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2015 NFL Week 9: Inside the Colts Numbers - As We Expected

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The Colts enter their bye week after playing their best game of the season, up-ending the unbeaten Broncos 27-24 in a game that really wasn't as close as the score indicated. Have the Colts turned the corner?

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I've been doing these stats-based previews and reviews of Colts games for seven seasons now, and I've gotten used to expecting certain things to happen based on what's gone on earlier in the season. When you see the kind of numbers the Denver Defense was putting up, you sort of resign yourself to the fact that your favorite Offense, who has struggled pretty much all season after having lofty expectations coming into the season, won't be able to do much of anything. But as they famously say, games aren't played on paper, and the Colts 27-24 win over the previously undefeated Broncos is certainly proof of that. It definitely was not what I expected, and I'm quite happy about that.

The way the game ended up, however, was exactly how most of us thought this 2015 season would go: a superb Offensive showing paired with an average Defense to beat the top teams in the NFL. We'll get into the specifics later, but this was a top 10 Offensive Performance in the entire league this year for the Colts, one week after changing their Offensive Coordinator. It'd be disingenuous to assume that that was the full reason for the great week, but there was enough evidence (use of TE/RBs in the passing game) to say it definitely made some difference. We'll know the extent of that over the final seven weeks of the season. I wouldn't be surprised if Rob Chudzinski had been working on a gameplan for this week for several weeks (basically after the "heated discussion" between Jim Irsay and Ryan Grigson). Whatever it was, it worked.

Save for two plays (one of which wasn't actually on Defense), I thought the Defense played fairly well Sunday. As I said above, it was good enough for how this team is constructed. It was apparent that Greg Toler was really having issues staying with the speedy Emmanuel Sanders, getting burned on the other big play of the day and generally not being in a good position all afternoon. He's going to be pushed by D'Joun Smith, who is set to make his debut against the Falcons. Maybe some competition in practice is what he needs. I though Colt Anderson filled in admirably for an injured Mike Adams, but the loss of Henry Anderson for the rest of the season is a big hit to the defensive line and to the Defense as a whole. He's played great all season.

I have mixed feelings about Peyton Manning coming up three yards short of the NFL record for Passing Yards, as I think it would have been very fitting for him to set that record in front of the fans that still love him more than any other franchise. I have no doubt he would have broken it if not for a couple of dumb penalties by his Defense in the final two and a half minutes, including one that got Aqib Talib suspended for next week. I'm glad he didn't set the wins record, as that's a record I really don't care much about (QB WINZ!), and it would have been catastrophic for this Colts team if they blew that 17-0 lead (almost) going into halftime. He'll set it next week early on against the Chiefs, then he'll work on winning his 187th game as a starter.

If it weren't for those two big plays, this game would have been a very comfortable win for the Colts, and the punt return by the Broncos was easily the play that should have been avoided through any number of ways. I think I'm in the minority to agree with Phil Simms here, but I didn't think running the clock out on the first half was that awful of a decision. It's just been one of those years where the Colts have only bad luck in the final two minutes of the first half, so I understand the thinking they wanted to go into the locker room up 17-0. But when they decided to do that, they needed to ensure that was what was going to happen. Pat McAfee is the best punter in the league, so he needs to punt that ball into the stands. His coaches should have told him this, but he should know the game situation as well. The only way the Broncos were scoring points there was on the return, so don't let them return it. Maybe I'm making it over-simplistic, but that really could have hurt (and did kill my Under 45.5 bet).

The numbers look really nice after Sunday's win. Time to savor it going into the Bye week.

Non-Adjusted Stats for Week 9:

Statistic Offense Rank Defense Rank Off/Def Above Off/Def Below Record
DSR 78.9% 9 69.2% 11 Y N 4-0
ANPY/A 7.703 10 6.054 7 N N 2-2
Turnovers 0 1 2 4 Y N 4-2
Yds/Drive 33.18 15 30.90 10 N N 2-1
ToP/Drive 3:30.8 5 2:08.1 2 Y N 3-1
Yds/Play 4.740 20 6.059 16 N Y 2-3
Orange Zone Eff 85.7% 3 71.4% 18 N N 3-2
First Downs/Drive 2.45 8 1.60 8 Y N 2-0
3rd/4th Down 60.0% 2 50.0% 16 N N 2-4
Avg Start Pos 26.5 13 23.9 8 N N 4-1
3 and Outs 3 14 3 10 N N 4-1
RZ Eff 100.0% 1 71.4% 11 N N 5-1
Plays/Drive 7.000 7 5.100 6 Y N 3-1
Penalty Yds / Play 0.390 3 1.098 5 Y N 5-1
RB Success 28.6% 21 28.6% 4 N N 3-1
Yds/Carry 3.00 21 2.50 5 N N 1-3
Ranking - Week (26) 4 10 3
Ranking - Season (264) 30 106 26

Adjusted Stats for Week 9:

Statistic Offense Rank Defense Rank Off/Def Above Off/Def Below Record
DSR 84.6% 3 73.4% 12 Y N 4-0
ANPY/A 10.415 2 7.624 19 N N 2-2
Turnovers -0.6 1 1.6 12 Y N 4-2
Yds/Drive 41.02 9 33.63 14 N N 2-1
ToP/Drive 3:25.9 5 2:11.0 4 Y N 3-1
Yds/Play 6.099 11 6.303 18 N Y 2-3
Orange Zone Eff 92.0% 2 77.8% 21 N N 3-2
First Downs/Drive 2.58 7 1.78 10 Y N 2-0
3rd/4th Down 67.3% 1 53.9% 22 N N 2-4
Avg Start Pos 28.2 11 25.2 12 N N 4-1
3 and Outs 2.9 12 3.3 10 N N 4-1
RZ Eff 106.2% 1 78.8% 19 N N 5-1
Plays/Drive 7.032 8 5.315 6 Y N 3-1
Penalty Yds / Play 0.693 11 0.860 14 Y N 5-1
RB Success 38.3% 16 37.2% 8 N N 3-1
Yds/Carry 3.65 15 3.20 6 N N 1-3
Ranking - Week (26) 1 14 3
Ranking - Season (264) 10 146 23

