Indianapolis Colts: Shotgun Wedding

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Indianapolis Colts: Shotgun Wedding
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Indianapolis Colts’ first-round draft pick Donald Brown has been impressive so far in the preseason, but incumbent Joseph Addai is still going to be the starter at running back. 

Both players are talented, and both players offer different advantages when they are on the field. But is there a possibility of the Colts using a formation that unites the two of them on the field?

The Colts are generally a single-back offense, and only use a fullback in goal-line situations. But they do use a two-back shotgun formation frequently on obvious passing downs and hurry-up situations. 

Last season, tight end Dallas Clark moved into the backfield anytime the Colts used this formation, and whatever the running back was in the game at the time (Joseph Addai or Dominic Rhodes) lined up on the opposite side of quarterback Peyton Manning

This allowed the Colts to have all of their best receiving options in the game at once instead of replacing Clark with a running back. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Anthony Gonzalez lined up as wide receivers, and the two players in the backfield could be used either to block or to run routes.

This year, with Marvin Harrison gone, the best receiving options for this formation may very well involve Dallas Clark remaining in his usual slot position and both Addai and Donald Brown lining up in the backfield.

Brown is an outstanding pass-catcher out of the backfield, but he has yet to be truly tested in pass-protection.  If he can prove to be an adequate blocker against the elite defensive ends and linebackers of the NFL, this formation could become a deadly weapon in the Colts’ arsenal.

I asked John Oehser of IndyFootballReport.com if this was a viable option for the Colts this year:

“The Colts rarely have used two backs in the same formation in the last decade, although considering Brown and Addai each are capable receivers and runners, you could certainly see how they would be more inclined to try something along these lines this year,” John said. 

“This is without question the most-talented tandem of backs the Colts have had—and considering their versatility, using them both in the same backfield could be an option.”

John makes an excellent point; the Colts could have used Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes in this formation in the past but they have not. Rhodes is an excellent receiver and an adequate blocker as well, but using him and Addai in this formation would have required the Colts to take either Gonzalez or Clark out. 

Since Gonzalez and Clark are more natural pass-catchers, it would be hard for the Colts to have justified using two running backs instead.

The use of two backs this season is much more likely, as it is the only formation that would utilize all of the Colts’ first-round draft picks at the skill positions.

This formation would be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.  The Colts love to use Dallas Clark in the slot because he is difficult for linebackers to cover, but he is also a tough matchup for defensive backs because of his size.  With two dynamic running backs in the backfield as well, defenses will have a hard time picking their poison when choosing a coverage scheme.

Nickel or dime defenses would have difficulty making tackles on screen-passes, check-down passes to either running back, or draw plays because of the blocking mismatches. Base defenses will be hard-pressed to cover Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, and Anthony Gonzalez down the field. This formation could be particularly useful against 3-4 schemes, which the Colts have struggled against in the past.

Addai and Brown have not been used together as of yet in the preseason, and John Oehser also pointed out that reporting on practice details such as formations is prohibited by the Colts’ media guidelines. All the better; perhaps the Colts will save this trick for a critical game or a playoff contest.

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