Sabermetrics have played a huge role in baseball and it has changed the way most organizations think. We’re slowly seeing that in the NFL, with statistics and analytics growing more and more in popularity. Despite the analytic advancements, football is more of an “eye” sport than baseball, which means that you can’t build a team without watching some film. There is, however, one telling statistical formula that we can use in the NFL to predict a team’s success.
That formula is the points scored and allowed equation. The equation looks like this:
(Points Scored)^2 / ((Points Scored)^2 + (Points Allowed)^2)
If we entered in the numbers from the 2016 Colts, we’d get this:
(411)^2 / ((411)^2 + (392)^2), which equals 0.523648 and that equates to 8.37 wins. The Colts finished with 8 wins, so that formula is a good indicator of the Colts’ success for the season. You can use that formula with just about every team in the league and come up with a relatively accurate score. Some teams, like Oakland, performed much better then their points scored/allowed equation score and others, like Jacksonville, performed much more poorly than their points/allowed equation score.
So, while we can all look back and point out individual moments and plays from particular games, at the end of the day, the Colts played like an 8-8 team on paper.
If we’re looking to predict next year’s record, then we have to start with the 411 points scored and the 392 points allowed totals. Let’s start with the 411 points scored, which represents the offensive side of the ball. The first question we must ask is: did the Colts get better on offense? That can then be broken down into several parts:
- Offensive line talent
- Offensive consistency — represented by the turnover of personnel and coaches
- The age of the offense
- Personnel additions
- Personnel subtractions
- Personnel addition/subtraction differential (did they gain/lose more talent overall?)
- Did the offense suffer any serious injuries the year before?
Let’s start with the first part: the talent of the offensive line. The Colts made very few changes to the offensive line this season. In fact, they are relying on their younger players, Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark to improve and have starting roles in the offense. The Colts have a very good guard and center combination in Jack Mewhort and Ryan Kelly, as well as a steady, consistent left tackle in Anthony Castonzo.
Luck and Tolzien were sacked once every 14 drop-backs. Both quarterbacks lost an average of 6.5 yards on every sack. The 44 total sacks allowed ranked 4th worst in the NFL. The Colts scored a touchdown for every 124 yards of offense -- equaling a point for every 18 yards of offense.
Over the previous 4 seasons, the Colts allowed an average of 35 sacks per season. Last season, the NFL average for sacks allowed was approximately 35 sacks per season. If the Colts can reduce their sacks allowed total to 35 sacks, they will gain approximately 70 yards of offense (9 additional passing attempts multiplied by 7.8 yards per attempt, which was Luck’s average in 2016). This 70 yard increase would lead to an extra 4 points scored.
With a solid, steady group of offensive linemen on the left side and improving, young offensive linemen on the right side, a 15% sack reduction should be expected. It’s also important to note that every starting and backup offensive lineman (with the exception of one player) has at least one year of experience in the offense, which makes a tremendous difference.
The next step is to look at the group turnover, which marks the consistency of an offense. If there is a lot of turnover, there is a higher chance of inconsistency and inefficiency of an offense or defense. If there is less turnover, then we can expect to see more consistency and more efficiency on offense or defense.
This one is pretty straight forward, the Colts have the same starting quarterback, same starting running back, same starting receivers, same starting tight end and all projected starting offensive linemen have spent at least one season on the roster. The offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, is also returning for his third season as offensive coordinator. The Colts have essentially no turnover, so there is no reason to believe that the team, if it’s core players remain healthy, will suffer any inconsistency or inefficiency issues during the season.
We then must look at the age of the group. The average age of the Colts offense is approximately 26 years old, with the oldest player being 34 years old (Frank Gore). Gore is the only player with statistical slowdown concerns, so we must ask: if there is a decline in Frank Gore’s play, can the backups fill the statistical gap?
I think it’s tough to ask Robert Turbin and rookie Marlon Mack to fill that statistical gap based on Turbin’s yards per carry average as well his role in the offense and Mack’s inexperience. I believe it’s fair to expect a decline in the running game production.
Which roster players did the Colts add to the offense this off-season?
- Kamar Aiken -- Wide Receiver
- Zach Banner — Offensive Tackle (Rookie)
- Marlon Mack — Running Back (Rookie)
- Brian Schwenke — Center/Guard
- Brandon Williams — Tight End
Which roster players did the Colts lose on offense this off-season?
