Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Nov 2006

Game Previews: KC-STL, IND-NE

by Aaron Schatz

There are two big non-divisional rivalry games on the NFL slate this Sunday, but the rivalries could not be more different. One is a geographical rivalry which matters more to fans than to players; the teams face each other every preseason but only once every four years in the regular season. The other rivalry is bitter both for the players involved and for two fan bases that despise each other. Two great quarterbacks lead teams with two opposing personalities that have met in both the regular season and the playoffs year after year.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-3) at ST. LOUIS RAMS (4-3)

(Sunday, 1pm)

Both Missouri teams have shared the same persona for years now: high-powered offenses, porous defenses. Both teams changed head coaches in the off-season, but only one changed its personality.

The Rams signed a number of big defensive free agents, and there was excitement after they held Denver to 10 points on opening day. Since then, things have returned to normal in St. Louis. Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average ratings (DVOA) – which break down each play of the season and compare it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent – rank the Rams sixth in offense and 25th in defense.

There have been many articles detailing the transformation of the Rams offense from the high-flying Mike Martz style to the run-oriented style of new head coach Scott Linehan. Yet the numbers show very little difference between the two. If anything, the current offense is less successful running the ball; the Rams were eighth in yards per carry last year, 22nd this year. Quarterback Marc Bulger has the lowest completion percentage of his career, yet has thrown just one interception. Something has to give: eventually, some of those incompletes are bound to find the arms of defenders.

Kansas City's drafts have concentrated on defense in recent years, and that unit took a big step forward this season, ranking 10th in DVOA against the run and 13th against the pass. The passing game is also strong, with backup Damon Huard playing surprisingly well after an opening week concussion knocked out started Trent Green.

Unfortunately, the running game expected to rank among the league's best instead struggled early. Larry Johnson has dropped from 5.2 yards per carry last year to just 3.7 this year, although he seems to be turning things around. The last two weeks he has 287 yards and five touchdowns against San Diego and Seattle, which are not great run defenses but aren't terrible either. St. Louis ranks 26th in run defense, so Johnson's resurgence should continue.

Research has shown that when two teams face each other in both the preseason and the regular season, the first half of the preseason game (when the starters play) is an excellent predictor of the regular-season result. In the first half of this year's preseason meeting, Kansas City shut out St. Louis 16-0.

On the other hand, that game was in Kansas City, this game is in St. Louis, and both of these teams are known for enjoying a home-field advantage greater than the NFL norm.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (7-0) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (6-1)

(Sunday, 8:15pm)

The Patriots had beaten Indianapolis six straight times, but last year the undefeated Colts marched into Foxboro on the first Monday night of November and finally got the Belichick/Brady monkey off their back.

One year later, the undefeated Colts march into Foxboro once again, this time on the first Sunday night of November. Perhaps last year's win gave the Colts renewed confidence, but that monkey is still in Foxboro, waiting to reattach itself.

Football is a game that is decided by the specific matchups of player against player and strategy against strategy. One cannot simply rank the teams 1-32 and say that a higher-ranked team should beat one ranked lower. No matter how strong these two teams are at any given time, the matchups strongly favor the Patriots, because of how each quarterback contends with the opposing defensive scheme.

The Indianapolis offense excels in part because of Peyton Manning's ability to read the defense before the snap and adjust the offense accordingly. But Manning historically has trouble adjusting against 3-4 defensive schemes, where the identity of the pass-rushers is far less clear. The problem goes far beyond the Patriots: San Diego handed Indianapolis its first loss of the 2005 regular season, and Pittsburgh knocked the Colts out of the playoffs. In both games, the linebackers in a 3-4 scheme completely overwhelmed the Indianapolis offensive line. The Colts even have a habit of playing close games against inferior teams which play a 3-4 defense (Cleveland, the Jets).

