Reading the Colts Numbers

Andrew Luck and the 6-3 Indianapolis Colts welcome Tom Brady and the 7-2 New England Patriots to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday night. The Patriots are riding a fivegame winning streak and both teams are coming off their Bye Week. It is time read the Colts numbers and see what the stats say about this matchup.


After a resounding 43-21 win over the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots had a much-needed bye week to rest and prepare for the second half of the season. This Sunday they face another potential playoff opponent in the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Containing the high-flying Colts offense will be difficult, as they feel at home in their climate-controlled dome.

Properly Rating Andrew Luck

Anointed the “next big thing” after being drafted #1 overall in 2012, quarterback Andrew Luck has blossomed in his third season with Indianapolis. Though Greg Bedard has questioned whether Luck is overrated, the Colts’ numbers show a developing signal caller at the helm of a prolific offense. Luck leads the league in several passing categories, and Indy’s high-volume approach to passing is noteworthy. Their total passing plays (pass attempts plus sacks) comprise 61.7 of all snaps from scrimmage, ranking sixth in the NFL. With a league-leading 666 total plays and 235 first downs, the Colts have sustained long drives (ranking second in the NFL for both average drive length and success rate) and jumped out to early leads. In all six of their wins, they never trailed. Priority number one for the Patriots will be to score first and not let the Colts race out to an early lead at home.

However, as gaudy as some of the statistics appear, there are still issues in Luck’s game. He has thrown nine interceptions (tied for sixth-most in the NFL), and three have been decisive in game outcomes. In Week 1 at Denver, Luck attempts to throw the deep ball in the direction of Dwayne Allen:

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However, Rahim Moore makes the interception, returning it to the Denver 46. Peyton Manning would guide the Broncos to the end zone in eight plays for a 10-0 lead, a margin they would expand to 24-0 by halftime. Though the Colts mounted a comeback, they fell a touchdown short ‒ the one they gave up because of a costly turnover.

During Week 2 at home against Philadelphia, Luck tries to throw a short 6-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton:

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Malcolm Jenkins is able to make a break on the route and returns the interception to the Eagles 24. On the ensuing drive, Nick Foles connected with Darren Sproles for a 51-yard play en route to a game-tying touchdown. Luck’s decision to force a throw into a tight window and the resulting turnover again costs the Colts, as the Eagles would convert a field goal as time expired and escape with the win.

In Week 8 at Pittsburgh, a turnover at a key moment again cost Luck and the Colts a chance at victory:

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The Steelers’ William Gay intercepts the pass intended for Hakeem Nicks and runs it back 33 yards for a touchdown. On a day when Ben Roethlisberger amassed 522 passing yards and six touchdowns, this early pick-6 from Luck put the Colts in a hole from which they never recovered.

With 10 interceptions this season (tied for 4th in the NFL), the Patriots have the personnel to disrupt the Colts’ passing lanes and pick off a pass or two. These examples suggest Luck is prone to momentum-changing interceptions, and that turnovers leading to points are killers for every team in the NFL.

The Colts Defense by the Numbers

According to Football Outsiders, Indianapolis has an average defense against both the run and the pass. A deeper look reveals a few weaknesses to exploit. They have a higher variance than most NFL teams, executing rock-solid defense in some games and playing like a sieve in others. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, they allowed 135 total yards and zero points; the following week the Pittsburgh Steelers rolled them with 639 total yards and 51 points.

What the Colts’ numbers really tell us is that their defense is susceptible to top passing offenses. They have allowed an average of 263.6 yards per game in the air, 6th most in the NFL. By comparison, the Patriots rank 19th, surrendering 235.1 passing yards per game.

Closer examination of the Colts’ slate shows all three of their losses have been to teams among the NFL’s top five in passing (through Week 9):

 

Games Passing Yards Passing Yards/Game NFL Rank
Denver Broncos 8 2508 313.5 2
Pittsburgh Steelers 9 2650 294.4 4
Philadelphia Eagles 8 2278 284.8 5
New England Patriots 9 2392 265.8 8
Baltimore Ravens 9 2246 249.6 12
NFL Avg. 8.4 2042.5 243.9
Cincinnati Bengals 8 1922 240.3 15
New York Giants 8 1883 235.4 17
Tennessee Titans 8 1759 219.9 24
Jacksonville Jaguars 9 1908 212.0 27
Houston Texans 9 1887 209.7 28

 

After Week 9, the Patriots sit at 8th in the league. If they continue their recent offensive resurgence, they can join the other three teams that have beaten the Colts. The three winning teams ran pass plays 57.2% of the time, lower than their seasonal rate of 60%. (the NFL average is 58.2%)

The Colts seemed to fare better against deep passes, but proved more vulnerable against short routes with extra yards after the catch:

Short passes (< 15 yards in the air)

Defense Comp % NFL Rank Avg. Yards Gained NFL Rank 1st Down % NFL Rank TD % NFL Rank
Colts 68 7.3 28 34.4 9 5.5 28
NFL Avg 69.5 6.4 35.8 4.3

Deep passes (>= 15 yards in the air)

Defense Comp % NFL Rank Avg. Yards Gained NFL Rank 1st Down % NFL Rank TD % NFL Rank
Colts 33.3 9.3 7 31.9 8 2.9 3
NFL Avg 40.8 11.6 40.1 7.5

Conclusion

A win at Indianapolis would give the Patriots another tiebreaker for a first-round bye in the playoffs. With the fifth-strongest remaining strength of schedule in the NFL, New England will need to win this game to stay ahead of the Colts (24th), Broncos (20th), and Steelers (23rd) in the race for home-field advantage. Reading the Colts numbers suggest that limiting Andrew Luck’s passing proficiency and snatching a timely interception will help corral the Indianapolis offense, while Tom Brady and company can use a potent air attack to their advantage against the defense. With top offenses matched up against average defenses in an indoor stadium, this game has potential to be a pulsating, high-scoring affair.

All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.

Follow Douglas Storms on Twitter @stormsorama.

Douglas Storms is Inside The Pylon‘s numbers man; each week he looks at the stats to find themost interesting and possibly impactful data about the matchup.

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