Oct 172013
 

peyton-manning-getty

We’ve changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one [Super Bowl ring].

So, Jim Irsay decided to diss the man who built his fancy new stadium in Indianapolis. That’s fine. It’s his prerogative to be a complete moron — and to flash that idiocy for the world to see.

Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three.

I’m not about to get into the “who is the best QB of this generation” argument. Not now, anyway. But if there’s one thing that pisses me off in football analysis more than anything else, it’s the equation of championships with individual greatness. If Super Bowl rings made quarterbacks great, then Trent Dilfer would be a better QB than Dan Marino, Mark Rypien would be superior to Warren Moon, and Jeff Hostetler would rank above Fran Tarkenton.

You make the playoffs 11 times, and you’re out in the first round seven out of 11 times.

Well, gosh, Jim. I suppose there’s no other reason that happened other than Peyton Manning not being the Bestest Quarterback He Could Be. It couldn’t be the team (and its owner) emphasized “Star Wars” offensive numbers and failed to recognize that, even in this pass-happy environment, you need a defense to win championships, could it?

Here’s a quick look at those eleven Colts playoff teams:

Year Record PF PA Pyth% Result SB Pyth%
1999 13-3 423 333 63.8 Lost Divisional 86.3
2000 10-6 429 326 65.7 Lost Wild Card 84.0
2002 10-6 349 313 56.4 Lost Wild Card 79.4
2003 12-4 447 336 66.3 Lost Conference 71.1
2004 12-4 522 351 71.9 Lost Divisional 77.4
2005 14-2 439 247 79.6 Lost Divisional 72.6
2006 12-4 427 360 60.0 Won Super Bowl 60.0
2007 13-3 450 262 78.3 Lost Divisional 53.6
2008 12-4 377 298 63.6 Lost Wild Card 74.0
2009 14-2 416 307 67.3 Lost Super Bowl 72.2
2010 10-6 435 388 56.7 Lost Wild Card 75.7

 

Notice anything? I’ll give you a hint: those Indianapolis teams weren’t “great”. They averaged a Pythagorean Expectation (PE) of 66.3% — somewhere between 10-6 and 11-5. Better than most, but not consistently championship-worthy. Don’t believe me? Look at that last column, showing the PE of the eventual NFL Champion. Only twice did the Colts’ PE exceed that of the Super Bowl winner: in 2005, when the Colts had a slight 7% edge on Pittsburgh, and in 2007, when New York stunnned the Patriots (whose PE was a whopping 85.6%).

Looking more closely, we can see why the Colts weren’t as good as the Super Bowl winners. In the ten seasons they failed to win it all, the Colts scored an average of 429 points (7% more than the champions), while giving up an average of 316 points (26% more than the champions). The Colts outscored the champions in 8 out of those 10 years, but gave up more points than the champions in 7 of those 10 years (again, that includes 2007, when the Giants won the Super Bowl despite giving up 351 points).

In other words, those Manning-led offenses were more than good enough to compete for multiple Super Bowl rings — it was the defenses that weren’t up to the task. To overcome the defensive deficiency and achieve the same PE as the Super Bowl champions, the Colts would have needed to score an average of 76 more points per season.

And yet, those eleven Colts teams outperformed their PE by an average of 8.7%, or about 1.4 more wins per year. Their best years in this respect? 1999, when they won 2.8 games more than expected (losing in the divisional round to the eventual AFC Champion Titans); 2006, when they won 2.4 games more than expected (going on to win the Super Bowl); and 2009, when they won 3.2 games more than expected (losing to the Saints in the Super Bowl — whose PE was 5 points higher). Only once did the Colts underperform compared to their PE (in 2000, winning 10 games instead of the predicted 10.5).

So, in short, we’ve got a team, consistently playing above its potential, making the playoffs in 11 of 12 seasons, finishing with a record of 9-10. Again, not “great”, but co

Frankly, there’s only one year in which the Colts clearly choked in the playoffs. In 2007, they won 13 games, right in line with their PE of 78.3%. They had a first-round bye, and for once their defense was superb, giving up 16 points/game (first in the NFL).

