Note: I was going to do a post on the roster, but I have to wait on some data. It’ll come soon
Kerry Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts posted a hilarious ‘grade’ breakdown of the Colts Jets game. Never mind that he gave Mark Sanchez a high grade than Peyton Manning (and the Jets WRs). Almost everything on the page was wrong, so there’s no reason to nitpick. Let’s focus in on what Kerry claims about the Indy offense.
Manning’s popular image is one of a quarterback who’s routinely hamstrung by a woeful defense. But Manning’s Colts are 9-10 in the postseason because the offense disappears in most years. They’ve failed to score more than 18 points in nine of those 10 losses. He ended Saturday night with nice numbers, completing 18 of 26 for 225 yards. But more than a quarter of those yards came on a single touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon in the second quarter. Manning’s Colts have now failed to win a single playoff game in seven of 11 postseason appearances. The quarterback earns heaps of praise for all those points and all those years of double-digit wins in the regular season. Maybe he deserves criticism for all those punchless games and one-and-done efforts in the postseason.
Why has the Indy offense scored so few points in playoff losses?
It’s an issue of quantity of possessions and field position. You see, points come more easily the more often you have the ball. They also come more easily with better field position. Neither of these are controversial statements. Let’s look at the last three Indy playoff losses and examine their field position and number of possessions.
2004: New England 20 Indy 3
Offensive possessions: 10
Scoring drives: 1
Average Starting Field Position: IND 23
Best start: IND 34
Indy did manage to start across the 30 three times. They also started at or inside the 10 twice.
2005: Pittsburgh 21 Indy 18
Offensive possessions: 11
Average starting field position: IND 21
Best start: IND 42
11 possessions is good, but 8 of them started at or inside the 20, two of those inside the 10.
2008: San Diego 23-Indy 17
Offensive possessions: 11
Scoring drives: 3
Average starting field position: IND 15 yard line.
Best start: IND 33
Indy did get a lot of possessions in this game, but started five of them inside their own 10. In this game, the Colts had two drives that didn’t end in turnovers or missed field goals that were longer than any of the Chargers scoring drives in regulation.
2009: New Orleans 31-Indy 17
Offensive possessions: 8
Scoring drives: 3
Average starting field position: IND 17 yard line
Best start: IND 30
Wow. So, Indy only got 8 offensive possessions. Of those 8, they started four of them inside the 15 yard line.
2010: NY Jets 17 Colts 16
Offensive possessions: 9
Scoring drives: 4
Average starting field position: IND 20 yard line
Best Start: IND 26
The Colts only saw the ball three times in the second half of this game. They started 7 drives at or inside the 20 yard line.
In five playoff losses where Kerry says the Colts offense dramatically underperformed, the Colts never started one single drive beyond their own 42 yard line. In all, the started just 6 drives on the good side of their own 30 yard line. In 49 offensive possessions, the Colts scored 14 just times. However they also started at or inside the 20 yard line 31 times.
Anyone who is just using points to grade a quarterback is intentionally blinding himself to what actually happens in a game. The truth is that the Indy defense has blown four consecutive fourth quarter leads. They have also not been able to get off the field, allowing teams to limit the Colts’ possessions and pin them deep. The Colts offense has been playing playoff defenses ‘uphill’, that is to say routinely starting with horrible field position, and not once starting beyond the 42 yard line. In these five losses, Manning threw just two interceptions but the Colts defense has forced just four turnovers.
Starting field position matters because the farther away from the endzone you are, the less likely you are to score, and the MORE likely the other team is to score. Check out this graph of expected points by field position. On average, a drive starting at the 20 is worth just a small fraction of a point. It’s very difficult to score a touchdown from 80 yards out, but the Colts offense has been starting there AT BEST 63% of the time in these losses. Starting inside around the 18 yard line actually leads to ‘negative points’ meaning, it’s more likely your opponent will end up scoring than you. Indy started 16 (32%) of their drives inside the 18 yard line. Just six drives started across the 30. Six.
Calling an offensive performance against strong defensive teams “disappointing” based only on season averages and not considering field position is silly. Then taking it to the next level and blaming it all on the quarterback (who’s rating in these five games was 87.9 and over 90 in three of the five games) is completely irresponsible. He threw just two interceptions in these games and one was at the end of the Patriots game with the team trailing 20-3 with under a minute left.
Kerry thinks Manning should bear the responsibility for a lack of points, but the truth is that his defense has failed to get the offense the ball back. It has failed to force turnovers. It has continually left the offense backed up deep in their own territory.
On top of that, the defense has blown the lead in the fourth quarter in four straight years.
There is plenty of blame to be had for the Colts’ playoff losses. They are disappointing and embarrasing. Anyone who watched the games or knows anything about football, however, can see that blaming the quarterback is simply wrong.