(Brian Spurlock, USA TODAY)

CA Charting Project: Colts and Third Downs

During the 2014 offseason, Colts Authority is making a concentrated effort to have a complex understanding of as many of the players on the roster as possible. It’s all a part of the Colts Authority Charting Project, an intentional effort to chart as many statistical and strategical details about the team as we can. In that vein, we have several film-review series going thoughout the next few months. You can see all of the 2014 film review pieces at the CA Charting Project page.

We hope you will enjoy the series, and if you have any requests (either in specific players or different statistics you’d like to see charted), please let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @ColtsAuth_Kyle and @ColtsAuthority using #CAchartingproject.

One of my favorite statistical and contextual constructs to study during the offseason is third down. So often we talk about third down percentages during the year, for both offensive and defensive units, and it’s widely regarded as one of the keys to winning, but we rarely get to delve into it as in-depth as I’d like.

But that’s what the offseason is for: obscure NFL studies and signing fullbacks.

So, in this next study, I’m going to be looking at third and fourth down conversions, how the Colts treated them, performed and related to the rest of the league. I did this last season for quarterbacks, and it was one of the highlights of my summer. This year I’m going to spread out to other aspects of third downs, although I’ll be crunching the numbers for quarterbacks as a part of the series later on.

Today we look at the Colts and the basic numbers for the team. We will be including fourth-down conversion attempts in all of the numbers, as usual.

We’ll start with the basics: the Colts’ average third (or fourth) down came with 6.14 yards to go, the shortest average in the league. That’s a good thing, the best offenses in the league put themselves in good position on third down. The other teams in the top three? San Diego, Denver and New England, in that order. That’s decent company to be in. The problem was that they were only 23rd in yards gained on third down, with 4.99. Just above them was Baltimore, and just below them Houston and Pittsburgh.

That’s… not so great company to be in. (But, on the bright side, New England was worse, so, everybody wins)

All in all, the Colts tied for 16th (with Seattle) in third down conversion percentage at 38.6%, despite doing a good job of getting into good position on third down. This is contrasted to last season, when the Colts had the seventh-longest average third down (7.36), yet were fourth in third-down conversion with 45.1%.

The difference between Pep Hamilton and Bruce Arians really is tied up all in that last sentence. Arians’ system had a high boom-bust rate, which led to longer third downs, but Hamilton’s simply didn’t have the ceiling that Arians’ did, which meant converting those third downs was much harder. Hamilton had too many third downs where a single route didn’t even reach the first down, which generally caused me to go into a machete-swinging fit of rage.

Why else might the Colts’ have struggled on third downs? Well, they did run the ball more than most teams, they were 27th in the league in passing percentage on third down at 71.95%. On one hand, that’s somewhat understandable, since they had shorter third downs than every other team. On the other hand, the Colts were average at best at running the ball. But, it wasn’t just a simple “they ran more than they passed,” even if we do like to ridicule the “run first” mantra. The passing third downs ranked worse, league-wide, than the running third downs, albeit both were in the teens.

There were a whole mess of reasons why the Colts struggled on third downs, and in the coming days, we’ll be discussing just why that was.



I’m not going to go into defense on third downs in the series, mostly because it’s more reactionary to the offense, but I figured I’d share the defensive side to those stats.

Length to go – 6.79 yards (11th shortest)
Yards gained- 6.04 yards (7th most)
Conversion rate- 38.9% (16th)
Pass Percentage- 79.48% (11th)

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.