Jonathan Taylor has the Colts running wild

Casey Sully
jonathan taylor

Jonathan Taylor is on fire. He has over 100 yards in five of the last six games, has eclipsed 1,000 yards already, and has catapulted himself into MVP talks. While Taylor is great on his own, Frank Reich’s run game scheme is also to thank. In their last four games, the Colts have run almost every run scheme you can think of: outside zone, stretch, split zone, power, counter, trap, and toss all made appearances. They give a lot of different looks, but the Colts base out of zone running. Reich particularly loves to run wide zone weak. He then creates change of pace plays to outflank the defense and create new running lanes for Jonathan Taylor. Taylor himself is the perfect fit for Reich’s run game. He’s a patient zone runner, understands how to set up blocks, and attacks lanes in front of him.

Wide zone weak

Running weak means running away from the formational strength. Typically, that results in the Colts running at the 1-tech, shade, or 2i. In the NFL, it’s all about matchups and angles. By running weak, the Colts are giving their guys better angles on this play.

With a defensive end in Wide-9 to the play-side, the offensive tackle kicks them out. That leaves a combo on the 2i. The center’s aiming point is to put the screws of his helmet onto the screws of the defender’s helmet and attempt to overtake. The guard is helping the center with a shoulder as they climb to the linebacker, #52. Where the angles come into play is with the backside guard. That guard is also giving a shoulder backside to help the overtake from his tackle, but he then needs to go get #57. The angle to get there is much easier for him than it would be if the center had to get #57 going the opposite way to the strength. With a 3-tech over the guard, that guard would then be occupied and the center would have to gain ground on the linebacker going the other direction.

While it’s by no means a devastating block, the guard gets enough of the linebacker to spring Taylor. The contact forces him to tackle Jonathan Taylor at an angle instead of squaring him up. Taylor breaks the tackle and bounces outside.

Outside Zone
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Outside Zone

Taylor is great at feeling out the holes and working into the B-gap before bouncing outside. Ryan Kelly, the Colts’ center, has some deficiencies, but he’s been reliable on zone scheme runs where he’s overtaking on the 1-technique. Combining him and Quenton Nelson together as they combo up has become a bread-and-butter play for Indy. They both do a great job here with the overtake and Nelson climbing to the backer.

When they’ve had true shades with the defensive tackle aligning tight over the center, Quenton Nelson has abandoned the more conventional push-over technique where the guard will bump the tackle onto the center. Instead, Nelson will swim behind that block to get to the play-side linebacker. That again, gives him a better angle to get that player rather than being in a trail position and catching their shoulder.

Pin and pull

To really stress the edges, the Colts will line up in condensed formations and work pin-and-pull schemes. Their receivers crack down on defensive linemen and the tackle pulls around. That immediately gets their tackle and Jonathan Taylor out on the edge of the defense on smaller defensive backs. The rest of the line is selling out to hook and seal pursuit from the backside. The tackle wraps around the pin from the receiver and the ball is pitched out to Taylor.

Gap scheme

The Colts will also sprinkle in other gap scheme runs like power or counter. They brutalized the Bills on what was almost a double trap look where they’re kicking both the 1-technique and the 3-technique.

The 1-tech is kicked out by the guard, like a normal trap play. Usually people trap the 3-technique so that you have better angles on getting to the linebacker, but the Colts are accounting for that in a different way. The center is going directly for the linebacker, but that leaves a lot of space for the 3-technique to make a play. So, Indianapolis crunches their H-back to kick that guy out from the outside. That is a pretty unique angle and spot to get kicked from if you’re a defensive tackle.

Trap
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Trap

The 1-tech and 3-tech are both sealed inside with the center getting immediately up to the linebacker. That leaves Taylor with a one-on-one on a corner outside that’s coming in to fill.

Jonathan Taylor has a great feel for where the lane is going to open up and doesn’t panic with an unblocked 3-tech in his face. Taylor and the Colts gashed the Bills a number of times with this play.

Now add in that the Colts also run a good amount of split zone with the H coming across to get the defensive end, and the play looks awfully similar to all their zone-scheme runs. When it all looks similar, that makes it very difficult to defend.

Final thoughts

Taylor is playing great on an individual level. He’s routinely breaking arm tackles, has great patience and vision, and is one of the most versatile backs in the league. But the scheme upfront is also operating at a high level. Indy’s run blocking is getting better and better and the team is starting to find its identity with Wentz behind center. The Colts are making a strong push for the playoffs and the run game is only just getting started.

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