Much of this season’s conversation has been dominated by the leads the Indianapolis Colts have lost over the course of the year. But, over the past several years a large portion of the conversation has included the question of what typically leads to wins. Especially with Andrew Luck healthy and taking on opposing defenses with an underwhelming roster and discerning what exactly goes into putting W’s on the board.
More specifically, under Chuck Pagano the mindset has typically been that Luck’s abilities in the passing game have directly attributed to success, while other avenues such as the running game have simply been agents of diversity within the structure of the offense. Pagano’s affinity for running the ball has been mocked, and when considering the design and lack of success within this aspect of the offense for nearly all of Pagano’s tenure it is easily understandable.
But this season, without the Colts unquestioned offensive leader on the field to mitigate any deficiencies, the formula has changed. The running game has been necessary to maintain more than just a balanced gameplan. Jacoby Brissett for all of his natural abilities is no Andrew Luck and needs more than his fair share of help in order to keep the offense firing.
But, with that in mind it’s been difficult discerning between which aspect is complementing which. Is the running game assisting the young struggling quarterback, or is he the supplemental part in the relationship?
There hasn’t been much in the way of winning this year, so naturally the recipe has appeared to be elusive, however, there very much has been a blueprint for winning – at least on the offensive side of the ball that is. Since Pagano has been leading the team, the Colts have run for at least 90 yards right around 9 or 10 time per season. This year isn’t really any different with the team putting that up 8 times thus far with 2 games left to play.
But, while the offense running for 90 yards doesn’t go very far on its own in determining a win or a loss, when the team does meet that threshold another necessity comes into play.
The Colts are technically 3-5 when running the ball for at least 90 yards, but like it or not, I’m not counting the matchup with the Buffalo Bills which became a blizzard with steady winds and some pretty intense playing conditions. You’ll understand why I’m not going to count this one soon – so for the time being we’ll talk about the 3 wins and other 4 losses with those 90 yards on the ground.
Frank Gore has been fantastic using his vision to eke out a really nice season considering that the offensive line hasn’t done him many favors, and he’s getting the fewest carries per game since his rookie season among being a 34-year old running back. For some additional context, last season the Colts line was second in adjusted line yards (Football Outsiders) as he put up 3.9 yards per carry while this season the unit is 21st (ALY) and he’s still managed 3.6 YPC.
Marlon Mack has been serviceable as a rookie and has shown his big-play ability, however, his consistency is nowhere near where it needs to be in order to be the lead dog of the future of this offense. Nobody should be down on him at this point, rather they should instead be excited about his future with the hopes of a more talented offensive line and self-growth are still realistic expectations for days ahead.
With all of that said, the Colts haven’t exactly put up a ton of touchdowns with their running backs (6) this season, but as you might guess when Brissett is somewhat effective in the passing game the Colts have been victorious. So, let’s stop beating around the bush.
We’ve established that in all three of the Colts wins this season they have run for 90 yards or more. But, the complementary aspect to those wins was an effective passing game. This offense couldn’t just have an efficient running game, in today’s NFL very few teams can. But more specifically, Brissett needed to put up at least 250 yards through the air. Additionally, Brissett didn’t just need a ton of attempts to rack up the yardage, he needed to be accurate and push the ball down the field.
Throughout these 7 games in question, the rushing totals are quite similar. In the three wins the Colts averaged 114.3 rush yards, and in the four losses they averaged 114.5 rush yards. However, aside from the victories where Brissett also had his three top games in terms of accuracy (Wk 3: 70.83% | Wk 5: 64.71% | Wk 9: 66.67%) there was only one additional game in which he topped the 60% threshold which was in Week 8 against the Bengals (64.1%). Brissett also reached his otherwise best passing yardage mark with 233 yards against the Bengals.
Similarly, as I mentioned Brissett pushing the ball down the field, his three wins almost exclusively provided his best average yards per attempt (Wk 3: 10.7 | Wk 5: 9.24 | Wk 9: 10.27) and his only comparable output in this regard was his Week 10 performance against the Steelers (9.25 YPA), and was his only other game of the season with an average of over 7 YPA. That’s about as inconsistent as you can get.
Now, I can only assume that you understand why I’m not even looking at the Buffalo Blizzard as one of these under consideration with the 90-plus rushing yardage threshold games. To be perfectly honest, there’s only a couple quarterbacks in today’s game who could even stand a chance at hitting the 250-yard mark through the air in a game like that.
In fact, I can’t say that I recall a game with that much standing snow on the field, and even in past snow, or frigid temperature games guys like Brett Favre, Eli Manning and were lauded for even getting near 200 passing yards. Jacoby isn’t one of those guys.
In hindsight, aside from the combination of bulk passing yardage, efficiency through the air and the rushing yardage, all this screams to me is that the Colts and this offense so desperately miss Andrew Luck in a major way. I, for one, hope that we never again have to find out what this feels like.
This will be the 8th game of the season -- 4th straight -- that the Colts have finished with fewer than 200 net passing yards. Despicable— Matt Danely (@MDanely_NFL) December 15, 2017
(92 Rush Yards) Week 3 VS Browns: 259 passing yards | 10.70 YPA
(159 Rush Yards) Week 5 VS 49ers: 314 passing yards | 9.24 YPA
(92 Rush Yards) Week 9 VS Texans: 308 passing yards | 10.27 YPA
(AVG: 114.3 RYPG)
(98 Rush Yards) Week 4 @ Seahawks: 157 passing yards | 5.41 YPA
(96 Rush Yards) Week 7 Vs Jaguars: 200 passing yards | 5.41 YPA
(115 Rush Yards) Week 8 @ Bengals: 233 passing yards | 5.97 YPA
(149 Rush Yards) Week 13 @ Jaguars: 174 passing yards | 4.83 YPA
(163 Rush Yards) Week 14 @ Bills: 69 Passing Yards | 3.14 YPA
(AVG: 114.5 RYPG)