After reading Greg’s article yesterday (as well as the ESPN/Football Outsiders article claiming the Colts would lose big in the playoffs), I couldn’t get the question out of my head. Exactly how bad would the Colts lose if they do in fact make the playoffs?
With that in mind I have decided to breakdown each of the Colts most likely matchups in a three part series (assuming part one is well received of course; and doesn’t break the internet) I’m calling, “Josh Boeke Breaks Down Potential Colts’ Playoff Matchups.” Catchy right? Hopefully as the playoff picture becomes clearer I won’t have to guess.
While it may seem a bit early to be asking such questions (we do after all still have an entire fourth of the season left to play), the Colts find themselves with a serious advantage in the wild card race. The Bengals and Steelers are only 1 game back, but with a game still remaining to be played between them, the Colts have what is essentially a 2 game lead (we only need to finish better than one of them, not both).
Consider that the Colts also have the all-important tiebreak advantage (the Colts 5-3 conference record bests the 4-5 and 5-5 marks by Pittsburgh and Cincinnati respectively), and you’ll realize that they have what actually amounts to a 2 ½ game lead with only 4 games to play (1 of which is against NFL cellar dweller Kansas City).
Barring a 1-3 finish and a 3-1/3-1 finish by the Steelers and Bengals, the Colts WILL make the playoffs (knock on wood). This is the NFL and, as we all know, anything can happen, but the Colts missing the playoffs is pretty unlikely at this point (Football Outsiders projected a 67% chance for the Colts making the playoffs, and that was before they beat Detroit this week, I expect that to be closer to 85% now).
I know I will get cries of “JINX! JINX!” “BURN IN HELL!” and other such sentiments unbecoming discourse amongst gentlemen, but let’s be honest, if I predicted the playoffs in week 4 (yes, I will bring this up in every article I write until the end of the season) and we are currently 8-4, I don’t think doing it now is going to be any more jinx inducing. Anyway, I don’t think that highly of myself that I could turn the tide against the force of nature that is #CHUCKSTRONG.
For this first installment I will be breaking down Colts vs. Ravens.
Baltimore has a 95% chance of winning their division (again according to Football Outsiders playoff odds, though that number should drop a tad after losing that ugly game against Pitt), but their chances of finishing with a bye week are much less favorable (roughly 35% coming into this week, so probably about 20% now with Denver, New England, and Houston all winning in front of them). With the Colts likely garnering the 5th seed, it’s beginning to appear that facing the Ravens in a #4-#5 matchup is the most probable scenario.
So what should we expect if this game were in fact to occur? Obviously a lot can change in 4 weeks, but I was curious, so I figure some of you might be as well. To start, let’s take a look at some traditional team numbers (organized into a series of charts for your viewing pleasure).
As we can see from these charts, the Colts actually matchup quite favorably to the Ravens in several key areas. Indy has a significant edge in pass offense, while their run offense, pass defense, and rushing defense are all just a smidge better than the Ravens by traditional stats. Where the Colts fall flat, and what has really kept them from being taken seriously this season, is scoring.
Ranking 17th in scoring (compared to 3rd in total offense), the Colts find themselves near the bottom of the league in yards per point (27th at 17.8 yards per point scored), while on defense they rank a middling 22nd (14.2 yards per point allowed). By contrast, the top ranked offense, New England, only requires an impressively efficient 11.9 ypp, and the top ranked defense, San Francisco, forces teams to go 19.6 yards for every point scored.
Baltimore, on the other hand, has managed to score points even though their offensive production has not been great (19th in total offense). Their 13.6 yards per point scored is good for 7th best in the NFL. On defense they are even better, making their opponent move the ball 18.5 yards for every point they score (5th).
All is not lost however. In the last three games the Colts have been significantly better at maximizing scoring opportunities (their 75% red zone TD efficiency - 6 for 8 - over the past three is 3rd best in the NFL and dramatically higher than their season average of 52.63%). Indy’s 15.4 ypp over those last three games places them right in the middle of the pack during that stretch; still not great, but a good deal of improvement on the first nine games.
