Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

GriffenEve10.jpg

» Scramble for the Ball: A Representative Pro Bowl Roster

Mike and Tom try to work out a Pro Bowl roster where every team in the NFL is represented. This year is harder than most!

05 Dec 2006

Any Given Sunday: Titans over Colts

by Ned Macey

The Titans' upset of the Colts is seen as a shocking result around the NFL. Closer observers of the two teams should hardly have been stunned. The Titans have developed into a quality team, and the Colts have spent most of the season living on the edge. The Colts had only beaten an inferior version of these Titans by one point earlier in the season. A couple of bounces of the ball and a gust of wind allowed the Titans to close the deal this time.

The national consensus is now developing that the Colts run defense will likely undermine their Super Bowl ambitions. Two losses in three weeks have awoken the chattering classes, but anyone who saw the Colts eke out win after win to start the season observed these flaws on a weekly basis. Indianapolis has been unable to stop the run all year. 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 good news for Indianapolis is that they actually lost to a pretty good team. Tennessee will not make the playoffs, but they have played at a very high level for the past eight weeks. Their upset of the Giants last week earned a place in this very space a week ago. This week the Titans controlled the game on the ground, limited the Colts' ground game, and had Vince Young make just enough plays to keep them in the game. As a result, the game was left up to Rob Bironas to make a 60-yard field goal that finished the Titans upset.

The Colts loss has led many to recalculate what the team's expectations are. The loss does have an impact on the important race for home field advantage, but this game was no more damning of the Colts ability than their previous one-point escape of Tennessee in Indianapolis. Or their one-point escape over Buffalo in Indianapolis. Or their three-point win against the Jets where they scored the winning TD in the game's last minute. Or their four other wins that were in doubt late in the fourth quarter.

The Colts are disadvantaged in their quest to blow teams out because of tempo. Our main statistics, DVOA and DPAR, are based on measuring each individual play compared to the league average. Plays are successful or not based on advancing toward a first down or touchdown. By that measure, the Colts rank first in the league in offense. Conventional statistics, both yards and points, rank the Colts third.

A reason for the mild discrepancy is that the Colts simply do not have the ball as often as other teams. Going into last week's games, the Colts had eleven fewer possessions than any other team, the equivalent of a full game's worth of opportunities. On a per possession basis, the Colts average the most yards, the most points, and the fewest punts. The difference in yards between them and second place New Orleans was larger than the difference between New Orleans and 12th place Denver.

Indianapolis gets fewer possessions in part because of their defense's design. The Colts are built to get the opposition into obvious passing downs. Ideally, this happens when the Colts grab a big lead, as was the case last year. In close games, they rely on making a big play on first or second down and getting the team into third-and-long. The defense focuses on keeping most plays in front of them, requiring their opposition to put together a string of successful plays. Inevitably, a run defense even as bad as the Colts' will make a stop for no gain.

Also, the more plays the opposition runs, the higher the chances for a turnover. The Colts rank 10th overall in turnovers created, but they rank third in turnovers created per opponents drive.

The Colts would prefer to score quickly, but opposing defenses have adopted the same strategy as the Indianapolis defense. If your personnel are overmatched, prevent the big play and hope to make one big play yourself. The Titans were not perfect at this, giving up two big completions to Marvin Harrison, but they were good enough.

This resulting combination of offensive efficiency, a bend but don't break defensive philosophy, poor rushing defense, and cautious opposition dramatically limits possessions. The Colts have the longest average drives in terms of plays and time of possession on both offense and defense. Fewer possessions magnify any offensive mistake the Colts make.

A week ago, Philadelphia took this strategy to the extreme by playing exclusively a nickel defense. The Colts responded by gashing them with Joseph Addai. This week, the Titans adopted a cautious defense, but thanks to their athletic linebackers, they were able to play most downs in a base 4-3 defense.

The Colts tried to run through this defense as well, but the Titans were able to control the Indianapolis ground game. Addai and Dominic Rhodes were limited to 95 yards on 28 carries. The Tennessee run defense stiffened considerably in the second half when it allowed 12 yards on 10 running back carries. Peyton Manning is oft criticized for padding his own stats, but at least on Sunday, he should have thrown the ball more often.

