Recently, we had the opportunity to do some Q&A with Football Outsiders, and Scott Kacsmar was kind enough to give some time to answering our questions about the Indianapolis Colts. We cover a variety of topics, including Andrew Luck, the defensive drafting, the offensive line, and more.
This is just a small taste of what you're in store for if you purchase their annual Football Outsiders almanac, which was recently released and is a terrific read, as always. You can buy it here, and I'd recommend it.
Here's our Q&A with Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar. The questions are in bold and then Scott's answers follow.
1. The main emphasis of your write-up on the Colts focused on quarterback Andrew Luck, which makes perfect sense for this team. In what ways can Luck improve and be even better in 2015, and what should we expect from him this year?
We've probably beaten the "cut down on turnovers" angle to death by now, but I hope Luck keeps his aggressiveness and makes some smarter decisions with the ball this year. The turnovers have not been the problem people make them out to be, especially in the postseason. Those numbers are just low-hanging fruit, too tempting for some to ignore.
I would just like to see general improved efficiency from Luck this year. He hasn't ranked in the top 10 in passing DVOA yet. His highest Total QBR was his rookie year, and part of that was because of his excellence on third-and-long situations. We haven't seen as much of that under Pep Hamilton, but the Colts have a loaded group of skill players this year. They won't be wasting time with Trent Richardson carries, starting Donnie Avery, giving T.Y. Hilton's snaps to Darrius Heyward-Bey or any of the other silliness that has hampered the offense the last three years at times. This should be an explosive group, but you want to see efficiency on third down and in the red zone.
Luck had his best season in 2014 in the red zone, but the Colts still only ranked 16th in red zone passing DVOA. That's not good enough. In terms of red zone touchdown percentage, the 2012-14 Colts have ranked in the 12-17 range, always around 55 percent touchdowns. That's not good enough. In Peyton Manning's last three years with the Colts (2008-2010), the Colts ranked first or second in the red zone, always around 67 percent touchdowns. Those teams were constructed in a similar fashion too with shorter receivers, a nonexistent running game and a suspect offensive line. I think Luck has everything around him for his best season yet, but it's not about touchdown passes or throwing for 5,000 yards. It's about efficiency and doing it consistently.
2. One of the stats that really stuck out to me when reading your write-up was that only 15.3% of the defensive snaps for the Colts last year were by players they had drafted. Any idea how this compares to the rest of the league? And any early thoughts on the defensive players the team added in this year's draft?
Yes, this was a shockingly low percentage since the next closest teams were the Giants and Saints at 38.0 percent. The average team in 2014 used 52.4 percent of its defensive snaps on players they drafted, but it's not too surprising for the Colts given the way they have loaded up in free agency on that side of the ball. This was the oldest defense in the league last year and that doesn't seem likely to change in 2015.
It's very important to add those young players in the draft and I think Henry Anderson is a possible steal the Colts got in the third round from Stanford. Is he going to be a factor in 2015? That's hard to imagine, but when he gets his turn he should fit right in as a five-technique defensive end in the 3-4 defense. I couldn't speak to the quality of cornerback D'Joun Smith since scouting the NCAA players isn't my thing, but I thought that was a smart position to add to since Greg Toler is in the last year of his contract and the Colts may be down a corner or two going into 2016. I'll just say it now: unless some stud offensive linemen is sitting there, Ryan Grigson really needs to go defense in the early rounds next year. His neglect for this side of the ball is really limiting the potential growth of the Colts.
3. You hinted at the Colts' depth at wide receiver, with T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, and others. In particular, how do you think Johnson will fit in with this team and how much does he have left?
I'm anxious to see how Johnson plays, because this is a new situation for him where he only has to be the No. 2 wide receiver, and in some weeks he could probably slip to four or five with all the weapons the Colts have including the tight ends. Luck is the best quarterback situation he's ever had, and I think the motivation was lacking in Houston last year. Johnson had asked for a trade in the past and I just don't think he had it in him anymore to perform for a bad team. That's the kind of stuff that leads to Barry Sanders retiring in Detroit with 20,000 rushing yards in sight. Johnson saw a chance to maybe get to a Super Bowl and he chose a wise spot. His average target was only 9.3 yards in the air last year, his lowest since 2005, but I think he can still find starter-quality production at his age. Think of it like still having Reggie Wayne, but a couple of years younger.
4. When talking about the sack rate and quarterback hits, you seem to indicate that part of the responsibility lies with Andrew Luck. Is that a fair statement, and if so how much of the blame do you think Luck deserves versus the offensive linemen themselves?
Yes, I think some of the biggest misconceptions in football are that quarterbacks are fully to blame for interceptions and offensive linemen are fully to blame for sacks and pressure. Truthfully, sack rate and pressure rate are far more consistent for quarterbacks on a year-to-year basis than turnovers, which come under a lot of fluky instances or situational play like trailing by a huge margin. The quarterback has the ability to buy time or quickly release the ball and of course Peyton Manning is the master of that. Luck's not bad at getting the ball out to avoid the sack, but he still holds it long enough to where he's taking a lot of hits as he throws. He's led the league in knockdowns all three years of his career and has 59 more than the next closest quarterback (352 total). So far he's been durable, but those hits will add up. He also throws touchdowns following some of these knockdowns, so it's not always bad plays or plays where he had no chance, but there is a need for him to either start scrambling more or to get rid of the ball faster. I think he started doing that late in the season with all the dump passes to Dan Herron in the playoffs, but we'll see if that continues this year.
The offensive line is clearly not a strength yet, but I can't say there have been many times in the last three years where the Colts lost a game and one of the biggest reasons was failure to protect Luck.
5. You note that if Chuck Pagano can get the Colts to the Super Bowl he'll get a new contract, but that's the easy one. Do you think it's "Super Bowl or bust" for Pagano, or perhaps more interestingly, do you think it should be?
It's a tough situation right now, because no team has ever won a Super Bowl by advancing a round deeper each year like the Colts are trying to do. Then again, we've only had the wild-card round since the 1970s and this year is Super Bowl 50, so the sample sizes are still pretty small. Anything can happen in January, but I think if the Colts failed to win the division or had a miserable home playoff loss (especially to the Patriots again), then that could be the door for Pagano, and maybe Grigson with him.
I guess I keep going back to this story I've envisioned where Pagano is gone after four years much like Jim Mora was gone after four years with Manning. It was the defensive coach who could not fix the defense or settle down the young QB. I don't think the 2015 Colts are going to fall apart on that side the way the 2001 team did, and Pagano won't be offering his "playoffs!?" moment after a four-interception game by Luck, but the expectations feel much higher this season. I don't think anyone would dispute this is the most talented team in the Pagano-Luck era, so nothing short of an AFC Championship Game is likely expected. As Colts fans know, those are hard to come by, so I think there is real pressure around the coach.