Some of the comments you'll find across the web, in newspapers, and in fan forums include a number of excuses as to why the Colts offense hasn't been able to pull away and put up big points on the scoreboard this year, walking away from games with many narrow victories while posting an AFC best 10-2 record.
You'll read that the offense is being forced to string together longer drives to score due to the way opposing defenses are playing them. Others say it's because the Colts have the league's worst rushing defense and a "bend but don't break philosophy" that is inherent to the Cover 2 scheme that's allowing the opponents' offenses to keep Peyton Manning & Co. on the sidelines, limiting their number of possessions and time of possession.
Ned Macey of Football Outsiders referenced in an article this week the
"dramatic" impact of the Colts having 11 less possessions this year
than any other team (which works out to one per game). He also points out that
the Colts average the most points, most yards and the fewest punts per
Roll all that together and it sounds like that could be the problem, right? It seems to make sense that less possessions by the team that averages the most points per possession should be a major factor.
And then he says, "The defense is consistently bled to death, keeping
the high-profile offense off the field. On Sunday, the offense played well but
only got nine possessions....The Colts will not win the Super Bowl if their
defense does not improve. They simply are staying on the field too long,
limiting opportunities for their potent offense."
Well, I disagree. I know that's the common media chatter, but the facts don't show it to be an accurate perspective.
To say the Colts offense played "well" against the Titans and infer
that getting only nine possessions hindered their ability to win is ludicrous if
you look at the stats more closely. The Indy offense scored on just 33% of their
possessions, a success rate that is their fourth worst performance of the
season. And later in this article, I'll prove to you that they haven't been as
"potent" as as of late, and why there's a real reason for Colts fans
to be concerned about that fact as the team enters their final quarter of the
In regards to the Colts having "only nine possessions" as being a factor in the Colts limited offensive production, that's way off the mark if you delve deeper into the stats. They've had nine possessions in seven of their twelve games this year. And up until this past Sunday's game, they won all of them.
They've had ten possessions in three others (including the Dallas game that they lost) and only eight in their two other games (both of which they won). The Colts have scored 34 points with as few as eight possessions and only 14 points with as many as ten possessions this year. So scoring success isn't directly linked to the number of possessions.
And that high profile offense isn't being kept off the field. The facts just don't support that argument. The Indy offense is getting their fair share of the time of possession with an average of 29:41 per game this year. The top team in the NFL in time of possession is averaging 32:46, three minutes more than the Colts offense (19th in that category) is getting. The crazy thing is that the team that is getting that extra three minutes of time per game is the Vikings, who are 5-7. So it's not how much time you have with the ball or the number of possessions, it's what you do with the ball when you have it that is the difference.
It's also time to dispel this whole notion that the Colts offense is eating up large amounts of time with their drives and as a result need the defense to prop them up with a couple of extra chances by getting off the field more quickly. If that were the case, they wouldn't be within just a few seconds per game of last year's time of possession. And nobody was howling for more chances for the offense last year. Everyone was still talking about the prospects of last year's team for going undefeated while enjoying a 12-0 record at this time last year. I've also got more info below that will help dispel that myth of the Colts' "long drives" this year having a big impact.
So lets take a look game-by-game at what the Colts offense has done with their possessions where they were actively trying to put points on the board. As you'll see below, I took out any possession that was used simply to kill the clock with no intention to score or any possessions where the offense didn't touch the ball (such as a fumbled kickoff) so that the offense wasn't penalized by those so-called "possessions." That way you can see the pure stats of how effective the offense was and how many possessions they had when they were actually trying to score.
* Didn't count a final possession that was used only to kill
the clock at the end of a half or game as the offense wasn't trying to score.
**Extra point or two-point conversion failed
*** Patriots Game: The Colts had 12 possessions in the game, but one was lost by special teams on a fumbled kickoff, two others were one and two play possessions to kill the half and the game. Bills Game: Took out one two-play possession to kill the half and a 10-play drive at the end of the game because the Colts moved into FG position with the drive (26 yard line), but opted not to try to score and killed the clock. Titans Game: Didn't count final possession as it was only a kickoff play ended the game and the offense didn't touch the ball.
