After the Browns loss, it's increasingly difficult to find many positives. The boat appears to be sinking quickly (at the very least listing heavily) and with primetime night games against Pittsburgh then Tampa Bay on the schedule, on the surface it looks like the Colts season is headed for total disaster.
Yet, hard as they might be to find, their are a few positives out there. One, and probably the most important given the position, is that Kerry Collins is improving. He looked more in control, more comfortable and more trusting of his receivers.
It's easy to lay blame on Kerry Collins for his underwhelming first two weeks, but such criticism is unwarranted. For Bill Polian to say that because Collins was a veteran he could come in write away was ludicrous and he should have known better.
Didn't he (or the fans) remember when Peyton struggled early in 2008 after recovering from bursa sac knee surgery. He struggled having had 10 years experience running the offense! For Polian to say Collins would learn it in a matter of weeks was beyond fair to Collins or the fans. Before the season Collins barely had any practice let alone live game snaps. A month down the road and Collins' improvement is noticeable.
The 2008 Colts started 3-4 before reeling off 9 straight. Don't expect such a turnaround for this year's team but we should see better offensive performances soon.
The stats revealed a few other surprising positives as well. The breakdown after the jump.
Without watching the game and just by looking at the box score, you might have assumed the Colts came out on top. Most statistical categories were either neutral or favored the Colts.
Red Zone (Made-Att)
Defensive / Special Teams TDs
- Colts had one fewer play - even
- Colts had 18 fewer yards - essentially even
- Colts had 23 fewer passing yards - slight edge Cleveland
- Colts had 1.6 yards less per pass - edge Cleveland
- Colts had three more rushing yards - even
- Colts had 1.1 more yards per rush - edge Indy
- Colts had 1 more penalty but 28 few penalty yards - edge Indy
- Colts had 1 more turnover - essentially even
- Time of possession... Colts haven't won a time of possession battle since 1968, so screw it.
Those numbers show the game was statistically very close and offer promising signs of life from Indy.
Watching the Colts out-rush Cleveland was a pleasant surprise and showed that our run blocking (and running game overall) is much improved from recent seasons. The fact that our defense was able to hold its own and stop a very capable rusher in Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis was also encouraging. A sign that the Colts are a disciplined well coached team (fundamentals wise, which has nothing to do with Caldwell's ability to call plays or motivate the troops).
The last area of improvement was in the turnover department. Even though the Colts ended -1 on the day, the defense forced Cleveland into coughing up the ball four times. A lack of alertness maybe have contributed to recovering only one of the four fumbles, but a lot of that is bad luck too. Odds are that if the Colts can strip as many balls again, they'll recover at least one more.
The numbers above would indicate a close game yet the Colts got manhandled and stats typically don't lie. So what went wrong?
For the Colts so far this season, two categories in which Indy has led the league during Manning's tenure have suffered. Two areas where the Colts separated themselves from everyone else were red zone offense and third down conversions.
For as good as the Colts have been in those categories in the past, they have been equally bad this year and these two stats, more so than any other aspect or statistic are why the Colts are still winless.
Third down conversions:
Peyton Manning relishes third downs. The way he converts them with such ease you would think they were his favorite down. Why? For one the Colts have also been traditionally strong on first downs, setting up short yardage situations later in the series. More importantly however, Manning often used the early plays to set up the defenses. When third down came along, Peyton often had defenses in his pocket and could exploit them accordingly.
The Colts under Kerry Collins don't have that luxury. The biggest difference is that Collins simply doesn't pose the same threat as Manning. Defenses can therefore be more aggressive. That doesn't seem to be the only problem however. After watching the first two games, it seems that the Colts face longer third and distance situations as the game wears on.
Look what happened against Cleveland:
In the first quarter the Colts faced 4 third downs of:
3rd and 2 (converted), 3rd and 8 (punt), 3rd and 3 (punt), 3rd and 6 (converted).
All in all a net average of 3rd and 4.9 is very manageable.
In the second quarter the Colts faced 3 third downs of:
3rd and 1 (punted - agony), 3rd and 4 (converted) and 3rd and 12 (punt).
Again, still manageable (in fact you HAVE to convert 3rd and 1) with a net average of just under 6.
In the third quarter the Colts faced 3 third downs of:
3rd and 15 (punt - incomplete), 3rd and 6 (punt) and 3rd and 13* (interception - what else)
(* - was first play of series started in the third)
Here we see that the 3rd and distance numbers ballooned. Suddenly the Colts are looking at over 11 yards to go for first downs.
In the fourth quarter the Colts faced 5 third downs of:
3rd and 4 (punt) 3rd and 10 (punt), 3rd and 3 (sack, fumble), 3rd and 3 (converted), 3rd and 10 (punt).
While the net average came back down to a more workable 3rd and 6, it's still too high if you expect to convert more than 4-14 the Colts converted vs. Cleveland or the 1-9 disaster against Houston.
All and all 5-25 (20 percent) just won't cut it in the NFL.
The main concern is that the worsening percentage and the increase in turnovers later in games suggests that the Colts are too vanilla on offense. The run-pass ratio of 26/38 is pretty decent (especially playing from behind) which means Cleveland it seems figured out the Colts plays and zeroed in on defense in the second half.
A fairly simple offense could be in part because Collins is still learning on the fly and thus much of the problem could correct itself. However the Colts MUST convert more than one third down if they hope to have a chance against Pittsburgh.
Red Zone Offense
The second major cause of concern for the Colts statistically has to be red zone scoring. The Colts are notorious for scoring inside the red zone. It used to be that if the Colts got inside an opponents 20, points were a given, defenses were just hoping it was only three (usually not the case).
Now, after two games the Colts can't find the promised land. In six tries inside the red zone the Colts have converted twice (once in each game, with a field goal added in against Cleveland). 17 of a potential 42 is atrocious.
Plays like when Delone Carter (who we drafted as a short yardage back) got stuffed on 3rd and 1 from the nine HAVE to be eliminated. Collins is a veteran. He needs to play smarter.
If the Colts can improve both categories they have a chance to be OK. When coach Cadwell talks about the 'little things' this is what he should be stressing.
Being top in the league in red zone and third down offense is how the Colts made a living.
Everyone knows the Colts are no longer explosive. That is fine, as long as they can be efficient. If the Colts can correct these two categories other things -including wins- will start to fall into place.