Heading up the Charts

Ajit Kerpekar has done game charting for other football sites.  He’s going to check in regularly with his observations about the Colts.

  • Two weeks ago, on defense, the Colts actually did a good job against Vick for the majority of plays. They bottled up his running and throws for the most part, but the problem was they got burned on several long passes to Jackson that really attacked the deep coverage. Given how the Eagles completely dismantled the Redskins,  it’s safe to say the Colts did a really good job all in all.  I expected a strong defensive effort coming into this game.
  • On offense, the Colts’ strategy against the Eagles that was stunningly un-Colts like. Instead of running their normal type of plays, they threw a ridiculously high number of bubble screens and a high number of first read short passes. At first, this might seem to be in response to the Eagles’ penchant for blitzing, but these passes were made even when the eagles were playing 5 db off coverage. The fact that the Colts chose to attack this way rather than their conventional strategy told me they either had no trust in their pass protection or no trust in their wide receivers to move down the field. I wasn’t sure which at the time, but against the Bengals, they did not play the same way.
  • In the first half, the Colts game planned as if they would have time to throw against that Bengals front four pass rush; and they seemed to get good protection through much of the first half. By my count, 7 of Manning’s first 24 attempts were medium or deep passes. Out of those, 4 were completed, 1 was overthrown, 2 were dropped, and in nearly all he had time to throw. Most of these went to Tamme; who clearly appeared to be the favorable matchup against the Bengals. The Bengals; who went a predominant four man rush and zone coverage behind found linebacker Jones matched up against Tamme for most of the day.
  • Still, there were some major issues that showed up in this game offensively. There seem to be several of Manning’s throws, especially to Wayne and Garcon that were off here and there. Just speculating, but since Manning threw these with his usual conviction, I have to hope these are simply timing patterns that will eventually get ironed out.
  • After watching the exploits of Vick and Brady this week and Rivers for much of this season, I couldn’t help but cringe at the idea that the torch of best player in the league might be more up for grabs. As for what to make of Manning, I will say that for all of his otherworldliness, Manning has had his share of a few multigame struggles. Going back, in the 05 season, the offense was quiet early, the 07 season they struggled in the middle of the year, and they struggled in 08 as well. The point is as much to remind myself as everyone else, that Manning’s struggles never stay for very long and is always able to get back to his dominant form sooner than later.
  • The more pressing issue is the Colts’ run game. Whether due to the additional injuries or the usual malaise, the Colts simply cannot run against anything other than a pass defending front. And of course, this sort of thing becomes maddeningly apparent in nearly every short yardage, goal line, and clock milking phases of the game. And if games against the Bengals, Texans, and Redskins are any indication, this will be a season long issue.
  • As for the defense, this game was a weird mix of overall mostly good sprinkled in with some bad. The Colts’ five turnovers is definitely something to be proud of and given how much they were thrown onto the field because of a struggling offense. They a good job against the run and defending TO and of course, forcing the turnovers.
  • I expected the pass rush to play better than they did. The Colts got 3 sacks in the game, but two came on the final :30 of play when the Bengals were all but forced to march down the field with no timeouts. Remember, this game was also at home against another team that had really struggled in pass protection and was also missing their right tackle. I’ll credit the rush for generating the first interception, which was likely caused because Palmer had someone at his feet. The rest of the night, however, Palmer had a relatively clean pocket and time to throw.
  • The coverage was good, but Palmer was able to stand tall, make a read, and thread a nice pass. This partly explains why Ochocinco had such a good day. I thought the coverage on him was good on a couple of his catches, but Palmer just had way too much time.
  •  It’s also what made his two other interceptions so strange. I can understand a bad pick because either under duress (Matt Schaub) or way behind (Eli Manning), but when you have a clean pocket and time to make a good read and you throw two poor interceptions; that is more about the quarterback than the defense.Those throws had no business being made and weren’t even close.

Finally, there are few things I want to emphasize that I think people often forget or just choose to ignore.

First, football is a complicated game with 22 moving parts occurring on every single play. When the box scores get completed, all we are left with is a very small listing of the play itself, without mention of the myriad of factors that went into making a play successful or unsuccessful. What does all that mean? It means that when we judge individual players, we must keep in mind all of the things that made a play successful or unsuccessful. When we judge Manning’s performance or how the pass defense did, we have to factor in line play, the wide receivers, the corners, etc. I know this sounds obvious but it somehow escapes most people. It’s the biggest reason why the QB continues to get all the credit and all the blame without regard to the other 52 players on the roster.

Second, remember that a big part of winning is context and luck. Without context, we really can’t make comparisons between teams, coaches, players or even between games. Context helps us explain why something happened and how to truly judge a performance week to week. And while people hate to acknowledge luck as a component to success, the truth is that luck is indeed very much a part of the game. Fumbles, penalties, turnovers at specific times, injuries, etc; they are all the sort of things that are nearly impossible to predict and have a very real impact on the game. All we can therefore do is understand that they happen and to be aware it.

Third, the media often makes a habit of trying to analyze the game through some sort of psychological prism. I’m sure we’ve all heard the usual bs they have offered, “Team A won because they were more physical than Team B, or Peyton Manning only won one Super Bowl because he doesn’t have that “it” quality, etc etc.” It’s the sort of lazy analysis that is easy to offer up and nearly impossible to refute, hence why the media opts to use it so much. I hate resorting to this kind of frivolousness, so you’ll never hear me referencing anything that relates to it.

And finally, please understand that my opinions are based off logical assertions I make about the game. I try to use statistics, the film, and the opinions of people I trust. I’ll be referencing a lot of what Greg Cosell says on his weekly podcasts and since he is one of the few people with access to theNFL all-22 tape, his words are gold. 

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