But who choked, exactly?

Was it the offense, which put up 24 points against the fifth-ranked defense in the league?

Or was it the defense, which allowed almost twice as many points as its per-game average?

There’s no question you need a great quarterback to consistently succeed in today’s NFL. But don’t be an idiot like Jim Irsay — if you want to know why the Colts “only” have one Super Bowl ring, you need to look at the whole team, not just one position.

And whose responsibility is it to build the whole team?

Hmm…

Jan 042013
 

Ravens-ColtsThe disintegration of the already tenuous relationship between Joe Flacco and the Baltimore fans has continued its downward trajectory along with the Ravens record after Baltimore’s 9-2 start gave way to a 1-4 finish. Nevermind Flacco’s 54-26 record in Baltimore or that since taking over as a rookie in 2008 he has become the only QB in history to lead his team to at least one post season victory in each of his first four seasons. It has gone virtually unmentioned the Flacco has improved in every single major statistical category from 2011 to 2012; as it’s the drop in wins from last season’s 12 to 10 that has the championship thirsty city on edge. His 309 yard 2 TD performance in Baltimore’s week 16 decimation of the Giants seemingly has gone unnoticed. Perceptions couldn’t have changed more dramatically than they have for Flacco who less than a calendar year ago executed a near perfect 2 minute drive in the AFC Championship only to have the NFL gods strike down and snatch victory at the last moment. Nonetheless, for the fifth time in Flacco’s five years—and second as division champion-the Ravens are heading to the playoffs.

For the opposing side, the Colts Andrew Luck has earned in 16 games a level of adulation from the city of Indianapolis seemingly reserved for the likes of only Peyton Manning. His 7 game winning drives are the most by an NFL QB since 1970 and no rookie in this stellar class has been asked to do more downfield with so little in the backfield (there is no Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Trent Richardson, or even Reggie Bush in the Colt lineup). Luck had dropped back nearly 650 times and only 4 QBs have been sacked more, nevertheless, Luck has nearly single-handedly resuscitated and transformed a team that was 2-14 just a year ago into an 11-5 contender.

In the 28 years that have elapsed since Robert Irsay drew the ire of the city of Baltimore by jetting for Indianapolis in a move that made economic sense and Jim Irsay drew equal ire from the city of Indianapolis by jettisoning Peyton Manning (another fiscally prudent move) much has changed. Manning brought a pair of AFC Titles and a Super Bowl to Indianapolis and Art Modell brought a team and title to Baltimore. As playoff opponents this marks the third meeting between the two franchises. The first two acts took place in Indianapolis and left much to be desired as Baltimore has managed only 12 points total. The most recent post season matchup with the two ended in a 20-3 Indy route in 2010 and marked Manning’s final victory in a Colt uniform.

The Keys for Indianapolis
Lining up for their 17th game, don’t expect wholesale differences for the Colt’s or any other team for that matter this late in the season (i.e. the Colts will not suddenly develop the ability to control the line of scrimmage or add a ground game to add balance to their attack). More than a touch of Luck will be required for the Colts to move on and they will need Luck to be every bit the quarterback that passed for more than 4,300 yards, was rivaled by only Flacco for most 20-plus yard completions, and posted 7 game winning drives.

The Colts will have their hands full handling Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs and the only hope to improve on the 104 yards per game they rushed for is if Anthony Castonzo can withstand Ngata’s pressure versus the run. Unfortunately for the Colts, RB Vick Ballard has only one carry of over 25 yards this season and Ngata spent week 17 re-charging his batteries. Factor in the return of Ray Lewis and it is likely the Colts will be at their one dimensional worst.

The Colts will have to do anything they can to factor in as many five-man routes as possible, giving Luck as many options as possible. His ability to get the ball deep has been a revelation considering the lack of a ground threat and while his tendency has been to go deep he will need check down options available. Luck’s ability to dissect the Ravens’ defense will be pertinent, and he has the perfect coaching scenario to help him identify those keys and giveaways. Chuck Pagano—prior to taking the Colts job—took a tour as defensive coordinator in Baltimore and knows their personal better than anyone.