And while Indianapolis has been trending up, Baltimore is trending down. Their 16.4 ppg and 19.0 ypp over the past three puts them 27th and 30th in those categories respectively. Granted they’ve played the #1 ranked Pittsburgh defense in two of those three games (the Steelers are #1 in total defense but are actually only 27th in ypp with 13.6 yards per point allowed), but the fact remains, the Colts seem to be improving as the season progresses while the Ravens are struggling to maintain their hot start.
So traditional stats would have this game at about a coin toss, probably favoring the home team (which would be Baltimore of course), but what about advanced stats? This portion of the exercise could get ugly.
For this segment of the breakdown I will be employing grades provided by Pro Football Focus and using Football Outsiders various percentage based grades (don’t ask me how they’re calculated, I have no idea). I may even throw a few Cold Hard Football Facts quality stats into the mix, cover all our bases.
These numbers more or less speak for themselves. Even just a quick glance at the above charts tells us that the Colts are outperforming their ratings (Football Outsiders had the Colts at 3.6 estimated wins going into the game against Detroit; that’s worse than Cleveland, San Diego, Buffalo, and even Arizona). Before we get into what exactly the advanced stats might be missing, let’s first try to glean what we can from what they get right.
What they get right: I think we all can agree that the Colts pass protection this season has been nigh on abysmal. PFF confirms. The Colts -26.7 pass block grade is 30th in the league ahead of only San Diego and Arizona. Fun fact: Mike McGlynn, Jeff Linkenbach, Joe Reitz, and Seth Olsen are a combined -32.9 overall (McGlynn takes the ignominious mantle of worst offensive lineman, and worst player, at -13.9 for the season; granted he’s played a lot more snaps than the other guys who would likely give him a run).
The only Colts’ lineman with a positive pass block grade is Winston Justice and he hasn’t had a good game since week 6 (Castonzo thankfully has been much better lately).
Football outsiders are a little kinder, their sack % stat puts the Colts 16th in pass protection, but if you consider the elusiveness of Luck it’s not nearly as impressive (PFF rates Luck as the 5th most pressured QB but 26th in sack %; it’s not the protection). CHFF also gives the Colts O-line a relatively high grade in their Offensive Hogs Index (11th), but this rating too is based on sack %, as well as 3rd down %, both stats that have been inflated artificially by Luck’s ability to avoid pressure.
If the Colts have had one glaring deficiency in their passing game it’s the complete absence of production from their running backs (Colts running backs are collectively -4.0 on the season in the pass game), not so with Baltimore. Baltimore’s ostensibly high pass grade is largely a result of consistency at the WR position and the contributions of Ray Rice out of the backfield (49 receptions for 409 yards and a +8.6 rating in the pass game).
Where the Colts have relied heavily on Reggie Wayne (albeit less true of late), the Ravens have spread the ball around. Five separate players have graded green (green is good) in the passing game for Baltimore: Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Ray Rice, and Jacoby Jones. The Colts can claim that of only two: Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen.
Touching on the run game really quickly. Both the Colts and the Ravens have serviceable run games. For the Colts, they lack a true every down running back and rely on a by committee approach (Brown and Ballard have split the load more or less 50/50 with a sprinkling of Delone Carter here and there), along with a heavy dose of Andrew Luck (his rush grade is 1st on the team and 2nd among QBs overall). The Ravens conversely use a dominating fullback in Vonta Leach (+11.4 run block, 1st among FBs) and a single elite running back in Ray Rice (his +13.1 overall grade is 3rd among RBs behind Adrian Peterson and CJ Spiller). Very different styles that have so far gotten very similar results.
Where they fall down: The first thing that really jumps out at me is the massive disparity in PFF’s grading of the two pass offenses. The Colts sit near the bottom of the league with a 1.3 grade (23rd behind teams like St. Louis, Oakland, and Carolina), while the Ravens find themselves 9th (DVOA is a little more reasonable with the Colts 18th and the Ravens 17th, the teams separated by a negligible 4%). So why the huge gap when traditional stats tell us the Colts have the better pass offense? That answer is more complicated than you might think.