- Dwayne Allen — Tight End
- Jonotthan Harrison — Center
- Joe Reitz — Offensive Tackle
- Hugh Thornton — Guard
If we try and examine the personnel differential, we can see that overall, the Colts only made minor moves on offense. Their biggest move was trading Dwayne Allen, but many would argue that getting rid of Allen is addition by subtraction as Allen was ineffective last season. When evaluating the moves, it’s clear that there isn’t a major change to the starting lineup, and the bulk of moves came to the backups and affected the depth of the offense. For those reasons, I can conclude that these moves will have a very minor impact on the points scored total.
Finally, we must ask if the Colts suffered any major injuries on offense in 2016? The simple answer is no, but as we’ve come to find out, Andrew Luck spent most of the season playing hurt, so that accounts for a small decrease in production.
If we assume there will be an efficiency improvement along the offensive line (15% reduction in sacks allowed) and that Andrew Luck is healthy (which will lead to an increase in yards and passing attempts), we should expect a 5% increase in offensive efficiency, which means that the new points scored total should be approximately 432.
If we’re looking at the 392 points allowed total, that represents the defensive side of the ball. Like the offense, we must ask if the Colts got better on defense? This would then be broken down into the following parts:
- Defensive consistency — represented by the turnover of personnel and coaches
- Front 7 talent
- The age of the defense
- Personnel additions
- Personnel subtractions
- Personnel addition/subtraction differential (did they gain/lose more talent overall?
- Did the defense suffer any serious injuries the year before?
If we look at the turnover of the personnel, we see that there have been a lot of changes (as described later on). A lot of turnover can lead to inefficiency and inconsistency, especially early on in the season, due to the players not being accustomed to the new environment, defensive scheme, new teammates, etc. This is often seen with teams that splurge heavily on free agents (2011 Eagles being one of the best examples).
Which probable roster players did the Colts add to the defense this off-season?’
- Tarrell Bashem — Outside Linebacker (Rookie)
- Jon Bostic — Inside Linebacker
- Nate Hairston — Cornerback (Rookie)
- Johnathan Hankins — Nose Tackle
- Malik Hooker — Safety (Rookie)
- Margus Hunt — Defensive End (3 Tech)
- Barkevious Mingo — Outside Linebacker
- Jabaal Sheard — Outside Linebacker
- John Simon — Outside Linebacker
- Sean Spence — Inside Linebacker
- Grover Stewart — Defensive Lineman (Rookie)
- Anthony Walker Jr — Inside Linebacker (Rookie)
- Quincy Wilson — Cornerback (Rookie)
- Al Woods — Nose Tackle
Which roster players did the Colts lose on defense this off-season?
- Mike Adams — Safety
- Trent Cole — Outside Linebacker
- D’Qwell Jackson — Inside Linebacker
- Arthur Jones — Defensive Lineman
- Zach Kerr — Defensive Lineman
- Josh McNary — Inside Linebacker
- Robert Mathis — Outside Linebacker
- Patrick Robinson — Cornerback
- Erik Walden — Outside Linebacker
As you can see, the Colts underwent a large transformation on defense. There are a few raw ways of measuring the productivity gain/loss. One way is to measure the amount of takeaways both groups (departing and new) generated in 2016.
The departing group generated 12 takeaways in 2016. The new group (excluding rookies) generated 3 takeaways. That’s a difference of 9 turnovers, but with Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson expected to have starting/large roles on defense in their rookie seasons, in reality that 9 turnover gap is overstated. Realistically, there is most likely a 5 turnover gap. If we expect 5 less turnovers, you can expect (based on the turnover to opponent touchdown ratio) to see a 10 point increase in points allowed.
There is also a 7 sack deficit left by the departing group. We know that opposing quarterbacks were sacked once every 19 drop-backs, and opposing teams scored a touchdown every 146 yards or one point every 21 yards. A 7 sack deficit will lead to a 46 yard increase for opponents, which equates to 2 extra points.
Finally, defensive players in 2016 had many injuries, but with a mostly new corps, we’ll essentially throw out last year’s injury report for the defense.
Final Thoughts & Equation Score
If the Colts can expect an 21 point increase in points scored and an 12 point increase in points allowed, then our equation will look like this:
(432)^2 / ((432)^2 + (404)^2)
Our final answer is 0.5334, which equates to 9 wins.