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Four things Jeff Saturday did right in his Colts coaching debut, from starting Matt Ryan to feeding Jonathan Taylor

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When the Colts decided to hire Jeff Saturday as their interim head coach before Week 10, the move was met with scrutiny.

Saturday had never coached at the NFL level before accepting the job. Sure, he had played 14 years in the NFL and spent 13 seasons with the Colts, but his highest level of coaching experience was at the high school level. What could be expected of such an unproven candidate?

Despite the questions about his qualifications, Saturday performed admirably in his NFL coaching debut. He led the Colts to a 25-20 victory over the Raiders and had the team looking good despite the roller-coaster week it had endured.

Saturday did things a lot differently than former coach Frank Reich, and that played a part in Indianapolis’ victory. Here’s a breakdown of what Saturday did well in his first experience as the leader on the Colts’ sideline.

MORE: Why the Colts hired Jeff Saturday as interim coach, explained

How Jeff Saturday won his coaching debut with the Colts

Saturday made a lot of good choices during his NFL coaching debut, but four of them stood out as game-changing decisions that led the Colts to victory.

Starting Matt Ryan

One of the first key decisions was a surprise. Initially, it was expected that the rookie coach would continue starting Sam Ehlinger, who had supplanted Ryan as the starter in Week 8 after the veteran’s slow start to the season.

Instead, Saturday reversed course. He didn’t say anything about starting Ryan, but he sent the 37-year-old out against the Raiders.

The decision proved to be a smart one. Ryan was more poised than Ehlinger and looked comfortable working in an improved pocket. As a result, Ryan turned in arguably his best performance of the season.

He was efficient with his throwing, completing 21 of 28 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown. He also scrambled for 38 yards and a touchdown, including a 39-yard run on the team’s game-winning drive.

More importantly, Ryan avoided turnovers and was sacked just once after struggling in those areas prior to being benched.

Ryan’s veteran presence proved key in a tumultuous week. The Colts kept it close against the Raiders, and that helped Ryan lead his fifth fourth-quarter comeback in eight starts.

Feeding Jonathan Taylor

Ryan wasn’t the only one to benefit from Saturday’s presence. Taylor got a lot more work in his return from an ankle injury that sidelined him in Week 9.

Taylor was given 22 carries against the Raiders, his most in a game since he had 31 in Week 1 against the Texans. He looked fresh as he romped for 147 yards on the ground, also his second-most of the season.

Saturday and new offensive play-caller Parks Frazier made it a point to get Taylor involved early and often. That allowed him to average a season-high 6.7 yards per carry, which was helped up by a 66-yard touchdown run.

The Colts’ ground game returning to form took a lot of pressure off Ryan and the passing game. Indy was able to avoid third-and-long scenarios and keep things simple in the passing game.

Overall, the offense was simpler and better balanced because Saturday looked to establish Taylor on the ground.

MORE: Who is Parks Frazier? Meet Jeff Saturday’s new play-caller

Starting Will Fries on the offensive line

One of the reasons Taylor had one of his best games of the season was that his offensive line performed better. One of the keys to that was a switch at right guard.

Will Fries was installed at right guard. It was just his second start of the season, but it marked a second consecutive week of him playing more snaps that the ineffective Matt Pryor.

Pryor, who began the season as the team’s starting left tackle, has graded as one of the worst linemen in pro football this season. He ranks 77th among 78 qualified offensive tackles, per Pro Football Focus. He had allowed 30 pressures and six sacks and committed five penalties in Indianapolis’ first nine games.

Saturday and his staff evidently thought Fries gave them a better chance to compete against the Raiders. Their call proved right. Ryan took a season-low one sack while Taylor averaged a season-high 6.7 yards per attempt.

MORE: Bill Cowher delivers impassioned rant after Colts hired Jeff Saturday

Keeping it simple and trusting the defense

Aside from Saturday’s personnel changes, one thing stood out about the Colts’ game plan.

It was simple. Even team owner Jim Irsay noted that after the game. Irsay also said that Saturday had done a great job delegating responsibility to his staff.

Indeed, Saturday seemed to avoid the pitfalls that plagued Reich this season. The team was organized. It committed just one turnover. The offense was efficient and avoided momentum-killing mistakes.

Perhaps most glaring was the fact the Colts didn’t attempt to convert a fourth down in the game. Reich had done so nine times in nine games this season, with the team converting just two of them.

Saturday and Frazier were quite happy to settle for kicks — whether they were punts or field goals — on fourth down. When they had to punt, they trusted that veteran defensive staffers Gus Bradley and John Fox would have the defense ready to perform at a high level.

They did, and that’s part of why the Colts outgained the Raiders 415-309.

Saturday’s debut was certainly a strong one, but the Raiders have been among the worst teams in the NFL this season. He will face a much tougher test when the Colts host the Eagles in Week 11.


Credit: sportingnews.com

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