FanPost

The 2012 Indianapolis Colts: The King is Dead. Long Live the King - PART III of III


If you have not read parts one and two of this series those can be found here, and here respectively. They are not necessarily required reading to understand what I will be talking about but they do provide some background information and may help frame some of the conclusions I am going to make.

I should warn you up front that part three is a bit of a long read. You may want to grab a blanket, a fine vintage of your favorite red, and curl up with your iPad in front of the fire. We’re going to be here a while.

So with that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s do this!

AV explained here: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?page_id=518.

Simple Rating explained here: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=37.

I said early on in this series that I would be doing a comparison of the 1997 and 2011 Colts’ teams, so to fulfill that promise let’s take a look at how those teams stack up statistically.

Before I go over the chart I think it worth noting that 2011 was a rather luckless year for the Colts’ organization. Peyton Manning, who took over the mantle of NFL’s reigning iron man (227 straight starts) upon Brett Favre’s sixth retirement (321), missed not only his first NFL game but an entire NFL season. Injuries across both the offense and defense (ranked 28th in FO’s adjusted games lost, 31st in 2010) left an already thin depth chart decimated beyond recognition. Only 5 players managed to start all 16 games for the Colts last season: Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday, Pierre Garcon, Pat Angerer, and Antoine Bathea. Unfortunately, the team’s immutable mantra "next man up" only works when your next man up isn’t Curtis Painter. It came as no surprise that new team management sought to remedy some of the constant injury struggles by releasing several of the team’s most consistently injured players, veteran mainstays Dallas Clark, Melvin Bullitt, Gary Brackett, and Joseph Addai among the headliners.

Injuries are a reality of life in the NFL, and though unpredictable, they cannot be made responsible for the failings of a team (New England and New York both ranked near the bottom in adjusted games lost last season but managed to overcome it). Clearly Jim Irsay felt similarly, deciding to clean house this past offseason, to a shockingly literal degree, and replace management at almost every level of the team. New DC, new OC, new HC, new GM, new strength and conditioning staff, new ST coach, and of course new players. I mentioned in part one of this series that the 1998 Colts saw 16 of the starters from the 1997 team either change positions or be replaced outright. Obviously we don’t yet have a final roster, but, based on what we can reasonably predict, the 2012 Colts will see a comparable rate of turnover in their starting lineup. On to the chart!

Statistical Comparison 1997 vs. 2011:


Scoring O

Scoring D

Overall O

Overall D

SR O/D

1997

19.5 (20)

25.1 (26)

304.3 (19)

303.3 (10)

-0.6/-3.8

2011

15.2 (28)

26.9 (28)

286.8 (30)

370.9 (25)

-6.0/-5.3

Many people seemed surprised when the Colts new GM Ryan Grigson went heavy on the offense in the draft, pointing to the hire of a defensive head coach and "building the monster" rhetoric as evidence that this would be a team built on defense. However, as surprising as it may seem, the Colts offense was actually their greater weakness in 2011. When looking at the rebuild of the late 90s you will notice that it was in fact the offense that carried the team from worst to first, while the defense remained average to poor even in the 13 win 1999 season. So what was so awful about the 2011 Colts’ offense? Well the obvious answer is the quarterback(s). I did a pretty in depth look at the different starting QBs in the 2011 season in part two of this series (so go read that if you haven’t yet, go on, we'll wait) and suggested that a lot of the problems we had last season might be attributable to the historically bad QB play resulting in an absurd time of possession disparity, which in turn resulted in somewhat skewed defensive numbers. Keep in mind that the 1997 Colts had a pretty good QB in Jim Harbaugh who posted top 10 efficiency stats that season.

On defense, the numbers above will tell you that the 2011 Colts defense was in fact worse than the 1997 defense, but I would argue this is misleading. The 1997 Colts had almost no defensive talent. In a previous section I brought up the fact that only 1 defensive player on that team had been, or would go to, a single pro bowl in their career (that one player being Cornelius Bennett, who was nearing retirement but still led the team in tackles). This 2011 roster on the other hand has pro bowl talent at several key positions. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney obviously have pro bowl, and even Hall of Fame, credentials. Pat Angerer, though young, has shown glimpses of truly spectacular talent, and is easily better than any of the linebackers on the 1997 team (I would even argue Kavell Conner, 6 AV last season, is probably better than any of the linebackers on the 1997 team). Even Antoine Bathea has had seasons near a pro bowl level in the past, though his 2011 season was not great.

