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Week 3: Colts Offense by the Numbers

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Atlanta Falcons v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

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.


There’s not much I can say about the Indianapolis Colts week 3 offense other than, Wow! Despite that, here’s a thousand words anyway.

The offensive performance last Sunday was phenomenal. A 90.6% Drive Success Rate, means that the offense converted over 90% of their series into first downs or touchdowns. That is the 2nd best mark of any team so far this year (BAL wk 1) and ties for the 9th best mark of any team since 2009. So, it was historically great.

For the first time this year, the Colts shifted their offense towards passing and leaned on Jacoby Brissett as he dropped back 38 times and delivered 68% of the first downs (compared to 41% in weeks 1-2) and 79% of the yards (45% in weeks 1-2).

Last week, I wrote how the Atlanta Falcon’s defense gives up a lot of first downs by penalty and that trend continued into week 3. While the Colts offense had success moving the ball, 7 of their first downs were from flags, which kept two Indianapolis drives from dying. In an alternate timeline, where the Falcons don’t commit those penalties and the subsequent points don’t happen, then maybe I’m writing a very different article. But this isn’t Bedford Falls and in this reality, those points count.


TEAM TOTALS

Mouseover for definitions: Adj PPD, PPG, Yds, P/R%, DSR, xOPPD, Strt Fld, EPA/ply, wTSR, 1st%, Pen 1st/ Yds, 3DC, 3rd ytg, Expl Plys, TO, TOP%
27 points on 6 non-kneeldown drives equals the best point efficiency of the week (Adj PPD). That ranking is supported by the aforementioned best DSR, the 2nd best play success rate (wTSR) and the 5th best % of plays earning a first down (1st%). Overall play efficiency ranked 7th (EPA/ply ). And that was all done with the 2nd worst starting field position of any team.

One strength of the offense last year was 3rd down conversions, finishing the regular season at a league high 48.6%. 2019 is more of the same as this week’s 62.5% 3DC brings the season total to a 4th best 52.3%.

All of these numbers look good and it’s not a fluke either. After the first 3 weeks, the Colts have broken into the top 5 ranking in all of the offensive metrics that are most relevant for wins (Adj PPD 5th, DSR 4th, xOPPD 4th, EPA/ply 4th, wTSR 5th and 1st% 5th).


PASS TOTALS

Mouseover definitions: EPA/db, wPSR Cmp, Att, Yds, TD, Int, Sk, Sk Y, Rtng, 1st%, ANY/A, NY/A, YPA, Cmp %, aDOT, aYd, YAC, 20+ #/Yd

I hope this wasn’t a career day for Jacoby Brissett, not because he wasn’t really good but because I want to see a lot more games like this. Last week, I wrote that a QB’s job is to advance the ball down the field and this week Brissett did exactly that. In a word, he was great. He ranked 4th in both per play efficiency (EPA/ply) and successful passing % (wPSR). His pass length was again low (aDOT 28th) but he more than made up for that with a 75.7% completion rate.

This brings me to two aspects of Brissett’s play that have historically been a weakness, but which dramatically improved in week 3 and are reflected in 2 key stats. People have asked me why I have been so critical of his play. Well, here’s why.

Issue 1: He has not demonstrated the ability to throw for first downs (1st%). This is a measure of being able to advance the ball downfield with your arm and is such a fundamental requirement for a QB. If a QB can’t throw 1st downs, the offense becomes one dimensional and vulnerable. Of the 80 QBs since 2009 that have had at least 500 attempts, here is a list of the Top 10 and Bottom 10 in this metric.

.

Top 10 1st% Rank Bottom 10 1st% Rank
Top 10 1st% Rank Bottom 10 1st% Rank
P.Mahomes 39.1% 1 J.Brissett 27.8% 71
P.Manning 38.2% 2 B.Gradkowski 27.5% 72
D.Brees 37.3% 3 J.Delhomme 27.4% 73
P.Rivers 36.8% 4 EJ Manuel 26.7% 74
J.Winston 36.6% 5 B.Gabbert 26.1% 75
T.Brady 36.5% 6 J.Skelton 25.7% 76
D.Watson 36.2% 7 C.Whitehurst 25.2% 77
M.Schaub 35.8% 8 R.Lindley 24.7% 78
B.Roethlisberger 35.7% 9 B.Quinn 24.5% 79
T.Romo 35.6% 10 T.Edwards 23.8% 80

Suffice it to say, that you would rather that your QB be in the “Top” list. Even players like Blake Bortles, Brock Osweiler and Matt Cassel all moved the ball downfield with their arm far better than Brissett has.

