Although the Colts finished sixth against the pass in 2008 and only gave up six touchdown passes in 16 regular season games, they still got burned in a significant way.
Inside the Numbers:
While it's true that Indianapolis gave up the sixth-least passing yards of any NFL team in 2008, they actually ranked 24th in pass attempts faced, tied for tenth with four teams; in yards per attempt; tied for 11th, with four teams, in interceptions; and ranked 11th in passer rating allowed.
AP Photo/Tom Strattman
Since their rushing defense was so porous, they faced fewer passing attempts than most teams. Had they faced more attempts — and in different situations — they would've given up more yards, thus affecting their overall ranking.
When facing short attempts, the Colts fared quite well, but not quite as well, as far as average yards per attempt are concerned, as their sixth-ranked pass defense would indicate. They ranked 17th against passes to the short left, ninth against passes to the short middle, and 27th against passes to the short right.
In the deep passing game, they fared much worse, ranking 13th against passes to the deep left, 25th against passes to the deep middle, and 21st against passes to the deep right. In terms of total deep passes faced, they ranked 25th, 32nd, and 26th, respectively.
This means that, had Indianapolis faced more deep passes in 2008, they would have seen a precipitous plummet in their overall rank.
Certainly a bevy of injuries that forced Tim Jennings into a starting role for most of the season and Melvin Bullitt to stand in for Bob Sanders for a number of games played a role in this ineffectiveness.
Getting those players back healthy in 2009 will make a difference. Deep passes to the middle of the field — an area that would normally be covered by Sanders — gained an average of 14.71 yards on 32 attempts, so that could be a root cause.
But, 31 passes to Marlin Jackson's side of the field, which was manned by Jennings after Jackson's injury, yielded an 11.32 yard average, versus a 10.1 yard average to Kelvin Hayden's side of the field, so this may be splitting hairs. Also, Jennings played on Hayden's side as well after Hayden missed several games following a sprained knee in Houston.
It stands to reason that an offense that feels as though it will have time to throw the ball deep will throw the ball deep. Indianapolis struggled to pressure the quarterback, especially in the early part of the season, finishing the year with only 30 sacks.
Any team that does not feel as though they have time to use a seven-step drop and have their quarterback wind up and throw the long pass will shy away from attempting such passes.
The idea behind the Cover 2 is to take away the long ball and force teams to methodically march down the field with precision short passes. Evidentially, the Colts, with their sterling reputation for Cover 2 effectiveness, scared their opponents away from even attempting deep passes, so the damage was limited.
Looking ahead to 2009, other NFL teams that have access to this data — that would be all of them — will be able to see that the Colts struggled against the deep ball, allowing an average of 11.64 yards per attempt, and exploit this weakness.
These numbers might have been the impetus for bringing on Larry Coyer as defensive coordinator. A fresh coach with fresh ideas will certainly help, but also does not adequately address the problem at hand.
A number of power teams in the conference, such as the Patriots, Chargers, Steelers, and Titans, will attempt deep passes no matter what the result. If they find the results to be favorable — which they could be in 2009, given the 2008 numbers — then they will continue to attempt deep passes, with disastrous results for the Colts.
The present system is sufficient if Indianapolis simply wants to qualify for the playoffs. But, to advance against the power teams mentioned previously, the Colts need to show that they can get to the quarterback.
Pressure on the game's most important player is the only salve that will heal this wound. With Marcus Howard returning healthy for 2009, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis returning to Pro Bowl form, and the healthy addition of Philip Wheeler as a situational pass rusher, Indianapolis should be able to return to their previous form in the coming season.
The simple fact of the matter is that they must in order to return to prominence, instead of a team that makes the playoffs, but does not advance.
Talk about this story in our Insider's Forum!
Follow ColtPower's updates on Twitter!