Question: From the 2013 almanac- "Based on the Colts’ DVOA both overall and in specific situations, our estimated wins metric projected the Colts to win just 6.2 games; that’s the largest gap between wins and estimated wins in the history of DVOA." The Colts ended up winning 11 games. The reasoning given by FO for the gap is Indianapolis' weak schedule last year. However, I imagine that was factored into when FO made their 6.2-win estimate, which wasn't far off from what many other predicted. (I guess 7 wins at the start of 2012, if you care.)
But, if a weak schedule was already factored in, there had to be something else that significantly contributed to Indy's +5 wins. Was it Andrew Luck? Was it the unpredictable, emotional reaction of the team after Pagano's cancer diagnosis?
Brian: A significant contributing factor to the Colts' 11-win season in 2012 was them coming out on the winning side of close games. In games decided by seven points or less, the Colts were 8-1. Six of their wins were in games decided by four points or less and that does not include an overtime win over the Tennessee Titans, a game where the final score came when Vick Ballard seemingly defied gravity by breaking the plane of the goal line whilst flying through the air with his back to the ground.
Luck, Andrew Luck that is, was also a factor. Having one quarterback take all the snaps is always preferable to a triumvirate, especially when one-third of trio consists of a 38-year-old Kerry Collins. Luck's mobility accounted for 255 yards and five touchdowns, which had Luck third among quarterbacks in rushing DYAR, behind only Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. All five of Luck's rushing touchdowns came in Colts' wins, and three of his rushing touchdowns occured in games decided by seven points or less. With Luck as the lone quarterback, the Colts' passing DVOA increased from -16.5 percent in 2011 to 2.3 percent in 2012, which can be attributed both to Luck and the additions of wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Dwayne Allen, who led rookies at their respective positions in receiving DYAR.
Question: The total hits and knockdowns for Luck that you tabulated are staggering. It's amazing he lasted the full 2012 season. In your opinion, what do those numbers need to get down to in order for all the free agent acquisitions along the offensive line to be considered successful. Please note, I'm looking for a realistic opinion, based on what you know regarding players like Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas.
Brian: Luck's ability to be a part of the Colts' running game will have him exposed to even more contact downfield. Luck has good self-preservation awareness, but that he is such a threat to take off and move the chains with his leg, protecting him in the pocket and keeping in the lineup is a top priority. Realistically, the "Adjusted Knockdown" numbers for Luck would be in the 75-85 range, which is still way more hits than you want your franchise quarterback to take, but would be acceptable improvement after adding Thomas, Cherilus, and Ahmad Bradshaw, a solid blocker in his own right, in free agency.
Question: How rare is it that a team like Indy defies the odds as the Colts did in 2012?
Brian: With eight divisions, teams with a -30 point differential, a turnover ratio in the double digits and a negative team DVOA can certainly make the playoffs, but winning that many games is rare. The 2011 Denver Broncos won the AFC West with a -81 point differential, a -12 turnover ratio (the same as the 2012 Colts) and had a -11.8 team DVOA. In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West with a -97 point differential, -9 turnover ratio and a -22.9% team DVOA. Even the 2006 Seahawks, who were coming off a Super Bowl appearance, won the NFC West with a -6 point differential, -8 turnover ratio and a –13.0% team DVOA. The difference between the 2012 Colts and the 2011 Broncos & those Seahawks teams was that the Colts won 11 games, which certainly belies a win total that the statistics would suggest.
The Football Outsiders Almanac 2013 is available here to purchase and download. It comes highly recommended for anyone who wants to expand their football I.Q.