Theoretical Work

Ajit Kirpekar shares his philosophy of football  in an effort to clarify some comments from earlier collumns

My theories on the NFL are rarely static and constantly change based off things I see and hear. In fact, I went from casual fan to hardcore NFL aficionado in 2002 and believe me, I constantly reshape and modify my theories. I also try to support my theories with the data whenever it’s feasible but I also tend to defer to certain experts when they make profound statements.  Based off the comments I have gotten, there are some people out there that get a little perplexed by my terminology or my belief system since I tend to do more than just straight fact reporting. I’m going to list a few of my theories that I feel most strongly about and from there, you can get an understanding for where my core beliefs come from.

Theory 1 – The run vs pass balance.

This was addressed when it seemed like Nate’s views diverge from my own, but in reality, I actually wholeheartedly agree with Nate. Take a look at most teams in the NFL and ask yourself, “How many boast a truly dynamic rush attack paired with a dynamic pass attack? And furthermore, how many of those same teams are able to repeat this feat over multiple seasons?”

The answer is invariably not many. The reason is a bit hard to prove but here’s my theory. NFL offensive lines have responsibilities in both run and pass, but invariably, they most often excel at whatever the offensive scheme is centered around and struggle at what they aren’t. Take a look at the San Diego Chargers. They went from a primarily high volume rush offense with a capable but still complimentary big play pass offense. With the decline of LT and the simultaneous emergence of Gates, Jackson, and especially Rivers, this team transitioned itself into a pass offense. And what was the result? Their blocking started to favor the pass and naturally regressed at the run. This happens to any team really and while some teams can find a way to mix in good run or pass depending on their styles, very few teams can be truly dominant at both at any given point in the game.

Teams most commit their resources to being effective at one vs the other. Deciding on which route to go is usually decided by coaching philosophy and access to the right kind of talent. However, I think if given the choice, teams prefer to be go by the pass. The reasons for this are because unlike the rush, the pass can used in nearly every circumstance and in any formation and is also much less affected by personnel losses. These benefits afford coordinators much more flexibility and consistency over long periods than a run game would provide. that isn’t to say teams ignore the value of a run game, but trying to be great at both is wishful thinking and its best to allocate resources to improve your strengths rather than trying to prop up all of your weaknesses.

Theory 2- I believe defensive stat totals are affected by something that has nothing to do with the personnel it has, namely, how good its offense is.

I came up with this theory last year and two games really stamped home the message. Look at Indy’s divisional playoff game against Baltimore and compare it with its divisional game against the Jets. By all rights, the Jets sported a much tougher overall defense in nearly every category and were especially dominant against the pass. Against Baltimore, somehow the Colts scored only 20 pts and yet against the Jets, they scored over 30 (a score which might have been even higher except the Colts chose to kick field goals on the Jets 1 yard line twice).

Why did the Colts score fewer  points in the Baltimore game? I believe it had to do with Baltimore’s offense, which coming into that game was really struggling. When that happens, why rock the boat? Play a conservative game plan and try to minimize turnovers and work the clock. The Colts were up by 2 scores at halftime, and the Baltimore pass game was in complete disarray, so there was no urge for the Colts to be aggressive on offense.

Against theJets? Well the Colts were behind early and thus manning went into attack mode, throwing even late into the ball game to ensure that the jets had no chance of coming back. Now ask yourself how often this same scenario happens in the regular season. Would the Colts’ defense face the same kinds of offensive plays if they were paired with say the Panthers’ offense?? The idea is, against teams with good offenses, the defense sees many more aggressive plays and more creative play designs because they know they are in shoot outs. This goes back to the importance of understanding context when analyzing a game or a team.

Theory 3-Top heavy Talent

I had a discussion with a friend of mine about the Lakers a few years back. He noted that without Kobe, the Lakers really weren’t a very talented team, but with Kobe, it was a different story. This got us to define how we rate a team’s talent. We decided that a team’s talent falls into 2 categories, what we call top heavy talent and overall talent. Teams that have a large set of  good to very good players were overall talented (think maybe those old new England teams), while teams that sported several super talented players but had overall mediocre ones, we called those top end talent. Guess where the Colts fall? But this isn’t coincidence; this is their philosophy. They try to maximize the value of their top end talent and construct a scheme that tries to minimize the detrimental impact of their mediocre talent.

How do they do this? Well, rather than run a complicated offense with multiple formations, the Colts keep it simple by running out of the same formations with very typical personnel and running the same routes. In the hands of a lesser player, this offense would turn dreadful overnight, but Manning turns what would normally be mundane, into magic. On defense, the same goes for the cover 2 scheme. This scheme helps protect safeties and corners while allowing their gifted defensive ends to win 1 on 1 matchups. Since they usually have the lead, they can afford to play cover 2 even if it means conceding long drives and being very predictable on defense. This is also why the Colts can usually stomach lots of injuries. As long as their elite level talent is on the field, they can survive losing marginal players. It also helps explain why the Colts seem to lose playoff games when Freeney is injured.

Theory 4-Peyton Manning is the best quarterback ever

My final theory. I have watched football for over 10 years. My closest friends have all watched football for over 10 years. AND we all unanimously agree, the best player we have ever seen in our lives is Peyton, and amazingly enough, the more I learn about the game of football, the more I am convinced that he is actually somehow underrated. Yes I know that seems absurd, but people still can’t seem to realize how uniquely a player he is. I’ve had ignorant people call his receiving core the best in the league and his o line the best in the league since they score a ton of points and perennially yield the lowest sack rate. This couldn’t be further from the truth. What he does pre-snap, his vision, his decision making, his total command of the game is unreal. And finally, he makes more stick throws than any QB I have ever seen and possibly the only one who does so on a consistent basis. There are a lot of great QBs, but none are like Manning. Since the formations and routes are always the same, he doesn’t get the benefit of scheming a wideout to be wide open, nor does he have receivers who he can just chuck the ball up in the air to and hope they make a play. No, everything he does is based off precision, anticipation, timing, and above all else, ball location. I believe, firmly, the day Manning retires is the day Colts will need to completely overhaul their scheme and roster.  He is a god among insects and quite possibly, the greatest individual NFL player of all time.

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