The defensive line did its job by preventing the Colts linemen from getting to the second level, but the plays were made by the linebackers. Keith Bulluck, Peter Sirmon, and David Thornton were all over the field. The play of Thornton, in particular, was noteworthy since he left Indianapolis as a free agent. Thornton was never made an offer by the Colts, so he must be pleased on some level to see the run defense struggling without him.

The linebackers were able to stay on the field to stop the run because they excel in pass defense. They played in coverage on a number of plays, and only once, on a pass to Bryan Fletcher, did they give up a big play. Meanwhile, Manning's first interception came when Thornton whacked Marvin Harrison, forcing the ball loose and into the hands of Sirmon. The second interception came on a great individual play by Bulluck, who read Manning the whole way and made a perfect play on a pass intended for Fletcher.

This second interception completely changed the course of the game. The Titans were trailing 14-3 at the time with only 40 seconds left in the first half. Vince Young quickly led a three-play touchdown drive that made a burgeoning blowout a competitive game.

Young's entrance into the lineup has spearheaded the Titans' charge, but for most of the season he has been a replacement level quarterback. Sunday's game flashed his potential, hinted at some development, and highlighted the steps that still need to be taken.

The reason Young could be a transcendent quarterback is his ability to make big plays with his legs. The Titans converted 8-of-13 third downs. Six of those conversions were scrambles by Young. The Colts almost exclusively play zone defense, and they often assigned what appeared to be a spy. Nonetheless, Young proved impossible to bring down in those situations, often rendering helpless whichever Colts linebacker was in position to make the play.

Throwing the ball, Young remains a work in progress, but his struggles are largely attributable to his unfamiliarity with taking the snap from under center. Young's college career was spent mostly in the shotgun, and he is clearly ready for the NFL from that formation. Dropping back is another story.

Young has attempted 132 passes from the shotgun and 131 from under center. He has a DVOA from the shotgun of 35% compared with -43.9% from under center. To translate, he has basically been Drew Brees from the shotgun and Ryan Leaf from under center. The dichotomy is nearly as strong when he scrambles. He averages over eight yards per carry if he starts in the shotgun and less than three yards per carry if he starts under center.

Tennessee fans will be pleased to note that both of Young's touchdown passes came when he was under center. Both were accurate throws made in rhythm. At the same time, both were passes made to his first read on the play.

Tennessee fans will be less heartened to hear that both of his interceptions also came when he was under center. They were also both his first read. The first interception was a slight overthrow of a one-on-one shot on the outside. The second was a pass right down the middle where Young never saw the safety.

Young is the definitive work in progress as a passer. Still, his success in the shotgun shows his promise, and with Norm Chow as a mentor, he should be in good hands in developing his game.

A week ago, I suspected that Tennessee would pull a big surprise down the stretch, but now that it has come the next week, the Titans likely want more. Is a run at .500 unreasonable? They can certainly win two of their next three games before hosting New England, where they may get a shot at the Pats JV.

For Indianapolis, this loss is potentially devastating if they end up losing home-field advantage, but what happened on the field is not particularly troubling. They gained 70 more yards than the Titans and had the same number of turnovers. The Titans recovered both of their own fumbles. The Colts kicker missed a 53-yarder with the wind at the end of the first half, while Tennessee's hit a 60-yarder in the same direction to win it.

The presence of a unique player like Young makes it hard to evaluate the defensive performance. Bob Sanders, the Colts' theoretical run defense savior, returned to the line-up, but the team gave up 219 yards on the ground. The silver lining was that they mostly controlled Travis Henry, who had a couple long runs but a lot of minimal gains. The problem was that whenever they forced third downs, Young was able to gain them on the ground. Young's scrambles were marked by over-pursuit and poor tackling by the defense, hallmarks of the Colts' struggles all season.

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. One solution could be a change in personnel, such as playing Rob Morris at middle linebacker more in running situations. The Colts have insisted all season that the problem is merely execution, but after 12 games, that explanation is becoming harder to believe.

One other help would be if the Colts pass rush, still capable of forcing hurries, converted more into sacks. They ranked second in adjusted sack rate a year ago but are in the middle of the pack this season. Sacks are a rare occurrence and not always the best indicator of the quality of a pass rush. At the same time, they are extremely positive plays for a defense and usually stall an opponent's drive.

