Each week during the season, I will be walking through the data from the previous Colts game and 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.
You can be forgiven if you think Sam Ehlinger’s first start was an overall boost for the Colts offense. It certainly looked different and he made some highlight reel plays, but at the end of the day, this was no improvement.
16 points is obviously bad, but I care more about how those points were earned. 10 points came off of drives that started in Washington territory. The other 6 points came off of drives that contained explosive plays (16 yard run, 39 yd pass, 22 yd pass).
Now, I’m not complaining about good field position or explosive plays, rather it’s just that they aren’t that repeatable. If your offense relies on field position and explosive plays to score, then you aren’t going to score much. And we didn’t.
Good offenses rely on high conversion rates to move the ball and this offense did not do that. Overall, the Colts earned only 15 first downs in week 8. That is in the 19th percentile of all league games this year and the 2nd lowest Colts total for the year. The DSR from that effort was a terrible 62.5% (16th percentile).
I don’t talk about expected points per drive much (xOPPD), but when it comes to gauging future performance, it is the most predictive team stat that I have. The 1.60 expected points per drive in week 8 is lower than the average 1.70 that the team earned with Ryan under center.
Of course, 1 game is not a trend, and judging the offense by a QB’s first start is foolish, but the fact is that the product on Sunday was not better than what we have seen before. It was certainly different in that it was much more run-heavy and there were 162 explosive play yards vs. the 115 average in the first 7 games. However, for many measures, the numbers were worse:
- fewer total yards (324 vs. 341.5)
- lower DSR (62.5% vs. 70.3%)
- lower conversion rate (24.5% vs. 28.8%)
- worse success rate (39.1% vs. 41.3%)
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Yards per play was up, EPA per play was up and the average third down had far fewer yards to gain than in weeks 1-7, leading to better 3rd down conversions. Those are all promising numbers even if they aren’t as predictive as the other stats mentioned.
The passing game was clearly better than the average Matt Ryan game. A +0.11 epa per dropback earns the 12th-best spot this week and Sam also posted the 13th-best passing success rate. Those are both in line with the 13th-best net yardage efficiency. (Note: the epa numbers are a bit different than what I published in my QB stats article as the data has been updated since then.)
Ehlinger’s average value on his negative plays was similar to Ryan’s (-1.06 epa/d, -1.07 epa/d), but his rate of negative plays was 3.1% lower than what Ryan achieved. Conversely, not only did Ehlinger have a higher success rate, but he also managed a higher average EPA value on positive dropbacks (+1.36 epa/d vs +1.18 epa/d). That’s a lot of numbers to say his improved efficiency was driven by fewer negative plays and higher-value positive plays.
That’s pretty good news, but the bad news is that he was not as good at getting first downs. He ranked 18th this week in conversion rate and was 1.5% below Ryan’s average.
The run game was more of a focus this week, with 54% of plays being carries. That is the highest % of the year with week 1’s 42% coming in 2nd.
Unfortunately, the run game didn’t do that well coming in 23rd of 30 teams in Adjusted success rate. However, while the rushing effort wasn’t good, it certainly was an improvement over the first 7 weeks, where the Colts were dead last in aRSR.
In terms of yards per carry, they were 12th, but a turnover and a 25th-ranked conversion rate reduces the impact of those yards.
CONCLUSION & LOOK AHEAD
This game was certainly easier to watch than some of the previous games, but overall the offense was no better than in previous weeks. If Ehlinger can improve as he gets more experience, it could really turn things around, but the run game has to find its groove.
Week 9 is a trip to Foxborough where the Colts’ offense will meet the 6th-ranked New England defense (DVOA). Not so coincidentally, they have given up the 6th fewest ppd to opponents. They achieve this because they do not give up first downs easily, having the 8th lowest DSR and conversion rate against. That doesn’t bode well for an offense that has trouble getting first downs.
Against the pass, DVOA ranks them 6th best. I agree as I have them giving up the 4th lowest epa per dropback and the 2nd lowest passing success rate. This will be a much tougher test for Sam than the 28th ranked Commanders were
The Patriots seem to be more vulnerable on the ground. Football Outsiders has them at 27th in rushing defense (DVOA), they are 30th in unadjusted success rate against and 30th in ypc against. However, they do not give up many rushing first downs (10th 1st% against), so when I adjust the success rate, I have them at 13th best (aRSR). Whichever is correct, it still seems that rushing against them is a better idea than passing.