Amid all the bad news about injuries, improvements made by the Indy line have largely gone unnoticed. After the offensive line struggled early in the year against the Texans, it's important to note that for several weeks now, the Colts line has played well.
There are two components to good line play. One is good pass blocking, and the other is good run blocking. There aren't a lot of ways to measure pass blocking in a vacuum, because key indicators like sack percentage and yards per pass attempt reflect heavily on the quarterback. Still, let's at least note that the Colts adjusted sack rate is 2nd in the NFL at 3.3%. Last year it was first in the NFL at 3.1% . The Colts are on pace to give up 16 sacks this year (one a game) after giving up 13 last year and 14 the year before that. In other words, there's not much difference.
As for yards per attempt, 7.5 is a little lower than last year, but then again Peyton has been throwing a lot more. He is still in the top 10 in passes over 20 yards completed and is fourth in passes over 40 yards. For the most part, Peyton has had time to throw. There has been some inconsistency in the pass protection, even within games, but on the whole, the pass blocking has been credible.
Where this line has greatly improved has been in run blocking. There are some great advanced stats we can look at to get a feel for how the Colts have improved. The first is "Stuff Rate". Stuff rate measures how many runs go for zero or negative yardage. In recent years, this has been a big problem for the Colts, as running backs were constantly hit behind the line of scrimmage. Generally speaking, such runs are considered the fault of the line, not the running back. Considering the Colts' philosophy of avoiding 'negative' plays, stuffs present a real problem for the offense. Finally, in 2010, the Colts seem to have solved this problem.
The fact that Indy is getting positive yardage instead of negative yardage more frequently is a good thing. This means there are fewer players getting beat at the point of attack or simply making mental errors. There will always be plays that don't work, but the key is to have fewer of them.
Indy is also shooting up the boards in the adjusted line yards statistic. This metric attempts to isolate how many yards per carry are the result of line play. While nothing can ever fully separate running back play from line play, this is an attempt to get close. The Colts are performing much better here as well.
Again, that's real progress from the line. Indy has improved running in several directions.
|Left end||Left tackle||Middle||Right tackle||Right end|
Charlie Johnson had a miserable year run blocking last year (remember that Ugoh mostly started in '08), but has improved dramatically this season. Ryan Diem is has also raised his game considerably. Actually, I have no play by play data to support this, but if I had to guess, I would suspect that the addition of Brody Eldrige is helping the Colts run better to the edges of the field. Indy is a full yard better running wide this year than they were last year on both sides. That's marked improvement. By the way, I suspect the spike in yardage off left tackle is largely due to the one long run by Addai against Washington.
Individually, I've been pleased with the progress from Mike Pollack. He hasn't been great, but he has been credible. Overall, the offensive line should continue to play better as it gels. Remember that continuity is of vital importance to a line, and Indy's hasn't had a lot of work together. Saturday, Pollack and Diem have started every game (though Saturday missed camp), but Charlie Johnson has missed a start and left guard has been something of a revolving door. thanks to very uneven play from Jamie Richard, who lost his starting job to Kyle DeVan last week.
The net result of all this has been improvement on a play by play basis for the run game. Remember that DVOA measures how effective plays are against the average play of that down and distance.
To make it simple this chart says the Colts' run game is now above league average on a play by play basis. We aren't looking to lead the NFL in rushing yards, but the Colts need to have an efficient running game that doesn't waste plays. We are a long way from mission accomplished, but the early returns are encouraging. As the line plays together more, we should see some continued improvement in these numbers.
The Colts didn't play yesterday, but there were some things to learn about the NFL.
Good News: The Patriots are in trouble. No one who watched that game could possibly consider the Pats as a top contender. The trade of Randy Moss has made a once explosive offense completely pedestrian. In two games since the trade, the Pats have won each by a field goal, but Tom Brady's YPA has been below 6. They weren't the better team yesterday, but Norv out Norved even himself and they won. Pats have a rough schedule ahead, so don't look for them among the AFC's top four seeds come playoff time. Yesterday was a good win for them, of sorts, going on the road to the west coast is always challenging, but there are major warning signs from a team whose defense melted like wax in the fourth quarter and who has a sputtering offense. Yesterday, the Pats started drives at the SD 43, SD 22, NE 41, SD 8, NE 42, NE 48, and the NE 40 and managed only 23 points. Not good.
