Tale of the Tape: Why the Colts Succeeded on 3rd Down

The Colts success on offense against the Patriots was a blessing to see, and should give Colts fans some hope for the future. Not only the future of this season, but future seasons, with key young players like Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, and Donald Brown having good games.

One of the big reasons why the Colts were successful this week was their performance on third down. Third down has been an Achilles' Heel for this offense lately, and to see them come out on Sunday and succeed was nice to see.

The Colts had 15 third downs, and converted 11 of them (although officially, the Carter fumble isn't a conversion).

Here is the breakdown of those 15 plays:

11 pass plays for 115 yards

Within those 11 plays came 2 sacks, for -15 yards

Orlovsky: 8-9 for 130 yards. All 8 completions went for first downs.

4 run plays for 19 yards

3 were successful (although a fumble occurred on one) for 18 yards

1 was a "give-up" run on 3rd and 14 on the Ind 16 (1 yard)

Breakdown by Yards-to-go

3rd and 10+: 1 play, a give up run for 1 yard

3rd and 6-9: 6 plays, 6 passes, 6 completions for 98 yards

3rd and 1-5: 8 plays, 3 successful runs, 5 pass plays (2 sacks, an incompletion, and 2 completions for first downs

The Colts were successful in every which way against the Patriots defense on Sunday, whether that was running or passing. Dan Orlovsky's performance was the most impressive, especially when compared to Curtis Painter's recent play.

Just the week earlier, against the Panthers, the Colts converted just one third down on eleven tries (two for 12 if you count the DPI). Painter was terribly inaccurate, missing throws long, deep, and even the underneath routes.

Granted, it seems like Painter was pressured a little more than Orlovsky was, but even in the face of pressure, Orlovsky hit big passes. His one incompletion actually came in a very sound pocket. One thing that Orlovsky really excelled at on third downs was movement in the pocket. He felt the pressure and slid around to be able to get a throw off, something Painter has really struggled with.

Why was Orlovsky so successful though? The main reason is that Orlovsky trusted his playmakers. Of Orlovsky's eight completions, four of them were underneath passes or dump-offs that allowed the receiver, tight end, or running back to run for the first down.

I like to call this "The Brady Way."

Two more of the receptions were comeback routes, where the receiver got separation at the first down marker, and Orlovsky threw a perfect strike for the first down. The other two completions were long passes down the sideline, one to Collie for 23 yards (a bit high, but Collie had a great one-handed grab) and one to Garcon for the 33 yard touchdown. Now Orlovsky did take two sacks, but both cases were ones were the pressure was there immediately, one due to Jeff Linkenbach and one because of a Ryan Diem whiff. When Orlovsky had even just a little bit of time before the pressure got to him, he made the right choices.

The coaching staff really did a good job of setting up Orlovsky to succeed by calling for a lot of underneath routes, not forcing him to hit tight windows down field. Instead, he could take his time, scan for open receivers, and then hit the underneath patterns. This allowed him to be safe with the ball, and led to an astounding rate of 3rd down conversions. It was a slight change from the week before, where Painter was looking down field far more than Orlovsky was this week.

Austin Collie was the main recipient of this strategy, catching four balls for 50 yards on third downs. Brown, Garcon, Wayne, and Tamme all also caught passes on third downs, all for 12 yards or more. When Collie got the attention in the middle, it opened up Garcon on the outside down the stretch, leading to his 6 catches for 85 yards in the fourth quarter.

"The Brady Way" worked out perfectly for the Orlovsky led offense, and that game plan should persist throughout the rest of the season, although the throwing on 3rd and short continues to be a thorn in my side.

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.

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