Indianapolis Colts  

 

Caldwell puts trust in Christensen to keep Colts offense clicking

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

At least that is what Colts coach Jim Caldwell is hoping after officially turning his offense over to Clyde Christensen.

Indianapolis' new offensive coordinator got a promotion from his post as wide receivers coach this offseason and will become the first play-caller other than Tom Moore to direct the team's offense during Peyton Manning's career.

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In taking over for Moore, Christensen steps in for a creative mastermind who transformed the Colts into one of the NFL's most prolific attacks since joining the team in 1998. Indy's offense has topped 5,000 yards in 12 straight seasons -- and more than 6,000 yards three times in that span -- and has scored 400 or more points in nine of the past 11 years.

It's no surprise, then, that behind this seemingly unstoppable offense the Colts have reeled off at least 12 wins in seven straight seasons and captured the AFC South title in six of those seven years -- not to mention a Super Bowl XLI championship.

The biggest question surrounding the team heading into 2010 is whether Christensen can keep the offense operating at such a sensational pace.

Christensen, who acted as a quasi-coordinator for the Colts last season, inherits an offensive system that has befuddled defenses despite its simplicity. Under Moore, the Colts used a one-back offense with open formations that featured double tight ends or three receivers. Moore rarely incorporated the fullback into the offense, and his preference for using the pass to set up the run forced opponents to defend the Colts in a different manner.

With Christensen taking over, the Colts' offense will undoubtedly undergo some subtle changes. While Manning calls most of the game at the line of scrimmage, the personality of the play caller is reflected in the game plan, and the design or flow of the offense will have Christensen's imprint all over it.

The 15-year NFL coaching veteran has been chiefly responsible for the development of the Colts' receivers, and that knowledge will be an invaluable resource when crafting the team's passing game. Christensen's keen insight of the strengths and weaknesses of his receiving corps will allow him to put Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Dallas Clark in positions to make plays.

While Christensen's relationship with his receivers will help him maneuver the chess pieces around the board, his rapport with Manning is what will key the Colts' offensive transformation in 2010.

The uniqueness of the Colts' offense makes the communication between play-caller and quarterback imperative. Unlike most offenses that rely on the play calling from a coordinator positioned on the sideline or in the coaching booth, the Colts put the onus on Manning to call plays from the line of scrimmage. The 10-time Pro Bowler approaches each down with a handful of plays to choose from based on the situation (down-and-distance, time and score) and the opponent's tendencies. He quickly surveys the defense to decipher the front and coverage and makes the appropriate call to take advantage of any weakness.

Though most veteran quarterbacks enjoy that kind of freedom at the line of scrimmage, the Colts' extensive use of the no-huddle gives Manning full control. Therefore, it is essential that Christensen and Manning view the game the same for the offense to thrive.

In looking at the Colts' offseason moves, it is apparent that Christensen envisions a more balanced offense in 2010.

Although the Colts have routinely fielded one of the league's most explosive aerial attacks, their running game has been a major disappointment the past two seasons. The Colts averaged a league-worst 80.9 rushing yards a game last year, and that comes on the heels of the team ranking 31st in the league in 2008.

Given their problems on the ground, many have pointed to the disappointing production of Joseph Addai as a critical factor. The fifth-year pro has only one 100-yard game in his last 27 starts and has failed to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in each of the past two seasons after tallying back-to-back 1000-yard campaigns to start his career.

While it could be argued that Addai hasn't been given enough carries to find his way in the running game (Addai has averaged only 13.8 carries per game the past two seasons), the lack of production on the ground has forced the Colts to rely on a one-dimensional attack. Though the lack of balance didn't prevent the Colts from lighting up scoreboards (Indianapolis finished seventh in scoring offense with an average of 26.0 points per game), the one-dimensional approach makes it tough to win tight games when the running game is essential to grinding out the clock.

Even if some of the running game's problems can be effectively tagged to the Colts' runners, the offensive line shoulders the brunt of the blame.

With so much responsibility falling to the offensive line, Christensen's success is tied directly to the development of the unit in 2010.

Led by new offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars, the Colts are undergoing a major makeover along the line. The former NFL tight end steps in to replace Howard Mudd as the team's offensive line coach, and Metzelaars inherits a unit that will be drastically different in the fall. Although four-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday returns to anchor the unit, he will play alongside a pair of new guards this year. The Colts jettisoned Ryan Lilja during the offseason and signed free agents Andy Alleman and Adam Terry. The team also added guard Jacques McClendon in the April draft. With more size along the interior, the Colts are hoping Addai and others find more running room between the tackles.

If the Colts can add more balance to their offensive attack, Manning will have more opportunities to push the ball down the field off play-action.

Given the fact Manning tossed 33 touchdown passes without a solid ground attack last season, Manning could post significant numbers with an improved running game that warrants some eight-man fronts (with one-on-one coverage) from opponents.

Caldwell has proven that change can be good in Indy by leading the Colts to a Super Bowl appearance in his first season on the job. With the offensive makeover on the horizon, Colts' fans can only hope that Caldwell's changes produce an encore performance in the fall.

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