Bad News: The Titans, despite instability at quarterback, have be considered for real. They've played a tough schedule and lead the NFL in point differential at +82. Granted, they've played an extra game, but no team in football has scored as many points as the Titans, and they field one of the best defenses around. They play roughly the same kind of schedule as Indy down the stretch, so they won't get many breaks. The Titans are going to be one of those teams that will randomly get beat now and then because of bad quarterbacking, but they'll win more often than not. They remind me a lot of the early 2000s Titans teams. That's a bad thing.
Good News: The Ravens might be a tad overrated. Yes, they got the win over the lowly Bills, but after watching Ryan Fitzpatrick shred their defense throughout the game and then again late to force overtime, it's time for everyone to admit that the Ravens might not be a juggernaut. They are about the same as they've always been. Of special concern has to be the fact that for the second straight week, their defense failed to protect a ten point lead in the fourth quarter.
Bad News: The Steelers won. I realize that Roethlisberger looked bad, and the end was controversial, but there aren't a ton of losses on their schedule, so to pick up a tough win against Miami was big. I'm applying a little different standard for them than I am for the Pats for a couple of reasons. Although both won on the road, the Steelers didn't receive anything near the kind of 'non caused' help from the Dolphins that the Pats did from the Chargers. Furthermore, the Steelers came into the game expecting a nip tuck affair, and did just enough to win it, while the Pats wasted chances and watched their defense implode down the stretch. Finally, I think the Dolphins are better than the Chargers.
It's way too early to scoreboard watch, but so many of you have been begging for "Who to Root For", that I'm hard pressed to hold off any longer.
Given that all any of us can do today is scoreboard watch, let this be your rooting guide for the weekend:
As always, inter-conference games are simple: root for the NFC.
Bengals @ Falcons
Eagles @ Titans
Also, we can pretty safely root for a bad team playing a good one:
Buffalo @ Baltimore
Jacksonville @ Kansas City
We root against the South, and for a team not named San Diego to win the West.
Pittsburgh @ Miami
There aren't a lot of losses on the schedule for the Steelers. I think they are the best team in football. Let's hope they take a loss tomorrow that puts them back even with Indianapolis on the season. Win by the Dolphins also keeps pressure on the Pats and Jets.
Oakland @ Denver
This game probably won't matter. However, Oakland gives their #1 pick to New England (gooooo Oakland!), however, we do play them at the end of the year, so it would be nice to be sure they have nothing to play for. Go with the Raiders anyway.
New England @ San Diego
I'm on the record saying I think San Diego wins this game big. Ignore the records for a moment. The Charges do best (pass the ball) what the Pats do worse (defend the pass). I know the Chargers are banged up, but I don't believe in New England at all. I mean at all. Rooting for the Chargers is always a dicey proposition, and it could come back to haunt us later. Frankly, I'm rooting for fire to fall from the sky and consume both teams whole.
Also, I'll be on live with Jersey Johnny again at 12:30 on 1070 the Fan. Be sure to tune in, or listen live here.
"Have you named the baby yet?"
"I think we are going with Clark, but I want to see what happens in the game today".
9 catches. 103 yards. A playoff win over the Chiefs. My nephew's name is Clark. True story.
Obviously the loss of Dallas Clark is blow to the Colts' offense. He is a unique player who creates mismatches. In some ways, it will be hard to estimate the true impact of his injury on the Colts offense. To try and get a feel, however, let's look at the numbers.
Clark's raw numbers were strong. On the season, he had 37 catches for 347 yards and three scores. That's an average of only 9.4 yards per catch. That's a low number for Clark, on pace for by far the lowest of his career. Teams has purposed to take him away, and he was mostly catching short passes as Peyton tried to keep him involved in the offense. His production is absolutely replaceable. What effect his absence has on the way teams play the Colts remains to be seen.
After a strong opening pair of games, Clark's production in terms of yards had tailed off as teams keyed on him. Manning simply found other targets. He still threw Clark the ball, but he wasn't getting significant plays. Clark had fewer than 60 yards receiving in three of his last four games.
Clark's advanced metrics had also suffered this year. The Footballoutsiders measured him as the 13th best TE in the league this season, less than 6% better than a replacement player. This was on pace to be his worst season since 2007 when he battled injuries. If you remember, the 2007 ended as he dropped a fourth down pass that hit him in his heavily wrapped hand. Again, these metrics can only show what a player has actually done, not the effect they have on the game even when they don't touch the ball.
