Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Nov 2005

Colts Take Out Frustrations on Steelers

If the Colts are still considered a finesse team after laying the wood to the Steelers last night, then they're the toughest finesse team in the history of professional football.

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 29 Nov 2005

34 comments, Last at 30 Nov 2005, 6:26pm by tom

Comments

1
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 11:47am

Finesse is the pejorative term, but what the Colts have been (and are still) is a speed team.

It's not that they're a bunch of shrinking violets, it's not that they can't trade hits with another NFL team. It's not even that that they can't stop the power run -- although their surest method for doing so is still to build a big lead so the other team has to pass, which is what they did last night as well. But their advantage is speed, both on offense and defense.

Most teams will continue to play the "physical" game against the Colts, because there aren't many teams who can match their speed.

2
by Michael David Smith :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:09pm

I agree. The one thing that has surprised me this year is how little Corey Simon seems to be helping them. I figured they'd plug him in on short yardage downs and he'd make a big difference, but he just doesn't seem to mesh with what the rest of the defense is doing.

3
by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:22pm

Pittsburgh did not "have to pass" last night because of a big Colts lead, nor did Cowher need to try a silly onsides kick that iced the game for Indy. (Jeff Reed had never attempted or made an onsides kick before last night). They were only down by 9 points or less for the first 34 minutes of the game.

What Pittsburgh needs to do is figure out how to properly use the best running back on their roster - Duce Staley.

Staley has a 23.7% DVOA this year rushing. Willie Parker has a 2.3% DVOA rushing. Jerome Bettis has a -11.3% DVOA rushing. Verron Haynes has a -48.1% DVOA rushing.

Staley is by far the best pass blocker of the four backs.

It would seem to me that Staley should be starting and in for all downs for his series, and Parker should be in for relief every couple of series kind of like KC used Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. Haynes should be relegated to special teams, and Bettis reserved for short yardage situations (2 yards to go and less).

And when they do pass, the Steelers refuse to throw to Staley despite his great performance receiving when with the Eagles.

2003: 10.0 DPAR (#7)/30.4% DVOA (#7) receiving, 77% complete
2002: 18.2 DPAR (#3)/39.9 DVOA (#5) receiving, 74% complete
2001: 12.5 DPAR (#5)/19.1% DVOA (#13) receiving, 70% complete

These are high percentage throws that help the QB manage the game and keep drives alive. Several times last night, Staley was released into passing lanes when no block was needed and was left wide open, but Roethlisberger didn't even look for him (undoubtedly, he was his 4th or 5th read on these plays), instead tossing incompletions or picks into coverage.

Cowher seems to insist on using Veron Haynes on passing 3rd downs (thankfully, not last night), who is a disaster in all aspects of the game (rushing, receiving, and blocking).

Look at receiving by Pittsburgh backs this year:

Parker: 2.4 DPAR/22.1% DVOA
Haynes: -1.0 DPAR/-30.2% DVOA

4
by Bowman (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:24pm

I'm surprised the Steelers didn't take a page from the Bengels and run the no-huddle; preventing the small, fast and "tough" Colt D-Line from substituting.

5
by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:28pm

MDS:

Corey Simon is vastly overweight (he's more like 350 rather than his listed 293 pounds), having refused to workout to stay in shape in the offseason (something he also did to the Eagles for several years to protest his lack of a big contract), so he doesn't have the speed he had when first with the Eagles. He has also been in decline productivity wise ever since his rookie season, when he had his highest totals of sacks and tackles.

Just look at his arms and the lack of muscular definition.

Why do you think the Eagles let him go? Compare his productivity to his replacement Eagle rookie Mike Patterson, who doesn't even start, and who has been playing on a much worse overall D-Line.

Simon - 21 tackles, 9 assists, 0 sacks
Patterson - 21 tackles, 2 assists, 3.5 sacks

6
by C (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:53pm

To add to what #5 said, not only is that true, but the Colts paid Simon an absolute boatload of money. Between that, Manning, James, Wayne, Harrison, etc., how do the Colts stay under the cap?

7
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:53pm

Pittsburgh did not “have to pass� last night because of a big Colts lead...They were only down by 9 points or less for the first 34 minutes of the game.
Which means that they *were* down by ten or more for nearly the entire second half.