I love PFF, but we need to understand that PFF grades are based on a lot of factors, every player on the team contributes to the score. A great game by Luck might be negated, grading points wise, by a few terrible drops by a receiver. The grade does not always reflect actual game outcome either, rather it provides an at-a-glance number that illustrates how good a team was collectively. The score for each player's on the team impacts the aggregate equally but that doesn't necessarily mean their impact on the field was also equal. I know, it's confusing.
For example: Reggie Wayne has a positive grade on the season (+24.9, which is the highest in the league at WR), as does Luck (+4.8, the Detroit game hurt him), so you’d think the Colts’ offensive grade would be quite high right? Well not necessarily. Because other players on the team have hugely negative grades (like McGlynn and Satele) the Colts will grade out relatively low overall. McGlynn and Satele have played as bad as Wayne has played good (by grade), but that doesn't mean their bad play has caused the Colts to lose on the field as much as Wayne's good play has helped them win (in other words, their tangible impact on the game is not equal even though their grades offset each other in the rankings). Make sense? Good.
What this means is that a lot of the Colts dead weight is being heavily counted against them by PFF (this is of course also true for other teams but the Colts happen to have a disproportionate amount of dead weight this season compared to the rest of the league). Players that no longer start, or are even on the team, still count towards the Colts overall score. While this provides a better assessment of how a team has played throughout the season, it doesn’t do us much good when trying to compare the composition of two teams right now.
Consider that the Colts have played 31 different players on offense this season. Yes, you read that right, 31. That includes 11 on the offensive line, 5 TEs, and 7 different WRs. Of those 31, 14 have a red PFF grade (red is bad), about half of which are no longer on the active roster. You can see where I’m going with this.
The Colts, as currently constituted, are not reflected accurately in some of these grades. They’ve suffered so many injuries this season and have shuffled through so many players that it’s expected they would have some truly awful performances from one-or-two-week fill in guys (and they certainly have). PFF does not account for this.
Do I think the Colts offense, overall, is better than the Ravens? Yes, yes I do. Can I understand why advanced stats might say otherwise? I definitely can.
What they get right: The Colts have not been a good defensive team this season. Both PFF and Football Outsiders agree on that score. PFF puts the Colts defense at a bad, but not historically bad, -36.5 overall (that’s 29th in the NFL). FO on the other hand, after adjusting for strength of schedule (Colts have the 2nd easiest defensive schedule), tells us that this Colts unit is in fact one of the worst of all time. While I tend to lean more toward PFF on this one (bad but not historically bad), there are definitely some serious deficiencies to discuss.
PFF does not like the Colts’ run defense, and for good reason. The Colts are allowing roughly 4.8 yards per attempt, that’s 30th in the NFL (Baltimore is 4.0, 9th best in the league). The main problem for the Colts’ defense is the absolute train wreck along the defensive line. 5 of the Colts 8 lowest rated defensive players are on the defensive line. Only 1 defensive lineman has received a positive grade from PFF and that’s Drake Nevis, who is of course out for the season.
If their inability to stop the run wasn’t bad enough, the D-line also fails to get almost any pressure on the quarterback. The Colts’ 7 lowest grades for pass rush are ALL defensive linemen, all of them. We know that the 3-4 defense is designed to bring pressure from linebackers and exotic blitz packages, but the inability of the defensive line to get any kind of push up the middle has been a serious problem this season.
Fortunately for the Colts and their ailing offensive line, the Ravens pass rush isn’t much better. Courtney Upshaw is the 3rd lowest rated 3-4 LB rushing the passer (-14.8) in the entire NFL, and while Haloti Ngata gives the Ravens a dominant force in the middle, they still struggle along the defensive line (Ma’ake Kemoeatu is rated even lower than Antonio Johnson, which I didn’t think was possible).
The Colts are ridiculously thin in the secondary as well (FO rates the Colts 32nd against both 3rd WRs and TEs). Hopefully the return of Vontae Davis will help, but this particular problem isn’t going to be fixed this season regardless, best they can do is patch it up. It’s interesting that PFF grades the Colts significantly higher in pass coverage than the Ravens, though part of that might be the fact that the Colts have faced some of the least prolific passing teams in the NFL (Jacksonville twice, Minnesota, NYJ, Cleveland, etc.).
