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With a new QB and head coach, what are the expectations for Indianapolis Colts’ passing attack?

indianapolis colts

For the first time in the past six years, the Indianapolis Colts experienced a change at both the head coach and quarterback positions. So, it’s reasonable to ask what are the expectations for the team’s passing game next season, especially since both Anthony Richardson, the team’s first-round draft pick, and Shane Steichen are in their first year in Indianapolis.

At this point, it’s been well-documented what Richardson’s weaknesses are and what needs to be fixed. And so far, at the Colts rookie mini-camp, he is working on correcting those mistakes and getting in work with some of his new wide receivers. Meanwhile, Steichen, the former offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, is getting to implement his offense and see how much his rookies are able to handle. 

So far, everything coming out of the Indianapolis Colts is all positive. This is to be expected. But still, with all of this newness, what should Colts fans expect? Specifically, the passing offense. With a healthy Jonathan Taylor and better play from the offensive line, this running game should greatly improve.

Looking to the past to better predict the future

Soon after Richardson was drafted he was asked if he’d expect some “Jalen Hurts elements” in the Colts offense. His response was essentially yes and that he’ll be excited to run it. And to be fair, it’s a thought that many fans were thinking when it was announced in February that Steichen would be the team’s new head coach. That thinking only grew with the selection of Richardson.

So, if Hurts is the model what should reasonable expectations be for the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie quarterback? Here’s a look at Hurts’ career passing stats:

Cmp%YardsTDINTY/AY/CY/G
2020521,061647.213.870.7
202161.33,1441697.311.9209.6
202266.53,7012268.012.1246.7

Now, a look at his career rushing stats:

RushYardsTDY/AY/GYBC/AYACYAC/ABrkTkl
20203935435.623.64.5691.14
2021139784105.652.34.61421.09
2022165760134.650.73.81330.88

In fairness, Hurts’ first year in the NFL came with some locker-room turmoil and dysfunction. Regardless, it was clear that Hurts’ rushing ability from the quarterback position was going to be problematic for opposing defenses. But it wouldn’t be insurmountable as there have been mobile quarterbacks that set the league ablaze with their rushing ability. It’s their lack of passing ability that always holds back the offense.

Still, you could see that Hurts had some passing ability he just needed an offense that was better tailored to him and to have better wide receivers around him. Steichen was able to create an offense that was perfect at maximizing Hurts’ abilities, which in turn made the Philadelphia offense one of the most potent in the NFL.

It is fair to expect Richardson’s yards after contact (YAC/A) and broken tackles to be higher as he is bigger and more physically gifted than Hurts. This aspect of Richardson’s game is sure to help the offense overall. But moreover, it should also help the passing game of the Indianapolis Colts. 

Richardson will have better receivers

michael pittman jr.
Robert Scheer-USA TODAY Sports

Early on in this upcoming season defenses will commit an extra defender to stop the run. This should allow for better and easier passing plays for Richardson and the Colts to take advantage of. Now, one thing that will also benefit Richardson and should allow him to have a much better rookie season than Hurts is the wide receivers for the Indianapolis Colts.

Richardson will be throwing to Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce, Isaiah McKenzie, and Josh Downs. Whereas, in Hurts’ first year he was throwing to Travis Fulgham, Greg Ward, John Hightower, and Jalen Reagor. Downs will have the least NFL experience in the group of pass catchers for the Colts. But to date, it’s only the top two wide receivers that excel the most in Steichen’s offense.

TargetsReceptionsYardsTDs
2019Keenan Allen, Mike Williams2391532,2008
2020Keenan Allen, Mike Williams2321481,74813
2021Devonta Smith, Quez Watkins1661071,5636
2022Devonta Smith, A.J. Brown 2811832,69216

For comparison here’s how the Indianapolis Colts’ top two wide receivers did:

TargetsReceptionsYardsTDs
2022Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell2321621,5487
*Alec Pierce 78 targets, 41 receptions, 593 yards, 2 touchdowns

Now that Campbell is no longer with the Indianapolis Colts the expectation is that Pierce will take on more of the workload in the passing game. Last season he was used strictly as the offense’s deep threat. If he worked on expanding his route tree and getting better separation from the opposing defensive back then his second year could really blossom. But if it’s not to the level it needs to be in Steichen’s offense then he can still have a good season. 

Colts’ passing game predictions

anthony richardson
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

This brings us to the main point of what this year’s Colts passing offense will look like. Well, we can look at the wide receivers they have and draw some comparisons to some of Steichen’s past wide receivers. For example, Pittman compares somewhat similarly to A.J. Brown, and Pierce compares to Mike Williams. Then, of course, there is Richardson and his expectations.

So, in looking at the usage of Brown and Williams, we can better start to understand how Pittman and Pierce will be utilized in the Steichen offense. We’ll start first with Pierce. He’ll again be utilized as the field stretcher and the guy responsible for keeping at least one safety deep. Last season, he led the team on passes that traveled 30+ yards downfield with eight. Also, last season, he performed very well on all contested catches, and this should continue. 

Pittman’s game took a drastic turn last season as he was essentially turned into a possession receiver. While he did set a career-high in catches (99), he failed to crack 1,000 receiving yards. This is an incredible feat to accomplish. This season he will get some shots downfield, as last season he didn’t get a pass beyond 20 yards. He will also get some more slants and crossing routes where he can better utilize his size and speed. He won’t ever be confused for a YAC monster but he is certainly dangerous after the catch.

And what about the man who will be quarterbacking this new offense? Richardson has a lot of room for development. But it’s no secret he is arguably the most athletic quarterback in the NFL, and Steichen will take full advantage of Richardson’s athleticism. This offense will have bootlegs, rollouts, RPOs, deep passes, motion, and empty sets. Empty sets are the new trend. It will require Richardson to make quick reads and know where his “win now” receiver is. This is the guy who can essentially get open the quickest, not necessarily the best receiver. A good couple of candidates are McKenzie and Downs. 

It’s reasonable to expect Richardson to pass for at least 2,500 yards, 18 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, and rush for at least 700 yards and an additional 10 touchdowns. Subsequently, Pittman can achieve his second 1,000-yard season and six touchdowns. And Pierce will also have a better second season with at least 700 yards receiving and five touchdowns. This first season will not be anything resembling Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck’s days. But it will be new, explosive, exciting, and fun to watch.

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