Time and time again over the past couple of seasons, I looked at the Colts roster and thought that this team is not made to win a Super Bowl in what is the present NFL. Several times the argument that passing is king today has been made, and that a team needs a proper quarterback in order to make a deep run in the playoffs. The thing with both these arguments, is that they are unrefutably correct.
Think about the past 10 Super Bowls, and think about the starting quarterbacks on the teams that made it there... they were all, at the very least, above average NFL quarterbacks. Before you say that Flacco, Garoppolo, Foles, and Goff made a Super Bowl, remember that 3 of the 4 actually had really solid seasons that year, and the one that did not (Foles) has been an outlier his whole career, so it makes sense that he is among the very few backups to lead his team to, and win the Super Bowl.
So basically the hypothesis that I am looking to prove is that the Colts roster, built to run the ball, is just not suited for modern NFL football, and that continuing to neglect the weapons in the passing offense is probably going to be the downfall of this team.
Data compiled by myself taken from nfleloapp.com
Here are the explanations for the numbers used in case you are not a nerd. EPA is a measure of how many expected points a play adds, taking into account plenty of factors, like down and distance, score of the game, time remaining, etc. Pythagorean wins is an equation used to predict a winning percentage based on how many points the team scores and how many points the team gives up. Pythagorean Wins = (Points For ^ 2.37 / (Points For ^ 2.37 + Points Against ^ 2.37)) x 17. The measure I used is how well the EPA per pass Play correlates to the Pythagorean wins.
Since you are not here to learn about statistics, and I am not here to explain them, I’ll go straight to what the numbers mean. The average R-Squared over the past 13 seasons between EPA per pass play and Pythagorean Wins is 0.62, while that same correlation but for EPA per run play is just 0.19. Basically, passing the ball effectively translates to a much higher amount of expected wins that being able to run the ball at will. In fact, looking at the top ten passing teams over the past 13 seasons, 73.85% of them made the playoffs, while just 59.23% of the top ten running teams made it. The average R-Squarted for EPA per play against (which basically measures how good a defense is) is 0.40, so, to sum up, passing the ball well is the most important aspect to win football games consistently, followed by defense, and then by the running game.
What is dangerous here is that, led by the best running back in the NFL, the Colts are perhaps the team that depends the most on their running game to win games right now in the NFL. Sure, the Titans rely a lot on Derrick Henry, but at least they have a top 3 pass rushing unit that helps their defense out a lot, and they also have viable weapons in the passing game and a decent quarterback, the Colts have none of those 3 things right now.
The Colts are most likely going to be by far the team with the most money commited to the offensive line, considering the contracts handed out to Ryan Kelly (4 years, 50 million) and Braden Smith (4 years, 70 million), and Chris Ballard recently went on record to say that Quenton Nelson is “definitely worth at least $17-20 million per year.” That would leave Indy with approximately 50 million commited per year to just 3/5 of their starting offensive linemen. For you to realize just how absurd that is, the team that spent most of their cap space on the offensive line in 2022 were the Arizona Cardinals with 55.4 million. I understand that the offensive line helps both the passing game and the running game, but considering how terrible the line was at pass protection last season, there are solid reasons to be worried.
Unfortunately for the Colts, this is a terrible year to try and get a new quarterback. No free agents, Aaron Rodgers reportedly does not have Indy in his shortlist of teams, and Russell Wilson is most likely staying put in Seattle. The only viable option that I want the Colts to pursue is to test the market for Carson Wentz on what is such a weak quarterback class, and use the acquired draft capital to get a guy in the draft (I like two quarterback prospects for the Colts, but that is a theme for a different article.)
Now what could the Colts do? To begin with, with not only a deep free agent class, with players like Amari Cooper, D.J Chark, Christian Kirk and several others probably available, but also a deep draft class, the Colts should go out and get at the very least two more weapons in the passing game. Indy’s receiving room last year was among the worst in the entire NFL, and if you take out Michael Pittman Jr. then I would even dare say that it is the absolute worst. Zach Pascal was the team’s second best receiver, and had 38 receptions on 69 targets (55% catch rate) for 384 yards and 3 touchdowns. A proper tight end would also help a lot, considering that Jack Doyle is not getting any younger and is considering retiring, Mo Allie-Cox has not been able to produce consistently, and former rookie Kylen Granson still needs some time to get used to the NFL. A left tackle that can hold a block for more than 2 seconds would also work wonders for the offense.
All in all, I am not very confident in the path the Colts are going down in order to build their roster, and looking at the recent trends winning teams follow in the NFL I am just not sold on this team contending for the title in the short term.