Tom Brady, meanwhile, has an excellent record against Indianapolis and other teams which play "Tampa-2" zone coverage. On Monday night, he moved the Patriots down the field over and over, consistently finding his receivers in holes between Minnesota defenders. Buffalo now plays this scheme, and Brady has beaten them twice this year. Last year, the Patriots dispatched the team that gave this scheme its name, the Buccaneers, by the score of 28-0. Even last year, the Colts stopped the New England running game but couldn't stop Brady: he was 22-for-33 with 265 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions in the loss.

This year, of course, the Colts won't be stopping the New England running game. The improved defense that helped the Colts finally beat the Patriots last year is a distant memory. In fact, the Indianapolis run defense is not just bad but historically bad. Colts opponents are averaging 5.4 yards per carry this season. In the last 35 years, only one team has allowed more yards per carry on the ground: the 1996 New Orleans Saints (6.1). The 2003 Kansas City Chiefs are the only other team since 1978 to allow even 5.0 yards per carry.

When these teams played last year, Patriots running back Corey Dillon was hampered by nagging injuries. This year, he's fully healthy and part of a potent 1-2 punch with Laurence Maroney, one of the leading candidates for rookie of the year. Also healthier and improved in 2006 are the Patriots' defensive backs, which means the Patriots defense will present Manning with the challenge of years past rather than the picnic of 2005.

On top of all these trends on the field, the Colts will have to deal with the air floating above it. Like most dome teams, the Colts struggle in cold weather, but last year they lucked into a spot of Indian Summer, and the temperature that night was 51 degrees. This year, the weather in New England will be more seasonal, with game-time temperature forecast to be just above freezing.

The idea that the Patriots completely shut down Manning is a myth; in the regular season, his numbers against New England are pretty good. But the Colts don't win with "pretty good" quarterbacking, they win with Hall of Fame-level quarterbacking. Nothing below that will make up for the points that the Colts give away while Manning is on the sidelines.

This article appeared in Friday's edition of the New York Sun.

IMPORTANT NOTE: NO MANNING-BRADY DEBATE ALLOWED. YOU MAY DEBATE MANNING vs. THE PATRIOTS DEFENSE. YOU MAY DEBATE BRADY vs. THE COLTS DEFENSE. YOU MAY DEBATE HUARD vs. BULGER. YOU MAY NOT DEBATE BRADY vs. MANNING IN THIS THREAD. THAT DEBATE HAS ITS OWN THREAD. THANK YOU.

Click here for the Irrational Brady-Manning Thread.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 04 Nov 2006

63 comments, Last at 06 Nov 2006, 9:21pm by Pat

Comments

1
by Paulo Sanchotene, Brazil (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 8:20pm

No Brady-Manning debate allowed, no debate at all... Geez! I just hope this to be a great game. It's already announced to be broadcasted here.

2
by Pippin (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 8:34pm

I like how you diplomatically reverse the order of Brady-Manning in the two instances where you mention them "head to head" in the "no debate" disclaimer.

3
by the K (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 8:34pm

But that other thread is already 500 comments! Don't you guys want to split it up some?

Btw, it's no contest. Bulger is CLEARLY better than Huard. Who's got all the rings? Who chokes in January? Oh, nevermind.

In all seriousness, I'm expecting the Chiefs-Rams game to be closer. I have the unfortunate feeling that the Pats are going to walk (okay, run) all over the Colts.

4
by Tighthead (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 8:39pm

One could argue that Dallas-Washington is a big rivalry as well...

5
by sicksock (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 8:53pm

One thing I find interesting about this game is the polar opposite stratagies. Indy has an outstanding offense and basically has the same game plan throughout the year, namely, outscore the other team. They know this is good enough to get them into the playoffs so there's no pressing need to change it. NE seems to change identities basically every week. It's highly taxing on the players, but extreamly effective if it can be done. Last week they aired the ball out, but this week they'll mostly likely keep it on the ground for as long as possible.

6
by Digit (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 8:53pm

Really, couldn't you at least mention that we don't have to see DUANE FREAKING STARKS playing cornerback -anymore- for the Patriots?

I swear, he was last year's Darrent Williams.

