Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Nov 2013

Any Given Sunday: Rams Over Colts

by Mike Ridley

So this is what Tavon Austin’s potential looks like.

Austin, the eighth overall pick by the Rams this April, hadn’t lived up to his draft slot entering Sunday’s contest. Despite having 31 catches and two touchdowns, Austin came into the game owning the league’s second-worst DYAR (-76) and fourth-worst DVOA (31.6%).

Like most rookie wide receivers, Austin has often failed to make an impact on a weekly basis. There have been four games he has failed to eclipse two receptions, including a zero-catch performance last week against Tennessee. When he has caught the ball, it has usually been for minimal game; St. Louis' preference to use the diminutive Austin on wide receiver screens and quick throws has netted the rookie just 6.7 yards per reception, worst among all qualifying receivers.

On Sunday, we finally got a sneak peek into the havoc Austin can wreak when used properly. Despite touching the ball just eight times in the game, the rookie out of West Virginia accumulated 314 all-purpose yards, including three touchdowns of 55 yards or more. That made him just the third person to accomplish such a feat. The first touchdown, a 98-yard punt return, showed Austin's burst when he quickly accelerated past the Colts coverage unit running up the sideline practically untouched. His second demonstrated his top-end speed, burning Vontae Davis on a fly route. The third displayed how dangerous Austin can be in the open field. After starting in motion, the Rams used a pick to free up Austin on a drag route, allowing him to catch the ball in space and weave through two defenders on his way to an 81-yard touchdown.

While Austin's performance grabbed the headlines, the real credit for the victory likely lies with the defensive line. Robert Quinn and his cohorts consistently harassed Andrew Luck, throwing the MVP candidate off his game. Quinn set the tone early with his strip sack on Indy's opening drive that Chris Long returned for a touchdown. After Austin's three touchdowns staked the Rams to a 35-point lead, the front four pinned their ears back and went after Luck. The pressure helped force him into three second-half interceptions, tying a career high.

By the VOA

The Rams offense may not have been dominant, but their defense and special teams certainly were.

Say "Car Ram-Rod"
Team Off. VOA Def. VOA Special Teams VOA Total VOA
STL -1.7% -43.4% 36.9% 78.5%
IND -59.1% 9.3% -34.6% -103.0%

The Rams offensive VOA is a product of their mediocrity when not hitting the homerun. Outside of Austin's two long offensive touchdowns, the Rams averaged just 4.4 yards per play and had four of their 12 drives result in three-and-outs. The defense got major points for stopping the Colts on four of their five possessions in the red zone, with three interceptions and a tackle of Luck on the six-inch line on fourth down.

Just Take a Knee

The Colts offensive and defensive VOAs resemble that of a team that lost by 30 points, but it's the special teams section that needs to be looked at more in depth.

A major portion of the Colts' poor special teams VOA, outside of the Austin return, came from how their returners handled kickoffs. David Reed and Dan Herron combined to have four returns fail to pass the 13-yard line, including two that were stopped at the 7-yard line. Not only does the poor field position put a team in greater threat of a safety, it also restricts the offense, making drives more likely to stall out.

Aaron Schatz mentioned in Audibles how being greedy in kick returns isn't always a great gamble. Reed, who returned three of the four kickoffs in question, has a season-long return of just 39 yards and is averaging less than 25 yards per return. The return by Herron was the first of the running back's career. With neither having a track record for big play ability (Reed did have a return touchdown in 2010, but has returned kicks in only 16 games since), they would be wise to realize that the safe play is often the correct play.

Trent Richardson 4.0

To be honest, I'm not sure what version we're calling the latest Trent Richardson. I do know it's completely ineffective. Yesterday saw the former Browns back carry the ball five times for a whopping two yards. In his seven games with the Colts, he has failed to surpass so much as 60 rushing yards in a game and is averaging a miniscule 2.8 yards per carry, something only Ray Rice could be jealous of.

Richardson's ineffectiveness is particularly damning after the loss of Reggie Wayne. Pep Hamilton's system strives for an effective ground gain to achieve balance. With Richardson being below replacement level (-29 DYAR and -14.5% DVOA before Sunday), the Colts have become much more reliant on the passing game with receivers like Griff Whalen, LaVon Brazill and Reed running a significant amount of routes. If Indy is going to get back to the offensive balance it used to beat teams like San Francisco and Denver, it needs Richardson to provide an efficient run game more than ever.

