One of the most discussed aspects of Pep Hamilton's offense has been the inclusion of a fullback. Hamilton and Pagano have lauded Stanley Havili and Dominique Jones for their versatility and ability to aid in the power-run game, while fans and analysts have referenced the position as a dying, unnecessary breed.
Through two weeks, the results are mixed. The Colts as a whole have been pretty efficient, currently sitting at 4th in the league in both Expected Points Added and Success Rate (I'd use DVOA, but it's not out yet for Week 4. It should be sometime today, and I expect the Colts will be near the top five).
However, the Colts' offense has gotten stalled at odd times and playcalling has seemed inconsistent, a lot of times due to a fullback on the field. Much of Trent Richardson's troubles have been excused due to the Colts telegraphing their plays with a fullback.
So, I decided to take a look at how the Colts were performing with a fullback, and charted each play that the Colts had Stanley Havili on the field or Dominique Jones back in the fullback positions (while Andrew Luck was in the game).
Well, first, let's say that the Colts' aren't necessarily telegraphing their plays. Indianapolis ran 30 plays with a fullback, by my count, on Sunday. 14 of those plays were passes, while 16 were runs.
But even if the Colts aren't running the ball at a dispropportionate rate with a fullback, defenses are playing like it. Both San Francisco and Jacksonville played the run hard when a fullback was present, and the numbers (at least from the Jacksonville game) represent that.
Richardson ran the ball 20 times on Sunday, 15 with a fullback and five without. On the plays where a fullback was present, he averaged just under 2.5 yards per carry. On the other five carries, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Now, I'm not excusing him for his poor play, I still haven't been impressed with him as a running back (although I will give him until the bye week before I evaluate him fully). Nevertheless, the fullback addition certainly has bogged the run game down, at least in this game.
Now, the interesting thing is how the fullback impacted the passing game. With the defense keying on the running game, the Colts were able to pass incredibly effectively when the fullback was on the field.
The Colts netted 145 yards on 14 passing plays with a fullback on the field, and just 152 yards on the 24 other passing plays. That's an average of 10.4 yards per play with a fullback, versus 6.3 yards per play without.
It wasn't that Havili or Jones themselves were threats in the passing game. As fullbacks, the two netted just one yard on two pass attempts. However, they opened up the field for others, and the Colts were incredibly efficient. Luck finished 9-13 for 145 yards and one sack. That included all five of the Colts' longest passing plays of the day.
Now, I wouldn't expect that difference to be quite as drastic as the season moves on. The Jaguars defense isn't good, and other teams will pick up on the fact that the Colts don't solely run out of power sets. Of course, that should also open up a bit more space for the running game.
Nevertheless, this game was a microcosm of what the fullback can do, and what Hamilton envisions the position doing for the passing game. It's still a concern that the Colts aren't running well up the middle behind their fullback, but, as they showed on Sunday, it doesn't matter when you flip passes much more efficiently.
You know, empirical evidence speaks pretty clearly. *IF* the trend holds true for the rest of the season through next year and the presence of the fullback outright helps the passing offense, then I'm simply going to have to reexamine my stance on that position's value. I'm still not thrilled by the notion, but evidence can't be ignored. This isn't the be-all, end-all conclusion yet, not even close, but it's data to evaluate. I simply have to gain more and more context with which to evaluate it.
Apropos of nothing, I am pretty depressed that Freeney's career is likely over, but less depressed than I would have been if we guaranteed him $4.5 M this year. Glad I did not see it happen--that would have really bummed me out even more. I know there was some grumbling here that we didn't even make him an offer (shabby treatment, I agree, or would it have been more insulting to low-ball him?), but in light of this it seems even more like the right call.
Okay now I am even more bummed thinking that he'll be perpetually a HOF bubble guy because QB hits and pressures and forced fumbles won't be counted--just sacks, and in that category he's probably 20 shy of whatever threshold they have.
On the plus side, man, does Mathis look good this year. Must be his awesome first name.
I love what the Saints are doing, showing pass and running and viceversa, as Gruden was pointing out last night. That Saints offense is so fun to watch.
I see this playing out like a supply-demand curve (for those who have been through econ classes); basically, as the D's adjust and don't sell out on the run with FB in, our passing efficiency with FB will decrease, but run efficiency will increase.
Now that sounds okay, but is that a trade-off we want? Taking 10% off the very robust passing yardage and adding it to the paltry rush yardage? Hmmmm.
I assume this kind of D overcompensation is what contributed to Brown's big run Sunday as well--"Hey, look, no FB. Must be a pass play." I suppose the fact that it was the Jags also played a part.
So if the goal is total team success and the presence of FB correlates to passing success but an underperforming run game, I'm okay with a FB. I'd just prefer an H-Back who can flex out to play TE as well--a little motion--to keep the D off-balance--have then stack the box and then flex an additional receiver out there to mess them up. Radical, I know, possibly heresy.... I'll go repent now.
Good work! I wouldn't have guessed that the fullback on the field helped the pass game that much. It'll will be interesting to see how Seattle plays since they usually play man coverage and pack the box.
@AJ_ I'm right with you A.J. Surprising results.
@Bobman1 So we're now just assuming that his injury was pre-destined, and it would have happened if he were still with the Colts? Like it wasn't kind of a freak, circumstantial event that would have been avoided if he were 6 inches to his left or right? Let alone in a different state and team? Come on.
@Bobman1 I can't remember ever seeing the Colts' OL open a hole as big as the one Brown ran through on that long play. It was like 15 feet of daylight, and almost nobody home on the second level. Surely that has more to do with the Jags D than our O, right?
@Bobman1Ha! I got a good laugh from that.
Can't wait for McGlynn and Linkenbach to be justly recognized as Pro Bowlers.