In his first year in the NFL, Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton had big boots to fill when he took over from the vastly experienced Bruce Arians, who secured a head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals after leading the Colts to the playoffs last year when Chuck Pagano was sidelined with illness.
Coming over from Stanford University, Hamilton was reunited with Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and brought with him a radically different offensive system to that of Arians’. Replacing 30- and 40-yard “chunk plays” was a commitment to running the football, with clock management and ball security being top priorities.
For the first few weeks of the season, the changes proved fruitful, exemplified by the 27-7 mauling of the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3. However, the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw to a season-ending neck injury coupled with the poor level of production from Trent Richardson saw the running game shudder to a halt.
Unfortunately for the Colts, Hamilton was initially hesitant to make changes on offense, sticking with Richardson and his “power running” formations even though Richardson was averaging less than three yards per carry for much of the season. Luck was kept bottled up and was only released from his shackles during two-minute drills and in situations where the Colts found themselves down multiple scores.
However, the last few games of the regular season saw Hamilton adjust to the personnel at his disposal. He started to put the ball in Luck’s hands and switched to an uptempo offense, using spread formations which better utilized the Colts’ young receiving core. The new schemes also benefited running back Donald Brown, who employs speed and movement to find gaps instead of downhill running through the tackles.
Power formations are still featured on third down and short plays, but Hamilton recognized the need for change during a difficult mid-season period which saw the Colts go 4-3 in seven contests.
Sunday’s incredible win over the Kansas City Chiefs showed the adjustments made by Hamilton. On their opening drive, the Colts didn’t run the ball at all. Instead, seven straight completions from Luck saw them march down the field into the end zone.
There is no question that earlier in the year, Richardson would have been handed the ball in Jumbo formations, and there is certainly no doubt that Indianapolis would have struggled to put up anything close to the 45 points needed to win the game with a run-first dynamic.
Next season will provide an excellent opportunity for further development on the offensive side of the ball as veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne is expected to make a comeback, while tight end Dwayne Allen and running back Vick Ballard will return after both missed their second year through injury. Exciting times lie ahead for this young team, and in Hamilton, they have a young coordinator to guide them every step of the way.