7
by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 8:55pm

Meanwhile, 1st place is on the line in the 2nd toughest division in football. The result of the Ravens/Bengals matchup will have a huge impact on the landscape of the AFC North and the playoff race, as opposed to these 2 games between 2 teams which are assured of winning their division and 2 teams which are assured of mediocrity.

8
by Ben Roethlisberger (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 8:57pm

#5: Outscore the other team?!? What an absolutely ridiculous strategy! That will NEVER get them anywhere!

9
by Count (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 8:59pm

Anyone know the status of Stephen Neal? If he doesn't play it could affect the running game a lot, though hopefully the Colts run defense is actually as bad as its played and it won't matter much.

One nice thing is that the game hasn't been hyped that much. I was expecting much worse.

10
by michael (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 9:31pm

One might point out that contributing factors in LJ's drop in production are:

1) Herm's apparent phobia regarding running anywhere but the guard-center gap. The OC seems to call very few plays designed to get Johnson to the edge or open cutback opportunities, something LJ does very well.

2) Burning clock is one thing, but Edwards' fouth-quarter games plans would turn any back into a 3.1 YPC plugger. It's one thing to know the Chiefs will run. It's something else to ritually destroy the playbook on the sideline. It's not enough to just run Johnson; Herm is apparently afraid that if his RB works up a full head of steam, bad things are just bound to happen.

11
by hwc (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 9:31pm

To me, the real coaching dilemma in this game faces Tony Dungy. To key on the run? Or not?

If he doesn't cheat up to stop the run, the Pats will pound it down Dungy's throat. But, after last week's aerial display against a Tampa-2 outfit in Minnesota, can Dungy afford to play the run?

What makes this matchup interesting (other than the fact that it features two of the best QBs in NFL history) is that the two teams play each other so often. There's not a lot of mystery for either team.

12
by Phokus (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 9:33pm

According to weather.com, it's going to be about 36 degrees Farenheight when the colts/pats play. Manning is going to be in for a long night...

13
by NF (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 10:16pm

Going the opposite way from what everyone has predicted, I predict that Colts-Patriots will be a defensive struggle, with awful passing games giving up all the gains of the running games. The winning margin will be provided by an inteception run back for a TD.

14
by Harris (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 10:26pm

Yeah, well, Johnny U. would beat Tony Eason's ass.

15
by admin :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 11:46pm

Of course, the hook of this for the Sun was NON-division rivalries, which is why I did neither BAL-CIN or DAL-WAS. I guess I just felt like writing about KC-STL. I don't write about those teams much.

16
by Murr (not verified) :: Sat, 11/04/2006 - 11:46pm

Doesn't it seem odd that two non-division rivals would meet in three consecutive years, and *every year* it's in the same stadium? Are the NFL schedulers just trying to give Indy multiple chances to prove they can "get the monkey off their back", in Foxboro (where, I assume, "it actually counts for something")?

17
by Phokus (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 12:19am

#16, if the pats and colts continue to be at the top of their division, the pats will be travelling to indy for the next 3 years, thats how the formula works.

18
by ZS (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 12:46am

Anyone else thinking since it's a pretty-pretty-good offense versus a terrible defense on one side and THE offense versus a pretty-pretty-good defense on the other, we could have the Patriots winning a shootout?

19
by B (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 12:59am

18: I don't think the Patriots defense qualifies as pretty good. Also the Colts offense isn't at the same level it has been the last couple years.

20
by ZS (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 1:09am

It's still #1 in the DVOA, though. I refer to something as "THE" (what it is) if it's #1.

21
by Ben White (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 2:00am

Who do you think is better Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? just kidding

22
by johnt (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 2:17am

I'd like to see the Colts win just because of Bill Simmon's stupid article, but I can't really see the Pats losing. It's going to be a repeat of the last playoff game between them where Manning just sits on the sidelines while the Pats eat away the clock 4 yards at a time. The Pats secondary is vulnerable but when they're only on the field 20 minutes a game they're going to look mighty fine.

23
by MJK (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 2:27am

Indy has an outstanding offense and basically has the same game plan throughout the year, namely, outscore the other team.

Ummmm, isn't that just about EVERY coach's game plan? That's kind of how you win--you outscore the other team.

