This past week I read an article by Mike Wells of ESPN.com, the former Pacers beat writer for the Indy Star. The article contained Wells' semi-regular Twitter mailbag, and included the following interaction:
Wait just a gosh darn minute.
Keep in mind that all this comes in the midst of a discussion on how the Reggie Wayne injury will affect the Colts' offense.
You lose your No. 1 receiving target, the second-most important player on the offense, and you're not going to make any adjustments? Why is this exactly?
Oh, because the Colts are a run-first team.
What a load of barn poop.
Let's start by addressing the first assessment: that Pep Hamilton likely won't make many adjustments in the coming weeks. I don't disagree with Wells here, it wouldn't necessarily surprise me at all if the Colts' game plan stayed pretty much the same. It's something I've come to expect.
Running the ball more, however, would be a terrible, horrible mistake, simply because THE COLTS CAN'T RUN THE BALL.
The Colts wouldn't tell you that though. Take this selection from Colts.com's most recent Q&A post.
Is a breakout game for Trent Richardson on the horizon?
The Colts rushing attack is sixth in the NFL averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Thanks to an offensive line that has held the same starting five for the last three weeks, the Colts have had success on the ground against some of the league’s best defenses.
That is what we like to call spinning the facts, and it's done masterfully here.
First, the Colts are averaging 4.5 yards per carry, which is seventh in the league. Second, that 4.5 YPC is inflated greatly by Andrew Luck, who is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and over 26 yards per game on the ground. Take Luck's stats out, and you're left with the Colts averaging 4.2 yards per carry. When you take out the numbers of Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw, who are lost for the season and can't contribute going forward, it lowers even more, averaging just over 4.0 YPC.
Most importantly, the Colts' "bell cow" back Trent Richardson is averaging a paltry 3.0 yards per carry.
Third, the Colts' rushing totals over the last three weeks have been their three lowest of the season. The team averaged less than four yards per carry in two of the three games, and the one game that they did reach 4.0 YPC came against San Diego and their abysmal defense.
Speaking of defense, where does this "some of the league's best defenses" statement come from? Denver and San Diego both have horrible defenses. Seattle is very good defense, although the run defense is probably the weakest link (still good though).
Anyway, the point is, the Colts can't actually run the ball very well. Like we've been saying all offseason, they just don't have the offensive line for it. They can run well in spurts, and generally out of passing formations with Donald Brown in the backfield, but overall, the Colts' haven't run it well over the last few weeks.
With that, let's revisit Mike Wells' statements, statements that have been echoed by some fans as well, namely this particular thought process:
The Colts aren’t 5-2 because Luck is flinging the ball down the field all the time. They got their record by being a run-first team. They’ll stay that way.
This is just wrong. Plain, flat-out wrong.
The Colts are 5-2 because of plenty of reasons, and two main ones.
A. Andrew Luck has progressed terrifyingly (For the rest of the league) quickly and is playing like a top-five quarterback.
B. The defense is playing exceptionally, outside of a few instances, especially the secondary.
The Colts' running game has been a positive factor in one win: the San Francisco game. While that was a big win, the biggest contributor in that game, Bradshaw, is also no longer an option.
This notion that the Colts are 5-2 BECAUSE of their running game is completely false. The running game has been much more of a negative factor than a positive one, especially during the Colts' last two wins.
Even calling the Colts a run-first team at this point is a bit laughable. Andrew Luck is still dropping back over 60% of the time and absolutely is the driving force of the offense. The Colts can say it all they want, the media can say it all they want, but if you stop the Colts' passing game, you'll stop the offense 90% of the time.
Remember, the Colts ran for over four yards per carry against San Diego, but only scored nine points. Not because the Chargers stopped the run, but because they didn't allow big passing plays and the Colts dropped eighteen million passes.
The rest of the season, and the Colts' Super Bowl chances, rely entirely on Luck and the passing offense's ability to adapt without Wayne. If it can be effective without Wayne they'll still be Super Bowl contenders. If Wayne's absence derails Luck and the Colts' production through the air, the Colts won't win a playoff game.
Kyle has his dogma, his fantasy, about the Colts. He has a penchant for glossing over the changes from last year. Yes, Andrew Luck had his slump last year. His improvement, his "progress", has been more about a different playbook that uses his abilities more fully, a playbook that he'd mastered at Stanford. The bolstered offensive line is another nice aspect of his "progress". Indy's defense this year is a talent upgrade from last year. Maybe "exceptional" is only a tad extravagant; they're playing well despite injury disruptions.