The Colts 28-16 victory last week against Houston marked their first win over a winning team since early October and came despite being outgained by over 100 yards. Yet, Luck was able to do enough to exploit the secondary to notch the win in Pagano’s return. If Luck can continue his third down success that has masked the run deficiencies and the Colts utilize the other subtle qualities they bring into the game—namely returner Deji Karim’s recent explosiveness and Pagano’s knowledge of the opposition—they can find a way. It has been just that, the ability to find a way, which has positioned them at 11-5 despite being the only team in the post-season with a negative scoring differential.

Defensively the Colts will need to do what they can to limit Rice’s effectiveness between the tackles; if they can force him outside they can utilize what is perhaps their only asset against the run—their sideline to sideline speed. Like Luck, Joe Flacco has been victimized by a leaky offensive line. The Colts will hope to touch up Flacco and will need Vontae Davis to build on his two interception performance of last week and match up with speedster Torrey Smith.

The Keys for Baltimore
While defense has been the Baltimore calling and the names Suggs, Reed, Ngata, and Lewis still appear on the marquee a win for the Ravens will likely have to be attributed to the ability to exploit obvious weaknesses in the Colt defense. The Colts defense has allowed 137.5 rushing yards per game. While solid in pursuit, they fail to hold up well versus running backs that do damage between the tackles. Enter Ray Rice: the Ravens have won 23 of the 26 games when Rice has at least 25 carries. The Ravens will look to establish strong play by their tackles to allow Rice to control the pace of the game and effectively approach that 25 carry magic number.

In the passing game, the same group of tackles that will be key to springing Rice to a good game on the ground will have to do a better job than they have this year of protecting Flacco. When protected, Flacco can be accurate and effective and the Baltimore offense more than efficient. The Ravens thrashed the Giants for 533 yards in week 16 and, despite all the late season offensive turmoil, have averaged nearly 32 points per game at home. Baltimore has their own man from the other side in Jim Caldwell who manned the Colts sideline in both a tight Super Bowl loss and last season’s 2-14 debacle. Caldwell has spent the last month calling the plays for Baltimore and though results have been mixed he does have knowledge of Colt personnel.

There is not enough that the Colts can do to gain effectiveness against a Raven’s defense that will look to feed off of the emotional return to the lineup of Ray Lewis. While the Baltimore defense has lost a step or five they still hold enough advantages to boil things down to one focus: the ability of Ed Reed and the secondary to ground the third down passing attack that has been at the crux of Luck’s ability to bail out the Colts offense all season long.

The Outcome
The Pagano story has rightfully captured the hearts of NFL fans everywhere and has made the Colts a post season rooting favorite for fans that don’t have a horse in this race otherwise. If the sentiment of Ray Lewis potentially playing his last game at home can be trumped then it is Pagano’s remarkable return to the sideline after battling leukemia that has deserving done so. Though the luster seems to have faded from Baltimore many weeks ago it will be quite a challenge for the Colts to do what no team has done in the Flacco era and the Ravens to a winless post season.

Is Luck enough to lead a team that takes the field with 28 men playing their first postseason game? Baltimore is better on defensive and their running game foils the Colts direct weakness against the run. Furthermore, Jacoby Jones and the elite return game has the potential to exploit Indianapolis’ struggling coverage unit. This will be Ray Lewis’ last home game, but it won’t be his last game. The Ravens have too many advantages and they are at home. This week being pretty good is better than having ‘Luck’ on one’s side.

Baltimore 30 – Indianapolis 21

Nov 192012
 

The New England Patriots tied a franchise-record 59 points on their way to a 59-24 blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts Sunday in Foxboro.

The Patriots win was a full team effort, with the defense returning two interceptions for touchdowns, Julian Edelman returning a punt for a touchdown, and Tom Brady throwing for 331 yards and three scores as the Patriots embarrassed Andrew Luck and the Colts. Luck threw for 334 yards and two scores, but had three interceptions and a lost fumble as the Patriots brought pressure early and often on the rookie phenom.

