The much bally-hooed rematch of the AFC Championship game from a year looked a lot different than many people (including me) thought it would, where the Colts showed fight in playing their best game of the season, but it was all for naught as they fell to the Patriots 34-27, which could have been worse if not for a TD in the last minute of the game. There were several positives that came out of Sunday night, namely that the Colts can in fact make a game against the Patriots interesting for an entire 60 minutes, something they haven't done in four years. But time and again we saw some of the same issues that have been plaguing the Colts all season rear their ugly head in the 2nd half, and we're left here to wonder if the best the Colts will be able to do against the Tom Brady / Bill Belichick Patriots will be a moral victory, and whether they actually matter in the NFL.
My simple answer? Maybe.
My more complex answer? I think this team needed a game like this to prove to themselves they can beat the Patriots, before they actually beat the Patriots. In the previous four games, while they hung for almost a half in a couple of them, the Patriots could basically dictate everything the entire game and it never really seemed the Colts had a chance. Sunday night, well into the 3rd and 4th quarter hope never left that they could make a comeback, even if some of that was due to the Patriots basically closing up shop on Offense on their last three drives, telling the Colts they thought there was no way they could score twice in the 4th quarter and beat them, which turned out to be true. We'll take a look at the specifics in a bit, but this was the best Colts performance by far this season, even if it came up short on the scoreboard. All of this is well and good, but I can't bring myself to be fully on-board with this "moral victory" thing when the Colts' stated goal before the season was winning the Super Bowl. You don't "morally" win in February, so why start that practice in October?
I like talking about some of the coaching decisions in these columns, as I think they mostly go unnoticed by the "mainstream" writers, or they just get them wrong. I'm going to start with two of the best decisions Chuck Pagano has made all year, going for it on the Colts first drive on 4th and 1, and trying the onside kick after the Mike Adams interception for a touchdown, both of which were outstanding calls. The 4th and 1 play call was not good at all, but was bailed out by a great catch by Donte Moncrief, and I'm sure the Colts will be getting an apology from the league office Tuesday or Wednesday about the onside kick, as it makes no sense for the officials to call on the field that the Patriots had a clear recovery on that before Moncrief recovered the ball. It was a huge play that could have really put the Colts in control, but alas it wasn't meant to be.
As far as the fake punt goes, I think a lot of people are making a huge deal out of something that obviously was a stupid call, but the Colts had the ball four times after the Patriots scored a TD to go up 34-21, and they could only muster a single TD with just over a minute remaining. I think the Colts panicked big time after that happened, rather than just brushing it off, getting back to what was working in the first half, and trying to get back in the game. It's like they just forgot how to come back from double digit 4th quarter deficits, something they're used to more than any other team in the NFL. But because it looked so ridiculous, it's being talked about ad naseum. It would have been risky to just go for it there on 4th and 3, but I think a play that would have been consistent with how he was calling the rest of the game, would have been to keep the Offense on the field, act like they are just trying to draw them offsides, then run a play with two or three seconds left on the play clock. There's a chance they wouldn't be expecting it, and you have your best option on the field to gain 3 yards. Certainly would have had a better chance of success than what we saw.
While the Colts lost the game, I think the stats are a sign the Colts might have turned a corner and could start playing like was expected before the season. Let's take a look and see where they shined, and where they still need some work.
Non-Adjusted Stats for Week 6:
|Statistic||Offense||Rank||Defense||Rank||Off/Def Above||Off/Def Below||Record|
|Orange Zone Eff||75.0%||5||77.1%||25||N||N||3-1|
|Avg Start Pos||18.4||26||28.8||22||N||N||3-2|
|3 and Outs||3||8||5||5||Y||N||3-3|
|Penalty Yds / Play||1.373||23||1.125||8||N||N||2-2|
|Ranking - Week (28)||6||20||11|
|Ranking - Season (182)||41||129||80|
Adjusted Stats for Week 6:
|Statistic||Offense||Rank||Defense||Rank||Off/Def Above||Off/Def Below||Record|
|Orange Zone Eff||73.1%||6||61.7%||18||N||N||3-1|
|Avg Start Pos||21.8||23||25.0||12||N||N||3-2|
|3 and Outs||2.1||6||5.6||4||Y||N||3-3|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.845||15||1.074||8||N||N||2-2|
|Ranking - Week (28)||5||7||4|
|Ranking - Season (182)||28||58||19|
- It's frustrating to see such a good statistical day end in a loss, but that's what happened. The Colts played the 4th best game overall of the weekend, which is good going forward, even if Sunday ended up the wrong way on the scoreboard.