Some thoughts:

  • As I said earlier, this is the Colts team we all expected throughout the 2015 season: top-end Offensive performances with average Defensive play. For the week, was the best Offensive game and smack dab in the middle on Defense.
  • This week was one of the best passing weeks in NFL history, having an overall average of 7.12 Adjusted Net Passing Yards per Attempt, and Andrew Luck, thanks to doing it against the #1 Pass Defense in the NFL, came in at 2nd best, only behind Cam Newton against the Packers, gaining on average over 10 yards per pass. It's by far his best showing of the season, and hopefully a sign the 'yips' have gone away. I won't start celebrating quite yet, but it's a very good first step.
  • No Turnovers and winning games have a very strong correlation for winning. Andrew Luck has now played in 16 games with 0 Colts turnovers; they've won 14 of those games. Again, not celebrating yet, but a good sign.
  • I think there were two areas where the Colts really hurt the Broncos Defense: 3rd/4th Down (67%) and they scored almost every point possible once they got inside the Denver 35 yard line, scoring 24 of a possible 28 points inside the Orange Zone, and a perfect 3 for 3 in touchdowns in the Red Zone. These are the areas I think having a fresh set of eyes on things helped the most, as they are more about finding the weakness in an opponents' scheme rather than just getting first downs.
  • Frank Gore had a lot of carries, but they were average at best in both metrics. It's why simply running it more is not a solution to anything.
  • On Defense, the Colts did a good job getting the Broncos off the field, thanks to a couple of Manning interceptions and 3 Three and Outs. They had to get that Offense off the field, and they did that (even though one time was on the long bomb).
  • They did struggle on 3rd/4th down, allowing 50% conversions, which is made worse by the fact the Broncos haven't been good picking those up this season. An area of real strength last year for the Colts is seemingly the opposite this year. They either got the Broncos off the field immediately, or they just let them keep getting conversions.
  • The Broncos haven't been good running the ball this year, and it continued Sunday. Well done by the Defense here.

Season Stats through Week 9 (Adjusted):

Statistic Offense Rank Best Defense Rank Best Record Win %
DSR 70.2% 12 Patriots 68.7% 11 Seahawks 43-6 0.878
ANPY/A 5.161 22 Bengals 6.351 21 Broncos 50-8 0.862
Turnovers 2.17 30 Patriots 1.48 20 Eagles 50-17 0.746
Yds/Drive 29.62 13 Patriots 31.17 19 Broncos 39-11 0.780
ToP/Drive 2:36.0 19 Cowboys 2:39.0 12 Saints 45-22 0.672
Yds/Play 5.262 17 Cardinals 5.585 24 Broncos 47-11 0.810
Orange Zone Eff 59.5% 8 Patriots 56.4% 19 Eagles 44-11 0.800
First Downs/Drive 1.71 15 Patriots 1.60 9 Cardinals 43-15 0.741
3rd/4th Down 44.2% 6 Saints 40.1% 21 Texans 37-21 0.638
Avg Start Pos 28.1 24 Bengals 30.3 22 Bengals 50-12 0.806
3 and Outs 4.11 26 Bengals 3.58 16 Panthers 36-14 0.720
RZ Eff 71.2% 11 Jets 69.3% 22 Jets 47-17 0.734
Plays/Drive 5.748 11 Chargers 5.549 13 Cardinals 40-24 0.625
Penalty Yds / Play 0.767 13 Jets 1.137 1 Colts 32-30 0.516
RB Success 45.6% 16 Dolphins 44.6% 18 Rams 28-31 0.475
Yds/Carry 4.44 13 Steelers 4.10 18 Jaguars 29-31 0.483
Overall 14 Patriots 18 Jets

Some thoughts:

  • The Colts Offense jumped 8 spots after their performance on Sunday, making big leaps in Drive Success Rate (21st to 12th) and Orange Zone Efficiency (15th to 8th). Also jumped up 4 spots in 3rd/4th Down, which remains their best stat. Let's hope there's no backsliding.
  • The Defense stayed steady at 18th, which is perfectly acceptable for this group. They are reasonably good at getting opponents off the field, and there isn't anything I'd say they're really bad at, but nothing they stand out in either. Just an average Defense, which is a good thing for them.

Week-to-Week Comparison:

Colts Opponent Non-Adjusted Adjusted
Week Offense Defense Total Offense Defense Total
1 Bills 100 227 199 109 230 210
2 Jets 235 150 235 175 159 197
3 Titans 151 147 157 101 197 165
4 Jaguars 204 107 171 241 150 240
5 Texans 34 197 92 28 221 113
6 Patriots 65 183 115 24 76 17
7 Saints 243 100 222 258 55 208
8 Panthers 258 26 156 238 26 124
9 Broncos 30 106 26 10 146 23

I'd hate for this Colts team to be one of those teams that just plays to the level of their competition, because I think they're better than at least five of their final seven opponents. Finishing 9-7 will easily win the AFC South, so setting that as the goal seems like something attainable at this stage. While they hold the tiebreaker over the Broncos, it would take a giant collapse for the Colts to crawl back to even the 3 seed, let alone a bye over the two 8-0 teams. But enough of the negative stuff for now. Let's enjoy a really, really good win going into a Bye week, and hope the Colts are rested and ready to go in Atlanta in two weeks.