Every year as training camps begin to get underway around the NFL, Football Outsiders releases what is a staple in annual NFL coverage: the Football Outsiders Almanac.
The Almanac gives projections for each team entering the upcoming season, and this year FO projects the Colts to win 7.8 games, making them a playoff contender. Their write-up about the Colts contained plenty of interesting tidbits, notes, and thoughts, and we had the opportunity to do a Q&A with the writer, Football Outsiders’ Tom Gower. Our questions are in bold, while Gower’s answers follow.
1. You make the point of comparing Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck by showing (quite convincingly) that Luck isn’t close to Manning’s production through each of their first four years. Is that more of a statement of how good Manning was, or is it more of a statement about how much Luck needs to improve?
More of a statement about how good Manning was. He was something really special, from his second season in the league until he got hurt late in 2014. Notwithstanding the hype about how he was the best quarterback prospect since Peyton (or Elway or whatever), Luck has been more "normally" good.
2. Last year, some of Luck’s biggest struggles came when throwing downfield to the right and when throwing 16-25 yards downfield. Why do you think there was such a drastic dropoff from 2014 to 2015, and why is it such an important part of the offense?
Injury seems to be the easiest explanation, especially if you think he was banged up in the Buffalo game in Week 1. I don't have a satisfying explanation other than that.
Deep passing, as Bruce Arians keeps showing, is incredibly valuable if you're any good at it at all. It's extraordinarily hard to regularly go 75 yards by consistently executing, and even the best, most reliable teams have trouble doing it a lot. Getting yardage in chunks makes life a lot easier for offenses.
3. With new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, you said that his “deep, pass-oriented scheme” both fits what Luck does best but also plays into one of the Colts’ biggest offensive weaknesses - what do you mean by that, and how can the team work around that reality?
That's really the $64,000 question. A lot of what makes Luck such a valuable player has been that he's an exceptional deep passer (except 2015, of course). His ability to extend plays and shrug off defenders is part of what makes him so good. But standing in the pocket long enough to make plays, and shrugging off hits to extend plays are why everyone is so concerned about how much he gets hit, and what effects that might have in the long term. Finding the right balance between giving Luck the freedom to excel the same way he's been, but not letting him take as many hits is really difficult. My worry about Chudzinski is we'll see more of the same issues we've been seeing since Luck's rookie season.
4. You wrote that the Colts “sensibly opted” to keep Dwayne Allen over Coby Fleener, so how big of a role in the offense do you expect Allen to play? Can he pick up whatever receiving dropoff might be left from Fleener’s departure?
How healthy is Allen? If he is healthy, given the questions beyond the top three at receiver, I think he could play a big role if they don't keep him in to block all the time. Our projection in the book was for 48 catches. That's more than he's had the past three seasons combined, but I think he gets there if he plays all 16 games.
I could see [Allen] and TE2/3 (Doyle? Swoope if the hype is real?) combining for as many catches as the 70 Fleener and Allen had last year.
5. On defense, we all know the Colts are an aging unit - and you wrote that when those players need to be replaced the crash “could be harsh” for Indianapolis. Knowing that, are there any younger players in particular you think are guys to build around for the Colts?
Our numbers and I liked Henry Anderson about as much as I think everybody else did. If he could turn more of those pressures into sacks (we had him with 10.0 hurries and 1.0 sacks) going forward, that would help a lot. David Parry was solid, but a run-stopping nose tackle doesn't move the needle for me. Clayton Geathers was solid in 271 snaps, but we'll see how the transition to a full-time player goes. But Ryan Grigson's concentration on drafting offense early and often and focus on veterans on defense has meant there just aren't that many young defensive players to talk about.
Thanks to Tom Gower for taking the time to answer these questions, and be sure to check out the Football Outsiders Almanac for much more as it pertains to the Indianapolis Colts and the other 31 NFL teams.