Over the course of the 2009 season the Colts offensive and defensive success varied a great deal based upon the scoreboard. In order to analyze those differences, I put together data from each play over the first twelve games of the season and broke down the results of each drive on both sides of the ball into categories.
Analyzing this data should give a relatively accurate look at whether the Colts offense really does play better from behind or whether the Colts defense plays best with a big lead. The ultimate results from the data are somewhat surprising, and like any other statistic are also imperfect. This raw information does not take into account injuries, personnel, packages, or a host of other relevant attributes. *The statistics are from the first 12 games of the 2009 season… I may edit this story to include the others at a later time.
21 Poss│55 Run│67 Pass│190 Rush Yd│452 Pass Yd│4 TD│5 FG│1 Int│7 Punt
45% Run│55% Pass│53% Score│6% TO│41% Punt (4 possessions ended the half)
Ahead 7 < 14
21 Poss│35 Run│79 Pass│232 Rush Yd│537 Pass Yd│7 TD│3 FG│1 Int│7 Punt
31% Run│69% Pass│56% Score│5% TO│39% Punt (3 possessions ended the half)
Analyzing the Colts offense with a touchdown or more lead shows consistency. First, more often than not, the Colts do not sit happy with a small lead. When the offense has an opponent’s defense on its heals, it passes a lot and scores on more than half of its possessions.
It is not surprising, given the Colts history of handling big leads, that Manning and Company present a more balanced ground game when they are out to a big lead. This is both a function of controlling the football and an attempt to quicken the pace of the clock, as opposed to racking up the scoreboard.
Ahead < 7
25 Poss│60 Run│77 Pass│267 Rush Yd│662 Pass Yd│6 TD│1 FG│2 Int│2 ToD│1 FTO│9 Punt
44% Run│56% Pass│35% Score│20% TO│45% Punt (5 possessions ended the half)
20 Poss│43 Run│75 Pass│131 Rush Yd│677 Pass Yd│7 TD│1 Int│1 ToD │1 FTO│10 Punt
36% Runs│64% Pass│35% Score│15% TO│50% Punt
Behind < 7
17 Poss│36 Run│77 Pass│176 Rush Yd│488 Pass Yd│6 TD│4 FG│1 Int│6 Punt
32% Run│68% Pass│59% Score│6% TO│35% Punt
In close games, when the score is tied or within a touchdown either way, it is worth noting that the ratio of passing to running correlates directly with which way the game swings. If the Colts are just ahead of the opponent, the offense tends to stay relatively balanced but is not risk averse. The two interceptions and two turnovers on downs display this characteristic.
When the team is tied with an opponent, the emphasis swings to the passing game, which tends to be Indianapolis’ focus out of the box. Both with a small lead and when tied the scoring efficiency of the offense is relatively low compared to when the team is out to a lead. This is not surprising as it seems the Colts are always in close games, often not breaking the game open (the Cardiac Colts).
It is also worth noting that as the team is under more pressure to score, the offense tends to take greater care of the football. When down under a score the offense only turned the ball over 6-percent of the time through twelve games compared to 15 and 20-percent when tied or with a small lead.
Behind 7 < 14
13 Poss│16 Run│45 Pass│55 Rush Yd│250 Pass Yd│2 TD│2 FG│3 Int│6 Punt
26% Run│74% Pass│31% Score│23% TO│46% Punt
4 Poss│9 Run│16 Pass│66 Rush Yd│165 Pass Yd│3 TD│1 Int
36% Run│64% Pass│75% Score│25% TO
The offensive focus when behind is heavily weighted toward the passing game but what is interesting is that the offense tends to be inefficient with the football during these times. The scoring percentage over 13 possessions down more than a touchdown but within two is lower than any other time the offense has the ball, and the turnover ratio is higher as well.
Some of this is to be expected but it is this trend that may be the reason that so many fans feel that the ground game should receive more attention. When the offense is down enough that the urgency to score is relatively high, and the attack becomes more and more one-dimensional, it is easier for opponents to be opportunistic. One way to combat this is to not abandon the running game and to be effective enough on the ground that the back seven of opposing defenses have to honor it.