The Colts started the scoring with an efficient seven play drive led by Luck and running back Vick Ballard. Before the fans could get settled into their seats at Gillette Stadium, Delone Carter scored from one yard out to put the Colts up 7-0. The drive was aided by a dreadful play by Kyle Arrington, who prevented a touchdown only by committing pass interference at the Patriots’ 6 yard line. The Patriots fired right back, needing eight plays for Brady to connect with Rob Gronkowski for a four yard touchdown to tie the game up. The touchdown reception was Gronk’s 36th career touchdown, tying him with John Jefferson for third most in a tight end’s first three seasons. The pass also extended Tom Brady’s streak for games with at least one touchdown pass to 42, the third longest streak in NFL history. Gronk caught three passes on that drive for a total of 56 yards.

The Colts next possession was just as effective as their first, with Ballard ripping off key runs and LaVon Brazill making an artful catch and run that went for 25 yards. On the tenth play of the drive Luck connected with TY Hilton for a 14 yard touchdown and a 14-7 Colts’ lead. The Patriots then marched right back down the field, reaching the Colts’ 18 before two incomplete passes forced a Patriots’ field goal attempt from 36 yards, which Stephen Gostkowski missed to the right. The Colts now had the opportunity to build a lead, but the Patriots’ defense forced a three and out. Julian Edelman then took the punt return 68 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 14. Then, on the second play of the following Colts’ possession, Luck’s pass to Reggie Wayne was intercepted by Aqib Talib in his first game as a Patriot. Talib returned the pick 59 yards for a touchdown and a 21-14 Patriots’ lead.

Luck seemed distraught following the pick six, but then calmly drove the Colts’ once again through the Patriots’ defense. Luck connected with Wayne twice and then to Brazill again for another 21 yards as the Colts reached the Patriots’ 29 before three straight missed passes forced the Colts to settle for a 47 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal, cutting the lead to 21-17. Not surprisingly, the Patriots immediately returned the favor, relying on Shane Vereen’s running and passes to Wes Welker and Gronk to move to the Colts’ 13, with Ghost connecting on a 31 yard field goal to put the margin back to 7. Vinatieri would then miss on a 58 yard attempt to close the first half.

The second half saw the game get away from the Colts in a hurry. On the Patriots’ possession to open the half, Brady connected with Julian Edelman on a long third down play to spark the drive. Brady then connected with Welker twice and Gronk once, and Ridley had an 11 yard run to get the Patriots into striking distance before Brady connected with Edelman on a two yard touchdown pass, increasing the lead to 31-17. The teams then exchanged punts over the next two drives. On the second Colts’ drive of the half, Rob Ninkovich sacked Luck, stripping Luck of the ball and recovering the fumble himself. This set up the Patriots at the Colts’ 24 yard line. Brady then connected with Gronk on the next play for a 24 yard touchdown, and the rout was on.

On the next drive, the Colts drove to the Patriots’ 23 before Luck was picked off by rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who outraced Luck on his way to an 87 yard touchdown, putting the Patriots up 45-17. The Patriots would add touchdown runs for Ridley and Vereen while Luck connected with TY Hilton on a 43 yard touchdown pass to close the day’s scoring.

The big news after the game was word that Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm on an extra point play in the fourth quarter. Gronk had surgery earlier today. Initial fears were that Gronk might be out for 4-8 weeks, but my guess is that we will see Gronk in 3-4 weeks. However long he is out, the Patriots will once again need to alter their offensive attack to make up for a missing player. Chances are high that this will force the return of Aaron Hernandez, who was once again held out with a high ankle sprain.

When the Patriots ran:

The Patriots were able to run the ball at times against the Colts, but on the whole the running effort was underwhelming. In part this was by design, as the Patriots were heavily reliant on the passing game, but in part this was also due to the efforts of Cory Redding, who clogged running lanes and slowed down the Patriots’ runners. Edelman was the leading back on the day with one end around for 47 yards, while Vereen added 40 yards on 11 carries and Ridley posted only 28 yards on 13 carries. Advantage: Colts

When the Patriots passed:

