FOA 2010-The Offense

Every year, the Football Outsiders publish their guide to the new season.  The Football Outsiders 2010 Almanac went on sale yesterday, and is the second most important book that a Colts fan can buy this summer.  Every serious football fan ought to give it a look.  All week, I’ll be reviewing the book to share some of the great insights they have into the Colts. Today:  The Indy Offense.

The Outsiders weigh in on one of the big controversies this offseason, namely Anthony Gonzalez’s role in the offense.

The biggest “acquisition” for the Colts will likely be Anthony Gonzalez. The young wideout put up some of the best per-target numbers in the league in each of his first two seasons, but blew out his knee in Week 1 in 2009 and was lost for the year without a single catch. At the time of this writing, Gonzalez had not been cleared for training camp, and there was no guarantee that he would be ready for the start of the season. If he can go, however, even with any lingering effects he’ll likely still be the Colts’ second-best receiver. That means the third and fourth receivers will be Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, a pair of backups better than the starters on some teams.

They also had two other interesting comments on Collie and Garcon:

On Collie: He’s almost certainly the best fourth receiver in the league. Still, it’s important not to set expectations for Collie too high. Yes, his numbers are pretty, but he was attacking defenses that were focusing on Wayne and Dallas Clark. Peyton Manning also has a knack for making his receivers look better than they really are. Finally, despite skipping his senior season at BYU, Collie is still old for a second-year player, his arrival into the NFL delayed by a two-year Mormon mission. There’s less room for development here than you may think, so don’t make him a priority in keeper leagues.

On Garcon:  Garçon stepped into the hole in the starting lineup left by Anthony Gonzalez’s injury. He played a little better than his DVOA suggests. While he was third on the team behind Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark in targets (and only one pass ahead of Austin Collie), he was a distant fourth in short routes. That’s because he was always going deep, leading the team with 20 bomb attempts. That’s particularly interesting because it’s not how Gonzalez was used at all — he ran only five bomb routes in all of 2008. Garçon was also one of two wide receivers (the other being Atlanta’s Roddy White) to lead his team in penalties.

Now, the point of showing these quotes is to illustrate the way that FO thinks about players.  The numbers showed that Gonzo was an elite WR his first two years, clearly better than either Collie or Garcon.  They are assuming that both Collie and Garcon were made to look better than they really were.  However, they have found the one thing that makes Garcon intriguing, and why everyone (myself included) HOPES he can play at an elite level and win the #2 job.  He is a special kind of deep threat.  That makes him potentially quite important to the offense.  However, when they say they expect Gonzo to pass both Collie and Garcon they do so because the numbers show he’s a vastly superior player to either of them.  Garcon’s hands and penalty prone nature show that he still has a long way to go, and Collie is what he is, quite possibly entering the league at something close to peak ability without much capacity to better what he’s already done.

I take the comment that Gonzo will vault back to number two with a grain of salt because it’s not based on specific knowledge, but rather is a projection based on past performance. Personally, I expect him to open the season at number three, and will wind up with more targets than Garcon by the end of the year, simply because I’m convinced he’s a more reliable player.

FOA 2010 also spends a lot of time talking about the offensive line struggles.  Note what they rightly say about Charlie Johnson.

If Tony Ugoh can finally live up to the potential that made him an early second-round pick in 2007, he’ll finally stake a permanent claim to the left tackle position — if not, he’ll be officially a bust and Charlie Johnson will re-take the job by default. This is not a case of a veteran earning a starting role with superior play. Our charters were often mortified by Johnson’s performance, but he is, apparently, still the best option the Colts have here. The one sure thing on the line: Jeff Saturday will be snapping the ball for the 11th season in a row. Jamey Richard will back him up — unless he wins the battle royal at the guard position.

The numbers indicate that this line struggles in run blocking, but makes up for it with superior pass protection. The game charting numbers are even stronger, counting only nine blown blocks on pass plays and ranking the Colts third in preventing hurries. This all speaks more to Peyton Manning, however, than to the quality of his individual blockers. With his pocket presence, ability to throw under pressure, and knowledge of which protection
scheme to call against any blitz, Manning makes his linemen look better than they really are.

I think we can all agree that the line simply has to play better in 2010.  I don’t blame them for losing the Super Bowl, but they are not a strong unit as a whole, and merit most all of the criticism levied their way.

Remember, I’m just scratching the surface of what FOA 2010 has to offer.  Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the defense.  Be sure to buy your copy today.

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