24
by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 3:06am

Interesting about the Bulger-Hoard debate. I wanted to start this discussion in the FO on Fox thread, but felt it would get more talk here.

Do you think St. Louis would be better off dumping Bulger now or next season and looking for their "QB who can make this team a winner for the next 10 years?".

It's nothing against Bulger, but it seems like teams fall in love with QBs who aren't going to consistently lead their teams into the playoffs/Super Bowls without help from the defense/running game and luck.

It's better to have the next Manning/Brady/McNabb/Favre (10 years ago)/Hasselbeck, then to be stuck with someone like Brunell, Bledsoe, Warner (recent vintage), etc.

I suppose this could be something like the "boom-bust" vs. "level" Salary Cap type of theories, only applied to QB production. Looking at recent Super Bowl QBs, Rich Gannon/Brad Johnson/Trent Dilfer appear to be outliers...

25
by hwc (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 4:14am

The Pats secondary is vulnerable but when they’re only on the field 20 minutes a game they’re going to look mighty fine.

-------

I'm not sure how vulnerable the Pats' secondary is. They haven't given up a passing TD since September 24th.

The Pats defense seldom shines in Aaron's DVOA statistics because they are perfectly content to trade some yardage in order to prevent big play points. But, I think a legitimate case could be made that, at this early stage in the season, this year's Pats defense is further along the development curve than in any other year of the Belichick era.

We usually don't see the kind of shut down defense we've seen over the last few weeks until December rolls around. The Pats have only given up 12.4 points per game. Take away the "pick 6" on the opening play of the season and last weeks kickoff return for TD and the defense has only given up 73 points -- or an average of 10 per game.

DVOA, yards per game, opposing QB rating. All that stuff makes for interesting water cooler talk, but "points allowed" is the only stat that really matters.

26
by johnt (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 4:37am

"DVOA, yards per game, opposing QB rating. All that stuff makes for interesting water cooler talk, but 'points allowed' is the only stat that really matters."

Actually, I think a stat that really matters is 'quality of opponents'. The only decent offense they have played all year is Cincinnati and (maybe) Denver. Cincinnati has been largely neutered since they lost Rich Braham and their offensive line collapsed into dust, so that game was all the front 7 eating Palmer up. They haven't faced any opponents yet who can successfully pass the ball deep, and while the front 7 has looked surprisingly good I don't think their secondary has proven anything that would make me discount DVOA (especially Harrison in deep coverage).

27
by johnt (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 4:45am

Also, the best way I've found for objectively measuring the schedule difficulty a team has faced is thinking about how many playoff quality opponents a team has faced. NE went 1-1 with 2 (CIN, DEN), IND has gone 3-0 with 3 (JAX, NYG, DEN), etc. I still think NE wins, but DVOA has very good reasons for not considering the Pats W/L record so far to be as predictive as 5-1 would suggest.

28
by DavidK44 (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 4:49am

So who will do a better job, Manning v. the Pats defense, or Brady v. the Colts defense? To analyze this question, I think we need to look at each QB.

Manning, on the one hand...[filler]...but Brady...[filler]...but Manning...[fluff]...Brady...[fluff]!

I thought I was being funny.

Dave

29
by hwc (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 5:50am

RE:26

I'm surprised that anyone could be surprised at the play of the Pats' front seven.

They start three 1st round draft picks on their three-man D-line -- all of whom are young veterans just coming into the prime of their careers. The 4th guy rotating into the line (Jarvis Green) would start for most NFL teams.

The "pundits" all talked about declining linebacker play. I'd like some of what they were smoking. Vrabel, Bruschi, Seau, and Colvin? How many NFL teams can line up four linebackers like that? Not a lot of mistakes from those four. The talk in Boston this week has been whether or not this is Belichick's best starting LB group. It may well be.

The Pats are only giving up 78.3 yards per game rushing, an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Basically, opposing teams have been waving the white flag on even trying to run early in the games. When you force your opponents to completely give up the run in the first quarter, you will allow some passing yardage. But, you'll win a heck of a lot of games, especially when the inevitable picks start happening.