The 7 best players (by AV) on the 1997 roster were all on the offense (Faulk, Harbaugh, Harrison, Dawkins, Glenn, Mandarich, Meadows; Jason Belser came in at # 8 with an AV of 6 playing FS followed by Albert Fontenot DE. Who? Yeah, that defense was bad). In 2011? 5 of the top 7 were on defense (Freeney, Mathis, Angerer, Conner, and Moala), Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon coming in at #5 and #3 respectively. I know it may be hard to accept, and maybe I’m missing something, but I honestly believe this 2012 defense will not be as horrible as people are anticipating. Whether because of a new DC, a replacement at QB, or strength of opponents faced (though they did play 3 playoff teams in that stretch; NE, Bal, and Hou) the Colts defense played the last 5 games of last season ABOVE the league average in several categories (when extrapolated to 16 games) including points (10th) and passing yards (6th); check out part two for that chart. If they can manage to build on that late season success, or even stay the same, the inevitable improvements on offense should be enough to have us competing sooner rather than later.

So enough about that past, onward into the future!

The 2012 Indianapolis Colts – My Predictions and Musings.


Prediction #1 - Andrew Luck will be good in year one, great in year two.


The track record of starting rookie QBs, especially 1st overall starting rookie QBs, is not great. Historically the jump to the NFL is a struggle, even for all-time greats. Granted the NFL rules have changed in the last 10-15 years to favor the passing game, and we have seen passing numbers becoming more inflated every season. Matthew Stafford threw for 5,000 yards and 41 TDs last season and didn’t even make the pro bowl. Cam Newton rewrote the rookie record book in 2011, throwing for 4,051 yards and compiling 35 total TDs (his AV of 19 was good for 6th best and 4th among QBs, Rodgers, Brady, and Brees being 1-3), he too failed to make the pro bowl. So what does that all mean for Andrew Luck? Maybe something, maybe nothing. I decided to look at #1 QBs taken over the past 15 seasons (really the last 8 might be better since the re-emphasis on the 5 yard chuck rule changed the passing game significantly after the 2003 season, but for the sake of a larger sample size I went back 15). Lots of charts coming at you, brace yourselves!

#1 overall QBs since 1998 (minus Cam Newton since he has only 1 season of data)

Year One:

Record

QB Rating

Yds. Per Game

TD/INT

AV

Peyton Manning

3-13

71.2

233.7

26/28

11

Tim Couch

2-12

73.2

163.1

15/13

8

Michael Vick

1-1

62.7

98.1

2/3

4

David Carr

4-12

62.8

162.0

9/15

5

Carson Palmer

6-7

77.3

222.8

18/18

8

Eli Manning

1-6

55.4

115.9

6/9

0

Alex Smith

2-5

40.8

97.2

1/11

-2

JaMarcus Russell

0-1

55.9

93.3

2/4

1

Matt Stafford

2-8

61.0

226.7

13/20

3

Sam Bradford

7-9

76.5

219.5

18/15

9

Averages

~3-7

63.68

163.23

~11/14

4.7

Average 16GS (3)

~5-11

70.17

205.07

~18/19

8.33

Year Two:

Record

QB Rating

Yrds. Per Game

TD/INT

AV

Peyton Manning

13-3

90.7

258.4

26/15

18

Tim Couch

2-5

77.3

211.9

7/9

3

Michael Vick

8-6

81.6

195.7

16/8

17

David Carr

3-8

69.5

167.8

9/13

7

Carson Palmer

11-5

101.1

239.8

32/12

17

Eli Manning

11-5

75.9

235.1

24/17

14

Alex Smith

7-9

74.8

180.6

16/16

10

JaMarcus Russell

5-10

77.1

161.5

13/8

7

Matt Stafford

1-2

91.3

178.3

6/1

2

Sam Bradford

1-9

70.5

216.4

6/6

3

Averages

~6-6 (+3, -1)

80.98 (+17.3)

204.55 (+41.3)

~16/10 (+5, -4)

9.8 (+5.1)

Average 16GS (4)

~11-5 (+6, -6)

85.63 (+15.5)

228.48 (+23.4)

~25/15 (+7, -4)

14.75 (+6.42)

Three Best

Record

QB Rating

Yrds. Per Game

TD/INT

AV

Season 1 (P, S, C)

~5-10

75

225.33

21/20

9.33

Season 2 (P, M, C)

~11-5

91.13

231.30

25/12

17.33

Net Change

~+6, -5

+16.13

+15.97

+4, -8

+8

Three Worst

Record

QB Rating

Yrds. Per Game

TD/INT

AV

Season 1 (E, A, J)

~1-4

50.70

102.13

3/8

-0.33

Season 2 (T, D, S)

~2-7

72.43

198.70

7/9

4.33

Net Change

~+1, +3

+21.73

+96.57

+4, +1

+4.66

I realize that was a lot of information, so for those of you who couldn’t give a damn about my beloved stat charts, the take away is more or less that #1 overall draft picks at QB tend to struggle in their first season. This makes sense for a lot of reasons: learning the playbook, adjusting to the NFL speed and talent difference, playing on a bad team, pressure and expectation of an entire fan base, earning the trust of your fellow players and coaches, etc. These things take time. The absolute BEST season one QB was Peyton Manning, and even he suffered through a 3 win season. No first overall QB in the last 15 years took their team to a winning record the following season (even Cam Newton with his records and 19 AV last season only won 6 games), so dreams of winning the division and a year one playoff birth seem a little farfetched to me.