- The Colts didn't turn the ball over, and "caught" a lucky "break" when Julian Edelman couldn't handle a pass after most likely breaking his pinky, and Mike Adams returned it for a touchdown. The stats say the Colts played well, but without that and a last-minute TD, this would have been like every other Colts-Patriots game over the past four seasons.
- Drive stats on Offense were slightly above average for most of them. I think the Yards per Play is an interesting stat, basically right at league average, and I think it was much better in the first half when they didn't panic (Pagano said he told Pep Hamilton to "speed things up" after they went down by 13. Ugh). They went away from what was working too soon and didn't "trust the process".
- One big disappointment in an area the Colts had a big advantage was on 3rd/4th Down. A big conversion happened on the first drive, but they didn't capitalize on the one area they could have really exploited on the Patriots, and it really hurt them in the second half.
- Running game was good, like I thought it would be. Should have used it in the 2nd half, as another 7+ minute drive in the 3rd quarter could have been a killer to the Patriots Defense.
- There isn't a single stat that shows the Colts really struggling, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact the Patriots basically packed it in after they went up 13, doing nothing but bleeding clock and playing field position (which they won by 10 yards per drive, mostly due to the fake punt). The adjusted numbers look good because of the Offense they played against, but remember the Patriots scored 27 points on their first six drives before the Colts forced them to punt.
- This was the first top-end Quarterback the Colts have faced this year, and it took until the 2nd half to see any adjustments that worked to slow him down. I definitely want to see at least one more game played at an "average" level before I start saying this Defense will be ok. Sunday showed some glimpses, but if a lot of these numbers are due to the Patriots just closing up shop (their playcalling makes it seem that way), this didn't really tell us much of anything new about the Colts Defense.
Season Stats through Week 6 (Adjusted):
|Orange Zone Eff||57.8%||10||Bills||50.5%||10||Eagles||34-6||0.850|
|Avg Start Pos||26.4||28||Bengals||30.6||23||Steelers||35-9||0.795|
|3 and Outs||3.31||11||Saints||2.80||30||Panthers||23-11||0.676|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.786||12||49ers||1.249||2||Patriots||21-21||0.500|
- The Offense still stays at #10 overall, and they've started their climb out of the basement in Turnovers and Average Starting Position, up to 28th now. I think they'll be ok because they've shown they can drive the ball down the field with some consistency, and they have a very favorable match-up next weekend.
- The Defense moved up 4 spots to 27th overall, thanks in large part to playing the #1 Offense and not completely falling on their face. Still lots of important stats ranked in the high 20s, most of which are drive related stats.
- Orange Zone Efficiency is more important so far this season that it has been in years past, winning at 85% when teams go above average on both sides of the ball. The Colts rank 10th in both stats, so if that continues it should lead to a couple non-AFC South wins (let's hope).
The biggest question for me coming out of this game is whether Sunday's performance by the Colts was a concerted effort against a single team to try and beat a team they haven't been remotely close to in recent history, or whether they've started to figure some stuff out and this is the level of play we'll see regardless of the opponent. We'll find out Sunday when a very beatable Saints team, with a very good passer in Drew Brees, comes into Lucas Oil Stadium. After that it's three straight against teams that are a combined 16-1. I don't think there's much reason to believe the Colts won't win the division, but we'll know over the next month whether we should expect them to win any games.