As for the secondary, the pundits overlook the injuries last year (6 DBs on injured reserve). But, the silver lining in that nightmare is that the Pats now have a lot of experienced depth in the secondary. Do they have a Champ Bailey? No. But, they are two deep at most positions with experienced guys, most of whom have starting SuperBowl experience. So, the Pats match up well when they start going to nickle and dime packages. Spread the field against them and you don't get those favorable matchups against inexperienced chump DBs. The Pats have seven DBs with starting NFL experience who know the system and, more importantly, know Belichick's #1 rule of defense: keep the play in front of you so that you can live to play another down. He preaches to them that, if they every have ANY doubt about coverage on a play, take the deep guy. He'd rather leave the 10 yard pattern wide open if there's a mistake, because at least that's not 7 points.

Will they stuff Peyton Manning? Heck no. That's impossible. I do think they'll force him to throw the underneath stuff and rely on their linebackers to make the Colts receivers start asking themselves just how badly they want to catch the ball. The Colts receivers don't like to get hit.

30
by hwc (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 6:05am

As far as "quality of opponents", I used to put a lot of stock in that...and still do over the course of an entire season. But, short-term? Not so much.

I mean, what's a "quality opponent"? The pundits all had Miami as a lock for the AFC East title. Is Miami a quality opponent?

When Cincinatti played New England, they were the darlings of the NFL. Unstoppable on offense or so the pundits said. A legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Pats stuffed 'em cold. We won't really know how "quality" the Bengals are until Santa is priming his sleigh.

Is Jacksonville a "quality" opponent? Or a pretender? I dunno. Some weeks they look good. But, the Pats made 'em look like a Pop Warner squad in the playoffs last year. Can you be a "quality" opponent when you don't have a starting QB?

The other flaw with "quality" is that it overlooks the details of divisional matchups. For example, Miami is not a "quality" opponent, but their defense has always given the Patriots fits.

31
by hwc (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 6:15am

BTW: I want to make clear that I am in no way dismissing Aaron's DVOA stats. The work he has put into modeling the NFL is amazing, perhaps the most interesting stuff around.

But, it is ultimately flawed for one reason: The NFL is really all about which team has the poise to make a couple of plays, usually in the fourth quarter, when the pressure is turned up and the game is on the line.

Look at the games each week where a team clearly outplayed an opponent and threw the game away with a stupid pick or a dumb coaching decision. Drew Bledsoe throwing a boneheaded out pattern on goal line. A fumble returned for touchdown trying to run out the clock. A winning drive in the final minute. That's the stuff that separates the winners from the losers in this league and it's really tough to capture statistically.

32
by Purds (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 11:00am

hwc:

I respect most of your points, and as a Colts fan, I am under no illusions that the Colts will win (unless something really wierd happens). However, I think you're wrong on the quality of opponent thing:

1) The Pats have played Buffalo 2x, Miami, and the NY Jets. All three, while division opponents, are weak at best. (DVOA ranks of 23, 25 & 26).
2) The Pats have played Minn and Cinci, two mediocre teams (#18, #13 DVOA).
3) The Pats have played against one "great" team, Denver (DVOA #12).

Now, I don't think the Pats are a bad team feasting on weak opponents. I think they're a very good team feasting on the schedule put forth before them. It's not NE's fault they haven't played the top teams; but at the same time, let's not pretend they're giving up only 78.3 yards rushing per game against a top schedule. (NE opponents ranking as rushing teams: #25, #21, #12, #8, #28, #25, #26 for an average rank of 20.6)

Again, don't blame the Pats for the schedule, but let's also not completely discount the opponents when looking at what the Pats have done so far.

Colts opponents for comparison (DVOA): #3, 28, 7, 25, 32, 20, 12 (average of 18). So, they haven't exactly faced murderer's row either.

33
by Purds (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 11:13am

re #31:

You're right about the crucial plays making the difference late, but I would argue that while all the pundits talk of how the Pats have lost all these stars and just keep winning, well, that's not true. They haven't just keep winning without Branch, without AV, without McGinnest. What have the Pats won in 2005 or 2006? Nothing.

