Dropped Passes: The Rest of the Story

An article at IndyStar.com talks about the Colts' increase in dropped passes, providing an "unofficial count" by player. Well, I've got STATS, LLC's official counts, and in this feature you'll learn why the Colts are dropping a higher percent of passes -- and why you'll soon see an improvement.

Over at IndyStar.com today, they have an article up on the issue of dropped passes by the Colts this season. It has some great quotes and some good information on team stats from STATS, LLC in regards to dropped passes.

But unfortunately, it doesn't provide readers with the full picture of what's happening in the area of dropped passes at the player level, only referencing an "unofficial count" of drops by player. And that makes it difficult to understand what's really going on with the Colts' receiving corps compared to recent seasons when they were amongst the best at catching the football.

Fortunately, STATS, LLC provides dropped passes information by player and breaks it down into great detail as they are a very thorough and excellent provider of licensed statistical information. As one of their customers, I dig into their detailed stats almost daily to analyze what's going on with the Colts and other teams around the league.

STATS, LLC's official numbers on dropped passes by receivers shows that Dallas Clark has eight while Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez and Kenton Keith all have five. Aaron Moorehead has dropped two, while Marvin Harrison, Joseph Addai, and Bryan Fletcher have each dropped one.

Only three players haven't dropped a pass this season: tight end Ben Utecht, wide receiver Cro Thorpe and RB Clifton Dawson.

Tight end Dallas Clark not only leads the team in dropped passes this season, he's currently in a five-way tie for the most number of drops in the league along with Saints running back Reggie Bush, Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, Saints wide receiver Devery Henderson and Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss.

In other words, in terms of raw numbers, Clark has dropped more passes than any other tight end in the NFL this season.

But is it fair to simply say that a player has dropped more passes when you don't put in the perspective of how many chances each player had to make the catch?

Not really. So you really need to look at the percentage of drops.

Clark has had 72 balls thrown to him this season. That means he had to attempt to catch the ball fewer times than everyone in that group of five players he's tied with except Saints wide receiver Devery Henderson, who has dropped eight out of 33 passes this season.

However, looking even deeper into the stats, you can get an even clearer picture by looking beyond targeted passes since that figure includes balls that were poorly thrown by the quarterback, were knocked away by the pass defender, tipped at the line of scrimmage or intentionally grounded in the area of the receiver. Since the receiver didn't really have an opportunity to drop (or catch) those passes, you need to back them out and look at how many drops the receivers had out of the catchable passes thrown them.

Fortunately, STATS, LLC provides the data to determine that as well.

Clark, who has had 72 passes targeted to him by Peyton Manning, hasn't had a good chance to get his hands on seven poorly thrown balls, 10 that were knocked away by the defender, three that were tipped at the line of scrimmage and two that Manning intentionally threw away in his vicinity.

That knocks his total catchable passes down to 50, meaning that with eight miscues he's dropped 16 percent of the catchable passes thrown his way.

WR Reggie Wayne
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Running the same numbers for the other four players in the NFL who have dropped eight passes, Henderson remains the only other player with a worse record than Clark as Henderson's dropped eight of 25 catchable passes (32 percent).The adjustments also put Santana Moss as a very close third with eight drops out of 54 catchable passes (15 percent).

How does Clark compare to some of the other top tight ends around the league this year? At a 16-percent drop rate of catchable balls, not so well. San Diego's Antonio Gates is setting the high bar amongst this group with just 1.6 percent of catchable passes dropped. Other top tight ends include Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez (4.6 percent), Cleveland's Kellen Winslow (6.1 percent), the Giants' Jeremy Shockey (7.1 percent), and Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (9.2 percent).

Now before you proclaim Clark as the Colts player who is dropping passes at an alarming rate in comparison to his Indianapolis teammates, remember that all you saw earlier in this article was the total number of drops by the Colts players.

The figures below show the number of drops by each Colts receiver this year out of the number of catchable passes thrown to each of them, followed by the percent dropped:

Ben Utecht: 0-21 (0 percent)
Cro Thorpe: 0-6 (0 percent)
Clifton Dawson: 0-1 (0 percent)
Joseph Addai: 1-32 (3.2 percent)
Marvin Harrison: 1-21 (4.8 percent)
Bryan Fletcher: 1-13 (7.7 percent)
Reggie Wayne: 5-73 (13.7 percent)
Dallas Clark: 8-50 (16 percent)
Anthony Gonzalez: 5-26 (19.2 percent)
Aaron Moorehead: 2-10 (20 percent)
Kenton Keith: 5-16 (45 percent)

To further put those numbers in perspective, the list below shows the players who were with the team last year and whether or not their 2007 results to date are better or worse than their final 2006 results. A negative number below reflects improvement this year:

Ben Utecht: -5.1 percent
Joseph Addai: -1.6 percent
Marvin Harrison: -2.1 percent
Bryan Fletcher: -6.6 percent
Reggie Wayne: +5.2 percent
Dallas Clark: +6.9 percent
Aaron Moorehead: +20 percent

Want to know the bottom line to this story? It's fairly obvious when you drill down on the numbers.

WR Marvin Harrison
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

One of the biggest factors impacting this team is that the Colts miss Marvin Harrison's presence on the field.

Last year, Harrison dropped just 6.9 percent of the catchable passes thrown to him. A large part of his workload has shifted to Wayne and Clark, who are now handling almost 46 percent of the catchable balls thrown by Peyton Manning compared to just 32 percent last year. With the additional attention from defenders each one has been getting with Harrison on the sidelines, both are dropping balls at a higher rate than last year.

Making matters worse, Harrison's primary backups have been rookie Anthony Gonzalez and reserve receiver Aaron Moorehead, who recently went on injured reserve with a back problem. Both of them have dropped passes this year at a rate of of 19 to 20 percent while filling in for a player who dropped less than seven percent last year.

Fortunately, Gonzalez just came off of a terrific game at Atlanta and has been showing great progress as a rookie, so you can expect to see his drops percentage decrease by the end of the year.

Add Marvin Harrison back into the mix, hopefully within the next two weeks, and Wayne and Clark won't be as crowded in the opponents' secondary as they've been the past six weeks. With reduced pressure in their faces while running routes, they'll improve their percentages as well.

The Colts took a step forward last week with Anthony Gonzalez showing that he can be a real threat that teams will have to respect. Put Harrison back out there and opponents will have even more problems.

And then you'll see all four holding onto the football at a rate more representative of what you've seen from Colts teams of recent years.

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Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and are syndicated through FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.

Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2007 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited. 

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