One of the most discussed aspects of Pep Hamilton's offense has been the inclusion of a fullback. Hamilton and Pagano have lauded Stanley Havili and Dominique Jones for their versatility and ability to aid in the power-run game, while fans and analysts have referenced the position as a dying, unnecessary breed.
Through two weeks, the results are mixed. The Colts as a whole have been pretty efficient, currently sitting at 4th in the league in both Expected Points Added and Success Rate (I'd use DVOA, but it's not out yet for Week 4. It should be sometime today, and I expect the Colts will be near the top five).
However, the Colts' offense has gotten stalled at odd times and playcalling has seemed inconsistent, a lot of times due to a fullback on the field. Much of Trent Richardson's troubles have been excused due to the Colts telegraphing their plays with a fullback.
So, I decided to take a look at how the Colts were performing with a fullback, and charted each play that the Colts had Stanley Havili on the field or Dominique Jones back in the fullback positions (while Andrew Luck was in the game).
Well, first, let's say that the Colts' aren't necessarily telegraphing their plays. Indianapolis ran 30 plays with a fullback, by my count, on Sunday. 14 of those plays were passes, while 16 were runs.
But even if the Colts aren't running the ball at a dispropportionate rate with a fullback, defenses are playing like it. Both San Francisco and Jacksonville played the run hard when a fullback was present, and the numbers (at least from the Jacksonville game) represent that.
Richardson ran the ball 20 times on Sunday, 15 with a fullback and five without. On the plays where a fullback was present, he averaged just under 2.5 yards per carry. On the other five carries, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Now, I'm not excusing him for his poor play, I still haven't been impressed with him as a running back (although I will give him until the bye week before I evaluate him fully). Nevertheless, the fullback addition certainly has bogged the run game down, at least in this game.
Now, the interesting thing is how the fullback impacted the passing game. With the defense keying on the running game, the Colts were able to pass incredibly effectively when the fullback was on the field.
The Colts netted 145 yards on 14 passing plays with a fullback on the field, and just 152 yards on the 24 other passing plays. That's an average of 10.4 yards per play with a fullback, versus 6.3 yards per play without.
It wasn't that Havili or Jones themselves were threats in the passing game. As fullbacks, the two netted just one yard on two pass attempts. However, they opened up the field for others, and the Colts were incredibly efficient. Luck finished 9-13 for 145 yards and one sack. That included all five of the Colts' longest passing plays of the day.
Now, I wouldn't expect that difference to be quite as drastic as the season moves on. The Jaguars defense isn't good, and other teams will pick up on the fact that the Colts don't solely run out of power sets. Of course, that should also open up a bit more space for the running game.
Nevertheless, this game was a microcosm of what the fullback can do, and what Hamilton envisions the position doing for the passing game. It's still a concern that the Colts aren't running well up the middle behind their fullback, but, as they showed on Sunday, it doesn't matter when you flip passes much more efficiently.