During the Indianapolis Colts' season-opening win over the Oakland Raiders, the Colts suffered the loss of TE Dwayne Allen. It wasn't a particularly notable play, in fact, Allen went on to play the rest of the third quarter, but it would prove costly.
Allen would go on the injured reserve list a few weeks later, and the Colts were left without one of their brightest young offensive players. The role dramatically altered how the Colts' offensive philosophy would evolve throughout the season. Allen, a sound blocker in both passing and running situations, was a versatile piece that Pep Hamilton's scheme would have been dependent on.
Without Allen, the scheme would have to change. While it took longer than most fans would have wished, change it did.
But with Allen returning in 2014, reportedly as healthy as ever, the Colts have another weapon in their arsenal, a weapon that will impact how the other weapons are used. What can we expect from the Colts' offense with Allen returning, especially fellow tight end Coby Fleener?
That's the question I asked myself as I went to the tape.
The Passing Game
The only real look we got at Fleener and Allen together was the Week 1 game against Oakland. Sure, the two played the entire 2012 season together, but that was in a radically different scheme under Bruce Arians.
So I went back and tracked Dwayne Allen's use in the passing game against the Raiders and compared it to that of Coby Fleener.
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Kyle J. Rodriguez
It's clear that the Colts valued Fleener's versatility in a unique way. Allen was pretty much relegated to the line as a tight end, while Fleener rarely lined up in the same spot on consecutive passing downs. Fleener is faster than Allen, making him more of a threat when lined up wide, so it's no surprise that the Colts would use him in this manner.
The route difference between the two is stark as well. Allen ran intermediate routes all game long, while Fleener ran a decent amount of deep patterns mixed among very short routes designed to take advantage of Fleener's speed after the catch.
Now, let's take a look at how Fleener was used in a game without Allen, the Colts' Week 15 win over Houston.
Kyle J. Rodriguez
A few things stick out to me:
- It's just one half, but Fleener really wasn't asked to run as many deep routes with Allen gone, instead sticking to more short and intermediate routes. It makes sense, considering the Colts' wide receivers as well. With Reggie Wayne injured, the Colts' wide receivers were more suited as deep threats than as intermediate possession receivers. So, Fleener had to fill that role. With Wayne and Allen returning and Hakeem Nicks coming into the fold, one would expect to see more deep routes from Fleener in 2014.
- Fleener continued to be used in a plethora of positions with Allen out, so that isn't a transition the Colts will have to make in 2014. Expect to keep seeing Fleener in the slot or out wide nearly as much as on the line.
When the two were both healthy, Fleener was the hurry-up option. The Colts didn't want to lower their overall explosiveness by having two tight ends on the field, and Fleener's speed meant he was the one running routes in the hurry up.
Don't mistake that for Allen being a lesser weapon, however. Allen is a very good possession target, and his ability to high-point the ball and absorb contact makes him an excellent red-zone threat, something the Colts lacked last season.
While both of the tight ends were used as blockers and in the passing game, Allen was definitely the designated blocker of the two. If the two tight ends weren't both doing the same thing on a passing down, then it was always Allen who stayed in to block while Fleener left the pocket.
That may, however, change a bit in 2014, according to Chuck Pagno, who spoke to the media at the owner's meetings on March 25.
Everybody looks at Coby as a pass receiver. But if you look him, he worked on it and got better at blocking. We’re going to ask him to do some of the heavy lifting. Having both those guys in the lineup and having them healthy gives us a lot of flexibility there.
To some extent, Pagano is right about Fleener's blocking improving. Fleener went from staying in on pass protection just 22 times in his rookie season to 59 times in 2014, just under four times a game. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he only allowed one quarterback pressure, the best rate among tight ends in the league. Fleener still struggled quite a bit in run blocking, but his ability to pass protect should give the Colts more versatility.
The real effect, however, should be in the Colts' power-running sets. Against the Raiders, the Colts routinely pulled out two-TE sets and sets with extra offensive linemen. The use of the power sets continued all year, but after Allen's injury, their usage slowly decreased.
Against the Raiders, imbalanced sets like the following were very common, and the Colts both ran and passed out of those formations.
While some may disagree with the Colts' run-heavy philosophy, it should be much more effective with Allen in the mix. Against the Raiders, the Colts ran for 127 yards and nearly five yards per carry. While nobody can guarantee those type of numbers in every 2014 game, Allen's return should be accompanied by a heavier use of power sets once again.
It's All About Flexibility
In the end, Pagano and his coaching staff want flexibility. On defense it's the desire to use interchangeable safeties so they can disguise their coverage, or using athletic linebackers to pass rush as well as drop back into coverage. On offense it means being able to line up in 20 different ways in one half and to be able to both run and pass out of every one of those sets.
The Colts want to be unpredictable.
While the merits and/or effectiveness of those strategies can be debated, the evidence all points to that being the Colts' strategy. If it is, then Dwayne Allen will make it better, and that is a good thing for Indianapolis.