The Colts are not the best team in football, but no team is substantially better than they are. If the Colts have home field advantage, they still would be favorites to make the Super Bowl. If they have to travel to Baltimore or San Diego, they would be underdogs in either case. The next two weeks, they face talented opponents in Jacksonville and Cincinnati. They have to split and win out against Houston and Miami to garner the home field.

The only way to do that is find a way to get the opposition's offense off the field. Otherwise Manning and Co. have to be perfect. They are the closest thing to perfect we currently have in the NFL, but as the Titans proved, a few big defensive plays are all a team may need to spring the upset.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the most surprising result of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these surprises as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 05 Dec 2006

62 comments, Last at 07 Dec 2006, 9:31pm by Sid

Comments

1
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:05pm

Just an FYI, the drivestats link is broken - should be drivestats.php.

2
by David Mazzotta (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:10pm

Tennessee will not make the playoffs

Probably not, but...

They should beat Houston.
They can beat the Jags if the Bad Jags appear.
They can beat Buffalo as long as the weather isn't too bad up north.
They can beat the Pats in the final week if NE has nothing to play for.

That would put them at 9-7 -- maybe good enough for a wild card?

3
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:14pm

Interesting article, well done. Does anyone know why the pass rush of the Colts has been less effective this year? I've watched their games and I'm still not too sure.

Is it personnel? Fatigue from being on the field too long? Not playing with the lead?

4
by Tim Gerheim :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:15pm

Sorry about the broken link. Fixed now.

5
by Doug (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:19pm

AFC Wildcards will have to have 10 wins, I'll bet.

6
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:19pm

Re: 2

Maybe in the NFC. It's going to take 10 wins (and possibly good tiebreakers) to make the playoffs in the AFC.

7
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:26pm

Good piece, Ned. I'll have to really re-watch it to figure out what happened defensively. For TEN, one of the big keys to the running game was that they didn't allow runs over 8 yards despite ranking 26th in 10+ before this week. Though, I guess since the Colts were 29th offensively on 10+ it's not that much of a surprise.

One interesting thing about Colts-Titans is the Titans have played them close despite getting almost no production from the WRs. On Sunday, Brandon Jones had 5 passes thrown in his direction, Roby 2, and Bennett and Wade 1 each-each WR had 1 catch. And if you look at the first game between the teams, Brandon Jones was the only WR was a catch with 3 grabs in 6 throws, while Bennett had only 1 pass thrown in his direction (a trick play at the end of the first half) and Wade didn't have a catch on 4 throws. Is Indy's coverage better than we've given it credit for?

8
by KC (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:28pm

I watched the game, and Young's TD pass to Drew Bennett worked because he looked off the defense, making Bennett his 2nd read. I don't know who he was looking at but it was down the right sideline, and I'm pretty sure he intended to throw it to Bennett anyway, but it was his 2nd read. I'm not 100% sure that it was the Bennett TD - it could have been the Brandon Jones TD, but he definitely looked off the defense, so at the very least I think we need to stop saying that Young ALWAYS throws to his 1st read.

9
by Kalyan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:30pm

3: The teams know how bad the colts are with the run and they hardly are in the 3 & long situation.

It will be great to know how many times the colts forced a 3 & long and what the opponent conversion rate was?

10
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:35pm

2

They probably won't, though the IRC FO people have been working out the scenarios for it to happen for a while.

The Titans conference tiebreaker is really bad. Here's what realistically would need to happen -

5 7-5 teams are ahead of them. The Titans would need to win out. At least 4 of those teams would need to drop 3 games. However, some decent news -

The Chargers play KC and Denver at home. They need to win both.

Cincy-Denver play each other

Tennessee plays Jacksonville

Jacksonville-KC play each other.

The Jets need to totally collapse or make the #5 seed. Any conference issue the Titans have is magnified by losing to the Jets head-to-head.

Now, realistically, a lot of these things CAN happen to help Tennessee, but losing to Baltimore is really hurting them right now. Tennessee needs to be a 9-7 team over 4 of those 7-5 teams going 8-8. That's a lot of teams completely collapsing down the stretch.

