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Colts Lack of Early-Down Success Follows Familiar Trend

Much like the Colts struggles in the second half, their lack of early-down successes are equally perplexing

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts pathetic second half output this season has been the crutch the offense simply cannot shake. The Colts defense has been good enough for a competent offense to build leads, they’ve been less effective in the second halves of games, however, the offense is the one playing hide-and-seek especially in the fourth quarter.

But, why has the offense been so bad? Why can’t Jacoby Brissett and these playmakers sustain possessions and put points on the board late in games? Yes, the Colts are soft in protecting Brissett a hearty bit of the time. Also, Brissett isn’t helping himself with hanging on to the ball — for what seems like forever -- and failing to maintain his rhythm or decision-making throughout the game’s duration.

There are a lot of responses that would make this statement correct: The Colts are bad because ________. You can even try to be wrong, but chances are whatever you say would hold some truth, or at the very least could be manipulated into holding some fact. But, there is another trend following the same path as the blanket issues between halves for the Colts — early down failure.

The simple logic here is that early down success, more yards earned on first and second down situations, leads to less predictability on third down opportunities. The Colts absolutely are predictable right now, and it’s also leading to a ton of failures on those crucial early down plays.

Simply put, in comparison to the rest of the league, the Colts are 23rd on first-down plays with an average of 4.91 yards gained per play. They’re 31st in first-down percentage (17.1%), 30th with 6 touchdowns and dead last in the NFL with 17 sacks allowed. So, as a whole, the Colts are awful on first down.

Something additional to remember is that the Colts pass less than 29 of the league’s teams on first down, and only 10 teams run the ball more often thus far into the season.

On second-down situations the Colts are equally bad. They are 25th gaining 4.59 yards per play, 26th in first-down percentage (24.5%), 24th with 5 touchdowns, and — again — are dead last in the league giving up 15 sacks. Interestingly enough, though, the Colts are in the top half of the league in, both, running plays (16th) as well as passing plays (12th).

How exactly is this offense supposed to earn third-down conversions when they are so bad on these early downs? In fact — surprise, surprise — the Colts are near the bottom of the league (26th) on third down plays with an average of 7.71 yards-to-go. Again, you can throw the blanket over these stats and state that the Colts are disgusting on early downs, thus leaving themselves behind the 8-ball on third downs when trying to extend drives.

But, as you might guess by now, these failures follow the same path as the Colts scoring does.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the Colts first, and second down plays by half:

First Down | First Half

Yards Per Play — 5.07 YPP (18th)

First Down % — 19.9% (17th)

First Down | Second Half

Yards Per Play — 4.73 YPP (23rd)

First Down % — 14% (30th)

Second Down | First Half

Yards Per Play — 5.11 YPP (17th)

First Down % — 27.5% (21st)

Second Down | Second Half

Yards Per Play — 4.03 YPP (27th)

First Down % — 21.1% (29th)

This seems to clearly point to an alteration with playcalling especially when you factor in that the Colts have been leading at the half in 8 of their 11 games this season. Rob Chudzinski doesn’t appear to be as aggressive, or creative, in the second half without provocation and that’s a problem.

Both, Chud and Brissett seem to shrink in different ways when it comes to keeping the chains moving. Chud’s route combinations and playcalling are making the Colts one-dimensional late in games, and Brissett becomes awful picky as to what he deems to be an open receiver past 10 yards downfield. Naturally, both of these result in sacks and bad decision-making.

When you take a look a the third down numbers, they appear to be better in the second half in terms of yards per play than they truly are — but there’s a likely explanation for that as well.

In the first halves of games the Colts are obviously a more pass-happy offense, but it’s because they have little choice in order to attempt to regain the lead they’ve already lost.

Third Down | First Half

Yards Per Play — 4.8 YPP (25th)

First Down % — 43.8% (8th)

Avg Yards To Go — 7.26 YTG (18th)

Third Down | Second Half

Yards Per Play — 5.01 YPP (19th)

First Down % — 33.3% (26th)

Avg Yards To Go — 8.17 YTG (26th)

The Colts aren’t good on third downs any way you choose to look at it. However, Their higher yards per play count in the second half is almost certainly attributed to their increased amount of yards needed to achieve a first down.

Additionally, you see a top-10 mark from the Colts in the first halves of games in first down percentage. This would be a direct result of their being an average offense in the first half as opposed to being a complete embarrassment in second halves.

I know that all of these numbers can become tiresome to stare at, but if nothing else scan through them and understand that the Colts lack of success on early downs are killing any momentum in the second half that the offense has gained from the first. Chudzinski has had plenty of time to design better second half plays, Brissett has had plenty of time to ‘get the offense.’

Whether or not the Colts can pull off some victories in their final 5 games of the season is almost moot at this point. But, we want to see Brissett progress. Thus the current stream of feces we’re seeing in Chud’s gameplan simply must evolve to help expedite that into becoming a reality.