It could also be that the Ravens’ corners are actually that bad. PFF rates Jimmy Smith the worst cornerback in the entire league; 112 out of 112. That’s really bad. His -12.7 rating is worse than Jerraud Powers, Cassius Vaughn, and Justin King… combined. Beyond Ed Reed the Baltimore secondary is perhaps even worse than ours, as shocking as that sounds.
Where they fall down: I don’t care what Football Outsiders says, I’ve watched every snap of this Indianapolis defense (most of them more than once) and there’s no way it’s historically bad. Sure they give up chunk plays now and again, and yes they have had stretches of games where they looked completely lost, but time and time again they have pulled through in crucial situations and kept the Colts in games they had no business winning. Even that 59 point New England game was a snow ball effect that included 3 return TDs.
Really, when you examine all the various stats, it’s hard to see where FO is getting their rating. The only explanation that makes sense to me is the record breaking futility in generating takeaways. With only 8 takeaways through 12 games the Colts could realistically break the NFL record of 11 (which was set in a strike shortened season no less). Not all of that is fair to put on the defense though. Sometimes you just have to get lucky. The Colts are recovering fumbles at a rate of 20%, it’s just one of those things.
I know I haven’t really mentioned special teams, and I realize it’s an important part of winning in the NFL, but really there’s not too much to say. The Ravens rank #1 in special teams by FO, in fact they are currently on pace to have the 3rd best special teams year in NFL history. This is a combination of a great return game (Jacoby Jones has 2 kick return TDs and a punt return TD and his 34.2 kick return average is 2nd only to Percy Harvin among players with 10+ returns), a great kicker (Justin Tucker is 22-23 including 8-9 from 40-49 and 4-4 from 50+; highest rated kicker by PFF), and a solid coverage team.
The Colts special teams are better than they’ve been in years past but are nothing particularly extraordinary. Pat McAfee has developed into a great punter and currently sits at 3rd in the PFF punter rankings. T. Y. Hilton has brought a spark to the punt return game (his 11.4 yard punt return average is top 10 among returners with 10+ returns, he’s currently 4th in the PFF punt return rankings, and is so much better than what we had last season).
Okay, we are almost to the end, I promise. If you stuck with me this long, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back, it’s been a grind. We’ve seen what the traditional stats tell us and we’ve seen what the advanced stats tell us, but how does it equate to the game itself? Glad you asked.
Colts’ strength vs. Ravens’ weakness: The strength of the Colts team is definitely their pass offense. PFF may rate us in the bottom 3rd of the league but that to me is bogus. Even FO’s ranking of 18th is too low in my opinion. The Colts have a top 10 passing attack (potentially top 5 by season’s end), and when they are on they are hard to stop. Andrew Luck just continues to get better and with the return of Fleener as well as the continued emergence of Hilton, Avery, and Allen as reliable targets, the sky really is the limit for this pass offense. Couple that with the serendipitous fact that the Ravens most glaring weaknesses are their pass rush and secondary and you have a recipe for an upset.
Ravens’ strength vs. Colts’ weakness: The strength of the Ravens right now, especially with the struggles of Joe Flacco, is undoubtedly their running game. While they don’t rank particularly high in yards per game, Ray Rice is still an elite running back and the continually mounting injuries along the Colts front line could make for a very long day in Maryland.
And finally - and real quickly - my position by position breakdown.
Quarterback: Joe Flacco is the veteran, but Andrew Luck is the future. There are certainly still a few quarterbacks left in these playoffs that I would pick over Andrew Luck at this stage of his career, but Joe Flacco isn't one of them.
Running backs: Ballard, Brown, and Carter have performed admirably this season and if you include the production you get out of Luck it’s not impossible the Colts could end up with more rushing yards than Baltimore. That being said, Ray Rice is clearly the best running back in this game and it would be foolish to say otherwise.