Brady was kept clean most of the day and the Colts’ failed to tally a sack on the day, highlighting a solid effort by a patchwork offensive line who negated the Colts’ pass rush. Brady threw for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns, connecting with Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker seven times each, and hitting Julian Edelman five times as Edelman became a key part of the offense. The Colts had no answers for Gronk, and also had trouble with Brandon Lloyd, who tallied four catches on the day. Advantage: Patriots

When the Colts ran:

Vick Ballard had a very effective day, pounding out 72 yards on 16 carries as the Colts ran for 119 yards on the day. Had this been a close game the Colts’ rushing attack might well have been the difference, as the Patriots struggled to contain both Ballard and Carter.  Advantage: Colts

When the Colts passed:

Luck’s 334 yards and two touchdowns give him a respectable stat sheet, but three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, showed that the Patriots’ decision to bring pressure to bear on the rookie quarterback was the right decision. Luck looked rattled after the first quarter and made some poor decisions throwing the ball. The Patriots registered only one sack (which resulted in a lost fumble by Luck) but were routinely in his face. Pressure by Vince Wilfork forced Luck to alter a throw to Wayne in the second quarter, which resulted in the Talib pick six. For his part, Talib had a decent first game, but also struggled at times, and seemed to be playing his way back into football shape after serving his four game, five week suspension. Kyle Arrington had a poor day in the secondary and seems to be struggling to stay in the line-up. For once however, the advantage in this part of the game goes to the Pats. Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams:

Julian Edelman returned one punt 68 yards for a touchdown and then nearly broke another for a score, returning that punt 49 yards to set up a short field for a fourth quarter scoring drive. The Colts routinely started with poor field position. Advantage: Patriots

Intangibles:

The Patriots won the turnover battle 4-0. Between special teams play and turnovers, a competitive shootout ended after the first quarter. Advantage: Patriots

Key Moment:  Two, actually, within 57 seconds of each other in the second quarter. First, Julian Edelman returned a punt for a touchdown, and then two plays later Aqib Talib returned an interception for a score, turning a 14-7 deficit into a 21-14 lead and giving the Patriots control of the game.

Game Ball: Julian Edelman. 5 receptions for 58 yards and a score. One rush for 47 yards to set up a score. Two punt returns for 117 yards and a score. If the Colts had no answers for Gronk, they had even fewer answers for Edelman.

Nov 172012
 

The Indianapolis Colts roll into Foxboro this weekend with a new quarterback to renew an old rivalry as the Colts face the Patriots in a 4:25 pm match-up at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Both teams enter the game with a 6-3 record. For the Patriots, the 6-3 record is reflective of a poor start in which the Patriots’ defense has made nearly every opposing quarterback look like Joe Montana, coupled with an offense that, while productive, has struggled to close out games when it has the the lead and the ball. The Colts’ 6-3 is just the opposite; they have already surpassed the season win total projected for them by most experts and seem poised to make a surprising run into the playoffs. The Colts still enter this game deserving to be the underdogs, but they are a team the Patriots cannot afford to take lightly.

Here’s how the game breaks down:

When the Patriots run

The Patriots have the fifth best rushing attack in the league, averaging 146 yards per game and led by Stevan Ridley. The Colts surrender just over 120 yards per game, ranking 22nd in the league, and this match-up favors the Patriots. In order to apply pressure to Brady, the Colts will have to rush four to five players and drop the rest into coverage. A weak secondary will put strain on the linebackers to take away the dink and dunk offense, making them susceptible to draw plays. Robert Mathis, Jerry Hughes and Dwight Freeney are effective pass rushers, but their hunger to get to Brady will open running lanes for Ridley, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen. Using a hurry-up attack will also force the Colts to limit their substitutions, tire their defenders, and make them even more vulnerable to the Patriots’ ground game. Look for the Patriots to run in excess of 140 yards again on Sunday.

When the Patriots pass

Safeties Antoine Bethea and Tom Zbikowski are in for a tough day. The relatively weak cornerbacks are going to have their hands full with Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. Darius Butler had a great game against the Jaguars, but wasn’t facing Tom Brady that day. The Patriots’ cast-off is likely to be tested down the field a few times as Brady takes occasional stabs at big plays. The middle of the field should be wide open for short passes, and the 7th ranked passing attack should carve up the field and affect long drives against the Colts’ patchwork secondary. With Aaron Hernandez likely being held back again this week, look for Gronkowski to have a big day receiving, complemented by Visanthe Shiancoe and Julian Edelman. The Patriots may only get around 250 passing yards, but the way that they get them will dictate the pace of the game.