As for the "run-first" self-description that Kyle's made into a goad, that is what it is. Ball control is what Hamilton and Luck are attempting; they want to have the ability to burn clock when they choose. The ability to keep a high-scoring opposing QB, like Peyton, on the sidelines is a much-valued result. The defense also rests while Luck's on the field. The recent San Diego fiasco is an example of that approach being used against Indy; it worked. In that game, the defense couldn't get off the field, couldn't get the ball back, and Andrew could only watch from the sidelines.
Until Indy figures how to adjust for the loss of Reggie, the ground game is their staple. Don't confuse their lack of yardage, especially in the early quarters, with futility. As the Colts offensive linemen have been saying, they want to beat on the defense to wear them down for the 4th quarter; they've bought into Hamilton's mindset. Luck is already onboard. Kyle doesn't like this approach although he'll get his mileage from his contrarian viewpoint. The only instances where I'd tend to question Hamilton's tactics--in light of his strategy--is when he gets a nice 6/7-yard run on first down and then calls two questionable pass attempts for three-and-out. He's done this more than not. When he veers from a successful ground game, he gets too cute. Maybe he's trying to keep the defense honest, maybe he's trying to give his receiver's some action, but "three-and-out" is a too-common result. If it ain't broke, why break it yourself?
I really don't care why they win, only that they win. And yes, I care enough to take a minute and post here. Enjoy the game! Go Colts!
It's ridiculous how few people I encounter outside of this blog understand these simple premises despite having watched the games themselves. You've gotta feel a bit like Mugatu from Zoolander. "DOESN'T ANYBODY ELSE NOTICE THIS??? I FEEL LIKE I'M TAKING CRAZY PILLS!!!"
Excellent job, by the way, Kyle.
Apropos our earlier discussion of the Colts not being aggressive enough on 4th down.
Teams went for in on 4th 18 times last week and got the first on 15 of those plays!!!
This is the most detailed and sensible analysis of Trent Richardson's 'struggles' that I've seen.
It clearly demonstrates that Trent is getting hit in the backfield on more than half of his carries, basically right after he gets the ball. The defenses are stacking the box to stop him, which eventually opens up the passing for Luck.
Look, I watched Luck for 4 years at Stanford. This is exactly the same offense. Once the OL comes around and actually starts to block effectively, this offense will hum. Luck was a master of getting into the right play, and he still is. But he can't block as well. Just give it some time, but it will happen this season, maybe in the next game, that you start to see things click on the OL, and finally, for TRich and the running game.
Good QB play and good play from the secondary/pass rush. Well that is what teams do to win consistently in the league today.
I really don't know why everyone fixates so much on ball control and running. The Jets actually "won the possession battle" against the Bengals. Look what good that did them.
I don't have a problem with running, if it's working. Pep (and Luck) need to do a better job running vs favorable fronts. Please lose the 6 OL plays and run out of sets where there is at least the threat of a pass.
Mike Wells' coverage of the Colts just sucks. I wanted to give him time but he is flat-out wrong on a lot of things and he only links to Indiana newspaper articles (mostly the Star). His analysis is no better than most of the other generic meat-head sports analysts. Kuharsky was better and he didn't favor Star articles over everything else. He had no problem linking to blogs or other networks' football articles.
Being 'run first' does not mean you have to run the ball well. Offensive game plans are built around a pattern you establish and then build off that pattern. So if you only get 3 yards on that run, that's ok. The defense will still expect the run. And the defense will still try to stop that run if you consistently run it. Period. Then, Luck and Hamilton will exploit tendencies in the Defense based on their reaction to the run.
Sure it would be great to get 5 yds per carry. No doubt. But being run first is a philosophy that is working. I say stick with it.
The Colts FO is the most media savvy we've had. Ever. They are 'spinning' it, as @ColtsAuth_Kyle puts it, to trick the league into believing that we are, in fact, a power run team. When the playoffs roll up, our opposition will have focused all of their energy on stopping our power run game and put 11 men in the box. Then it will be that much easier to see if this Luck kid has what it takes and maybe Pep will let him throw a little.
/disable sarcasm font
My big fear is that Pep believes this. That they think it is because of the running game, and now with Wayne gone they turn to the running game even more, instead of putting it all on Andrew Luck. I'll wait to see if this actually happens, but I can see if Luck struggles without Wayne against Houston (still a decent to good defense) that they commit fully to the run. It's bad when I'm preemptively scared of what Pep might do.
(And against the Broncos, who did the Colts use for the vast majority of the game... Donald Brown. Not Richardson.)
My current MVP rankings:
(1) Peyton, but just barely.
(2) Andrew, with a bullet.
(3) Pagano's magical ability to coach up defensive backs.