The truth is that while discouraging, Clark's injury should not come as a major surprise. Clark turned 31 this year, and while his injury was not due to his age persae, 31 is a fall line for NFL tight ends. Only five men in history have ever posted seasons of more than 750 yards receiving as a tight end after age 31. This may come as a shock, but Clark himself only ever topped that mark twice in his career (the last two seasons). Clark's career numbers are not nearly as overwhelming as Colts' fans might think. He has never been more than a third option in the Colts' passing attack until recently. In 2007, the year Harrison was hurt, he finished second on the team in receptions, a spot he had held until this year, when he was passed by Austin Collie.
For most of his career, Clark was seen as a luxury in the Colts' offense as opposed to an indispensable part. After two huge seasons in 2008 and 2009, everyone's opinions of him changed, and with reason. The truth is that the Colts were a dominant offense well before Clark was a feature player, and they will likely be a dominat offense without him in 2010.
Again, this isn't to negate or deny the impact Clark has. We'll get a chance to test his real game impact beyond just the numbers in coming weeks. When losing a player, however, there are two parts of the equation. The first question: 'Can the Colts' replace his produtction?' is easy to answer. Yes, and without great difficulty. The second question, "How will this hurt the Colts' ability to beat defenses schematically?" can't be answered now.
Moving forward, the team is going to have to take a long hard look at Clark's future. 32 is old for a Tight End. Only 20 tight ends in history even posted one 500 yard receiving season after turning 32. Only five did it more than once, and only two did it more than twice. In other words, the level of prodcution that Clark gave is probably never coming back. More to the point, the Colts still owe Clark a lot of money, and a lot of bonus money. Given the fact that this offseason could be the team's last chance to wipe that from the books*, Polian has to at least consider letting Clark go. It could save the team more than $5 million in cap hits, not to mention a $4 million a year salary.
I love Dallas Clark. He's been a speical player, a Ring of Honor performer. I hope he comes back and posts many more great seasons. Time and the numbers are not on his side, however.
*Assuming there is a cap or someithing like it and a season next year. Big, big assumptions, I know.
Depressing, but not unexpected news:
Again, this is by no means a death blow to the season. Clark is valuable and unique, but the Colts will be adding Anthony Gonzalez back into the mix. I don't believe the offense will suffer much of a drop off, if any, from this.
This takes away some matchup advantages and will force Manning to be creative.
He's certainly capable of that.
You may not know who Nathan Whitaker is, and you probably wouldn't be able to pick him out of a crowd, but if you are a Colts' fan, there's a good chance you've read one of his books.
Nathan is the co-author of all three of Tony Dungy's bestsellers: Quiet Strength (Tony's autobiography), Uncommon (a book of life advice to young men), and their new book The Mentor Leader. I have reviewed all three books here at 18to88, and have been moved by them and deeply valued them.
I 'met' Nathan for just a few seconds at book signing in Carmel, and was struck with his humility. He knew everyone was there to see Coach, but was warm and gracious to all. When I got home, I looked him up on line and was fascinated to see the eclectic life he had already lived for a young man. I looked him up on twitter, and He was gracious enough to be interviewed for 18 Questions. In the interview, we'll discuss his books, his football career as a player for Steve Spurrier and in NFL front offices, as well as what Tony Dungy is really like, and whether he thinks Tony will ever coach again.
It's a great discussion. It's good to see a fan base trying to honestly assess the situation.
I wondered what circumstances would conspire to allow Peyton Manning to get his fifth MVP award. After all, voters are tired of him.
Well, if he puts this team in the playoffs (and yes, he will), then they should just name the award after him.
From now on, I'm just going to do that. It's the Peyton Manning Most Valuable Player Award. It's like the Cy Young. It's the Manning.
I've spent all day running numbers for an article for Cold Hard Football Facts on the records of quarterbacks in close games. Basically, close games are a crap shoot. Lots of Pro Bowl QBs have .500 records in close games. If you have a Hall of Famer like Favre or Warner, you are still looking at .500. Tom Brady has been special, 20-11 in games decided by 8 points or less since 2005. No one else is even close to that good.
Oh, except one guy. He's not close to that good either.
He's way better.
I'll let you guess what his name is.
Peyton will save us all.
Dallas Clark is out, potentially for a long time.
No problem. The Colts have four wideouts. They can spread the other team team out.
Only now, Will Carroll is reporting that Collie is hurt as well with a significant hamstring.
Ok, no problem. We'll assume Gonzo's back (yikes). We'll put in Eldrige and just run the ball.
Oh yeah. Joe Addai is seriously banged up.
Well, we can always punt!