Wide receivers: As I mentioned earlier, the Ravens have a stable of very consistent and very reliable wide receivers, but none of them even approach what Reggie Wayne has done this year. With the improved chemistry developing between Luck and Hilton, Avery, Allen, and we hope Fleener, I would take the Colts’ upside over the Ravens’ reliability.
Offensive line: There’s isn’t much to say about this, the Colts lose basically by default. It doesn’t hurt that the Ravens actually have same really good offensive linemen (Marshal Yanda is the highest rated RG in the NFL and Matt Birk ain’t bad either). This position could prove to be the difference in the game.
Defensive line: While the Ravens’ D-line isn’t quite what it used to be, Haloti Ngata can still flat out play and even with the struggles of Ma’ake Kemoeatu is significantly better than the Colts’, which might honestly be the worst defensive line in football.
Linebackers: The Ravens have a couple good ones, but this is easily the Colts’ deepest position. Between Mathis and Freeney (who is coming on strong of late, +9.1 in his past two games alone) on the outside, and Conner, Fokou, Angerer, and Freeman (who is having an unbelievable season) rotating in the middle, this Colts’ linebacking corps might be one of the best in the league.
Secondary: Baltimore isn’t exactly deep in the secondary and the worst CB on the field is likely not in a Colts’ uniform, but what it comes down to for me is the Hall of Famer roaming the middle, and that’s Ed Reed. If Vontae Davis can stay healthy and continue to build on his success I think he may turn the tide here a bit (I’m a believer), but there are just too many injuries and too much inexperience for this secondary to be taken seriously. It’s Baltimore again.
Special teams: The Ravens are having a historic year on special teams, Adam Vinatieri has missed 7 FGs, not much more needs to be said. Hilton has been great in the punt game and McAfee is proving he’s legit, but this has to once again go to the Ravens.
Coaching: And here, as the bard would tell you, is the rub. John Harbaugh is a hell of a football coach, and this is to take nothing away from him, but what Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians have been able to do with this team has been nothing short of miraculous. I’m not much for superstition but there’s something going on with this team this year that cannot be explained away. Call it chemistry, call it destiny, call it whatever you want, it’s amazing and it’s happening. Nothing would surprise me at this point.
Final Thoughts: The stats say take the Ravens, especially playing at home, but I've seen too many crazy things from this Colts team this year for me to think they won't continue to do what they've done all season and prove the numbers wrong. I know I just spent 3,000 words examining a matchup and now I am going against my own information, but hey, that's what you do sometimes. I've provided the information, now you are educated enough to make up your own mind (I hope anyway, cause even for me that was a lot of words).
Final prediction: Colts 31 - Ravens 21
Give me your thoughts, predictions, rants, etc. in the comments, and as always, follow me on Twitter Follow @Colt_Following; I'm full of useful information.
So...for fun, I just did the ESPN Playoff Machine thingy. http://espn.go.com/nfl/playoffs/machine I actually picked The AFC as follows:
2. New England
No Ravens. Going back to look at my game picks, I have the Ravens losing out. I didn't realize it until now but their schedule is brutal over the next four weeks (@Washington, Denver, NYG, @Cincinnati). I picked the Patriots and Broncos to win out; the Texans, Steelers and Bengals to go 3-1; and the Colts to go 2-2. Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't trust the Ravens.
@bradicus18 I won't say you're crazy (though there's a good chance), but Baltimore still has about a 99% chance of making the playoffs (according to Football Outsiders' numbers). They play a relatively tough schedule, that's true, although Washington is a winnable game for sure, as is Cincinnati and the Giants have looked either great or average depending on the week. They could certainly lose out, but the Steelers and Bengals both going 3-1 isn't all that likely either (especially if Ben isn't fully healthy, and how can he be?).
Your scenario isn't impossible, but I'd consider it much less likely than the alternative.
@Colt_Following A good chance? Ha! You have no idea!