It is possible if it's over 3. If KC, Denver, and Cincy all finish 8-8, the Jets go 10-6 or better, and the Titans/Jags are tied at 9-7 with the Jags losing to Indy, then Titans will hold the tiebreaker based on division record (A #3 division team can't get into a WC over the #2 team in its own division), which would see Jax as the oddman out - providing they lose to Indy.

So essentially, a miracle and a prayer can go a long way to helping the Titans out.

11
by Sam! (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:44pm

"...and a gust of win allowed the Titans to close the deal this time."

A gust of win often does that.

12
by Shylo (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:46pm

Only the Titans can go from worst team in the NFL to playoff talk within the span of a season. And I'm a Titans fan, so I'm with you guys on these unreasonable expectations.

13
by Rob McNair (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:48pm

Perfect distillation of everything that is right, wrong and pertinent with the Colts.

14
by queequeg (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 2:49pm

makes ya wonder what could have happened if kerry collins wasn't so awful in the beginning

15
by Ned Macey :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:01pm

Re:14-The funny thing about the Titans before the first Colts game is that they were bad on offense, defense and special teams, and since then, they are magically at least average on all three.

One thing I would really like to know, which might require coaches' tape, is if they are hiding Hill now or if he is just doing a better job. Only four attempts to Wayne on Sunday, and the week before, he only got hit a few times early.

16
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:04pm

12

You have to root for the Titans this year and the Legend of Vince Young. He's 8 come from behind 4th quarter wins in a row away from a SB Champion. and a lot of help.

Also, next year is going to be unbearable. Next years Titans are going to be the trendy AFC team to pick to get to the Super Bowl.

17
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:07pm

The most interesting thing to me is the difference between Young out of the shotgun and Young under center. I'll be interested to see how this plays out in the future (either seeing Young improve, or seeing the Titans call plays differently to help Young).

18
by Zack (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:24pm

more titans reading on FO...I'm in heaven...

I think the titans have been building a team around competing with Indy...

Vince's ability to run is the perfect counterpart to Freeney and the Indy pass rush.

Bullock and Thornton are perfect OLB's to play against Indy. They are sturdy against the run, but also can cover the pass. Plus Thornton is very familiar with Indy.

and somehow schwartz is figuring out how to defend Peyton.

I predict the titans will go 9-7, but will miss the playoffs (if only they were in the nfc).

19
by Doug (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:32pm

“…and a gust of win allowed the Titans to close the deal this time.�

Haha, yeah, that gust of wind is going to be like a fart in a windstorm...nobody's going to remember it in a few weeks.

20
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:37pm

Everyone in the division has been trying to build a team to beat the Colts, except the Texans (I have no idea what they're doing). The Jags are built on a great recipe to beat the Colts, although they have had mixed success.

21
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:38pm

BTW, watching this game I realized why Boiman (a Tennessee castoff) is actually pretty serviceable - they have a very talented group of linebackers there.

22
by J.D. (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:39pm

#17:
What is stopping the Titans from putting in an offense where VY is in the shotgun 80-90% of the time? Obviously they couldn't run as much straight spread option as he did at Texas because of the speed of NFL defenses and the risk of injury, but it seems like they could run a fairly standard offense, except for short yardage plays, out of the shotgun.

If that turns him into a Drew Brees-level passer AND allows him to use his legs to make plays, suddenly the Titans have a pretty sick team.

23
by Zack (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:40pm

watching the titans all year, I can say that we are weak at MLB...

Peter Sirmon should not a starter in the NFL. His backup, rookie Tulluch, might be good in the future.

I wonder why the colts didn't attack hill with wayne...

24
by Zack (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:42pm

re: young in shotgun...

I think chow doesn't want the offense to disolve into a shotgun only offense.

I am in support of going shotgun 75% or more of the time. I am also in support of putting Pacman in on offense more.

25
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:43pm

This may be an elementary question, but why play Vince Young under center much at all? Why not just play him from the shotgun regularly? What is the advantage to being under center? I can see only two: (1) being better able to communicate blocking assignments and audibles and (2) giving the running back a head of steam on the handoff rather than using draws all day. Are there others? Because these don't seem big enough to me to warrant reducing Brees to Leaf, as in the words of the article.

26
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:52pm

25

A QB in shotgun essentially tells the opposing team that you're going to pass intermediate to deep. It's hard to really run a WCO-style playbook out of shotgun. Also, it's EXTREMELY hard to run effectively up the middle out of a shot gun.