No argument here on pass > run
But, in fairness,
The Den rushing D is very stout at -18.8DVOA (5th), ranked one better than SEA. (Just Den pass D sucks)
TRich has poor ypc and DVOA, but he actually has a very good success rate at 48% (11th). I don't understand how that works, but I would guess that it means getting tackled in the backfield, making unsuccessful runs VERY unsuccessful, is why. And no long runs. He only has the one fumble, so it's not that.
Jax was his first game&running the clock all game, so a pass.
Next is Sea, awesome D and only 2 weeks on the team.
Next is SD, bad game.
Next is Den, awesome run D and Broncos expecting ball control Colts O
I'm of the opinion that he's not that horrible yet, it's just as likely that he'll get better with the second half cupcake sched, aside from the sunk draft pick cost he's very cheap and has lots of tread still, even then a late 1st pick the next year isn't that bad, and considering he'll be around through the season bar injury no matter what, I'll wait until the end of the season to decide whether to get worked up about his performance.
tl;dr I'm fine with yelling about strategy, less so basing that on the idea that TR sucks. After all, even with Purple Jesus Luck should be the star.
@Jayjaybe It seems like you're dismissing Kyle's conclusion without actually touching how he arrived there. What are your thoughts on the points he made about yards per carry number being inflated by Andrew Luck's spontaneous runs and two backs who are no longer healthy? Or how the run game has been performing since Ballard and Bradshaw went down? Or the 3:2 pass to run play ratio? Or the fact that Donald Brown's big runs (the only thing making our run game look alright over the past 3 games) have come out of passing formations?
@Fondue Great reference!
@rd2 Trent Richardson is not running well because 1) the Colts use him mostly in "power run" sets - allowing the defense to stack the box with little penalty 2) the Colts interior OL is just not good 3) he has struggled to adjust to the game speed and better defenses in the NFL. I feel like that order is correct.
Richardson has all of the speed and strength he always had but he no longer has the same talent advantage around him as he did at Alabama and his opponents are all faster and stronger now. I think he can be a good back but his vision and decisiveness have to improve.
Stacking the box to stop Richardson only works to Luck's benefit when he has the weapons on the field to exploit that situation. He cannot do that when the Colts trade Heyward-Bey, Hilton and Fleener for Joe Reitz, Stanley Havili, and Dominique Jones. Occasionally you may be able to get a pass out to Havili against a LB and win a match up (last week). But, Fleener and the WRs are better weapons. Stop using "power run" formations and the situation changes. The "Stanford offense" worked at Stanford because they had the talent advantage more often than not.
I would like to see real statistics on how many times our backs are hit in the backfield. I feel like it is a lot but I have now seen 70% once and more than half here without any links to back those claims up.
@rd2 The only thing I really agree with and what I think is the big problem is that he is not seeing holes, and running right into the back of his man instead of finding the open hole and hitting it. He is still running with aggression and still has all the moves, but there is only so far you can go if you have a bunch of congested traffic where you are running.
It is kind of crazy because this is what donald brown used to do and he actually has gotten much better at finding holes over the past few years.
As far as him getting hit in the backfield this is because we try to do misdirections on short yardage instead of just pounding the ball and allows more time for the D to get into the backfield.
Also many of Browns long carries have come one draws, most out of shotgun, in this situations holes tend to be a lot more visable than in our typical run plays. From what I have seen Richardson has not had many of these situations and when he has he has been more productive than typically running non draw plays specifically with the QB under center.
He needs to be coached up, as far as finding the holes if he is not, he will never get back to form, I wonder if this is something the Browns coaching staff did to him.
@rd2 I just don't think the OL will ever be good enough to execute this offense. They have lost Thomas and the center/guards continue to disappoint. I agree that is what they are trying to do, but they simply don't have the personnel to do it. They need to shift to an approach that relies less heavily on excellent OL play.
@hankster My thing is running the ball for me is good to have, but in a more specific way, basically keeping drives going we should be able to pick up 3rd and 1 or 2 by running right up the middle with our power back, what I see way too often is that we pass on these situations or run it with Donald Brown, this is just silly to me.
Also getting positive yardage on early downs and opening up the playbook more on 2nd and 3rd.
As far as just ball control, you want to make sure you give your defense a rest, unless your offense is just scoring all the time, that is where the importance is, have to keep those guys fresh.
@bradicus18 He feels very much like an "established" guy who doesn't want to listen to the "new" guys out there.
@rd2 I would say it is hurting actually. Look at Luck's offensive game last year to this year--he has improved this year, but was more successful last year.
@rd2 being run first means you use the run to set up the pass, but if you are not doing this then the only team you are run first to is yourself. Teams are not scared of the running game, and I doubt the adjust much to it now, they are focused on the passing game, so in this sense they are prepared to stop Luck and receivers.
Many of our long runs have come due to draw plays, the 4 ypc is pretty inflated it is not consistent with the current backs we have.