I don't disagree with what you said. It comes down to this. I don't trust the Ravens. Cincy is hot. Roethlisberger should be healthy by Week 16. Yes, all those games are winnable for Baltimore. But they are on a slide. Here is what I see regarding these teams:
Week 14: WAS over BAL, CIN over DAL, PIT over SD
Week 15: DEN over BAL, CIN over PHI, DAL over PIT
Week 16: NYG over BAL, PIT over CIN
Week 17: CIN over BAL, PIT over CLE
Of course, any given Sunday means that the Ravens could beat the Broncos, the Eagles beat the Bengals, and the Chargers beat the Steelers. Either way, I wouldn't rule out a playoff scenario without Baltimore. Especially if they lose to the Redskins. The Steelers aren't out of the equation yet. I guess, neither are the Bengals.
Oh, who the hell cares!?!?!?! The Colts are going to the playoffs!!!!!!!
Others have already used all the superlatives, so I'll just say great job too. Looking forward to the next one. However, if I had my choice, the Ravens would be the team I'd like to face. It's looking like both Ray Ray and Suggs will be back. But one would be playing hurt and old, and the other one can't be 75% either. Flacco is a Jekly/Hyde while Brady and Peyton are going to kick Hyde.
@smonroe I always appreciate the positive feedback, so don't hold back on my account. I think the Ravens are better off without Ray Lewis in some ways, he's definitely reaching that too old to be effective stage of his career. That being said, his emotional impact is pretty significant as well.
The Ravens would probably be the ideal matchup, but the Colts would have to play Denver/New England were they to win, so why not get it out of the way first?
Nice job and thanks for the insight into how PFF aggregates individuals, even guys IRed in week 4, to come to a whole team conclusion. In a lot of ways, it forms an average blended picture of the team over the course of time, but no "snapshot" (With CIncy and WASH coming on strong the past few weeks, I suspect they are currently better than their PFF rating, whereas HOU and maybe ATL are worse). Do they trend/weight their data so th past few weeks count more than weeks 1-3? Just curious.
I like the anlysis and the efforts to be honest and objective, as well as the acknowledgemet that you can not quite pull off the objectve thing.
Among the most amazing things ths season is our record coupled with our poor turnover erformane on D, and poor luck recovering fumbles. Holy cow, what happens if we're just average, and luck swings our way? Time for things to "normalize" stil this season, or next. But can you imagine how people will cry that we lucked into a win if we recover four fumble in a rainy playoff game vs Balt?!?! No, luck would have not yet turned in our favor until we recovered the next ten in a row! If we have a four fumble recovery day, we'll still be unlucky on the whole, just getting cxloer to neutral.(which gies GREAT hope for next year!) Do you realize RGIII has had two of his fumbles recovered by teammates for TDs thisyear? Insane.
Also, you left out (or I missed) Balt's track record at home and ours on the road--not a pretty picture.
It puts me in mind of the 95 playoffs--if you looked closely you would realize that the teams were closer than most people thought, but if you looked at the whole season stats, you'dsay "no way" when he Colts went into Arrowhead for the win, and almost pulled it of in Three RIvers as well. We COULD win it, but it sure would be a long shot. MIght beat Pitt as well, and MABE HOU, which seems to be stumbling a bit. I'd consider a win in Mile High or Gillette as improbable as a CD of Manning audibles winning a Grammy, or the Brady kids growing up ugly and humble.
@Bobman Thanks man. I also didn't bring up the expected return of Chuck Pagano to the sideline in that first playoff game. That has to have some kind of impact right? Offsets home field advantage maybe? At the very least you know for sure you're going to maximum effort from everyone in that locker room. Turnovers have kinda sorta started to trend back up, I mean they've certainly had more of late, which is better than the 0 they had for like 5 straight games (although the one last week against Buffalo shouldn't really count since ZBo fumbled it back). They will likely need to win the turnover battle to have any chance in a playoff game (something they've rarely done even in wins).
To your question about PFF, no I don't believe they weight their ratings. It's designed to be a snapshot of player performance not necessarily team performance, and I don't think it's even their goal to predict winners, just tell you how different players performed each week (that's more a goal of DVOA). Lots of bad players can still win games if the good players are carrying a disproportionate amount of the burden (which pretty much sums up the Colts this season), but that still won't look good in the ratings. A quick glance at 2010 shows that offense was also not rated very high at 15th (and the run defense was -107.3, 32nd, nearly twice as bad as the 31st team), but Peyton Manning made up for so many deficiencies that they still won 10 games.
