A different setting and opponent produced similar results for the
Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs this season.
For the sixth time during the Peyton Manning era, the Colts' playoff
run ended with a game in which the offense failed to produce 20 points.
The recent trend for the Colts in these playoff blunders had been falling
behind then abandoning the run. Last Sunday's loss to the Steelers was no exception. During the 2005
regular season the Colts shifted their strategy to a more run-based offense
passing only 52% of the time. In
turn, Edgerrin James had one of the best seasons of his career as the Colts
accumulated 14 wins.
Running the football is a philosophy seemingly abandoned by the Colts in
recent playoff losses, particularly in the second half.
Last season in their playoff loss to the Patriots, the Colts entered
halftime with only a 3-point deficit. On
Sunday, they trailed by a manageable 11 points, receiving the ball to begin the
second half. However, in both contests the Colts virtually forgot about
their run game, leading to their demise. Below
are the Colts' combined rushing trends and play selection during their last two
playoff losses. Remember, their play selection mix during their 14-2 season was 52% pass / 48%
1st Half – 21 rushes - 86 yards - 4.1 yards per carry
Play Selection: 64% Pass / 36% Run
2nd Half – 8 rushes
– 18 yards – 2.25 yards per carry
Play Selection: 84% Pass / 16% Run
By building modest first half leads, this year's Steelers and last year's Patriots were able to take the Colts out of the offensive strategy that earned them 26 wins over the last two seasons. By making the Colts one-dimensional, opposing defenses had won their biggest battle by no longer having to honor the play-action fake. Scouts, Inc. identified this as a way to beat Indianapolis in an article in the January 2006 issue of ESPN the Magazine, printed before the loss: "Manning's problem is a tendency to call pass plays when the offense sputters or the Colts fall behind. With the D playing better this year, he can be patient and commit more to the run than he did in the Chargers game."
Scouts, Inc. hit it right on the head as Edgerrin James, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry in the first half of the Colts' playoff loss, became an afterthought with only 3 carries in the second half. Inexplicably, with 30 seconds left in the game and two timeouts, facing a 2nd-and-2 from the Steelers 28-yard line and trailing by only 3 points, the Colts refused to run the ball. Two straight long pass attempts to Reggie Wayne failed to connect as the Colts were forced to attempt a 46-yard field goal with 21 seconds still left on the clock and 2 timeouts in their pocket.
Perhaps it's time for the Colts' offense to get back to basics.
Who is to blame for the absence of screens and draw plays against a
blitzing defense? With the constant
pressure by the media and fans to finally achieve postseason success, is
engineering this schizophrenic offense out of the no-huddle asking too much of the two-time MVP?
Indeed, it appears the time has come for veteran Colts' offensive
coordinator Tom Moore to get back behind the wheel and right the Colts' ship.
No longer should Manning bear the responsibility of calling plays in
crucial moments. This is not a
knock on Manning, but the Colts' offensive strategy must change.
Barring a salary cap miracle, Edgerrin James will be wearing a different jersey next season. James has been a steady yet underutilized performer for the Colts in the postseason. Without him, it seems unreasonable for the Colts to continue to run their no-huddle and highly-audiblized offense with a newcomer in the backfield.
As flawless as the Colts' offense has looked over the years during the regular season, postseason results have shown some change is necessary. Not an overhaul, but a change. This change needs to start with simplifying an offense consistently stumped in the postseason.