Robert Quinn, Defensive Player of the Year?

Hidden in one of America's great baseball cities, Robert Quinn has been terrorizing opposing offenses all season. Quinn, who had a career year in 2012 with 10.5 sacks, has been putting on a clinic so far this season. With 12.0 sacks (and a league-leading 98 yards lost), he spearheads a defensive line that is among the best in the league.

In 2010, the year before the Rams drafted Quinn with the 14th overall pick, St. Louis had an Adjusted Sack Rate of 7.1 percent. During his rookie season, they improved to 7.5 percent, eighth in the league. After finishing third with an ASR of 8.5 percent in 2012, the Rams ascended to a league-leading10.1 percent ASR, besting the more-praised pass rush of the Kansas City Chiefs by a half-percent. Additionally, the Rams line ranks third in Adjusted Line Yards, a metric used to determine the effectiveness of defensive lines against the run.

It would be foolish the say the Rams haven’t added other quality players like William Hayes, Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers during the last three years, but those players are working off Quinn, not the other way around.

Posted by: Mike Ridley on 12 Nov 2013

16 comments, Last at 13 Nov 2013, 8:00pm by Edge

Comments

1
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 2:42pm

"There have been four games he has failed to eclipse two receptions"

Well to be fair, he didn't eclipse two receptions in this game either. He just happened to do the maximum amount possible with the two he got.

2
by Dired :: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 3:00pm

Yeah, I mean, I don't think anyone can ignore how well those two catches performed, but no star player is going to build a career out of two catches a game. Let's see frequent 6-catch, 100 yard games before we get too excited.

7
by CBPodge :: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 6:09pm

I imagine Brian Schottenheimer's ideal 6 yard, 100 yard game for Tavon Austin would be one 99 yard reception and 5 catches for that 1 extra yard.

3
by tuluse :: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 3:28pm

"If Indy is going to get back to the offensive balance it used to beat teams like San Francisco and Denver, it needs Richardson to provide an efficient run game more than ever."

Or they need to give the ball to non-Richardson backs. I think it's time for Indy to seriously consider that 1st round pick a sunk cost.

4
by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 3:30pm

On what planet is Andrew Luck an MVP candidate?

I understand that the Colts have won six games, and that they would not have won six games with (for instance) Matt Schaub at quarterback. He has three fourth quarter comebacks and three game winning drives according to PFR, which is on track to match last year. Basically, Luck is on track to match last year, when he was not even a consideration for MVP despite making the playoffs with a bad team.

Even assuming (as I do) that the Colts make the playoffs this year, Luck will be only the third or fourth best quarterback who has no offensive line to speak of in the MVP voting. Rivers in particular is playing better than Luck (and it isn't close) with a 3rd round rookie as his primary target and an offensive line which now includes no one starting at their original position.

The Colts are 14th of 32 in net yards per attempt and 16th in passing yards. Teams above them in both categories include the Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears.

I think Luck is a good quarterback with a bright future. But his performance this year is merely adequate.

MVP voting consideration should go to:

1. Manning, obviously.
2. Philip Rivers.
3. Jimmy Graham.
4. Calvin Johnson.
5. Ndamukong Suh.
6. Patrick Peterson.
7. Richard Sherman.
8. Tamba Hali.

5
by Briguy :: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 4:33pm

I'm a Colts fan, and I've seen several articles suggesting Luck as an MVP candidate over the past couple of weeks. It boggles my mind, as well. I think it's basically because Manning is the obvious MVP to most people, but you can't write another article about that, so you have to find someone edgier.

6
by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 4:58pm

As a Colts fan, I've seen those articles, and I've heard those comments made by Colts fans I respect on different blogs, and I can't understand them.

Some of it is homerism, which is fine, but what I don't like is those Colts fans are using the some of the same rationale that we all railed against when Pats fans used it in Manning/Brady arguments. Obviously, Luck hasn't won a Super Bowl, but Colts fans will bring up the lack of weapons, the clutch play and those intangible things that don't show up in his stats. Now, Luck's advanced stats are better than his conventional stats, but they're still not great.

Manning is the obvious MVP right now, and it isn't close. Brees/Rivers is a good 2nd (Brees is probably now past him statistically, and his team is better, so he's probably the clear #2). Calvin Johnson/Jamaal Charles are fine choices in the 'non-QB' area, but I don't get the Luck thing.