"Join Josh next week as he breaks down the Colts-Broncos. The GOAT is back, and he has unfinished business with Mr. Irsay. Irsay verses Manning IN A STEEL CAGE.
This is awesome. I find myself doing hypothetical draft analysis all the time, so someone doing playoff scenarios seems awesome to me!
"There are a few QB’s I wouldn’t take Luck over yet in these playoffs, but Flacco isn’t one of them."
The intent is pretty easy to discern, but I have no idea from what grammatical hell this sentence was spawned.
If a Tebow led team can win a playoff game, this Colts team sure can. In honor of this yeoman work, I'll break it down:
Tebow-mania vs. Chuck Strong Advantage: Chuck Strong. (Tebowing vs cheerleaders shaving their heads, no contest)
Tebow vs. Luck Advantage: Luck (While Tebow would unleash a whole can of intangibles on your ass, Luck has a few intangibles of his own, plus he can actually play QB)
Tebow vs. Rest of Colts Team Advantage: Colts (As the media was quick to let us know, Tebow was a one man team. Where the Colts, save for center, guard, defensive tackle and cornerback, actual have some real players.)
So when you apply genuine science, there is no doubt the Colts can win a playoff game.
Haven't finished reading yet, but I just wanted to say excellent breakdown of the PFFF and FO statistical metrics. The point that not all players equally affect the outcome of the game yet all given equal weight is something is very well made. It's something I didn't realize, but that makes their rankings make a lot more sense.
@hankster This is where AV becomes very helpful (just not until after the season has been played). It helps us to recognize the overall impact of a player on a team, compared to his teammates.
@hankster No worries, take your time, it's a long read I know. I try to keep it as unbiased as possible, and even though I have admittedly relied heavily on advanced stats in the past, it really is something that has to be weighed as just one of a few different tools, not the only tool. Otherwise you end up with a lot of biased opinions (stats can be manipulated after all without too much trouble). It's definitely an important tool though when used properly.
I'm very conflicted about BA's coaching though. While I think he has obviously done a great job preparing the team and working with young players, I really don't like a lot of his play calling and I think his emphasis on the vertical game is a problem.
I really wish there was a way to keep him around as a personnel coach, but take away his play calling and game planning responsibilities. I think the inefficiency of the Colts which you mentioned can be laid at his door (the Steelers with him were similarly ineffective) and I also think that Luck's success in the 2min drill when he calls the plays is indicative of BA's ineffective play calling. Finally, there doesn't seem to be much subterfuge in BA's plans. Most successful offenses at least try to keep the D guessing by setting up play action or running multiple plays out of similar formations. I just don't see that in BA's work and I think that makes matters even worse for our already over matched OL.
Sorry to gripe, I love what the Colts and their coaches have done, but I'm really frustrated with BA's approach to games.
@hankster That's fair, you certainly aren't the first person to voice this concern (resident head honcho Greg Cowan would adamantly agree with you). I'm not sure myself how I feel about Arians' play calling but he has such a stellar track record with young QBs that I have to give him the benefit of the doubt. I know fans in Pittsburgh were happy to see him leave and there have definitely been times this season when he made me nearly pull out my beautiful hair, but whatever he's doing between weeks has gotten these rookies playing at an incredibly high level, bad play calling or not I have to give him serious kudos for that.
I don't think the RBs lack of production in the pass game is their fault at all. They hardly ever get targets.
@Kyle Rodriguez yeah, it could be by design, though I struggle with how to answer those questions. I'm guessing part of it is how much the RBs probably have to stay in to pass protect (147 pass blocking downs between Ballard and Brown, though I don't know how that compares to the rest of the NFL).
Maybe Luck needs to check it down more? I don't know. I'd prefer a QB that's too aggressive and learns patients over one who is passive and tries to learn aggression.
@Kyle Rodriguez The stronger the jinx the more intense the reverse polarity when the inevitable counter-jinx is put into motion. It's all part of the plan.
