So what does “Chud” do now with the Indianapolis Colts’ offense?
The same strategy that worked in associate head coach Rob Chudzinski’s game plan for Sunday’s 27-24 home win over Denver.
The biggest difference is 40-year-old backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck doesn’t run like Andrew Luck, which might not be such a negative considering Luck suffered a lacerated kidney and partial tear of an abdominal muscle on a scramble.
Against the Broncos’ No. 1-ranked defense, Chudzinski committed to using multiple tight ends. At least two — a combination of Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener or Jack Doyle — lined up for 57 of the Colts’ 77 plays. They used three tight ends on 13 plays, and two tight ends with an extra offensive lineman for five plays.
On seven plays with only one tight end, running back Ahmad Bradshaw blocked. And he’s physical. He took out several Broncos defenders.
Luck still took 11 hits, but was sacked only once and didn’t have a turnover. Many of the throws were quick strikes to negate the Broncos’ blitz. He found T.Y. Hilton, Griff Whalen, Donte Moncrief, Fleener, Doyle and Bradshaw for big plays without needing to hang in the pocket. Targets got open fast. Bradshaw and Doyle both had touchdown catches on short third-down throws that required little time. Whalen converted three third downs with second-half receptions.
Not only did stronger protection schemes allow Luck to make plays, they opened running lanes for Frank Gore, who had 83 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown. Even when the Broncos loaded up the box in the second half and the ground gains were smaller, the Colts stayed committed to the run. That hasn’t happened all season.
As a result, the Colts monopolized time of possession. They had the ball for 38 minutes, 39 seconds to the Broncos’ 21:21. The Colts ran 26 more plays. This is what opponents always strived to do when Peyton Manning was with the Colts. Minimize how much he has the ball.
In his two triumphant starts in Weeks 4 and 5, Hasselbeck got rid of the ball more quickly than Luck. So sticking with many of the same sets and executing similar play calls won’t require any extra studying from the 17th-year pro.
After a bye, the Colts (4-5) visit the Atlanta Falcons (6-3), who will undoubtedly study the film and plan accordingly. They’ll watch what worked for Hasselbeck against Jacksonville and Houston, but probably pay more attention to the Broncos game to identify Chudzinski’s tendencies.
Expect Atlanta to load up the defensive box early to neutralize Gore. The Broncos didn’t succeed enough with the blitz, but the Falcons are sure to bring extra defenders, especially if Hasselbeck gets in disadvantageous down-and-distance situations.
A word of warning about everyone thinking Hasselbeck was better than Luck. Hasselbeck was playing against two AFC South Division teams which now have a combined record of 5-11. And in those two wins, he converted 10-of-26 third downs (38.5 percent). Luck converted 12-of-20 third downs against the NFL’s No. 1 defense.
The Colts rank 12th in third-down conversions at 42 percent. It’s imperative Hasselbeck keeps drives going with a decent third-down conversion percentage.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.