Lots of people make a big deal out of three statistics: Time of possession, running the ball, and stopping the run. Pundits, coaches, and fans alike talk endlessly about the need to control all three, often saying they are vital to any team winning a football game. But, as we have often said here in the past, these three statistics are highly over-rated.
This is a throwing league. If you can throw the ball and stop the throw, you will win. It's that simple.
Last night's game, coupled with the NY Giants beating the Dallas Cowboys the night before, prove that running the ball is a highly over-rated and over-valued statistic. You must throw the ball to score and win in this league.
Now, before I go into the details and who-done-whats of this wild and entertaining game at Landshark Stadium in Miami, let me clarify why throwing the ball and stopping the pass are more important than running the ball and stopping the run. This is a league built around quarterbacks and scoring TDs. Rules like enforced illegal contact, pass interference, and new low hit rules to protect the QB (aka, the "Brady rule") are all designed to make it easier, safer, and more entertaining to throw the ball than to run it. As ESPN's Ron Jaworski astutely says during just about every Monday Night Football telecast, Points come out of the passing game. And if you cannot score throwing it in this league, especially in the red zone, you are going to lose football games.
For the Dolphins last night, and the Cowboys the night before, both teams ran for well over 200 yards. They used a combination of both power and finesse to control the line of scrimmage. In the case of the Cowboys v. Giants, NY was unable to get a consistent running game going themselves, and running the ball is their bread and butter. They managed just 3.7 yards rushing to 8.7 for the Cowboys. The difference in the ball game was the net yards per passing play. The Giants averaged 8.7 yards a pass; the Cowboys 4.4, and several costly turnovers from QB Tony Romo. By the way, turnovers factor into yards per completion in passing statistics.
When you look at this stat in the Colts v. Dolphins contest, the average yards per pass jumps out at you like a land-walking shark with a laser cannon strapped to his back. Indy averaged 12.3 yards per pass; Miami a measly 4.7.
I'll type it one for time, and even throw some bold in just to be obnoxious: Running the ball is over-rated.
You must throw the ball effectively in this league to win. Anyone who says otherwise simply does not understand modern football. More breakdown after the jump.
The formula to "beat" the Colts is simple, according to Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano (an intelligent coach who seemed to whine and cry his way through the post-game press conference). The formula involves running the ball, controlling the clock, blah, blah, blah, blah. All are typical Bill Parcells keys to winning, and all are over-rated and out-dated, especially in the regular season. The Dolphins used conventional and "wildcat" formations to hold onto the football for over 45 minutes. They also converted 71% of their third downs, and limited the Colts to just one series (a three-and-out) in the third quarter.
The problem for Miami is the same problem everyone else has when they play "keep away" from the Colts: When you only average 4.8 yards per play and score just 23 points, you are not likely to beat a Peyton Manning-led team. Hell, you can't beat an Eli Manning-led team doing that.
With a Colts passing game averaging over 12 yards a competition and a running game averaging 5.5 a carry, Indy didn't need 45 minutes to score over 20-plus points. The first play from scrimmage in the ball game was an 80 yard bomb from Manning to Dallas Clark, who is now firmly established as the best TE in football. When Jason Witten or Antonio Gates can make an 80 yard TD like Clark's last night, call me. Until then, shut up with calling them "the best." Clark is the best, no doubt.
Indy was able to score quickly and efficiently, answering almost every Miami score with a score themselves. Indy took advantage of Miami's poor corner and safety play, gaining large chunks of yardage throwing over the middle to the TEs and on crossing routes. Indy also did a good job protecting Manning using only five or six blockers, while the Dolphins seemed to be in max protect all night. This also used a lot of TE motion to chip players like Freeney and Mathis.
Here are more key observations from the game:
- Charlie Johnson played very well, and the Colts o-line overall was very good. 5.5 a rush against a very stout Miami defense is a step in the right direction.
- Peyton Manning continues to show why he is the best QB in the league. You do not see teams try and play keep away from Tom Brady.
- The Wild Cat offense gave the Colts fits all game long. Despite practicing all week for it, the Colts looked lost, confused, and frustrated by it. Tackling was piss poor, and both Ed Johnson and Antonio Johnson were routinely blown off the ball. They simply did not know what to do.
- Tim Jennings was hot and cold all night. One second, he makes a great tackle on a run play. The next, he's giving ten yard cushions to Ten Ginn Jr. on a 3rd and 7.
- Gary Brackett seemed to hurt his knee late in the fourth quarter. I pray to God he is OK.
- Pierre Garcon is one fast dude. He outran the entire Dolphins defense on that screen TD pass from Manning.
- Adam Vinatieri is money. And yes, he called bank.
- The Colts did not commit a turnover on offense and committed only one offensive penalty (5 yards), which they overcame. Outstanding!
- Colts special teams outplayed the Dolphins. Playing "keep away" can work against the Colts, but only if the opponent's special teams play very well (see San Diego Chargers in the playoffs last year). Miami was unable to really pin the Colts using their kicking game, and Indy's coverage units played well all night. Miami's Dan Carpenter also missed a crucial 49 yard FG badly in the third quarter.
Now, all that said, Indy's "formula" for winning cannot sustain. The Colts simply must do a better job stopping the run if they want to have any kind of meaningful success this year. However, four other teams rushed for over 200 yards on their opponents this past weekend, and only one of those teams won (the 49ers). So, before people start pressing the run defense panic button, just know that a stout defense like the Giants got run over as well. Yet, like the Colts, they still won. Indy has good DTs, excellent coaches, and a strong system. Their run defense will improve.
The positives you can take away are that the offensive line played brilliantly, Adam Vinatieri seems healthy enough to make clutch kicks, and Manning is god. Also, young receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie stepped up big while Miami double covered Reggie Wayne all night. Joseph Addai averaged 5.5 a carry, and made several strong runs on first down. And rookie Donald Brown looked like he was shot from a cannon on his fourth quarter TD run off a draw play.
Unlike last year, our team is 2-0 and looks ready to improve. Props to Jim Caldwell, who got his first road victory as a head coach, and to Peyton Manning, who passed John Unitas as the all-time "winner" at QB for the Colts.