The second takeaway from these charts, at least for me, is that good QBs improve quickly and bad ones tend to fade fast. Just look at the second year numbers chart. It’s interesting, though I suppose not all that surprising, that the QBs that have managed long term success all had pretty major jumps in production year two (the lone exception being Stafford who only played in 3 games due to injury), several putting up pro bowl caliber numbers their second year (Peyton, Eli, Palmer, and Vick). The average record for those QBs in year two was about 11-5. QBs that had major struggles down the line showed that early on as well, Russell, Carr, and Couch (all considered pretty huge busts) all struggled mightily in year two.

So what does this mean for Luck? Well I’d say it means that, barring injury, we will know what kind of QB we have by the end of the 2013 season. If Luck is going to be a star in this league I think we can anticipate a winning season next year. This year? Probably 6-10 is the best we can reasonably hope to achieve (then again "fan" and "reason" generally make poor bedfellows, being reasonable is boring). I know that Luck is a more "NFL ready" prospect than everyone on this chart, including Peyton Manning coming out, but to expect him to significantly buck what is a pretty established trend is perhaps too optimistic. Can he match or exceed Cam Newton’s production from last season (we know Luck famously matched Newton in his combine numbers)? Perhaps he can, though I don’t think any of us want to see him risking life and limb running all over the field like Newton did last year (700 yards and 14 TDs on the ground). We have established receivers in Wayne and Collie, good young talent at TE in Fleener and Allen, and what should be an improved offensive line. Even supposing Luck has the best season any rookie ever has, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Colts win games (as Peyton and Cam demonstrated). Rookies turn the ball over a lot (only two #1s on the chart had more TDs than INTs year one, and not by much), and #1 picks usually have a bad defense (and/or running game), and that leads to losing, it’s inevitable. Turnovers are the most significant change from year one to two (-8 in the 3 best comparison).

Prediction #2 – The Colts’ defense finishes near the middle of the pack in scoring.

I think this one might rightly fall under the heading "bold." I realize the Colts season numbers were atrocious last year, just glancing at the chart up top shows that much, but as I’ve already mentioned, the Colts defensive numbers got significantly better as the time of possession disparity got smaller. There are so many unknown variables involved in this defense right now that there’s honestly no way to come close to any kind of certainty with a prediction like this. That being said, I think the starting line backing core of Angerer, Conner, and now Freeney and Mathis, has got to be one of the better groups, collectively, in the NFL (assuming the talents of Mathis and Freeney translate effectively to LB, and I imagine they will get a lot of snaps at DE as well; I think we should give the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt on this one). On the defensive line, Fili Moala was actually one of the Colts most effective players last season (his AV of 5, though not amazing, was serviceable, and he managed to start 14 games), Cory Redding is both better than Antonio Johnson and familiar with Pagano’s defense, and of course Joshua Chapman is the X-factor, if he pans out that’s a solid defensive line. The Colts showed in the final third of last season they were capable of competing, ranking 10th in the NFL in scoring defense over that stretch. If they can build on and maintain that late season success this might be an even faster turnaround than we saw in 1998-1999.

All that being said, and as many have pointed out before me, the DB situation is incredibly concerning. Since this has been covered to death I will simply add that this will no doubt be a team weakness and major point of emphasis in the 2013 off season. Turnovers are a major factor in NFL wins, on both sides of the ball. If the defensive backfield isn’t generating turnovers we are probably in a lot of trouble, since our rookie QB likely will be.

***

I could continue on making predictions indefinitely, maybe I will write a follow up at some point expounding on some of the things I’m interested in keeping an eye on as training camps start and things heat up in July. For now I will put a bow on this series that has already reached absurd length.

Thanks everyone for reading, please pick apart my analysis in the comments section at your leisure, and I will defend myself to the death (or until one of us gets bored, whichever happens first). I’m sure inspiration will strike soon enough and I will write something else. Until then, I will be leaving my mark in the comments sections and trying to convince Brad Wells to give me a job. Put in a good word for me.

Cheers,

JJB

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Stampede Blue's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Stampede Blue's writers or editors.

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