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 Season Stats. Thanks to Pro Football Reference, NFL.com, Football Outsiders and the nflFastR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.
Well, it wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t good.
Entering the week, the team had 0 three-and-outs. Leaving Chicago, they had 4 and that was just a symptom of an overall inability to finish drives. 18 first downs on 27 series gets you a 66.7% Drive Success Rate which is 27th out of 30 teams.
Fortunately, that was countered by the 8th best starting field position on the week (32 yard line) making the shortened drives more impactful. Teams with that starting field position that have a 67% DSR are expected to only score 19 points and whaddayaknow, the team complied with the law of averages.
Last week, I said to expect a run-heavy game, but that wasn’t run-heavy, it was run-ludicrous. That strategy was the primary driver as to why the offensive numbers were depressed.
- In weeks 1 - 3, the Colts ran on 1st down 50% of the time, averaging 6.4 yards converting 28% of those plays.
- In week 4, the Colts ran on 1st down 77% of the time, averaging 3.3 yards converting only 12% of those plays.
Obviously, that type of production makes it harder to move the chains and is a big reason why the Colts were dead last in first down conversion rate. Ironically, 3rd down conversions were better, but as I pointed out in a previous article, 3rd down conversions are a hollow victory if you can’t convert on 1st and 2nd as well.
A lot of the play calling was driven by game script and I’m sure some of it was based on the Chicago defense being weaker against the run, but 77% run rate on first downs is not something that will work very often.
This was a weird week for the passing game. A lot of the stats that drive value are down: 18th ranked net yards per dropback (NY/db), 26th ranked first down conversions (1st/db), 27th ranked completion rate over expected (cpoe), 26th ranked passing success rate (PSR). However, the overall value measurement of EPA/db gives the passing game a 13th ranking.
This is not in isolation either as ESPN’s QBR ranked Philip Rivers the 9th best QB and Football Outsiders give him a 12th best DYAR in week 4. Those measures are black-box stats and so I can’t say specifically what is driving that high of a ranking. However, EPA/ply ranked above average, because although Rivers had plenty of negative plays by volume (43.3% PSR), he didn’t have any egregiously bad plays and conversely, the good plays he did have added a lot of value at the right time (five 3rd and long conversions).
If you think EPA/ply and the ESPN and FO rankings are too high, I’m right there with you. I’ll reprint a chart I used in my stat tracker article.
The key take-away of Rivers’ play this week, was missing on short passes. While his depth of target and air yards per completion were longer this week, his completion rate fell over 30% causing his average yardage efficiency to plummet (8.0 ny/db to 6.2).
I don’t care what you say, ESPN, that was not a top 10 performance.
I’ve already discussed the high percentage of runs on first down, but let me repeat it here. 20 runs on first down earned 3.3 yards per carry. As a reference, the rest of the league gained 4.2 ypc on first downs.
A 25th ranked ypc and a 27th ranked first down conversion rate combine for a 27th ranked rushing success rate (RSR), which is boosted a bit by situation to a 24th ranked weighted RSR. Not good.
The Colts had a strong run game last year ranked 8th in DVOA. This year they have fallen to 28th in that same measure. If the plan is to have Rivers be a game manager and have the run game take up the slack, I have my doubts as to its long-term success.
The run game has to improve.
CONCLUSION AND LOOK AHEAD
I know a lot of this was negative, but as far as the numbers go, the performance was negative. I am merely pointing out that production was overall below average and if the offense continues to play like this going forward then we likely lose a lot of games.
That doesn’t mean this offense was not successful. I absolutely loathe the phrase “good enough to win”, but it certainly applies here. None of this accounts for opponent, game plan or situation. Reich calls games so that he can win, not to specifically put up good offensive numbers, but the team should have executed the called plays better.
Now, had Chicago managed to get a lead, the play-calling would have been very different, as well as the offensive production. Maybe, in that world I am writing a glowing analysis of the offense. Just not today.
Next Sunday, the Colts visit Cleveland. The Browns defense has given up 30+ points in 3 of their 4 games. They have been pretty stout against the run (10th DVOA, 13th weighted RSR) but much less successful against the pass (20th DVOA, 22nd EPA/db). Of course, 2 of those opponent QBs were Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott who are playing better than Philip Rivers is.
Regardless, I expect to see a bit more passing next week and if Rivers can get back to form, then I think next week’s analysis will be a bit cheerier.