With Bruce Arians leaving to take the head coaching position for the Arizona Cardinals the Colts have brought in Stanford offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, to fill the open OC spot. Obviously, Hamilton comes in bringing past experience running his own version of a West Coast style offense that he ran with Andrew Luck during his time at Stanford. While Hamilton’s style is most certainly a very different philosophy from that of Arians, it will be a familiar one for Luck.
The signature offensive style of Bruce Arians tends to involve a focus on downfield passes and pass plays that typically require more time for routes to develop. The practical upside, obviously, is big plays. Indianapolis finished the 2012 season ranked 3rd in the NFL in passing plays of over 20 yards and 5th in passing plays of over 40 yards. The Colts were typically pass heavy in 2012, and this resulted from a combination of offensive approach and from limitations of the offensive line in run blocking. For the season they attempted 628 passes for 4,128 yards, tallied 23 passing touchdowns, and averaged 258 passing yards per game. On the flipside, the Colts rushed 440 times for 1,671 yards and 11 touchdowns with an average of 3.8 yards per carry. The split was just under a 60/40 between pass and run. This style has some boom or bust potential, and one significant downside is that it puts a great deal of pressure on the offensive line to hold blocks long enough for plays to develop in the passing game. Andrew Luck was hit the 2nd most times of all quarterbacks in 2012 (116 QB hits), and was sacked 41 times (#9 in NFL).
This pressure on the offensive line in the pass game and potential to give up sacks and QB hits is simply part of the Arians style. During his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers as offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2011 the team was in the top 10 in sacks allowed every year. That’s not to say the philosophy is unsound, but it does have a certain personnel requirement with the offensive line. A team with a very strong O-Line that excels at pass protection could really make the Arians style shine. As we saw in 2012, the Colts did not have the offensive line to make the most of this scheme. Despite the great successes the team saw, Andrew Luck was one of the most terrorized quarterbacks in the league. He was under constant pressure behind an O-Line that couldn’t give him the time needed in the passing game more often than not. Fortunately, savvy decision making and great athleticism on Luck’s part kept them alive amidst these struggles all season.
Enter Pep Hamilton. He served as the offensive coordinator at Stanford in 2011 and 2012, and was the OC during Andrew Luck’s final season with the team. He was also Luck’s QB coach in 2010. This obviously means there will be familiarity between the OC and his young QB as the Colts move forward with a new offensive style. In many ways, he is stylistically the anti-Arians. Hamilton runs his own flavor of the the West Coast Offense. Stylistically, he seems to fit better in the Chuck Pagano mindset of physical football that finds stout defense and a solid run game at its core. His philosophy focuses on short to intermediate passes predominantly and a heavy emphasis on the running game. During his time at Stanford the split between offensive pass and run plays was decidedly biased toward the run. In 2011 (Andrew Luck’s final season at Stanford) the team ran the ball 55% of the time (518 run plays to 417 pass plays). After their star QB left, the team focused even more on the run in 2012 as they ran 549 run plays and only 399 pass plays. Hamilton had the following to say after taking the OC position going into Stanford’s 2011 season with Luck at quarterback.
We need to continue to control the line of scrimmage. Every good quarterback I’ve ever been around has excelled because they have made the other team defend both the pass and run. We are still a run-first team. Consider the fact we possibly have the best player in college football on our team and at the end of the day, we need to create conflict for opponents by controlling the line of scrimmage and running downhill at people. … It’s like a heavyweight fight. We want to methodically wear you down.
The sentiment above jives very well with the kind of physical football that head coach Chuck Pagano wants to see. This will mark a stylistic change in offensive mindset that is rare in Indianapolis. Through all of the years with Peyton Manning and one season with Andrew Luck the team has been heavily focused on the passing game. The introduction of Pagano’s philosophy and now a West Coast style offensive coordinator could mean an interesting shift in the offenses we see from the Colts. There are a number of offseason personnel issues the team will now have to deal with in order to fill out a roster that can fit the new mold. First and foremost, the offensive line needs to be able to pass protect and run block much more effectively. Personnel decisions on the O-Line will likely be a large part of the offseason. With the new offensive style the team will want to make sure they are ready to fire up a more aggressive running game, so that is going to mean reevaluating current players and picking up new ones. Pagano and GM, Ryan Grigson, were piling on the praise for running back Vick Ballard in the latter half of the season, stating they liked him as a power back that “gets better with each carry.” That could mean a huge role for Ballard in 2013. Obviously, there are personnel issues on the defensive side of the ball as well since Pagano is also continuing to transition to a 3-4 scheme. It will be an interesting offseason for the Colts, and in 2013 we are very likely going to see a very different team.