The Colts are right in the middle of a tightly contested playoff race. They are currently 9th in the AFC at 5-5. Their remaining schedule includes the: Bucs, Titans, Bengals, Steelers, Falcons, Raiders, Texans. Considering the level of quarterbacks they’ll be facing, Gardner Minshew might be the best of the bunch, with the exception of CJ Stroud.
If the Colts want to play in the playoffs, you’d have to figure that 9 wins would give them a decent chance with 10 wins giving them a great chance. Are the Colts good enough to get to 9 wins, let alone 10 wins? That depends on Gardner Minshew, who’s play of late has been dreadful; he will need to step up and return to a form similar to that of earlier in the season.
Keeping passes short
Let’s face it, the Colts aren’t like the Bills or Eagles who rely a lot on chunk plays to get them down the field. Those teams not only have big armed talented quarterbacks, but the necessary deep threats as well as good offensive lines. When the Colts do well on offense, it’s with the death by 1000 papercuts approach.
Against the Texans, Ravens and Titans (his best games), where the Colts averaged 25.3 points without Jonathan Taylor and won all 3 games against teams with a current combined record of 17-14, Minshew’s average depth on throws was 6.8 yards.
Against the Jaguars (2nd game), Saints, Panthers and Patriots, where the Colts averaged 17.5 points per game with Jonathan Taylor and went 2-2 against teams with a combined record of 15-25, Minshew’s average depth on throws was 7.8 yards and his turnover worthy throws percentage also jumped from 3% to 6%.
Those may not seem like big numbers, but 6.8 to 7.8 is a 15% increase and 3% to 6% is double. When Minshew has to force the ball down the field more, his play and numbers get worse. When the Colts run more than they pass and keep their passing attempts short, two things happen:
- They’re able to consistently move the ball down the field
- The longer drives allows the defense to play less and keeps opposing offenses off the field.
In the good games listed above, the Colts averaged 10 drives per game (not including overtime drives from Baltimore game to avoid skewing data). In the bad games, they averaged 9. Although they averaged around the same number of plays per drive (only 11% more in good games), more than 50% of their drives in the good games ended in points and only 7% ended in turnovers. In bad games, 35% of the drives ended in points and 15% ended in turnovers.
Passing Charts (Good Games)
Passing charts courtesy of rbsdm.com
Passing Charts (Bad Games)
Jacksonville (2nd Game)
When examining all passing charts, you see a clear difference between the good and the bad. The good keeps the large majority of the throws within 10 yards and you don’t see any interceptions. The Baltimore game was a bit of an exception, but the game went deep into overtime so it was more likely to have a bit of everything. Nevertheless, the large majority of the throws came within 10 yards even in that game.
In the bad games, we see more dispersion and more negative plays down the field. All his interceptions have essentially come down the field this year. Many of his interceptions are passes that are late, poorly thrown in terms of ball placement or lack zip and die a bit. He just doesn’t possess the ability to be a quality deep ball pass, so why try to get him to be that?
Game-Planning around Minshew
It’s simple: increase the good and decrease the bad. Gardner Minshew isn’t going to blow the roof off a building and pull games out of his you-know-what. The Colts will need to win despite Minshew’s deficiencies and they’ll need to maximize what he’s good at.
Minshew’s arm is not strong, so he will have trouble hitting tight windows down the field and making throws outside the number. His biggest strength is his timing so if he’s just a bit off in that regard, he’s going to get in trouble. That’s why if the Colts can keep many of the passes in the middle of the field and within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage, they should be able to average at least 5.5 yards per play (which would put them in the top 10 in the NFL). Considering the Colts average around 4 yards per carry and run the ball about 45% of the time, it means they’ll need to average around 6.8 yards per pass. When Minshew was playing well, he was averaging 6.8 yards per attempt on a 70% completion percentage with 9.7 yards per completion. He was completing more passes and keeping it short, and allowing his receivers to get a couple of yards after each catch. Keeping it simple and getting a bunch of a little plays with the occasional deep shot to open up the box will need to be the strategy moving forward.
Are Gardner Minshew and the Colts good enough to make the playoffs?
The answer is yes, the Colts are good enough. They have a favourable schedule and Minshew has good tape this season that helped the Colts win games. If the game planning is poor and Minshew isn’t in rhythm, then it will be extremely hard, but the question is is he good enough to get the Colts to the promise land and the answer is yes.