Pep Hamilton wasn’t just the best choice the Indianapolis Colts could make in a tough situation, he might prove to be the best offensive coordinator hire made this offseason.
The former Stanford coordinator comes highly recommended as one of football’s brightest young offensive minds.
When he coached quarterback Andrew Luck in 2011, the Cardinal set school records for points and total yards. But even after Luck left to lead the Colts to a surprising playoff berth this fall, Hamilton kept the offense humming along.
He did so despite changing starting quarterbacks midseason and tutoring freshman Kevin Hogan on the nuances of the college game. The experiment worked well enough that the Cardinal handed Oregon its only loss, won the Pac-12 title and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Hamilton’s offense likely will be a rather drastic change from the system Bruce Arians ran in Indy this year.
Arians, who left to take the reins as head coach for the Arizona Cardinals, strongly believes in the vertical passing game. The Colts led the league this season in average target downfield, with Luck’s throws routinely traveling more than 12 yards pass the line of scrimmage.
Arians deserves all the credit he receives for his 9-3 stint as Indianapolis’ interim head coach, and his tutoring of Luck was invaluable.
But just because Hamilton will bring in a new approach, there’s no reason for fans to panic.
Hamilton has a strong base in the “West Coast” offense. During a conference call with media on Saturday, he promised to bring more short, efficient passes into the gameplan.
That means Luck’s completion percentage and quarterback rating — the two numbers most likely to cost him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award — are almost certain to improve. Turnover totals also are likely to drop in Hamilton’s scheme.
But the big question is what impact will it have on the Colts’ chances of winning?
That’s a tougher call.
QB rating generally measures a passer’s efficiency, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
A quarterback who completes a lot of short passes and doesn’t turn the ball over but never gets his team in the end zone will have a higher rating than a QB with a low completion percentage, a turnover or two and one touchdown pass.
Luck overcame a low rating last year in part by being abnormally efficient in third-and-long situations.
He was inconsistent in the red zone but improved in that area as the season wore on.
No matter what system Luck runs, third-down efficiency and red-zone production will remain keys, and Hamilton is smart enough to tailor his scheme to the personnel on hand.
There’s no reason believe he won’t continue to use T.Y. Hilton as a deep threat, and Reggie Wayne could thrive in a possession-receiver type of role.
And this is the scheme that Luck and tight end Coby Fleener starred in at Stanford.
All in all, adding Pep was a nice step for the Colts.