The Indianapolis Colts come into the 2013 season with mixed expectations. Rankings in various power polls have them ranked as low as 23 in the league, and as high as No. 9. Which begs the question, why the varied projections?
A large part of that question can be answered by the loss of Bruce Arians.
Arians isn’t just a great football mind, he is a quintessential leader of men. Faced with a life-and-death scenario of a valued colleague and friend, a roster inundated with rookies and the departure of Peyton Manning — Arians led his team to not only believe they could be successful, but to tangible success.
His offensive schemes and football IQ aided in the team’s wins, but his leadership, integrity and grace played just as large of a role in earning him the honor of being the 2012 Coach of the Year. Even though Arians only spent one year in Indy, he absolutely found a niche in the heart of the city, staff, organization and players.
Apart from his intangibles, Arians brought a great deal to the football field. He is an expert at getting the most out of his best players, and that wasn’t any more evident than what he did with Reggie Wayne.
For many years, Wayne lined up on one side of the ball and was one of the league’s top producing receivers. Coming into 2012, however, Wayne was coming off of his worst season statistically since 2003, and appeared on the decline.
However, in Arians offense, Wayne again looked young and spry. The key was Arians’ use of pre-snap motion and commitment to lining Wayne up all over the field. This was a philosophy that Arians used for many years with the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ Hines Ward. In the new system, Wayne set sail, producing 400 more receiving yards and 31 more receptions than he did in 2011.
No matter how often a defensive coordinator sees it, when you move your players around and line them up at different positions, it inevitably confuses a defense and almost always negates the “bracket” double-coverage Wayne had grown accustomed to seeing in Indy for so many years.
Not only was Arians excellent at devising ways to move his players around pre-snap, his route trees and combinations for his wideouts are among the most unique in the league.
The Colts used routes that aren’t often used in conjunction with one another such as: deep wheel routes for the tight ends combined with two crossing routes and a deep out route. That’s just one example of a play, but it’s simply a combination you hardly ever see in other offenses.
These eclectic combinations of routes shred man defense by pulling coverage in multiple directions and confusing deep safeties. This type of creativity is why Arians won two Super Bowls in Pittsburgh, and made the Colts’ offense so dynamic even with a rookie at the helm. That said, it also leads to quarterbacks holding onto the ball longer in order to allow routes to develop, which means they get hit more.
What Arians did for the Colts in 2012 was superb, but that doesn’t mean the Colts won’t still enjoy success in 2013.
New offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton isn’t going to try to match Arian’s schemes — that’s not in his DNA. His blueprint calls for a more physical, ball-control style of offense that will result in controlling the clock and protecting the quarterback better. Both good things.
The offense will still enjoy its fair share of explosive plays under Hamilton as well. Let’s not forget he coached Luck during his superb run at Stanford, and the team still has dynamic play-makers in Wayne, second year widout T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen and the newly acquired Darius Heyward-Bey.
Management has made a commitment to Hamilton’s style with their draft selections and free agent moves, and Chuck Pagano is an exellent coach in his own right.
The loss of Arians is big, but it won’t amount to a free-fall in the team’s record. Look for the Colts to continue to progress in 2013.