Drive Killers: Analyzing the Colts Offense

The Colts haven't been putting many points on the scoreboard early this season. Todd Taylor breaks down the trends and the stats and shows you why.

Peyton Manning will not even come close to his touchdown total of last season—opposing defenses won't let him. Early in the 2005 season, defenses are
approaching this offense in a different way and it's working.

With a 3-0 record, nobody is complaining, yet everyone realizes the offense will need to improve.  The question becomes, "How?"  The answer—run even more, pass less.

Teams are daring the Colts to run or take short yardage passing plays in attempts to eliminate the long ball.  The Colts have responded by changing their philosophy and becoming more of a run oriented offense.  Last season they passed 54.4 percent of the time; this year they are passing on 47.2 percent of their plays.

With the lack of production offensively, it may look like the Colts need to pass more to recapture last year's success, but the opposite is true.  Let's take a look at the Colts' drives this season resulting in offensive touchdowns, field goals and those that didn't result in scores. As the chart below shows, the Colts had better success in scoring when they used a higher percentage of running plays in the drive.


% of running plays  % of passing plays
Scoreless Drives 46.2   53.8
Drives resulting in FG 58.5 41.5
Drives resulting in TD 65.7 34.3

One of the offense's major deficiencies has been lack of production on third down conversions—drive killers. The Colts have been successful on only 36.8 percent of their third down conversions, ranking in the bottom half of the NFL and falling well short of last season's production. While there have been broken screens, short routes and protection problems, the main deficiency on these plays has been predictability. 

It has become quite obvious that unless faced with a third and short the Colts will throw.

This season the Colts have only run once on a third down play with four or more yards to go—the result was a six-yard touchdown run by Ran Carthon.

On plays the Colts failed to convert third downs, their play selection was 18 percent run and 82 percent pass. On successful third down conversions their play selection was a 50/50 spilt between runs and passes. (Note:  For the analysis of the Colts' third down plays two meaningless plays were excluded: a kneel down by Manning and a 3-18 run by Carthon to kill the clock.) 

Another significant trend that has contributed to the offensive production struggles so far this season originates from the tight end position. Through three games Colts' tight ends have managed only six catches for 70 yards, one touchdown and three first downs.  This is on pace for an astronomical drop off from last season:

Last Season This Season's Pace
Catches 58 32
Yards 765 373
Touchdowns 11 5
First Downs 36 16

Lost in the midst of the Edgerrin James saga and the Corey Simon signing was the departure of Marcus Pollard.   His knack for big plays and knowledge of the offense has been missed.  Dallas Clark has looked tentative after recovering from two concussions sustained over a short period of time.  Ben Hartsock, thought to step into the number two tight end spot, has struggled to earn playing time while promising TE Ben Utecht is on the sidelines with a nagging rib injury.  These situations have resulted in the Colts using the double tight end formation less—a formation that brought great offensive success in the past. 

One of the surprising aspects of the Colts offensive performance has been their ability to minimize mistakes.  A struggling offensive unit will usually be battling turnovers, penalties and sacks.  For the Colts this is not the case:

Number    League Rank
Penalties 16  5th
Turnovers 2   2nd
Sacks Allowed   0  1st

As the Colts enter week four, they have become an enigma, looking like Dungy's old teams in Tampa Bay—grinding out wins with defense.  But there is no need for panic; all three defenses the Colts have faced thus far ranked in the top 15 last season.  None of their next four opponents' defenses ranked better than 17th.

With the schedule temporarily getting lighter, the offense is sure to improve. But teams are sick of getting burned by Manning's arm and until they stop dropping back, fans of the barnburners aren't going to get their 49 TD passes and receiving records.

For now, the Colts must take what the opposition is giving them. And that means — run baby, run.

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