I don't know why Cowher onside-kicked to start the second half -- I think it displayed a lack of confidence in his team, which was still in the game at the time, and the kick itself wasn't well executed by Reed.

But the fact remains that the Steelers were in a deep hole, starting from their first drive of the second half, and had to score quickly to get out of it. They didn't switch back to power running until they were power running out the clock at the end.

8
by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 1:04pm

Well, since the onside is a hot topic here as well, I'll mention a couple things I said on Ryan's blog:

I don't think the call was bad (I mean, Cowher did the same thing in the Super Bowl) - the execution was terrible. That should be a play you have practiced down pat and, as long as you only break it out once in a blue moon, should be a near guaranteed success. If it wasn't practiced to perfection, then Cowher was dumb to call it. Otherwise, its a good time to call it, and the execution blew it.

As to why the Steelers lost so bad, why don't we ask our favorite ex-Colts coach:

"We couldn't do diddley-poo offensively. We couldn't make a first down. We didn't run the ball. We didn't try to run the ball. We couldn't complete a pass. We sucked. We sucked. It was a horsesass performance in the second half. Horsesass. I'm totally embarrassed, and I'm totally ashamed. We got our ass kicked in the second half. It sucked. It stunk. Cuz they just blocked better, were more tougher, more physical, coached better, did everything better. We sucked."

9
by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 1:07pm

#6 --

That's why the Colts are expected to be in cap hell the next few seasons -- there was a lot of "last run for this team" talk before the season, remember?

10
by jebmak (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 1:52pm

Re: #8
Who said that DJ?

11
by Francisco (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 1:59pm

That would be Jim Mora.

12
by Francisco (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 2:21pm

re:#9

In my mind, this season has been a "last run" because there's no way they're keeping James and I'm not sure they could win the SB with a replacement player or a rookie (and definitely not Dominic "Dominique" Rhodes). Does anyone have any information about what their cap situation is looking like next year? I've had the impression that even with all the money wrapped up in Manning, they're still in a Pats/Eagles sort of cap situation.

13
by princeton73 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 2:26pm

why don't you axe the ex-Colts coach what he thinks about the playoffs?

14
by ChicagoScott (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 2:40pm

Signing a big-dollar free agent like Corey Simon was out of character for the Colts but they had room under this year's cap. In order to re-sign Edge & Reggie, they really need a new CBA to be in place with a higher cap number. But even with the big contracts in place, they are in decent cap shape overall because they have so many young players on the roster. I think they are the 2nd or 3rd youngest team in the league because Polian builds through the draft.

On Sunday Night Football, they said that the lousy Jets are $30M OVER the cap. How can you be $30M over & be so unbelievably bad?

15
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 2:47pm

How can you be $30M over & be so unbelievably bad?
Big money to Chad Pennington, plus additional not-so-big money to three other injured quarterbacks.

That'll get you quite a bit of the way there.

16
by Brad (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 2:59pm

From my understanding, Polian has been building this team with the expectation that the cap numbers will change dramatically in the near future. After all, there has been a lot of talk that if the CBA is extended, the cap will likely jump to around $100 million. If this is the case, then he will have no problem fitting Edge, Wayne, Freeney, etc under a new cap. And if they don't get a CBA extension signed, then next year is an uncapped year, so then the whole discussion is thrown out the window.

17
by MDZ (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 2:59pm

There were reports before the game last night (I think it was Mort on ESPN but I'm not sure) that the Colts built clauses into Manning's, and possibly Marvin's contracts that would make more money guaranteed, but would reduce the overall value of the contract so that the cap hit would be lower. Polian has consistently said that the team is dedicated to resigning Reggie and Edge. The Colts will wait to see what the new CBA will be before doing these moves. Also, Edge's cap number is 8M this year and if he signs a 4 or 5 year deal it's unlikely that the deal will have a cap hit of much more than 8M next year.

18
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 3:06pm

Frustrations?? What do the Colts know about frustration? The Cards and Lions know frustration.

With all the coaching jobs likely to open up in the off season, I wonder if Jim Mora might be interested in a return somewhere?

