12 Things to Watch in Monday's Colts-Chargers game
Spider three? Why banana?
Last week, the Colts toppled Seattle and vaulted up the ranks in the AFC. This week, Andrew Luck gets his first Monday night test against Phil Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. Here's what to watch for:
1. Watch the pocket. The Colts have faced four running quarterbacks in five games to open the year. The fifth game was against Blaine Gabbert, who really doesn't count as a quarterback at all. He's basically an insurance agent in training. Pryor, Tannehill, Kaepernick and Wilson all make their share of plays with their legs, but only Wilson breaks into the top 10 in passing DVOA for the year. Gabbert just breaks into tears. Rivers is a different animal altogether. He's second in the NFL in DVOA, he's second in QBR and is completing almost 75% of his passes. He ain't Peyton, but he's the perfect warm up. The Colts secondary was cited as a weakness coming into the year but has played well against guys who can't pass. Now they have to play well against someone who can.
2. Watch the new age. For all they hype about the ESPN trailer for Andrew Luck's first game on the world-wide leader, the fact is that it's a new age for the Chargers too. Long the Indy nemesis, most of the great players who tortured the Colts are gone. Even Norv isn't around any more. Other than old man Rivers, Antonio Gates and the robo-punter, the Chargers have almost completely turned over. Colts fans get a little twitchy about playing the Chargers, but this team isn't that team.
3. Watch the unsustainable pace. Robert Mathis isn't going to have 30 sacks this year. I feel confident saying that. Moreover, the Colts next three games come against the six of the best offensive lines at adjusted sack rate. San Diego is second-best in the NFL at preventing sacks (Denver is first and Houston is sixth). To put that in perspective, the Colts have played four of the seven worst lines to date. Sacks are going to be at a premium for the next month or so. Don't be surprised if Mathis finds himself around 10 or 11 sacks come mid-November.
4. Watch for the meme. Chuck Pagano thinks turnovers and rushing yards are the determining factors in who wins a game. The Chargers are 2-0 when out-rushing the opponent and 1-2 when they have fewer turnovers. Indy on the other hand is 2-1 when out rushing the opponent (2-0 when they don't!) and 3-0 when they win the turnover battle. Turnovers matter, but rushing yards don't. It continues to worry me that he deeply believes they do. The Colts are going to pound the ball because they think that's what wins. Oh, for the record, the team with the better YPA is 5-0 this year in Colts games.
5. Watch for the end of the excuses. Regardless of what you think of the Trent Richardson trade, everyone has to agree that four weeks ought to be enough time for a running back to acclimate to an offense. The Colts have one of the best run-blocking lines in football and the Chargers have the worst defensive line. If Richardson can't look good against San Diego, he can't look good. Whether or not he's ever going to be an elite back, he ought to look like one this week. He should be well over 4.5 yards a carry and pushing 100 yards. If not, the warning bells will be sounding on his career.
6. Watch for the implosion. The Chargers have been in every game they've played this season, but are just 2-3 in part because of Phil Rivers' play down the stretch in games. His YPA, completion percentage and interceptions all soar in the fourth quarter this season. That's not because San Diego is playing from behind either. They've had the fourth-quarter lead in four of five games this year. The Colts have only allowed one fourth-quarter touchdown this season, and that was in Week 1. If this game is tight, look for Indy to come back and win.
7. Watch for the package. I'm not one to harp on packages normally, but the Colts have an ugly one. Last week we all saw what a dynamic player T.Y. Hilton can be. He's only in the game about 60% of the time. Darius Heyward-Bey, by comparison, gets on the field 72% of the snaps. Stanley Havili, the full back, has been in for 112 snaps. That's about a third of the time. The numbers don't line perfectly, but the Colts willfully take one of their best players off the field once in each set of downs. I can't begin to explain it.
8. Watch the pest. Danny Woodhead is going to present a challenge for the Colts defense. He's second in receiving DYAR for running backs, up there with ex-Charger and Colt-killer Darren Sproles. The Colts haven't had to defend an excellent receiving back this year. None of the top-15 receiving backs have played Indy. Again, they are getting two of the top three backs in the next two weeks, so strap in.
9. Watch for Spader. It's breast cancer awareness month, so the NFL has gone all Pretty in Pink. Luck comes off as the goofy-nerd everyone likes. Phil Rivers has a heavy dose Steve McKee in him. I can just hear Rivers say things like, "Nobody appreciates your sense of humor." He's about one step removed from playing the entire game with a button-down jersey, just so he can go out there and show off his waxed chest. I'm not really sure who Molly Ringwald is in this analogy, so I'm going go with us. We are all Molly Ringwald. And Andrew Luck has stolen our heart in fine 80s nerd-guy fashion. In a related story, it just occurred to me that I'm old.
