Indianapolis Colts Must Improve Red Zone Offense And Third Down Conversions

After the Colts' opening day blow out loss to the Texans, a friend texted me saying "They should retroactively award Peyton 4 more MVP awards."

Following another ugly loss, this time to Cleveland, and it's obvious Manning would be more than deserving. No offense to Tom Brady, but no one impacts a game and a team more than Manning. 

What separates Manning from his peers? While other quarterbacks are known for their big arms and explosive offenses, Manning has elevated himself from other elite qb's by being dead on accurate and efficient. Don't get me wrong, Peyton still has a 'laser rocket arm' (at least he used to), but it is Manning's incredible precision and efficiency that make him one of the greatest quarterbacks (if not the greatest) to ever play the game.

No where is that more evident than on third down conversions. Since 2002 the Colts have ranked in the 10 top in 3rd down conversion every year, leading the category from 2005-2009. Not surprisingly the Colts won 10 games each year during that stretch and were the winningest team in the history of any decade during the 2000's. Again, not surprisingly, in 2006 - the year the Colts won the Super Bowl - Indianapolis converted a ridiculous 56.2 percent of its 3rd downs during the regular season and led all postseason teams with a 46.9 conversion rate in the playoffs. 

Another category that has separated good quarterbacks and teams from Super Bowl contenders is red zone scoring efficiency. Once again, Indianapolis leads the way. According to teamrankings.com, only twice in the past decade have the Colts failed to finish in the top 10 in red zone efficiency. In 2010, the Colts scored a remarkable 66.7 percent of the possessions they had inside the 20. 

This year without Manning, the Colts have regressed considerably in both departments. So much so, that the Colts' red zone offense is just painful to witness. It's like watching the class nerd try to pick up the hot high school cheerleader. You want him to succeed, but know he's ultimately not going to score and then feel sorry for him when he fails. 

Currently the Colts rank 29th in the league in red zone scoring at 33 percent and tied for 24th in 3rd down conversations at 21.7 percent.

So how did Peyton keep the Colts clicking when it mattered most? And what can the Colts do to get back on track until he returns?

Unfortunately for the Colts, a lot of their success on third down and in the red zone isn't transferable. Peyton's sheer brilliance was to thank for such gaudy numbers.

And while we obviously can't know for sure, much of Peyton's ability to lead the Colts seemed to hinge around the fact that he enjoyed the challenge and the pressure of coming through in the clutch. One reason for the Colt's high 3rd down success rate was that Peyton was one of the best quarterbacks at setting up a defense. The first two downs were a chance for Peyton to read the coverages and then react on third down accordingly. Once the defense was in his pocket, he'd go to work.

Kerry Collins can't replicate that. It's part of why Peyton was so special. However, the Colts also used first and second down to make third down more manageable. As I highlighted here, the Colts have so far done a good job in the first quarter of sticking with the run and putting themselves in 3rd to go situations which they can convert. The problem is as the game wears on, the Colts find themselves facing longer and much more difficult 3rd downs. 

Whether its the defense not keeping the offense in the game or the offense being too vanilla and easy to read, the

team must get more creative in creating success later in downs. Collins is already burdened with enormous

pressures. 3rd and 14 is only a recipe for disaster. 

To help bolster their red zone offense the Colts upgraded at running back with Delone Carter and spent their first two picks on the offensive line. Therefore getting stuffed on third and one from the Cleveland nine is (especially with Carter who was a supposedly goal-line back) is simply unacceptable. The Colts need to be able to smash it home when necessary. If it's inserting Ijlana into the starting lineup or just focusing on being more aggressive, so be it, they just must get it done.

Overall, the others outside of Collins need to take on added leadership roles as well. Wayne, Clark and Collie need to call out coverages and mismatches to help Collins. 

Collie in particular needs to see the ball more. After not being thrown to once in week one, the Colts focused on Collie targeting him 10 times in week 2. His involvement should really help open up the offense and take coverages away from Wayne, Garcon and Clark. 

Ultimately though, even if we make all the proper necessary changes, it won't come easily. Replacing Manning would be a tall order even for Tom Brady. But if the Colts hope to have even the slightest chance, Indy must find a way to improve its red zone offense and third down conversion rates. 

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