19
by Michael David Smith :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 3:35pm

I don't know where people are getting the idea that the Corey Simon contract is a cap-killer, but it isn't. It was a one-year deal dressed up to look like a multi-year deal with a bunch of money owed to him long after everyone knows he'll be released. I remember hearing plenty of people saying last year that after the Manning contract there was no way the Colts could keep James, and what do you know, they managed. The Colts' cap situation is fine.

20
by Brian (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 5:24pm

If you look at runs against the line, Simon's usual area is way better than anywhere else. He's been looking better as the season has been going on, getting more in shape. He'd have quite a few sacks the last few weeks if he was a step faster. I'm not a big believer in intagibles or swagger or whatever, but Simon's teams do have a habit of winning an awful lot (can't remember which game they showed that graphic in).

21
by bobman (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 6:08pm

#18
Frustrations? The Colts? Despite the past 5 of 6 years and 7 of 10 making the playoffs, I wear the scars of a 1-15 season, an 0-9 STRIKE season, and more 2-14 and 3-13 seasons than I can count. And more poor high draft choices since about 1980, too. When Jeff George is regarded as a relatively successful first round pick, you know your team has been suffering. Thank you, Mr. Polian. And I know he is the butt of plenty of nasty comments here, but thanks, Mr. Irsay, as well. I, for one, think you are doing a pretty damn good job.

Regarding the cap and signing exiating/new players, I am under the impression that the cap is only ONE of the constraints, and as MDS said, its in fine shape and they are the 3rd youngest NFl team; the bigger hurdle may be the signing and roster bonuses that next year might be $30-$50 million out of Irsay's pockets (as finance guys say, that's in "time zero" dollars). He's no Steinbrenner and that's a financial stretch. Say they keep Wayne, James, and a hanful of other well-performing free agents-to-be. That's $10M + $10M + $3M + $3M + $3M + $2M + $2M. That's before they draft or trade for anybody else. I doubt any roster bonuses for Manning and Harrison would be triggered, or if they are, they'll be renegotiated, but will still cost some out of pocket money. Another $5M. Sooner or later, you're talking real money.

22
by TheTruth (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 6:24pm

Cory Simon was not simply let go by the Eagles, they had the franchise tag on him, so they did think of Simon a little bit, but in the end Cory wanted a longer contract from the Eagles and refused to sign a 1 year tender.
Given all of the problems that were going on with the Eagles,
Owens ect. the organization lost patience and decided to let Simon go. That move was a microcosm of the eagles season, a bunch of bad moves that underestimated the importance of the things that a player like Cory Simon give to the Colts:
CONFIDENCE, he immediately comanded respect from the Colts and gave them much needed leadership
PRESENCE IN THE MIDDLE
Cory is a definite presence that commands many double teams and keeps the runs up the middle to a minumum, long a Colts weakness
CALM DEMEANOR
he keeps the younger players focused tru mistakes
The Colts were very lucky that Cory came open on the free agent market right before the season started and that he choose to sign with them.

23
by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 6:48pm

Brian #20:

Corey Simon is not a run-stuffing force.

The Eagles specifically removed him from running downs to play Hollis Thomas and Sam Rayburn last year. Surely, they knew what they were doing, because once they started doing this, alogn with inserting Jeremiah Trotter, their defense against the run vastly improved.

Simon was always a speed pass rusher who could collapse the middle of the pocket. No sacks for a speed pass rusher is bad, bad, bad, bad.

24
by TheTruth (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 7:08pm

Before you open your mouth make sure you know what are you talking about. In the Eagles scheme, Simon was NOT asked to rush the passer, instead he was to guard an area and occupy the lineman.
Maybe you need to check how the Eagles defense is doing this year and what kind of leadership is left on the Eagles. Once again the Eagles put the FRANCHISE TAG on Simon for a reason.
For further proof, check out the Colts defense and see how they are playing, it's not a coincidence.
Cory will be a coach after he retires, he has all of the elements that makes certain individuals leaders of men.

25
by tom (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 8:47pm

I agree with Brian; Simon had 5.5 sacks last year with the eagles, which was 3rd on the team, behind Sam Rayburn (run-stopper, eh?) with 6 and kearse with 7.5, and Simon's always had a couple of sacks a season (his average with the Eagles was 6.5 sacks a season), so I think it's fair to say he's slowed up in terms of personal results. From what I've seen of his play with the Colts though, he is drawing a lot of double-teams, just because he is such a bulk at the moment. The Colts seem to be stunting less than the Eagles do, though I did see Mathis and Freeney repeatedly looping round to attack Simon's area like Simon was a lead blocker for them in the game against St Louis. I reckon he'll get a few sacks in the colts' playoff run.