I would rather us be a smart running team than a supposed power running team, however I think some of those smart running plays should be power running plays in the right situations, if you send trent Richardson up the middle and don't have a bunch of traffic he will get you atleast 2 yds on every play because of the way he runs, once you start stacking all those guys on the line you just bring in more defenders to push our week interior offensive lineman back and destroy any type of run short yardage game we have.
@rd2 Those 2 yard runs on first down are flat out horrible. I know Pep talks about not wasting plays, but that's what those are. You want to know why the Colts are successful? Because Luck is the best QB in the league on third down. Now he just lost his best third down target. With Wayne gone the Colts will have a harder time making up for those wasted run plays.
If the Colt's don't abandon those short runs they are going to have problems.
@rd2 The colts are only run first in the sense that they stupidly run the offense into the ground on the first series of the game, and it's really not working. The passing game is what moves the chains. The running game has been somewhat decent in short yardage, and that's about it
@rd2 the Colts offense only starts having success when they abandon the insistence on "power run" formations and go into passing formations.
Maybe you're cool with continuously starting games with stalled drives and three-and-outs out of "power run" formations; but I'm not. It's almost as consistent as the sun rising in the east: the Colts bring in Reitz as an extra lineman, and the current drive grinds to a halt.
What's interesting, in all seriousness, is that I think that the Colts are being EXTREMELY media savvy (in general this year). You think all of Irsay's comments before the Denver game were him just shooting his mouth off? I think he's smarter than that, I think it was all about getting into Peyton's head to give his team the best chance of winning. I didn't realize it until just before the game when I saw that roof and window wide open.
@dmstorm22 I agree about Pep, but I don't understand it. Of all the people who should know how good Luck is, shouldn't it be the Andrew Luck Coordinator of Offense?
@Pied I'll see if I can find a link somewhere, but I read that Richardson was second in the league in broken tackles. He's only getting 3.0 ypc because he's getting hit in the freaking backfield something like 70% of the time.
@bradicus18 @rd2 I don't think the speed of the game affects him as much, I mean the SEC was seriously fast, it is not like he can't get to the holes in time, he just doesn't see them, at all on the majority of plays if they are not right there in his face. I just think the big difference is him not seeing the holes for whatever reason, I am assuming a lot was bad RB coaching in Cleveland.
@mattshedd @bradicus18 I'll admit that I know nothing about Wells or his level of football knowledge prior to covering it for ESPN. But it just seems like he switched from covering the Pacers and got his football advice from Mike Ditka. And now he just seems interested in throwing bones out to his old colleagues at the Star. He should educate himself here! :)
@Sandals @matt_has @ColtsAuth_Kyle the video tribute was also done for Edge ... nothing extraordinary. It's just that it was Peyton, and it was SNF, and ... why are you making me relive that moment again?!? ;) I'm just not so sure I believe the open roof was as "calculated" as you do. Totally could have been, I'll admit that.
Generally speaking though, do you honestly believe that what Irsay does on twitter is "savvy"? I'd call it more hallucino-garble-LOOK! SOMETHING SHINY!
The 'old regime' had it drawbacks, to be sure, especially w/regard to 'media'. But man, sometimes I sure do miss the days of Dungy's "one voice".
@hankster @dmstorm22 They ran a ton at stanford, and had a lot of success, that was their game plan at Stanford, but I think in the NFL Pep is overthinking stuff a little too much, deception is good sometimes, but sometimes you just have to go with the mindset we are better than you. For instance on the play Wayne was hurt, all we had to do was run it right up the middle in a single back situation or iform with 2 to 3 wrs spread out wide, instead we try this play action(which would have got a TD if on target) and it is incomplete. Lets just get the first and keep the drive going we did not need a big play right there. Or running DB right up the middle on 3rd downs, why... overthinking too much for me, lets just play ball some of the times.
@DougEngland crap! I thought I was dealing with one of those guys from those other blogs (like ESPN) that sometimes find their way over here. Now I feel stupid...
@paulcareyjr @bradicus18 @rd2 I completely agree with your assessment on his inability to find the hole and that it is the most crucial aspect he can fix himself. And I don't think he lacks the speed to be successful. But now, he has to face DL that can run nearly as fast as he can. If he can't find holes, he will not be able to just find another hole so easily as he could at Alabama with that stud OL they had.
Sure, the SEC was fast...er than the rest of college football. And while every SEC defense had a few NFL caliber defensive players, none of them were chock full of NFL caliber starters. The NFL game is just faster. Richardson can get chased down in the backfield now if he misses the obvious running lane and tries for another on the outside or the other side of the line (which he does, occasionally). This problem is exacerbated with such a poor interior OL.
I hope you are right on the coaching aspect. I have no clue.