PFF and the Indy Line

Note: Due to an unexpected conflict, Part 3 of the series on market size will be delayed a day or two.  My apologies.

The Indy line has come under major fire in the last few years despite some of the best protection numbers in football. As has been explained here many times before, the quarterback is the one most responsible for figures like sack percentage. All week, Pro-Football Focus has been publishing numbers that illustrate that effect.  PFF is always an interesting site, but you have to be careful about their methodology.  Some of their rankings and stats are significantly better than others. Some of what they do is outstanding, but other pieces are essentially useless (there was an awful one on cornerbacks recently).

The numbers on pass protection on a team-wide basis are reliable because they are generally easy to get off of the tape.  First, they list Indy as having the third best percentage of pressures allowed per passing play.  That means that despite a lot of fan complaining, Peyton Manning actually gets pressured significantly less often than most quarterbacks.  So that means the line was good, right?

No.

The same study showed the Colts were only 18th best when it comes to pressure allowed by the offensive line.  They were 10th best in pressure allowed by backs, tight ends and wideouts staying in to block. That’s actually quite high because as a later study showed, the Colts keep extra men in to block less than almost anyone in football.

Just behind them is the team I expected to come in first, the Indianapolis Colts. They have a quarterback who gets rid of the ball and they run an offense that features as many multiple receiver sets as any team in the league (and that’s without mentioning the use of Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme who are essentially wide receivers for the roles they play). With Manning at the helm, it’s hard to see this ever changing, especially with how accustomed he has become to sub-standard line play.

Where the Colts really excelled is that Peyton Manning only ‘invited pressure’ by holding the ball twice in 2010. He threw more than 600 passes and only two times did he hold the ball so long that the defense almost got to him. That’s astounding.  The reason Indy does so well in total pressure is that Manning doesn’t let himself face pressure.

PFF goes on to show how often pressure becomes sacks.  Peyton Manning does a better job than almost anyone of preventing a pressure situation from becoming a sack.

The same can be said of [Eli Manning's] older brother, who deserves perhaps even more credit on an individual basis because the talent he’s working with (on a pass blocking level) is so much less. While, by way of comparison, 17.78% of David Diehl’s pressures turned into sacks of Eli, just 10.35% of Charlie Johnson’s resulted in Peyton being taken down for negative yardage. Indeed, in a stats conscious sport, it’s safe to say Peyton Manning helps get those eye-catching numbers (such as sacks allowed) looking a lot better than they have any right to.

Outsiders can often be fooled by the Indy line. Many of the typical ways we measure line play end up looking solid for the Colts, especially sack percentage.  Given the extraordinary ability of Manning to avoid the negative play, however, those measures don’t always tell the whole story.

The selections of Castonzo and Ijalana ought to help the Indy line protect Manning better, but the results likely won’t show up in traditional ways. Instead, we’ll watch Manning’s interception rate and yards per attempt to see if he’s getting the time he needs to throw. Those are the numbers where perhaps we’ll see him benefit from better protection.  His sack numbers will likely remain virtually unchanged.

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