27
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:53pm

All that said, I think coaches make too big of a deal out of it and sort of outsmart themselves and realistically a team could run a majority shotgun if they wanted to. I thought the Falcons earlier season offense was a pretty good way to capitalize on Vick, and I'd run something similiar in Tennessee, though not quite as shotgun heavy.

28
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 3:55pm

When the Titans came back from the big deficit last week, they were in shotgun almost every play (21 of 24 non-goalline plays). See link in name for my breakdown of last week's Titans 4Q on offense, and I hope to have something similar for all of this week's game up tonight or tomorrow.

29
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 4:00pm

26, thanks. Follow up:

Why is it hard to hit short timing patterns out of the shotgun?

I've never played quarterback so I'm not trying to be a smartalleck, but I can't see how taking a three step drop would make all the slants, crossing patterns, quick outs, etc., that rely on timing and that characterize a WCO, that much easier than simply surveying the field from the shotgun and, to be overly simplistic, counting to three.

30
by stan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 4:11pm

8 --

Young's TD pass to Bennett was all about the motion of the back toward the sideline on Bennett's side. I was at the game and watched the coverage to see how Indy's cover 2 would deal with Bennett once he became the inside receiver. Answer -- they didn't. The corner widened with the RB who turned up and went vertical which drew the safety wide. The LB wasn't in position to run with Bennett and he was just wide open in the seam.

To sum it up -- Bennett was open in the seam because of the threat down the left sideline.

31
by stan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 4:22pm

I'm surprised that this article didn't emphasize the weakness of the Colt O-line. They had 1st and goal at the one to take the lead on their last drive and got completely stuffed for a sizable loss when they tried to run. Earlier on 3d and 1 they got stuffed for a loss trying to run and had to punt. Also, the Colts decided to pass on a 3d and 1 and the ball was dropped leading to a punt.

The Titans played with 2 safeties who were always at least 15 yards deep. They just bald-faced, openly dared the Colts to run. And the Colts just couldn't do it effectively. Whenever the Titans had a short yardage situation and decided to actually focus on stopping the run, they forced the Colts to lose yardage.

The Titan defensive front just completely kicked the Colt linemen's asses. To anyone who knows football, it was an in-your-face, "you suck" and "we're going to make you like it" domination.

And the Colt pass defense, without a good pass rush, is just easy pickings. There were Titans running open all day. Young just needs 'em REALLY open to feel comfortable throwing it. On the first TD, Titans ran a simple slant and the Colts were nowhere to be found when he caught it in the end zone at the goal line.

32
by stan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 4:29pm

One last thing --

The Titans were better in the def line, at LB, in the secondary, in the off line and on special teams. The offensive backs were a wash.

This is pretty typical of the Colts' games. They win when Peyton, Marvin and Reggie more than make up for the shortcomings of the rest of the team. Does anyone really think that is a good formula for winning a Super Bowl?

Compare the talent level of the Chargers to the Colts. Can Peyton be expected to be THAT much better than Rivers?

QBs generally get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses. But if Peyton wins a SB with this bunch, it will be the closest thing to a QB actually winning one by himself that we will ever see in our lifetimes.

33
by turgy22 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 4:30pm

Re: 20
The Texans are clearly building their team to beat the Jaguars.

34
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 4:37pm

Re: Shotgun

When you think about it, why SHOULD running be harder out of the shotgun? A QB under center takes the snap and moves toward a handoff. That movement takes some time to let the blocks develop. Isn't there a way to manage the timing similarly when a QB is in the shotgun? Time a pause or something?

I don't know, maybe there is a good reason it is hard to run out of the shotgun. I just don't know what it is and would like to.

35
by Rob S. (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 4:38pm

"The next two weeks, they face talented opponents in Jacksonville and Cincinnati. They have to split and win out against Houston and Miami to garner the home field."

-- Correct me if I'm wrong, but unless INDY wins both of those games, the Chargers would be in the driver's seat for HFA. Remaining: DEN, KC, @SEA, AZ. They'll be favorites in all of those games.