When the Colts run

The Patriots’ defense has shut down numerous running backs this season, yielding a 100 yard game only to Ray Rice this season. The Patriots have the 8th ranked rushing defense (96.6 ypg) and will focus on slowing down Andrew Luck, daring the Colts to run the ball. Vick Ballard is a promising back, complemented by Donald Brown and Delone Carter, but these backs pale to the competition that the Patriots have faced through their first nine games. Even in sub-packages, the Patriots are likely to be content rushing three or four defenders, and will hold the running backs to short gains. The Colts average 109.4 yards rushing per game, and will likely come in near that number for the game.

When the Colts pass

Andrew Luck is having an outstanding rookie season, and Reggie Wayne is having a Pro Bowl season, aiding the young quarterback’s development. Donnie Avery and TY Hilton are very capable receivers, and the Colts’ passing attack (8th in the NFL) should put up 300 or more yards against the Patriots’ secondary. The Patriots rank 29th against the pass and are set to ease newly-acquired Aqib Talib into the fold at cornerback this weekend, but the adjustment will take time and Talib will likely not have a huge impact in his first game. The move of Devin McCourty to safety looks like a semi-permanent one, which plays into McCourty’s skill set. The secondary is improving, but the Patriots lack of cohesiveness in the secondary, plus their refusal to sell out in rushing the quarterback, mean Luck will continue his march towards a rookie record for passing yards. Luck will get his yards and some points, but the Colts may find themselves playing catch-up against the Patriots’ offense. A potential tipping point is the inability of the Colts’ offensive line to consistently protect Andrew Luck. This could result in Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower getting pressure and forcing big plays, but it could also work in reverse by making Luck improvise against a secondary that is susceptible to quarterbacks who can extend plays.

Special Teams

Some guy named Adam Vanatieri is the Colts’ kicker. Seriously, Vinatieri is still pretty good, but Stephen Gostkowski is the superior kicker. Pat McAfee is a good punter with a slight edge over Zoltan Mesko, but Mesko excels at pinning opponents deep. Both return units are adequate, but neither represents a significant and consistent threat. Gostkowski tends to put most kickoffs through the end zone.

Intangibles

Turnovers represent a key statistic in any NFL game, and this does not bode well for the Colts, who are -12 in the turnover battle this season. The Patriots are third in the league with a +17 in turnovers, and Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Vince Wilfork, and Rob Ninkovich excel in creating opportunities for the Patriots offense to play with a short field. In order for the Colts to win, they likely have to win the turnover battle by +2 or +3, but this is simply not in their character so far this year as a team. The Patriots thrive on creating big plays, one of the reasons why the Patriots, while ranked 25th in total defense,  rank 15th in points allowed. A second intangible is the pace of the play. If the Patriots move to a hurry up offense, the Colts’ defense will likely wear down, and by the second half the lead could be out of control for the Colts.

Prediction

No game has been easy for the Patriots this season, save for perhaps the game against the Rams. The Colts will strike early through the air, and I expect a bit of a see-saw through the first quarter and a half as the teams trade scores. But as the second quarter goes on, the Patriots will begin using more and more of the clock on drives while limiting defensive substitutions, and the Patriots will secure the halftime lead. Look for more of the same in the third quarter, and then the fourth quarter becomes Andrew Luck putting up the ball to try and get back in the game. Predicted score: Patriots 38 Colts 27.

May 222012
 

 

Indianapolis Colts

Head Coach: Chuck Pagano

 

Projected Starting Quarterback: Andrew Luck

2011 Record:  2 wins, 14 losses (4th in AFC South)

No postseason appearance

30th in Total Offense, 25th in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 111 wins, 49 losses (2nd in NFL)

9 win, 8 loss in postseason

1-1 in Super Bowl appearances

2-2 All-time in Super Bowl