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Colts Fourth-Quarter Struggles Follow a Pattern Being Set Earlier in Game

A look into how the Colts fare against the rest of the league by each quarter of the game

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

You may have noticed that the Indianapolis Colts have not been very good in the second half this season. You could say that their season has nearly been defined by it – it’s not been good football at all. “Let’s see how they can possibly blow this lead” has replaced “We never come out prepared – always start slow” among the fan base week in and week out through the year.

Without question, it deserves the scrutiny it’s getting. The Colts have completely blown five second-half leads already this season, with two of those being 10-point leads. They’ve held leads against the Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers who are a combined 19-8 this year, and have also lost miserably to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams who are 13-5 combined.

Even their wins have been coming in ugly fashion. In all three of their wins, the Colts have wasted double-digit leads and won those games by a combined 12 points. Those three teams have a combined 4-24 record and had no business even being within two scores of the Colts in those match-ups. None. Even the wins are hard to watch.

I wanted to know how the Colts stacked up against the rest of the league in scoring in each of the quarters – both, touchdowns and field goals – and now so that I can pass that on to you, I did just that. I also wanted to look at sacks earned in conjunction with the points allowed versus the offense’s scoring along with sacks allowed by the offensive line.

Let’s point out the obvious first. By the numbers, the Colts are a terrible fourth quarter team. However, through 3 quarters, the Colts are +4 in touchdowns and are -4 in field goals. In raw points – excluding point after tries and 2-point conversions – that puts the Colts at +6 points through the first 3 quarters of the game.

In just the fourth quarter, though, the Colts are -50 points. Mindboggling, isn’t it?

Here’s the breakdown of raw points in progression through each quarter (Points Earned vs Points Allowed):

1st (Even) | 2nd (+15) | 3rd (+6) | 4th (-44)

Here’s the same breakdown of touchdowns in progression through each quarter (TDs Earned vs TDs Allowed):

1st (+1) | 2nd (+4) | 3rd (+3) | 4th (-8)

Now with Field Goals in progression through each quarter (FGs Earned vs FGs Allowed):

1st (-2) | 2nd (-3) | 3rd (-4) | 4th (-2)

Here are sacks in progression through each quarter (Sacks Earned vs Sacks Allowed):

1st (-1) | 2nd (-10) | 3rd (-14) | 4th (-18)

So, what are we seeing here? We see that the Colts are a pretty good offensive team through the first three quarters. As it currently stands, the Colts are in the top half of the league in scoring offense, but are especially good in the second quarter. They’re currently sixth in the league – tied with 6 other teams with 8 second-quarter touchdowns.

They’re also ninth in the league – tied with 7 other teams – with 6 second-quarter field goals. Simultaneously, the Colts also are 27th in sacks allowed in those good second quarters with 12 – strange combination. Maybe this tells us that risk and reward are worth it?

Let’s look at the other side of the ball too.

In the first two quarters, the Colts are in the top ten – tied-1st and tied-9th respectively – in touchdowns allowed, and they are also tied-8th in sacks with 5 first-quarter sacks. The Colts aren’t so big on sacks in the second quarter, though, I think we can look for the answer as to why. Remember the Colts gave up double-digit leads even in their three wins on the year. Playing not to lose has effected the amount of pressure the front-3 can provide while sitting on leads playing cover-4. Checks out, right?

In the third quarter alone, the Colts are the epitome of average which is possibly the reason they can’t extend first half leads or fend off their opponent. A big reason they’re not sustaining drives in the third quarter is that they’ve allowed 8 sacks, which is 29th in the league. Receivers not getting open, Jacoby Brissett holding onto the ball for dear life and turnovers are likely a large part of that as well.

The Colts have run 165 third quarter plays on 33 possessions which comes out to an unimpressive 5 plays per drive. Some of those short drives actually have been due to big plays, but just as many have been due to fumbles, pick-sixes and everything in between. For me, the Colts’ third quarters are a push but are a lead-up to the eventual downfall.

Now for the fourth quarters.

First, we should point out that they are, again, near the bottom of the league (29th) in sacks allowed in fourth quarters with 11. Then you add that they’re 30th in touchdowns in those fourth quarters (2) and you’ve got the making of disaster. Sprinkle in that they are dead last in the league allowing 13 fourth-quarter touchdowns, and you now have arrived at pure disgust.

In those fourth quarters, the lone positive is that the team is achieving their largest amount of sacks (7) in any quarter. For some comparison, the Colts have earned 7 sacks between the second and third quarters combined (3 and 4 respectively), but this as well may be a byproduct of where the game has gone up to that point.

The Colts are allowing 6.43 yards per play in the fourth quarter (31st), are dead last in explosive plays allowed in the fourth quarter (18), 5 of which have resulted in touchdowns – also a league worst. Now, 16 of those 18 have been via the passing game. Does that somehow correlate with that fact that the Colts are likely blitzing more, thus leading to higher sack numbers?

I think it’s fair to say the risk is paying off for the offense in the second quarters of games, while the risk absolutely is not in the fourth. That increase in sacks isn’t helping their exhausted defense stop teams from scoring and is only taking them out of position with the unit at its weakest. An average of 5 offensive plays through the third quarter doesn’t allow that defense to catch its collective breath setting up terrible fourth quarters.

With this argument, I’m feeling as though the Colts need to put together better third quarters in order to remain competitive throughout their fourth-quarter troubles. Any way you choose to look at it, this is possibly a more destructive pattern than what we’ve previously seen from Chuck Pagano-led Colts teams.

Slow starts breed more halftime adjustments, having an attacking mentality and more creative play calling in order to get back into the game, whereas coming into the game hot has led to a relaxing affect resulting in the coaching staff implementing a ‘play not to lose’ script approach for the second half. I suppose this puts all of the credence to playing a full four quarter game every week. Without the coaching staff and players getting to that pinnacle, the current results will keep coming.

What do you make of these numbers? Let us know below.