10. Watch the secret weapon. Donald Brown doesn't qualify for the DVOA lead because he doesn't have enough carries, but his 65.2% is the best in the game. More impressive perhaps is the fact that he has 59 DYAR, which qualifies him for eighth in the league. That's amazing considering DYAR is a volume stat, and he doesn't get many touches. Obviously, he wouldn't be that successful as an every down back, but as a change-of-pace player, he's insanely valuable. Oh, and his pass blocking grade is better than Richardson's on the year. Just saying.
11. Watch for the deputy. This guy has come in and replaced the sheriff, and you know how much I love this guy. I was talking to this guy and he told me that you never check down to the wideout on Spider 3 Y Banana. Bananas are the best and spiders really got something, but this guy, the deputy I call him, he's come in and he's the Sheriff now. I know that sounds crazy to say because the sheriff is the sheriff, but the deputy, he's the top banana. When I was in Tampa, I wanted my own deputy, but my guy was more Barney Fife than Wyatt Erp. I think he was a marshal. So that's what this guy is. He's The Marshal. Banana, Mike. Ba-nana.
12. Watch for the roll. I don't buy the Colts defense even a little bit, but I'm all in on Luck. I think the games are slowing down for him at just the right time. Andy wins another shootout. Colts 30, Chargers 24.
I love the Gruden impression. Reminiscent of the early days of FO when random readers would take the opportunity to become Joe Theisman for a spell. "I was in the hot tub with QB X's high school coach the other night and he told me...."
I buy the Colts D a whole lot, but Rivers is NOT some second-year punk. He's a punk, don't get me wrong, just one who's pretty damn good and having a career year. Luckily the SD D is performing like the Jags. I think 28 is the bottom of the range for us with 42 at the top. I say 4 TDs and 2 FGs, or 34 for us. Rivers could put up 28 if he doesn't melt down.
Nate, I'm curious if you sent in a Marvin defense to Peter King's MMQB. He didn't select one for Marvin, so hopefully that means he thinks #88 is a no brainer.
People still don't realize that Brown is a good blocker, they still have 2009 in their heads. He's gotten better every year
I'm not buying the stats that indicates that the packers are 1 and the Colts are 3 in run blocking. I never understood the infatuation with 'Pretty in Pink'. ordinary at best in run blocking. The metrics in football are getting better but don't come close to baseball.
First, Rivers IS Steve McKee!
Second, I'm surprised that Brown's pass blocking grade is that good. He has been running very well, but I only really remember him missing blocks. Sampling bias I guess.
Third, I'm not as convinced as you that the Colts really want to stop the run and run the ball. I mean yes they will try to do both those things, but they (against mediocre passers) have been far more successful stopping the pass. A number of comparisons to the 2005 Colt have been made which don't seem far off. When it comes to running, they do spend too much time on it, but are very happy to abandon it if they need to as they did in the second half against Seattle. To me a good chunk of the talk about the run is PR aimed at Colts fans who (mistakenly) grew dissatisfied with the Sheriff.
Is it sad that of all of this, the only thing that really worried me about the entire game was the mention of robo-punter?
@NateDunlevy Yay! my Friday Colts pill.
First of all, I would like to say that I'm glad that the Colts have Richardson. He will be very useful for the Colts the rest of the year. (But only because Bradshaw and Ballard are hurt and they have no one else.)
That being said, I find it interesting the excuses that most Colts fans are making for him. (Something that was never done for Donald Brown.) I guess the Browns completely miss used him for the whole time they had him. I don't think it is a coincedence at all that Cleveland is 3-0 since the trade. They knew what Richardson was and are giddy at what they got for him.
Still, he can be very valuable for the Colts the rest of the season. I'll try to remember that next May when the Colts have the first day of the draft off.
@NateDunlevy Great column! Rivers:McKee was spot on (yeah, we're old). And the Gruden impression! Any plans copyright "The Deputy" b4 MNF?
Let's all thank goodness that the play wasn't named Cockroach 2 X Mango, else we would've deprived Gruden of one of his most iconic segments, ever.
Ps. I once made the same observation ("... In a related story, it just occurred to me that I'm old.") when coincidentally talking about seeing 80's movies in the theater... 'cept it was EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and not some whimpering teeny flick!). My colleague agreed with me, then one of the old timers turn around and, in summary, told us to STFU, he remembered when <i>Annette Funicello</i> was the hot new property.
We responded with a question about why he wasn't retired yet, then chose to GTFO before he could rise, creakingly, out of his special-order ergonomic chair and lecture us 40-something whippersnappers about the depth and vigor of all the early-era movie stars, as opposed to all these new, fresh up-and-comers... like Jodie Foster, Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts... Anyway, Nate, the lesson here is: Just like there's always someone better than you out there, there's always someone older. Until that someone's you, that is. ;)
Cockroach 2 X Mango. Book it.