I am not showing this to denigrate Brissett but to show why I had low confidence in him and to contrast it with how well he performed on Sunday. Here is his 1st% for every week that he has started in a Colt’s uniform.

Weeks 1 & 2 under Frank Reich’s offense (games 16 & 17) saw no improvement. His passing first down rate in those games was still significantly below league average and fortunately, was compensated for by Marlon Mack & co. who put up the league’s 2nd best rushing first down rate. Last Sunday, however, it was the passing game that was finally moving the chains and it did so in a high volume offense where Brissett “put the team on his back”.

Issue 2: Jacoby takes a lot of sacks which depresses his Net Yards per Attempt. In 2017, Brissett took more sacks than any QB in the league, even though he only started 15 games. I know the narrative is that it was due to a bad O-line and play calling, but in New England he had a sack rate of 9.8%, which is similar to his 2017 rate of 10.0% and his 2019 week 1-2 rate of 8.3%. Three different coaches, three different O-lines, similar sack rate. Here is his NY/A for every week that he has started in a Colt’s uniform.

Again, his week 1 & 2 performances didn’t have me excited that things were finally different, but Week 3 gives me hope. He only took one sack has moved through his progressions well and made decisions to get rid of the ball in a timely manner. His time to throw was quicker and that’s not just scheme as he shaved 0.4 seconds off his week 2 mark while simultaneously throwing farther down the field. I’ve never seen him look as comfortable in the pocket as he did on Sunday.

The reason I harp on these 2 stats is that a QB that takes a lot of sacks and doesn’t pass for first downs is a drive killing machine. QB’s that can put up a greater than league average NY/A and 1st% in a game, will extend drives, put up more offensive points and win far more games than QBs that don’t.

.

Metric DSR oPPD Win %
Metric DSR oPPD Win %
Games with < avg NY/A OR < avg 1st% 65.40% 1.47 39%
Games with > avg NY/A and 1st% 76.30% 2.7 72%

If a QB can’t do well in those metrics, then he has to be bailed out by a good run game or good defense, like Brissett was in weeks 1 and 2 and exactly like he wasn’t in 2017. Prior to week 3, Brissett was above average in both metrics only once in his career. That is the worst rate of any QB since 2009.

That is why I am critical of his play and why weeks 1 & 2 did not do much to change that view. It is also why week 3’s performance is so promising.


RUSH TOTALS

Mouseover definitions: wRSR, Yds, Car, TD, Fum Lost, RSR, 1st%, YPC, 10+ #/Yd, 3rd, 3DC
The run game continues to be an offensive strength. A 12th ranked performance for the week (wRSR) brings the season total ranking to 7th.

By volume, 79 yards isn’t much, but 7 first downs and a TD was absolutely critical to the overall offensive success. In addition, the last drive was only able to bleed off the final 4:11 because of 5 straight successful Marlon Mack runs including a 26 yarder. In an alternate timeline, those runs were stuffed, Matt Ryan got the ball back with a minute left and many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of a Slor that day, I can tell you.


CONCLUSION AND NEXT MATCH-UP

The 2019 Colts have a top 5 offense. Jacoby Brissett looked like a top tier QB in week 3 and the run game continues to be a strength and deliver successful carries. If this is what the Frank Reich offense looks like for the rest of the year, then there are zero concerns.

Next up is the Oakland Raiders, who have given up the 3rd most points per drive of any team supported by an 81.0% DSR against, which shows they let teams move the ball against them . . . a lot. Of course, 2 of their 3 opponents were the Vikings and Chiefs who aren't exactly offensive slouches.

The Raiders are much better against the run (11th wRSR) then they are against the pass (29th EPA/ply ), but the Colts have shown they can be good at both. If Brissett plays like he did in week 3, then we should have no trouble putting up points.


SEASON TOTALS

Mouseover for definitions: Adj PPD, PPG, Yds, P/R%, DSR, xOPPD, Strt Fld, EPA/ply, wTSR, 1st%, Pen 1st/ Yds, 3DC, 3rd ytg, Expl Plys, TO, TOP%
Mouseover definitions: EPA/db, wPSR Cmp, Att, Yds, TD, Int, Sk, Sk Y, Rtng, 1st%, ANY/A, NY/A, YPA, Cmp %, aDOT, aYd, YAC, 20+ #/Yd
Mouseover definitions: wRSR, Yds, Car, TD, Fum Lost, RSR, 1st%, YPC, 10+ #/Yd, 3rd, 3DC