36
by Tampa Bay Mike (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 4:45pm

RE 15: The only explanation is the Vince Young swagger. ;^)

37
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 4:50pm

34

You can run outside, draws, and cutback runs out of shotgun. It's hard to power run.

Other thing for this and the other comment - When a QB is dropping back, the other team still isn't sure if it'll be a run or a pass yet. a 3 step drop is a fast pass, and that half a second of indecision can freeze players, especially LBs. Which is why slants are such a big part of the WCO.

38
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 4:52pm

36

Oh, the Legend of Vince Young has already started. We're just along for the ride. My dream scenario right now for this year is a totally inexplicable Titans SB victory over the Saints, followed by in the offseason, the Bush receiving Money thing coming to a head and causing him to lose the Heismann, making Vince Young the most rawly talented "just wins" player in football history.

39
by Zack (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 5:03pm

Here is an observation about a weakness in the titans Pass D that most teams are taking advantage of...

when the titans are in a zone coverage with the safties deep, teams have recognized that the saftey on the offensive right (usually chris hope) is anxious to play the flat or bite on a pump fake. More than a handful of times I have seen teams throw over the top on that side, while chris hope, pacman jones and a LB all cover the same area (the flat).

The colts did it again this week with a double move by harrison. manning pump faked, chris hope bit, even though pacman and a LB were already there to cover the short route and harrison went over the top.

40
by Devin (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 5:31pm

Great article! Thanks!

41
by chris clark (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 5:43pm

re: 10

I've been playing with the scenarios (not the Titan's ones) using the playoff prediction software written by Chris Cox. It's not bad for that and it has a pretty nice interface. I've been trying to convince him to let me hack on it a bit. No luck so far, and thus it may not happen until next year. One of my goals is to make it calculate which games put teams in/out of the playoffs using straight calculations (multiplying out the probabilities) rather than simulating the season n-times. I think that would really help some of the scenario questions.

As to some of the scenarios I've analyzed so far, it is pretty clear that only the division leaders in the AFC are in control of their destiny. NYJ has the most control of their destiny after that. If the Jets win out, there are only a few scenario's where they don't make the playoffs (yes, an 11 win team could miss the playoffs in the AFC). CIN has the next most control of its destiny, followed by DEN (note DEN and CIN play each other, so that can't both win out and CIN play IND and DEN plays SD, so they both could easily lose 2 games and one will lose at least 1). KC and JAC play each other and also play 2 other contenders KC gets BAL & SD, while JAC gets IND & NE, again 1 game min losses, 3 losses not unexpected.

So, if TEN wins out, the program gives them a 7% chance of making the playoffs. Looks like there are lots of scenarios where they can get in, if they do so. For example, TEN could get in and BAL or NE could be out if TEN, CIN, and NYJ all win out--perhaps not your most likely scenario.

42
by OMO (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 5:47pm

Great article Ned...very effective way of conveying what many of us Colts fans have seen week after week this year.

1. Little to no pass rush (unless your name is David Carr).

2. Zone secondary coverage 95% of the time with 5-7 yard cushions.

3. An undersized secondary that without Bob Sanders cannot help stop the run with any effectiveness (what also doesn't help is that for some unknown reason the Colts secondary has forgotten how to wrap up the ball carrier, instead electing to bounce off of them with a shoulder pad hit which unless your name is Bob Sanders...doesn't do much).

4. The entire league has watched enough tape to pretty much reduce Dwight Freeney to a twirling, rushing way too far up field draw play biatch.

In general...the Colts will again make the playoffs, win the AFC South and lose in the 1st or 2nd game, w/o a trip to the SB...AGAIN.

I've seen this movie...it's called Groundhog Day...which will be a great name for the NFL Films recap for the Colts 2006 Season.

43
by RecoveringPackerFan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 6:09pm

34: A shotgun exchange is slower because the QB has to wait for the snap and give the ball off before the RB can really accelerate towards the point of attack. Compare this to a standard handoff where the exchange happens several yards in front of the RB's initial position, allowing the back to run from the instant the ball is snapped.

In college, spread teams use misdirection, various option looks, and O-line dominance to overcome or profit from the speed decrease. In the NFL, line talent is more even, misdirection is harder, and quarterbacks are less replaceable. All of this conspires against shotgun runs, though I expect that a team could run out of the shotgun successfully even over the long term if they had a sufficient passing game and were willing to risk their quarterback’s health.

