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Week 1: Colts Offense by the Numbers

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Each week during the season, I will be walking through the data from the previous Colts game analyzing the numbers to form a sort of “what happened” narrative as well as comparing the Colts against all other teams in the league. For a glossary of the stats listed, reference Stats for the 2019 Season. Thanks to Pro Football Reference, NFL.com and the nflSCrapR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.


Just to clarify, this article will only be about the performance of the offense. So, I’m not going to talk about special teams at all. I won’t bring up how they were absolutely dreadful and literally lost what became a very winnable game. I’m certainly not going to mention Adam Vinatieri missing 2 field goals and an extra point.

This isn’t the forum to discuss a penalty that allowed the Chargers to trade a FG for a TD, so I won’t address that. And you aren’t going to catch me bringing up a Rigoberto Sanchez partially blocked punt that led to 3 more Charger points either. So with that said, let’s talk about the offense . . . holy crap the special teams play was horrible.

Coming in to the game, the Vegas line had the Colts at 19 offensive points. With 24 points on the scoreboard -- and another 7 left on the field that I won’t mention -- it’s safe to say the Colts offense exceeded most people’s expectations, including mine.

The offense was easily able to move the ball, reflected in an impressive DSR of 78.6% that led to TDs or Field Goal attempts on 6 of 9 drives with only one 3 & out. 22 first downs and 0 turnovers with 2.67 points per drive is a pretty efficient day.


TEAM TOTALS

On an adjusted points per drive basis the offense ranked 14th of all teams but the 10th ranked expected offensive points per drive (xOPPD) is a better predictor of actual play. The difference there is basically the points left on the field.

EPA per play, weighted success rate (wTSR) and first down percentage of plays (1st%) ranked 9th, 11th and 14th, so that lines up pretty well. Anytime all of those stats are in agreement then that is an indication that the score wasn’t due to some random luck or flukey performance.

I normally don’t pay attention to the pass rush split as that is usually biased by game script, but since the Colts trailed the whole game the 53% rushing is very telling of how Frank Reich wanted to handle this offense. This was most definitely a run-first effort.


PASSING

Jacoby Brissett’s play was somewhat of a mixed bag. As far as efficiency, he ranked 11th in EPA per dropback and 13th in weighted passing success rate which is a vast improvement over 2017 and the most important take-away.

However, his volume was low as he was put into a game manager role, which helps efficiency but minimizes its impact. He had 2 explosive plays for 45 yards, which is the 4th fewest in week 1 and was a reflection of his average depth of target being the 26th lowest of any QB. A low aDOT is not bad in and of itself (Patrick Mahomes was 31st), but it basically means the Colts threw short, high percentage passes with low YAC.

This dink and dunk play can be effective as long as you avoid turnovers, sacks and maintain a high completion rate (along with a strong run game). I doubt Jacoby maintains a 78% completion rate going forward, especially when his arm speed is still permanently set to 11. And while the low aDOT helped improved his time to throw (3rd quickest) he still took 2 sacks behind one of the better lines in the league. That knocked his NY/A below 6 yards which ranks 20th for the week, the same ranking as his YPA and 1st%.

While those numbers are better than his 2017 average and better than Luck’s first 3 weeks in 2018, the Colt’s will need improved production to sustain a good offense. All in all, Brissett’s performance was about what I expected in a Frank Reich system. He was fine, not great, but certainly good enough to win. His performance improved from a bottom dweller to the middle of the pack and that is really promising.


RUSHING

The true driver of the offense on Sunday was Marlon Mack and the run game. No single rusher in the league put up more yards (174) or gained more first downs (11) in week 1 than Mack. As a team, the Colts put up the 6th best weighted Rushing Success Rate, which includes a perfect 5 for 5 on 3rd down conversions and an extremely impressive 40% of all runs earning first downs.

Not only was it highly efficient, but it also put up big volume with 203 yards, which is the 2nd most of any team and 54% of the Colt’s total offense. This combined volume AND efficiency is uncommon especially for a team that trailed the whole game.


CONCLUSIONS & NEXT MATCH-UP

If Brissett is going to settle into game manager mode, then for the Colts to rack up wins, he will have to maintain ball control and improve at avoiding sacks. The rushing game will have to continue its high efficiency and the defense will have to turn into one of the better units in the league -- more on that tomorrow.

Next Sunday, the Colts travel to the Titans whose defense intercepted Baker Mayfield 3 times and totaled 5 sacks. However, their other passing defensive numbers bounced around a bit (2nd in EPA/db against, 11th in wPSR against, 11th in NY/A against, 16th YPA against). That inconsistency indicates the overall performance wasn’t as strong as it appears.

Additionally, the Titan defense wasn’t very good against the run coming in 19th in wRSR and giving up higher than average explosive plays.

On paper, that looks like a good match-up for the Indy offense that we saw on Sunday, but of course, we have only 1 week’s worth of data and a single data point is certainly not a trend.