The Colts offensive line is ordinary. (That's not really a knock; they're simply still trying to put all the pieces together there.) They do run-block well... out of passing formations.
Which means that they only ever really get to show off their run-blocking acumen when Donald Brown is taking the handoff. Because when TRich is running, he's doing so against 9 men in the box, because our 2TE-FB package that he's on the field with telegraphs the play call to the defense, every single time.
If TRich continues to run out of that absurd strategy, I'm not going to hold anything against him this year.
(Yep; I'm a homer. But I was a Donald Brown fan from day one, and I'm a TRich fan from day one. It's not his fault that Pagano/Pep are mis-using him.)
P.S. the best thing about this game: I'll actually get to *watch* it.
@7IHd When I watched that segment last year, I thought Gruden was saying "3 *WIDE* banana". So I was thinking "Wow, a 3 wide banana? What a scary concept".
When you got a banana who's peel is enough to trip up Godzilla, King Kong, or the Stay Puft man, you know you got a big banana.
@DougEngland I did.
@RobertItoh Well, he WAS the backfield protector on the blocked punt last week....
@RobertItoh I know. I see that all the time. And it's an oddly accurate implication of society as well: People don't react or even care to what happens 90% of the time, they only choose to focus on the highly visible instances. Such as the recent blitz sack from what, two games ago? People do the same thing to any figure in any sport - anyone recall the famous "Mario is slowing down" quote from the Indianapolis 500? - or heck, in any endeavor, even outside of sports.
I wish people would think more deeply and critically about what they choose to comment on, but that's sort of the nature of things on the 'net now: 15 microseconds of fame, say what you want, move on, what that thing I wrote was so 2 minutes ago why're you complaining... And unfortunately Brown is a victim of this.
@mattshedd He's killed us before. He can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop punting, ever, until you are dead.
@DougEngland I don't think the Browns record since the trade has anything to do with Richardson. You could make an argument that he's helped the Colts to their 3-0 record a lot more than his absense aided the Browns. What draft position do you think the Colts would have to have for people to 'get over' the trade? I'd say anything from 29 up.
@smonroe Hope not. Because Duckie is Jon Cryer. Which means that he had to spend the second half of his career as the front-row spectator to the implosion of Charlie Sheen. We wouldn't wish that on our Andrew, now, would we.
Duckie didn't end up with Molly Ringwald. Eddie Vedder, I mean Andrew McCarthy did.
Come to think of it, at the very end, Duckie catches the eye of a much hotter girl. So, yes, Luck is Duckie.
@chip_bennett"P.S. the best thing about this game: I'll actually get to *watch* it."
Yeah, here in Chicago the Colts' early-Sunday starts are pretty much always blacked out by the Bears. (Except when the Bears are on in the evening or are on bye. But this year, the Bears and Colts are on bye the same week, so that's one less yet again.) The only option is to go to that one Colts bar in Wrigleyville--which is always mobbed during the games. And I've reached the age where spending three hours drinking in a crowded bar doesn't sound like a great idea. (Clearly, there's a market for more than one Colts bar. I wonder why that hasn't happened yet. The city supports multiple Packers bars, Steelers bars, and even Lions bars. Lions bars! That's a contradiction in terms, isn't it? Anyway, I'm digressing horribly.)
Yes, I'll be watching. And expecting a win over the NFL's most douchebag quarterback.
@mrpenney Naw, in that case Jon Cryer to Charlie Sheen would've been Aaron Rodgers to Brett Favre.
@DougEngland I get all of your references, but I don't run around flaunting it. If you know what I'm saying.
@MarcusDugan Hell, I wish I would've pointed out that we also watched some more manly, testosterone-laden flicks instead of citing Star Wars. Now, I've avoided looking like a whimpering teen and instead projected myself as a pimpled nerd.
Or is it geek?
Meh... anyway: Platoon. Predator. Full Metal Jacket. Yeah, muscular manly stuff. Like gladiator films, minus the naughty insinuations by Capt. Oveur.
@mrpenney There are Packers bars in Chicago? Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised at anything anymore; a journalist once wrote that some of the best ham and pizza's (oddly enough, not a ham pizza) he's ever had was in Beirut.
@mrpenney Somewhere, I believe some Yelp editor caught the error, landed on the ground ROFLing, then refused to correct it "for the LULZ".
@AJ_ @mrpenney Believe it or not, yes--there are several, including a couple bars that I enjoy hanging out in. The Packers are sort of the antisocial alternative to the Bears, so we have far more Packers fans than you'd think.
On the other hand, when Yelp lists Packers bars, one of the hits on the first page is Crew, which must be some sort of sick joke (Crew is one of the city's two gay sports bars--not a bar for gay sports, but a gay bar for sports fans; it has awesome food, incidentally).