44
by Eric (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 6:12pm

Couldn't someone set up a shotgun offense with the back a yard or two behind the QB, giving the same effect as running plays from under center? Actually, I think a couple of college teams (Nevada?) already do this.

45
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 6:27pm

I would think having the back line up behind the quarterback in the shotgun might also give him better vision as to which side he should block on when passing, notably against defenses that try to overload one side and get a free rusher.

46
by DGL (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 6:35pm

#29: I never played the game, but... When taking a snap from the shotgun, the QB has to watch the ball coming into his hands. This means he can't be reading the defensive coverage or the route options his receivers are taking for that first second or so.

On the other hand, when a QB takes a snap under center and drops back, he can be watching the field the whole time.

For a pass designed to go intermediate or deep, being unable to watch the field for the first second or so isn't a big deal. But for a short timing pass, the QB needs to read the defense, not watch the ball into his hands.

47
by mgd (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 6:50pm

#46
Troy Aikman said that's why he hated the shotgun.

48
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 6:58pm

Yes, Nevada's "pistol" is a compromise, I think - it gives the QB an extra step or two to avoid the rush, but leaves a RB behind him to give more of a neutral look as opposed to a pass-heavy look. However, the QB is not at shotgun depth, but halfway between I-formation and shotgun (thus the pistol name). New Orleans has used the pistol on occasion this year, and Green Bay has used a modified shotgun where a TE lines up in front of the RB.

In a full shotgun, lining up the RB behind the QB poses two problems. One is that the advantage the RB had to a particular side is gone: instead of lining up on the left and realizing he'll be slow to block a blitzer on the right, he'll be somewhat slow to either side. The other problem is that with him behind the QB, either he'd be picking up a blitzer without the QB knowing (and risking a collision), or he'd be designated to block a blitzer on a specific side, in which case he might as well just line up on that side.

Also, it'd pretty much eliminate any rushing threat. It's hard enough to run out of the gun; back up the RB a couple more yards, and pretty much anyone can get to the line before he does.

I saw something on the shotgun on TV in the last week or so: one thing they mentioned is that it makes short passes much more difficult because the vast majority of QBs prefer to have their hand on the laces when they throw, so by the time they look down, catch the snap, and find the laces, the time for a short pass is over. There is one current QB who doesn't use the laces, and one retired QB whom they mentioned. Naturally, I remember neither name.

49
by queequeg (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 6:59pm

would it be possible to see an article concerning the passing mechanics of the rookie qbs this year? i don't get to see much of young or leinhart and would find it interesting to see how each excels or mismanages certain plays respectively.

50
by Tampa Bay Mike (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 7:39pm

I say play Young under center more often, that way hopefully he'll become Drew Brees under center next year, but they'll still lose enough games this year to pick up a stud in the draft.

51
by MLA (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 9:14pm

The lead-in for this article on the main FO page says that if the Colts and Titans each got 50 possessions, the Colts would likely win by 75 points. The lead-in also states that they only got 9 possessions, making the game a lot closer. Doesn't this imply that the Colts would win an average game between the two teams by about 2 touchdowns? (75/50 * 9 = 13.5) Assuming I did the math right, does anyone really believe the Colts are that much better than the Titans? This just seemed odd to me.

52
by Flux (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 11:02pm

So Tenn's won a few close games to approach respectibility. Remember a couple of weeks ago when Miami was suddenly good and headed for a playoff run, etc? Midseason streaks by bad teams happen all the time. The smart money's still on 6-10, which would be the best thing for them anyway; it would move them up 8 or 10 spots in the draft, with all the 8-8 and 7-9 destined teams in the NFC.

53
by BG (not verified) :: Tue, 12/05/2006 - 11:25pm

Vince Young reminded me of Steve McNair circa 1999-2002.

The Colts lost the game on 2 second half possessions. Stokely drops a pass on 3-9 that would have put the Colts inside the Titan 35 yard line. Probably would have gotten at least 3 on that drive.

The other was when Utech gets called for PI. That call was huge. It's total judgement call that went the Titans favor it just as easily been a no call. The Colts wind up settling for a field goal.