26
by FastEddy (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 9:18pm

I dunno, sometimes I think that Cowher is stupider than Tice. Having Maddox throw a lot of passes a few weeks ago on a windy day, that was dumb, especially given their running game.

Then, as TMQ said today, blitzing 8 on the first Indy possession, when they were on the 20, was dumb. 80-yarder to Harrison. Admittedly, the CB was stupid as well. But still, rushing 8? Against Manning? That's crazy stuff.

Then the bonehead onside kick when they were far from out of the game. Then not using Staley much. It goes on and on.

I had high hopes for Pittsburgh and Big Ben this year. With Cowher's mistakes they may not make the playoffs. I don't know what it is with the guy - tremendous anger, or just an inability to think. But year after year, same old, same old.

27
by Greg (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 9:38pm

RE: Corey Simon
Keep in mind that in moving from to Philly to Indy, Simon shifted from a 2-gap to a 1-gap defense. This, paired with the Colts' strong pass rush from the DEs, puts him in a situation where he is not expected to produce high sack numbers. I promise you, he is making a huge impact this year against the run, even without putting up great stats.

28
by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 10:35pm

TheTruth:

Before you open your mouth make sure you know what are you talking about. In the Eagles scheme, Simon was NOT asked to rush the passer, instead he was to guard an area and occupy the lineman.

Did he just stumble into all those sacks he had in Philadelphia by accident? How come Eagles fans and coaches always referred to him as a speed rusher who was expected to collapse the middle of the pocket? Why was he removed in favor of speedy butterball Hollis Thomas on rushing downs?

Maybe you need to check how the Eagles defense is doing this year

The Eagles defense is playing better this year than last year according to DVOA.

2005: -6.3%
2004: -3.5%

Eagles problems are entirely around special teams and McNabb being injured and crimping the offense.

and what kind of leadership is left on the Eagles.

Simon was not thought of as a locker room leader or presence. Maybe you are confusing him with Hugh Douglas.

Eagles leaders are and have been primarily McNabb, Chad Lewis, Dawkins, and Trotter - the 4 major veterans from the 1999 team.

Once again the Eagles put the FRANCHISE TAG on Simon for a reason.

Because good defensive tackles don't just grow on trees. Simon is a very good defensive tackle. Its just his declining skills are not worth the $35+ million he was demanding, and rookie Mike Patterson was able to do everything and then some of what Corey Simon could do, in the view of Eagles coaches. Please note Simon had the lowest Stop Rate of any Eagle on the D-Line, at 72%.

For further proof, check out the Colts defense and see how they are playing, it’s not a coincidence.

Colts Rush D 2005: 4.2%
Colts Rush D 2004: 3.5%

Colts Rush D is actually worse this year with Simon than before, which confirms general observations, such as the performance of Rudi Johnson of the Bengals.

Colts Pass D 2005: 1.4%
Colts Pass D 2004: -19.9%

Colts Pass D is vastly improved this year, but as you admit, Simon is not being used much on obvious passing downs.

29
by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 11:17pm

tom #25:

I agree with Brian; Simon had 5.5 sacks last year with the eagles, which was 3rd on the team, behind Sam Rayburn (run-stopper, eh?) with 6 and kearse with 7.5,

Eagles Sack totals on the D-Line were a tale of two seasons - before and after the Pittsburgh debacle. Before the debacle, the line was in a steady rotation without thought to skill specialization. Afterwards, Rayburn and Thomas were used on running downs and Walker and Simon were used on passing downs, with Rayburn and Thomas being given more playing time, and Walker and Simon more rest.

Before:

Rayburn - 5.0
Walker - 1.0
Simon - 0.5
Thomas - 0.0
Kearse - 6.0
Douglas - 2.0
Burgess - 3.0
McDougle - 1.0
Green - Did Not Play

The sacks are from the 4 D-ends and Sam Rayburn.