31 Poss│289 Rush Yd│718 Pass Yd│6 TD│2 FG│3 Int│2 FTO│5 ToD│9 Punt
30% Score│37% TO│33% Punt
Ahead 7 < 14
30 Poss│332 Rush Yd│546 Pass Yd│4 TD│6FG│4 Int│3 FTO│1 ToD│11 Punt
34% Score│28% TO│38% Punt (1 possession ended the half)
The Colts defense is known to play exceptionally well with a lead. It is at this time, more than any other, that speed can kill as the edge rushers can feast on quarterbacks who are far more likely to drop back to pass. Interestingly enough, though, it is at this time when the Colts defense suffers most to big passing yards.
While the defense is stingiest, generally during this time and does its biggest damage via turnover creation, the correlation between pass rushers pinning their ears back to get pressure on the opposing quarterback and decreased passing effectiveness is not there. The reasons for this drastic decrease in effective pass defense, I am sure is partially skewed by garbage time scoring drives.
Still, it is interesting to note that even though the Colts defense can all but be assured that the opposing offense is going to pass the football, the tandem of opportunistic defensive backs and aggressive pass rushers tends to lose the battle much of the time.
Ahead < 7
25 Poss│248 Rush Yd│580 Pass Yd│2 TD│7 FG│4 Int│9 Punt
41% Score│41% Punt│18% TO (3 possessions ended the half)
19 Poss│368 Rush Yd│315 Pass Yd│3 TD│6 FG│2 FTO│7 Punt
50% Score│11% TO│39% Punt (1 Possession Ended Half)
Behind < 7
14 Poss│64 Rush Yd│285 Pass Yd│2 TD│2 Int│2 FTO│1 ToD│7 Punt
14% Score│36% TO│50% Punt
The performance of the Colts defense in close games is also somewhat surprising. The realization the the defense is stingiest when it is in a close game but behind is probably not what many Colts fans would expect. Down less than a touchdown the defense either creates a turnover or forces a punt 76-percent of the time.
Meanwhile, with the oft-discussed and highly coveted lead it manages to give up scores more often than at any other time in the game, besides when it is playing in a deep hole. Frankly, I would have suspected the behind and ahead less than a score statistics to be flipped, based upon the Colts defense’s reputation.
The defensive statistics when the score it tied suggest that generally the Colts defense probably comes into each game a little flat, assuming many of the tied scores are early in each contest. Few turnovers are created and Colts’ opponents score on half of their possessions when the score is locked up.
Behind 7 < 14
13 Poss│123 Rush Yd│237 Pass Yd│3 TD│2 FG│1 Int│1 FTO│4 Punt
45% Score│19% TO│36% Punt (2 Possessions end half)
1 Poss│9 Rush Yd│16 Pass Yd│1 FG
Possibly the most frustrating performance for the Colts defense is when it is playing from behind. Similar to when the game is tied, the defense is not very opportunistic and allows the opponent to score on half of its possessions. The good news is that half of those scores are field goals but putting the offense back on the field in a bigger hole is certainly not the goal.
The other statistic that jumps out when the Colts are behind in a game, whether the game is close or starting to get out of reach, is in the running game. The Colts defense gave up only 197 total running yards in twelve games when they were down in the game. This is somewhat shocking as, at these times, opponents are more likely to run the ball to milk time from the clock and keep Manning and the offense on the sidelines in these situations.
The glaring fact is, like it or not, if an opponent simply lines up and tries to run the ball on the Colts and the defense is intent on rendering that opponent’s ground game ineffective, it succeeds in doing so.
Needless to say, a lot of positives and negatives can be picked from these numbers. First, the Colts offense is ruthless once it has a bead on an opponent’s weakness. Second, the Colts defense can stop the run when it wants to and when it needs to. Third, the Colts reliance solely on the passing game when the offense is playing from behind tends to lead to inefficiency and increase the likelihood of turnovers. Fourth, when the Colts defense has a lead and has every opportunity to wreak havoc on the opposing offense’s air attack, it tends to give up a lot of passing yards despite having obvious opportunities to make an opponent pay.
These are the four observations that jump out the most to me. Which observations would you make? What other circumstances, that I did not discuss, likely skew some of the numbers to give the offense and defense a misleadingly positive or negative representation? I look forward to your discussion.