Also, it seemed to me that the Titans were getting some kind of read on the Colts running game. Some of those short yardage plays they sent everyone on a run blitz and guessed right.

Great article on the plan to beat the Colts. Limit possessions and hope you get some turnovers or mistakes by the Colts offense. In both Cowboys and Titans game the Colts did plenty of both.

54
by Nathan (not verified) :: Wed, 12/06/2006 - 12:20am

As a non college level QB (I could be wrong), the angles out of the shotgun make the short passing game more difficult, and easier to pick for zones.

The speed of a 3 step drop mixed with the angle on a slant is very deadly. imaging that out of a deeper place with the same speed. seems that you'd have a bit more for the ball to travel, and the angle would be less advantageous.

but i could totally be wrong, please someone else who might know chime in.

And well, your running game is seriously plain. try beating a team like the Ravens like that, I think you'd get crushed pretty quickly.

55
by Sunil (not verified) :: Wed, 12/06/2006 - 1:03am

Heaven, heaven, heaven - all this Titans coverage at long last. Keep it coming FO!

56
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 12/06/2006 - 1:05am

Can anybody explain rationally why Indy is the only team in the NFL to not run a single 4th down play this year? I may have missed one or two, but pretty sure that're at zero. Maybe one against Dallas....

They seem to lack a killer instiinct on offense, which, when your D is as Swiss-cheesey as theirs, you NEED. Up by 10? GO FOR IT on 4th!

They are, once again, the team with the most 4th downs run against them, and not even in desperate situations. Sometimes it's just in TMQ's "marroon zone." You can carp all you want about their power rushing/"3rd and short" shortcomings, but the fact remains that they are tops in the league in converting 3rd downs. So why not take a few shots on 4th? That's one less aspect opponents practice for each week.

I may start following football like I used to follow hockey--casually watch the standings until the playoffs. Wait, as an Indy fan, that would be really torture. Maybe I should do it the other way around and ignore the post season....

57
by NF (not verified) :: Wed, 12/06/2006 - 1:52am

52: You aren't accounting for the difference between having Vince Young as your QB or Joey Harrington. Not to mention that the Miami defense is old and grizzled, while the Titans is young and raw.

58
by MikkeliFan (not verified) :: Wed, 12/06/2006 - 11:46am

Young's running DVOA is an interesting topic. Before this week it was pretty terrible, yet seems very good in person. I'd love to see stats that break down called QB runs vs. scrambles. This would help answer the question of whether to call QB draws & sweeps, or to just give Young the green light. Also I'd like to see how many of his runs get first downs versus other QBs. Lots of QBs seem to pick up 11 yards on 3rd and 15. Young seems to convert the 3rd and 8s with regularity. And definitely continue to follow the under center vs. shotgun stats. That is very interesting.

59
by Arizona Cardinals Fan (not verified) :: Wed, 12/06/2006 - 12:56pm

56

Bobman, wait until the playoffs and see how many 4th downs the Colts try to convert...it bites them every year, but I suppose they are saving up for when it ocunts.

60
by ron sweet (not verified) :: Wed, 12/06/2006 - 5:48pm

fantastic insight and coments to the colts and the titans.I listen to titans radio every sunday . I live in the UK and through all the last couple of years.with some big defeats, but under fishers leadership and patience the young titans team is learning to climb that NFL mountain,but the main thing is there is the start of great team spirit,they will still make mistakes ,obviously with a rookie quarterback,but they are starting to believe they can get the job done and confidence is so important in professional sport.great articles and great website.
thanks

61
by stan (not verified) :: Thu, 12/07/2006 - 2:27pm

56 -- Bobman

When you convert an extraordinary percentage of 3d downs, you don't have many 4th downs. When you average more yards per possession than anyone else, you are more often in FG range when you do face a 4th down. And when you win as often as the Colts, you rarely face desperate situations where you have to risk going for it on 4th down.

Finally, when your power running game is as pathetic as the Colts, there is no such thing as an easy short yardage pickup.

62
by Sid (not verified) :: Thu, 12/07/2006 - 9:31pm

RE: 18

Bullock (sic) and Thornton are perfect OLB’s to play against Indy. They are sturdy against the run, but also can cover the pass.

That's a pretty silly comment. Outside Linebackers who can play the run and the pass are the "perfect" OLBs against any team.