After:

Rayburn - 1.0
Walker - 3.5
Simon - 5.0
Thomas - 0.0
Kearse - 1.5
Douglas - 1.0
Burgess - 0.0
McDougle - 1.0
Green - 1.0

The sacks are from Walker and Simon, with just a smattering from the D-ends.

Playoffs:

Kearse - 2.0
Rayburn - 0.0
Walker - 0.0
Simon - 0.0
Thomas - 1.0
Douglas - 0.0
Burgess - 3.0
McDougle - 0.0
Green - Did Not Play

and Simon’s always had a couple of sacks a season (his average with the Eagles was 6.5 sacks a season), so I think it’s fair to say he’s slowed up in terms of personal results.

Here's Simon's sack totals:

2000 - 9.5, 2001 - 7.5, 2002 - 2.0, 2003 - 7.5, 2004 5.5, 2005 - Perfect Blutarsky

From what I’ve seen of his play with the Colts though, he is drawing a lot of double-teams, just because he is such a bulk at the moment.

Exactly. He's being used as a Nose Tackle. Good Nose Tackles can be had for considerably less than $5 million per year.

30
by doyle (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 12:47am

straying off on the topic of nose tackles
Is the weak display of Pittsburgh's RBs indicative of the collapse of their smashmouth style or kudos to an underrated Colts Run D?
I am also concerned with the impact of Marvel Smith. Is Trai Essex a worthy backup and how serious is Smith's ankle? I saw Faneca babysit Essex a number of times. Hopefully that is just against the spinning Freeney.

31
by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 3:32am

Re: 30

IMODO, I think the problem with the Steelers run O is part personnel, part execution, and part circumstance.

Taking the last two first, watching the game, with my dime-store level of football analysis skill, I was noticing quite a few plays where it looked like the Colts d-line was offsides. Given it was never called, and combined with the numerous false starts, and the radio guys never shutting up about the noise, I'd guess crowd noise played a large factor in the poor run blocking. Specifically, I think the colts d-line were getting a faster jump off the snap than the Steelers o-line. The steelers line may be bigger, but you can't really push the other guy back when you're standing still, and he's already running full speed at you. Also, I don't think the Steelers really got stuffed that much, but more got stopped for no-gain to two yards, often by LBs and DBs. That strikes me as more of lane clogging than line dominating (which goes back to my crowd-noise-means-no-push theory).

As to the first part, look at the Steelers offense at skill positions. If you're going to rank by value vs. replacement/average starter/whatever, I think your first two have to be Ben and Hines. After that, you could make a case for either Heath Miller (especially if you're rating long-term) or Antwaan before any of the RBs. The Steelers personnel, right now, is that of a passing offense with a pretty-good RBBC. They just don't have a back who's capable of taking over the game on a regular basis like you need for a feature-back power-running game (at least, not one who's capable of doing so and staying healthy for 16 games).

32
by William (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 1:45pm

I was watching a segment on ESPN this morning in which Mike Golic and Sean Salisbury were comparing this year's Colts team with great teams of the past, such as the 72 and 84 Dolphins, the 85 Bears, and the 98 Broncos. Now, I know these guys are given to hyperbole, but they were seriously saying that the Colts would beat a few of these teams. I am not old enough to remember the 85 Bears, but I am pretty certain that all 3 Cowboys teams from the early 90's as well as the 96 Packers and the Broncos teams of subsequent years, would pretty much have their way with them. The 98 Broncos, in particular, with TD and that O-line, seems to me the perfect team to defeat these Colts. And lest we forget, this same Colts team was manhandled in the last two years by a (relatively) healthy Patriots team. Also, while I believe the Colts will win the SB this year, they haven't yet, ahve they? I understand this is pure conjecture, but if this ESPN segment is indicative of what we'll have to suffer through for the next 3 months, it will be a long, cold winter.

33
by Darth Goofy (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 5:41pm

RE: #32

Only for non-Colts fans

34
by tom (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 6:26pm

Andrew, that's an interesting breakdown, and I think I find myself swayed by most of your argument. I'd agree Simon's overpaid, too; the Eagles seem to be really good at not paying over the odds for players who are going to decline. What I would say is that I think he's a pretty versatile individual (eagles defensive players have to be), who's maybe found himself having to fit into a new niche in the Colts' defence. All that extra lard is probably just a bonus...