Colts coach Frank Reich doesn't commit to Carson Wentz as 2022 starting quarterback

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts have a decision to make at the quarterback position for the fifth consecutive offseason.

Carson Wentz, the starter Indianapolis traded two draft picks to get in order to stabilize a position that has had a different starter every season of Frank Reich’s four seasons as head coach, struggled in the second half of the season, a tumble that ultimately ended with ugly performances in the two chances the Colts had to clinch a playoff berth.

Asked directly whether Wentz would be the team’s starting quarterback again in 2022, Reich declined to set it in stone in his postseason news conference on Monday, one day after Wentz committed two back-breaking turnovers in a shocking loss to lowly Jacksonville.

“We loved the team we had this year, we knew everyone we brought in this year, we expected to play winning football,” Reich said instead. “Next year’s roster will be next year’s roster. I don’t want to open it up about one player and then start talking about all of them.”

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) looks for an open receiver during the second quarter of the game on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) looks for an open receiver during the second quarter of the game on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Colts head coach has admittedly deferred comment on individual players immediately after the end of the season before, part of a desire to thoroughly deconstruct the season before making any sweeping judgements.

But he has also answered that question differently.

When Indianapolis was knocked out of the playoffs in Buffalo a year ago, Reich was asked the same question about former Colts quarterback Philip Rivers.

“As I sit here right now, yes, I want Philip Rivers to be my starting quarterback next year,” Reich said at the time before saying general manager Chris Ballard and owner Jim Irsay would be part of that decision-making process. “What I’m really proud of, for Philip, is that he earned the right to be in that discussion.”

With Wentz at the helm, the Indianapolis passing game took a significant step back in 2021.

The Colts finished 19th in the NFL in yards per attempt, 26th in yards overall, and Wentz finished 13th in passer rating after throwing for 3,563 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Rivers, who tossed 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2020, was also 13th in passer rating, but the Colts passing game was far more efficient, finishing ninth in yards per attempt and 11th in overall yardage.

Making matters worse, the 2021 version of the Indianapolis passing game cratered at the same time that running back Jonathan Taylor emerged as one of the NFL’s best players, a development that should have made it easier to throw the ball. Indianapolis averaged just 6.3 yards per attempt in the second half of the season.

Reich has been careful not to lay all of the blame at Wentz’s feet, the same tactic he chose when the Colts passing game went through a similar regression in 2019 with Jacoby Brissett at the helm.

“We got so run-centric there for a number of weeks that I just think it became hard to find the rhythm in the pass game that we wanted, whatever that reason was,” Reich said Monday. “Again, I’m not going to point fingers at what I think that was, because I’ve got to sit down and look at it.”

But in both seasons, it was clear that the run-dominant team the Colts became was a flawed approach, and the passing game wasn’t able to take advantage of teams stacking the box to take advantage.

Taylor led the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 1,811 yards, but when teams made it harder for him to get his customary 100 yards in December and January, Wentz too often failed to take advantage.

“We were adapting, what does life look like in this offense when you’ve got an MVP candidate as your tailback, as your running back, and he’s doing what he’s doing,” Reich said. “The plan is never to be a run-only, power-run football team. The plan is to be dynamic in both the run and the pass.”

Reich did not commit to Wentz as the starter in 2022.

He also did not commit to making a move at the position. Now that the season is over, the Colts will embark on an evaluation of the season that will take weeks, then set their priorities for the offseason.

“We’ll take it piece by piece,” Reich said. “We’ll evaluate (Wentz's) play. We’ll evaluate how we’re coaching him, how I’m coaching him, with each position in the pass game. Take it apart piece by piece, and then put it back together.”

Indianapolis traded for Wentz in part because of his history with Reich in Philadelphia, believing the Colts coach could help Wentz eliminate some of the habits that caused him to crash and burn with the Eagles in 2020.

“I have an affinity for a lot of our players,” Reich said. “I do feel a deep connection with Carson, and I do check myself on that kind of stuff all the time, with Chris (Ballard). … He’s not going to sugarcoat anything. And I can say honestly, I’ve probably been more critical and coached him harder this year than I did in the first two years I was with him in Philadelphia.”

For most of the season, Wentz limited turnovers and sacks, but as the passing game struggled to get into a rhythm, the Colts quarterback flirted with disaster more often, ultimately culminating in two turnovers and six sacks taken in Jacksonville on Sunday against one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

And although Indianapolis hasn’t begun its deep cleaning of the offense yet, Reich knows that the offense did not perform the way it’s designed to perform. When Reich has the right pieces in place at quarterback, the Colts offense is designed to be multiple, attacking defenses both on the ground and through the air so it’s impossible to stop the offense by taking away any one element.

Too many times in the second half of the season, all defenses had to do was slow Taylor down.

“We’ve got to be better in the passing game,” Reich said. “It was definitely below our standards, and there’s multiple reasons for that. We have to take ownership of that as coaches and players.”

And they might have to make hard decisions because of it.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts: Frank Reich doesn't commit to Carson Wentz as 2022 starting QB

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