it downs. The Colts were 3-of-4 on fourth down on Sunday, with the one failed conversion being a 4th-and-6. Indy even had another big conversion where Michael Pittman Jr. was wide open for a big gain.

With the formation and play to the tight end now on film, it’ll be fun to see the version of the play where Franklin actually gets to lead block. Knowing Steichen’s creativity, there may even be plays in the package where Franklin gets a carry or leaks out of the backfield for a big catch.