When it comes to evaluating players as receivers, the most common statistics looked at by the fans and the media is the number of catches they've made and how many yards they gained. But a receiver can add value to a team by what he does with the ball after he makes the catch. His ability to gain separation by running good routes opens up some opportunities for extra yards, but in other cases it boils down to having the agility to make defenders miss or the toughness to break through those attempts to bring him down.
So how are the Colts receivers faring in that category this season? Here's how it looks so far ...
RB Joseph Addai: The Colts' leading running back usually has a bit more space to work with once he catches the ball. In other words, he doesn't often have a defensive back shadowing his every move prior to the catch. That extra separation has helped him average a team-leading 8.7 yards after the catch. But to put that average into better perspective, Addai has caught 31 passes this season, 13th-most amongst running backs this year, but far behind the 50 or more receptions by players like San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, New Orleans' Reggie Bush and Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook. And Tomlinson is boasting a 10.2 yards after-the-catch average on his 50 receptions. Out of the 13 players who have caught at least as many passes as Addai, he ranks sixth amongst the group, but his average is slightly inflated by the fact that he got roughly 70 of his 271 yards after the catch on one play against the Patriots. Twenty-five of his 31 catches have resulted in 10 yards or less after the catch, so without that one big play, his average would be closer to 6.6 yards per reception.
RB Kenton Keith: He's only caught 11 passes and he's averaging just 6.1 yards after the catch. Out of the 68 running backs who have caught that many passes or more, he ranks 56th in this category. So he's not just having trouble catching the ball &mdash as we pointed out in a previous feature &mdash he's not gaining that much after he pulls it in. Keith has had just one catch result in greater than a 10-yard gain.
TE Ben Utecht: You probably would have guessed that Dallas Clark would lead Indianapolis' tight ends in yards after the catch, but it's actually Utecht. His 5.4-yard average leads all Colts receivers. That said, Utecht has just under half (24) the total catches of Clark (49) after 12 games, so the comparison is somewhat unfair. On three of his catches, he's gained more than ten yards after the catch, including one where he ran for more than 20 yards. But do you want to hear something that's truly impressive? Out of the 27 tight ends with at least 24 catches this season, Utecht's average gain after the catch ranks fifth in the league heading into Week 13.
WR Anthony Gonzalez: The fleet-of-foot rookie has shown good quickness and moves after hauling in passes from Peyton Manning. He currently leads the team's wide receivers in this category with a 4.3-yard average. But, after gradually working his way into the offense this year, and after missing two games due to injury, Gonzalez has only made 22 receptions so far. Out of the 80 wide receivers who have made at least that many catches, his average puts him 29th on the list, nearly in the top third.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
WR Reggie Wayne: You really have to appreciate the job that Wayne has done this year with Harrison missing so much action. Despite drawing the level of attention of a number one receiver while Harrison's been sidelined, Wayne has used his physical style of play to average 3.7 yards after the catch, including five plays where he ran for between 11 to 20 yards after pulling in the ball and two more where he ran for more than 20 yards. The Colts receiver is among pretty elite company with his 76 receptions as only four other receivers in the NFL have made at least that many catches this year &mdash the Bengals' T.J. Houshmandzadeh (88) and Chad Johnson (77), the Ravens' Derrick Mason (85) and New England's Wes Welker (84). And out of that group, he ranks second to only Welker in average yards after the catch.
TE Bryan Fletcher: The Colts' third tight end has only caught 12 passes this year and isn't getting much yardage after the catch. His 3.0 yard-average ranks 38th out of 42 tight ends from around the league who have that many receptions or more.
TE Dallas Clark: Clark has only gained more than 10 yards after the catch on three of his 49 catches this season, but that's fairly understandable when you consider that defenses haven't had to worry about Marvin Harrison during roughly half of the Colts' contests this season. His 3.3-yard average after the catch puts him in seventh place out of eight tight ends who have caught that many passes this year. Last year, Clark averaged 4.6 yards after the catch &mdash which also trailed Utecht, who posted a 5.0 average in 2006.
Part of the problem?
Looking at those numbers, you might think that the lack of yards after the catch has been a major factor in the Colts' intermittent struggles on offense this season. But on a per game basis, they are gaining just two yards less after the catch this year (92 versus 94) when compared to last year.
In 2006, the team's 1,508 total yards after snatching the ball out of the air was 19th best in the league. This year they have 1,109 yards after the catch through the first 12 games and they're ranked 21st in the league.
Indianapolis won a Super Bowl last year with a similar performance from it's receivers. Certainly, when you consider they are ranked 21st in the league in total yards after the catch, one could jump to the conclusion that this isn't a particular area of strength for them.
But don't forget that an important part of the team's success is predicated on not turning the ball over. As a result, you'll often see Colts receivers step out of bounds or curl up and absorb an incoming tackle rather than giving their opponents an easy opportunity to strip the ball away when the outcome of the confrontation appears inevitable. And that cuts short their yards after the catch average that they could pad by squirming their way for an extra yard or two at times.
But at what cost? It's a smart way to play football and it works well for the Colts.
So overall, while a few individual players could certainly pick it up a bit in this area, the team appears to be on par with last year's performance. And that was good enough for them to win a Lombardi Trophy, so I wouldn't be too worried.
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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.