Great job with the research for something that could be irrelevant. I think the Ravens can easily slip to the #4 seed, but with the Steelers winning last week, they have a chance to run the table if Ben comes back, and get the #5 seed.
Anyway, I think the one mitigating factor to this analysis using full season stats is the Colts are markedly worse on the road, and Baltimore is markedly better at home. That last game was their first home loss since December 2010. That is a tough place to play.
It definitely is the best chance for the Colts to win a playoff game, though.
@dmstorm22 Yeah, I like to think that even if this doesn't come to pass that the information contained here is not completely irrelevant. I certainly learned a lot about Baltimore researching this piece, and I hope there was some good information about the Colts that people might not have been aware of as well (playoffs or no playoffs).
I realize that 5 weeks is an eternity in the NFL, but this was a nagging question in my mind and so I figured what the heck, why not? Worst case scenario nobody else cares but I've still answered some of the questions that I wanted to know.
Anyway, it was work, I'll admit, but if nothing else I hope you took something away from it of value. I suppose I could have done a road vs. home analysis, but just sticking to the big picture was daunting enough. You may be right though, even if the Colts have been winning more on the road they still have struggled.
@Colt_Following I hope I didn't sound ungrateful. I thoroughly enjoyed the analysis. I actually found it amazing how close they are in conventional statistics in many areas. I also loved you using yards-per-point, which is a stat I used in a regression class to write a paper on.
I definitely want it to be Ravens/Colts, because as you said, it has a chance of being close, and there are no outside competing rooting interests in the game.
@dmstorm22 no, not at all. I feel silly to some degree even putting so much into something that has a relatively low % chance of actually happening, but in the end it's also about the knowledge gained through the exercise itself and not just the rightness or wrongness of the prediction. I learned a lot, and that's always a good thing, I'm glad you found something worthwhile to take from it.
Great stuff, Josh. I look forward to the other pieces. Denver and New England I assume?
I have never really looked into how PFF compiles the team grades. Am I correct in my understanding that the team grade is the cumulative result of combining all of the individual grades? If that's true, to me, that is a serious flaw. I may be misunderstanding how they get those grades.
@bradicus18 Thanks man. Assuming people liked this then yeah, I am planning to do a Denver and New England preview as well (maybe I'll wait and see how this weekend goes first so I don't look like a moron).
You're pretty much right about the way PFF does their grading yes. It's much more useful as a tool to compare individual performances against each other as opposed to teams (PFF doesn't even provide team rankings, I had to do the math myself). Here's a link to their "How we grade." FAQ if you are really interested: http://www.profootballfocus.com/about/grading/
I like PFF because it gives me insight into a lot of stuff I can't possibly see without watching tons of film (which is time prohibitive). Football is perhaps the hardest sport to really gauge individual performance, so many things are working together on a given play, so PFF is an invaluable tool, to me at least, as they do all the work I never could.
That being said, I certainly don't always agree with their assessments. Luck actually has a negative passing grade on the season from PFF (he basically has the same passing grade as Blaine Gabbert, which is asinine). It's as close as I can get though without doing the work myself.
@Colt_Following I see. Thanks for clearing that up for me. I agree that individual performance is incredibly difficult to gauge in football.
@codrutc Thank you. It was work, I'll admit, but I learned a lot in the process (and hopefully the readers will/have as well). Unfortunately this is not my day job no. Maybe some day.
@Colt_Following It was coming ;) I'm gonna promote Kyle's on here too around 2:00. That seems to be a busy time for some reason.
@CA_Radio there's nothing ridiculous about spending 6 hours writing a preview for a game that may or may not happen 5 weeks from now.
@CA_Radio you have to admit, it's impressively thorough at least. Granted most of my information will be obsolete in 5 weeks, but still.
@CA_Radio I'm still getting 10-15 email updates an hour on that article. Insane. Mostly just people saying the same thing over and over.
@Colt_Following the thoroughness is the only reason I was willing to post it and risk the "OMG THEY ARENT EVEN IN PLAYOFFS YET" backlash