In last year's playoffs, the Pats DIDN'T make the big plays. They threw an interception resulting in a 14-point turnaround (no TD for NE, TD for DEN). This year against the best opponent, NE, they DIDN'T make the plays, and lost.

Now, we all know the Colts have a history of NOT making the play, but 2004 won't matter to this game. What has either team won with the present rosters? (Other than regular season games)

34
by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 11:51am

But, it is ultimately flawed for one reason: The NFL is really all about which team has the poise to make a couple of plays, usually in the fourth quarter, when the pressure is turned up and the game is on the line.

If this were true, then certain teams should consistently outperform their DVOA predictions. Do you have any evidence this is true?

35
by Richie (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 1:23pm

Manning is better than Brady and you know it!

36
by hwc (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 2:13pm

Re: #32

Purds, last year is why the "pundits" had the Pats pegged all wrong in this year's preseason "analysis".

In many ways, I believe last year actually demonstrated just how good the Pats really are. It was, IMO, Belichick's most impressive coaching season, rivaling 2001 when he won the SuperBowl with nothing.

The Pats played last year with one arm tied behind their back. They had six defensive backs on IR, including Rodney Harrison. They played much of the season without Tedy Bruschi and with an injured Richard Seymour. But, the real reason they "only" went two rounds into the playoffs was:

a) three of their five o-linement on injured reserve

b) injuries to all three opening day RBs. Dillon, Faulk, and Pass were injured all year. Heck, there was one week when they signed a running back off the street on Tuesday and started him on Sunday.

The combo of multiple injuries in the secondary, o-line, and RB positions killed them. They were forced to go all-pass, all the time on offense. Brady carried the team on his shoulders all season (Manning style), but I think we all know that this is not a recipe for success in the post-season.

BTW, I'm not predicting a Pats win tonight. These are two potent, potent teams. We all know that either team is capable of winning this game. It's like the Montana 49ers against the Marino Dolphins. You can have a favorite, but to say one team will surely win is pure folly.

37
by Waverly (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 2:14pm

#35:
You're talking about Eli and Quinn, right?

38
by hwc (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 2:25pm

RE: 34

Just look back as recently as VOA ratings from earlier this season. After week three, Total VOA had the Colts and the Patriots listed as #13 and #14 in the NFL respectively. I don't think that was a particularly accurate indication of where those two teams really stacked up.

From following Aaron's stats for a few years, it appear that like any other stat formula (Sagarin ratings, etc.) the stats tend to be lagging indicators, i.e. they catch up to the reality on the ground as we get deeper into the season.

The pundits fall for same early season variances, every year annoiting some September one-hit wonder as having "arrived" only to be "surprised" when they return to form.

39
by B (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 2:37pm

On NFL matchup this week, Jaws pointed out that the Colts didn't play cover-2 against the Patriots last season. It makes me wonder if one of the reasons the Colts defense was playing better last year is because they mixed up coverages and blitzed more often.

40
by hwc (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 2:40pm

Brady said that, after he spent the flight home from Minneapolis studying Colt's game film, he saw that the Colts were doing things differently on defense this year. He didn't specify what!

41
by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 2:46pm

This is a large debate in and of itself, but I don't think the Pats are giving up yards as a deliberate strategy. I figure if Belichick could force 3-and-out every single time, he would. "Bend but don't break" is simply making the best of a bad situation, which I think Belichick does better than any current coach. The truth is that the Pats secondary hasn't really been the same since it peaked in 2003, when the Pats pass D was ranked 2nd in DVOA. They managed to keep it together in 2004 with Harrison, ranking 6th against the pass in DVOA, but Harrison hasn't been at full strength since then and the Pats defensive coaches have been stuck in damage control mode ever since.