Here are some things that should jump out at you:
-- Number of possessions per game hasn't been a determining factor in the Colts scoring. They scored just 14 points against Dallas on 10 tries while scoring 27 on 9 tries against the Patriots and 34 against the Broncos, who came into that game with a highly-rated defense, with just 8. Those are three very good teams and the Colts, ironically, had more success with less possessions.
-- One thing that is obviously hurting this team's offensive production is the length of their own drives that stall and result in field goals. While their average number of plays per possession this year is 7.0, they are walking away with only a field goal on drives that eat up 9.7 plays on average. That's more than it's taking them on average to score a touchdown (8.4 plays).
-- The offense takes itself off the field pretty darn quickly on non-scoring drives. Fifty-one percent of the time they go on the field, they run just five plays and they're back on the bench sending the defense out for another round. With all the talent they have on that side of the football, five-play possessions shouldn't be happening that frequently. The end result is still an even split of time for the defense, so they shouldn't complain. But neither should the fans and the media when the defense simply provides the offense with their 30 minutes.
-- You can toss the whole theory that the Colts' are being forced to put together too many long drives that are eating up too much time and reducing their scoring opportunities. Look at the Jaguars game earlier this year. They had just two scoring drives that averaged 7.5 plays each while they squandered seven other opportunities averaging just 5.1 plays each. Then look at the first Titans game that they won by a point. Sure, they had two long 11-play drives, but they had eight 5.4-play drives that didn't result in any scoring. And check out the Dallas game; two 12-play scoring drives and yet they still had time for eight non-scoring drives -- of just 5.0 plays each. They've got to do a better job of holding onto the ball for a bit longer, even if they don't score. The resulting field position and TOP advantage is huge if they do.
-- As for the "dramatic" impact that 11 less possessions have had on the Colts this year, let's assume they got one more possession in each of their games. If you added the number of points they earned per possession in each of their games to their point totals, they obviously would have still won the ten games, but what about the two they lost? Against Dallas, they lost by 7 points and in ten possessions they had scored just 20 percent of the time. Against the Titans last Sunday, they lost by three and scored just 33% of the time. With one more possession in each of those games, would they have had a chance to pull out the game? Sure. But the odds of it were running very low based on their success rate with their other possessions in those games, so this is still likely a 10-2 team even with that extra possession.
Alarms Should Be Going Off in Your Head
You know what's a really important and disturbing trend that no one has been talking about that you can easily see in the table above? Since the Patriots game in early November, the Colts offense has put 17 points or less on the board in three out of four games.
When you think about it, they're actually pretty fortunate to have lost only one game during that stretch with that level of scoring output.
Was it a time of possession problem? Nope. Check the chart above and you'll see that their time of possession was at least 30 minutes per game with the exception of the Dallas game (26 minutes). But they actually had more chances (10 possessions) to score in that game than they did in the other three games.
Here's what really sticks out and should be a concern of Colts fans right now. In the three games during the past month where the Colts scored just 17 points or less, the offense's success rate with their possessions was just 30 percent. Up through the Patriots game before they went into that tailspin, they were converting 58 percent of their possessions into points.
That's a problem, folks. A huge problem.
If this team heads into the playoffs scoring on just 30 percent of their possessions with Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Joseph Addai, a couple of Pro Bowl offensive linemen and other talented players on that unit, something is seriously wrong with the game plan, play-calling and/or the execution. Watching this offense score 17 points in three of their last four games while they average the same number of possessions and time of possession they did up through November 5th is a strong indicator that there are problems on the offensive side of the ball that need to be corrected.
Had they scored 58 percent of the time they had the ball in their two losses, they win both of those games. That success rate would have resulted in 23 points against the Titans and 26 points against the Cowboys --even if the additional scoring success had only been field goals.
And they'd be 12-0.
The fact that they are 10-2 is still outstanding. I'm just growing weary of listening to writers and analysts who continue to beat up an admittedly average Colts defense over this past month while not recognizing that the Colts' star-studded offense's struggles are being created largely by themselves right now.
The offense has held the key to their own fate despite any struggles by the defense this year. You saw that up through the game in Foxboro in early November. But for most of the past month, it appears the key may have been lost between the couch cushions, because right now they're hurting themselves much more than the defense.