I think Luck is a very good QB. He's a Top-3 QB in the AFC if you just look at 2013 performance (though that says more about the AFC). I think he's the best QB to build around for the next 10 years. He's not an MVP candidate, and he's not a Top-5 leaguewide QB. Yet.

8
by CBPodge :: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 6:14pm

Manning was MVP-elect, then Luck beat Manning. Therefore Luck becomes MVP elect - the full stop here represents where logic should have been applied, but wasn't

11
by Bobman :: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 3:38am

Alex Smith? QB of the undefeated Chiefs????

Wins first, then QB. He's the default leader.

And yes, I am kidding. Seriously, though, none of those D players has a case as strong as Watt had last year--it would take a miracle (or like 10 more INTS for Sherman, 10 more sacks for the DL guys) for them to win.

Luck is a lot like Elway, BTW. May never rule with stats, but his physicality, overall command of the game, and his late-game heroics should count for something. He'll likely get his hardware, just not this year.

9
by jamie_k74 :: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 6:51pm

"something only Ray Rice could be jealous of." Picking nits here, but he'd be envious, not jealous. I know it's misused often enough that maybe it's now "accepted usage", but "jealous" is "I don't want you to have what I've got"; you feel jealous if you see a good looking guy chatting to your girlfriend. "Envy" is "I want what you've got"; you may envy Bill Gates' wealth.

12
by herm :: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 4:58am

There are countless words in English that have picked up additional meanings over time, but for some reason this concept continues to baffle intelligent people, which leads to comments like the above complaint that the results of a totally standard linguistic phenomenon are "wrong." That and the 'other' usage isn't new.

14
by greybeard :: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 4:51pm

It seems to me that the difference between jealous and envious is worth keeping. jealous picking up the additional meaning of envious devalues the original meaning of jealous. I think it is worth pointing out to the difference in meaning between the two words so we can have a richer language.

Also, if you read the comment carefully it does not "baffle" the commenter that the word may have picked up an additional meaning. This is what the commenter says "I know it's misused often enough that maybe it's now "accepted usage",". Unless of course "baffle" has also added a new meaning to its definition that we don't know of.

BTW, fuck the spam filter that thinks the sentences above are spam.

15
by Edge (not verified) :: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 7:55pm

Envious and jealous are synonyms.

10
by Bobman :: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 3:33am

Two things I think this article misses on are (1) the Colts other rushing success on Sunday vs the Rams. Hard to lambaste Richardson when the rest of the gang racks up fewer yards than I do going from my kitchen to the bathroom. Plenty of other games and reasons to slap him around--I'm not arguing that, but this game was not necessarily one. NOBODY on the Colts ran worth a damn.

And (2) While Quinn is having a great year on a great DL, maybe a mention of the guy across the stat sheet, Robert Mathis, is in order. Leads league in sacks and has NO HELP from other pass rushers (has 13.5 when rest of team has 10.5) while you note that Quinn is on a pretty studly DL. Well, yes, when you have to split your blockers between Quinn and Long plus pressure up the middle, Quinn will benefit to some extent. But when you have a bunch of tomato cans, an overpaid FA (Walden) and a rookie 1st rounder who has been injured for over a month (Werner) as the other main pass rushers, well, you can probably triple Mathis and not worry about the rest. And they have faced a run-heavy schedule. And yet he's on track after ten weeks to become the franchise all-time leader in sacks and break the NFL single-season sack record. Not bad.

I know it didn't fit the "Rams in ascendance/Colts in free-fall" narrative but if you're gonna discuss the DPOY, this game had two solid candidates, both of whom had two sacks. And you only mentioned one of them. Whatever. (Clemens had half the drop-backs of Luck, BTW, making Mathis's sack rate more noteworthy!)

13
by Mike Ridley :: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 3:10pm

You're absolutely correct that Mathis is a DPOY candidate, but that's not a new assertion. The search term "Robert Mathis Defensive Player of the Year" yields over 105,000 results on Google. I was just shedding light on a player that lacks national coverage because he plays in a baseball city.

Mathis has been a beast this year. He can't be blocked one-on-one, as the Rams learned early on, and he's carried a defensive line that would be in shambles without him. But writing a couple paragraphs about how great he's been doesn't say anything other than the obvious. It would be Dierdorf-ing the article.

16
by Edge (not verified) :: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 8:00pm

Reginald Bum Wipe III Defensive Player of the Year yields 1,470,000 results. Does that make him the front runner?