Frank Reich's 'funky' playcalling gives Colts players confidence

INDIANAPOLIS -- Words such as "confidence," "trust" and "belief" exude from the mouths of players when talking about Colts head coach Frank Reich.

The team has spent the past month attempting to overcome Andrew Luck’s unexpected retirement and Adam Vinatieri’s kicking problems, but this isn't simply players defending their coach.

The proof has been there all along.

Take Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, for example. Zach Pascal’s role in the offense the first two weeks of the season consisted of playing on special teams and as a blocking receiver.

Not only was Pascal an important part of the offense against the Falcons, he arguably had two of the biggest catches of the game. One was a touchdown after the Falcons bit on a fake from quarterback Jacoby Brissett on a screen pass to running back Nyheim Hines.

The other set up a touchdown for the Colts.

Pascal started in motion, and Brissett faked a handoff to running back Marlon Mack, which caused Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver to freeze and allow Pascal to get behind him for a wide-open 35-yard reception to the Falcons’ 4-yard line. The Colts scored on the next play to take a 27-17 lead and slow down Atlanta’s momentum in the fourth quarter.

Pascal, up to that point, hadn't been targeted on a pass this season.

“For coach to call those plays, that is definitely trust,” said Pascal, who was undrafted in 2017 and signed with the Colts a year later. “Every week since OTAs, there’s been that trust. The same trust they had in Andrew is the same trust they have in Jacoby. It’s the same trust they have in his team. That’s why I love our team. Everybody trusts one another.”

Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni don’t look at the offense as starring Mack, Hilton and tight end Eric Ebron. It’s more of a playbook with nameless and numberless players. Reich and Sirianni don’t care who is playing that position. It's about confidence in the players and the play that's called.

“I love it,” Ebron said. “[Reich] is funky. He always has a wrinkle, always has that one play. You never question it. You just go with it and trust Frank. ... You just have to always be ready in this offense. Like Zach, he made those big plays. Look who the hero is. And when your moment and number are called, you produce.”

Reich’s mindset, according to his players, is that he’s not going to completely alter his offensive system based on the defense. He believes he has enough plays and players to be the one to force the defense to adapt to them.

In the first two weeks of the season, it was about run, run and run some more for the Colts. They did it so much that they went into Sunday’s game as the NFL’s No. 2 ranked rushing team and the league’s worst passing team.

“Running the ball is great, especially as an O-line group, but we knew we also had to be able to pass the ball,” center Ryan Kelly said. “It’s about complementary football.”

Complementary football is what the Colts provided Sunday. By the time they walked off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium with a 27-24 victory over the Falcons, Brissett completed his first 16 passes and threw for 310 yards to send the message that they’re not just a running team, but a team capable of doing whatever is necessary to win the game. Nine players caught passes from Brissett.

“This is as great as he played,” Reich said. “I mean, we’ll tell him this is one great game. This is the standard. Not that you can play this great every week, but this is what we expect and he’s delivering.”

Reich is confident, not cocky. He's also ultra competitive. That's why he didn't flinch when Hilton was lost for the second half to a quad injury. He found other ways to keep the Falcons from coming back to win. One thing that Reich stewed on after the previous week was how they weren't able to close out their Week 2 victory over Tennessee with the ball.

The opportunity was there again Sunday, and Reich wasn't going to have them fail at that for the second straight week.

The Colts got the ball back with 4 minutes and 11 seconds left in the game and a three-point lead. The goal was to ensure the Falcons didn't get the ball back unless they were losing by at least nine points.

Reich dialed up the right play when the Colts were in a third-and-4 situation at Atlanta's 27-yard line with less than two minutes remaining.

A run could have killed more clock, and if they didn't make the first down, Vinatieri could have attempted his sixth kick of the game, which could have extended their lead to six but given the ball back to the Falcons.

But Reich didn't do that. He called a play-action pass in which Brissett bootlegged to his right after faking the handoff to Mack and found an open Jack Doyle, who picked up the first down and slid to the ground to seal the victory.

"What I love about Frank is his confidence," Doyle said. "The game is so up and down and emotional. You never see him ride that wave. You look at him and you know Frank has us. I love that about him. Makes it fun to play for him."

Reich likely would have been questioned if it were an incomplete pass. He would have been fine with taking the blame. But at the same time, he had confidence in the play call, Brissett making a good throw and Doyle making the catch.

Trust. Belief. Confidence. All in one moment.

“We come to play,” Hilton said. “It’s going to be hard to beat us. You sleep on us, that’s your problem. [Reich] sets things up during the game. And then once we need a play, he goes back to it. He’s doing a great job calling the plays.”