As to this particular game, I have more hope, because Harrison at 80% effectiveness is still way better than the revolving doors they had last year. Heck, even Jaws' chosen piece of film from 2005 on NFL Matchup included Manning burning the immortal Michael Stone. Who knows how the game turns out, but at least the Pats won't be playing a desperation zone all game long with guys like Stone and Starks and the Colts will at least have to work a little harder for their points.

42
by hwc (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 3:09pm

The truth is that the Pats secondary hasn’t really been the same since it peaked in 2003, when the Pats pass D was ranked 2nd in DVOA.

--------

Perhaps. But, a defense is not just a secondary. That's the thing about football, it's the sum of 53 parts (or on defense, maybe 22 parts) which can be rearranged in an infinite number of possibilities. The Pats d-line is vastly better in 2006 than it was back in the days of starters like Bobby Hamilton.

To be sure, Belichick would rather shut down all passing yardage. But, he's been coaching defense long enough to know that you can't stop everything against good NFL opponents. It's all about tilting the odds just a fraction of a point in your favor -- like a good Vegas gambler. If a defense can stop the run and prevent long-play scores, the defense puts enormous pressure on the offense to execute long mistake-free drives.

43
by hwc (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 3:31pm

BTW, the vaunted 2003 Pats secondary did not look so vaunted early in the season. Thru 7 games, the Pats D had given up 31, 10, 16, 20, 30, 6, 13 points for an average of 18 points per game. This year, they are giving up 12.6 points per game thru the first seven.

44
by Rick (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 4:04pm

To pile on with 43, the Pats in recent years have built their season with an aim to having a finished product when the playoffs start. The Colts put out their product in September and then don't change it very much. In recent years, that has left the Colts watching the Super Bowl from home.

As for the whole Addai vs. Maroney debate, I think it's been beaten to death. :)

45
by Roy (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 4:50pm

It’s nothing against Bulger, but it seems like teams fall in love with QBs who aren’t going to consistently lead their teams into the playoffs/Super Bowls without help from the defense/running game and luck.

Yeah exactly. Bulger has had zero help from his defense the last few years. And I imagine I could briefly glance at past Super Bowl winners and find a few QBs matched up with pretty good defenses and running games. The Pats come to mind.

46
by Jake (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 6:07pm

#43 and 44

Thanks for the reminder on those myths. I hadn't read much from irrational fans in a while.

47
by Purds (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 6:49pm

Come-on, Rick. That's just silly talk.

Everyone aims to have a finished product ready for the playoffs. It just LOOKS like on the team that wins did that -- PIT in 2005, NE in 2004 & 2003.

What, NE forgot that magic formula last year?

48
by PatsFan (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 6:54pm

The IND/NE officiating crew has been announced. From Reiss:
The referee for tonight's game is Ron Winter. A few nuggets to keep in mind regarding Winter's crew: Five of the crew's calls have been challenged in the replay process, and none of those challenges have been successful. Winter's crew has called an average of 12.6 assessed penalties per game. The league average is 12.2 assessed penalties per game.

49
by Purds (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 6:57pm

And, to back up my point in #47, I'll go so far as to suggest that one reason the Colts played early games against Houston, the Jets and the Titans with such close finishes is that the Colts appeared to be working on the run game until crunch time, when they threw:
vs Houston: 35 rushes (won by 21)
vs. Jets: 36 rushes (won by 3)
vs. Titans: 34 rushes (won by 1)

In games they knew would be very close:
vs Giants, 23 rushes (won by 5)
vs. Jacksonville, 20 rushes (won by 7)
vs. Washington, 25 rushes (won by 14)
vs. Denver, 21 rushes (won by 3)

Sure looks like the Colts are trying to perfect an end product, working the rush in games they THINK they can win, even if those are close.

50
by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 7:04pm

As a little aside, I just finished watching the Dolphins not only dismantle da Bears, but do it while they continued to play the careless football that has buried their season...Saban's Penalties 'R Us schematic. All week we're going to get treated to this inane chatter about how the Dolphins ended Chicago's perfect season just as they did the '85 Bears and how it's all like in the spirit of the '72 Dolphins. Children's stories to carry the week. And the real adult story will be overlooked: I've only seen the Bears twice this season...Cardinals and Dolphins, and if Urlacher is really the second most overrated player in the NFL, he's got 52 guys on that team to keep him company. What a sham.

51
by Rev (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 8:43pm

As for the strength of schedule arguments, those are generally endogenous variables early on in the season--that is to say, some of the teams that look weak only look weak because they've played strong opponents. Every year, some team that starts 3-3 "surprises" everyone by having a great record, when they were really undervalued because they got beat up early by some other really good teams.

As for bend but don't break defenses, I've never seen much talked about the fact that the field is basically a different shape close to the end zone on account of it being shorter. This changes the angles. Obviously, you want players who excel all over the field, but if you have to choose, you get players who don't let the other guys get into the end zone--if the endzone were, say, 50 yards long, this wouldn't be the case, but it is. Moreover, line backers have much more over-lapping responsibility witht he secondary close to the goal line. I think the key to understanding the Pats' D that doesn't show up in DVOA (which I love, by the way) is 1) Belicheck looking to stop scoring as the first priority (Always a good decision!) and thinking about personnel in that way, and 2) the strength of the line backers that may become more important in coverage down the field. If this is the case, then it makes sense to stymie the big play, even if it means the other teams get more yardage, because you can trust the defense to prevent TDs.

I don't really know how to test that, though.

52
by Sid (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 10:36pm

The Indianapolis offense excels in part because of Peyton Manning’s ability to read the defense before the snap and adjust the offense accordingly. But Manning historically has trouble adjusting against 3-4 defensive schemes, where the identity of the pass-rushers is far less clear. The problem goes far beyond the Patriots: San Diego handed Indianapolis its first loss of the 2005 regular season, and Pittsburgh knocked the Colts out of the playoffs. In both games, the linebackers in a 3-4 scheme completely overwhelmed the Indianapolis offensive line. The Colts even have a habit of playing close games against inferior teams which play a 3-4 defense (Cleveland, the Jets).

Thank you. I said that last season several times but was shouted down on the open threads.

Peyton has shown a history of this. 3-4 teams fare better. Both he and the O-line can't do quite as good a job of recognizing where the pressure is coming from.

53
by Jake (not verified) :: Sun, 11/05/2006 - 11:54pm

2 Ints for Brady against the vulnerable Tampa 2, although the 2nd was not that costly.

54
by Matt (not verified) :: Mon, 11/06/2006 - 12:15am

the second was totally costly....an incompletion and the pats would have had a shot at a game-tying field goal.

55
by Brian (not verified) :: Mon, 11/06/2006 - 12:36am

Wow... screw Brady and Manning. Anyone want to argue against me when I say Harrison is the best WR in the league? That 2nd TD was absolutely amazing.

56
by Jake (not verified) :: Mon, 11/06/2006 - 12:40am

#54

By 'that costly,' I meant compared to an INT if the Colts had time to drive.

57
by Jake (not verified) :: Mon, 11/06/2006 - 1:00am

#55: Steve Smith?

58
by stan (not verified) :: Mon, 11/06/2006 - 3:26am

52,Sid,

I'll defer to Aaron on stats and his system. But not on analysis of play on the field. The 3-4 success (see Pitt, SD, et al) against the Colts is due entirely to the defensive fronts overpowering the Colt O-line. There is nothing confusing about having your offensive linemen picked up and thrown on top of you. When your guard gets driven straight back more than 10 yards by a LB's bull rush, he's not confused -- he's getting his ass kicked.

59
by Michael Zannettis (not verified) :: Mon, 11/06/2006 - 4:17am

A proven "clutch" performer doesn't have it when it counts?!

No, I'm not talking about Tom Brady.

What the frack is up with Adam Vinatieri?

60
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 11/06/2006 - 11:17am

59.

Nothing.

Hes been bad for 2 years now. The media just thinks he's clutch.

Go back and look at all those "clutch kicks," most of them were clutch because he missed a kick earlier in the game.

61
by Craigers (not verified) :: Mon, 11/06/2006 - 11:45am

So I guess Kevin Faulk wins the Keep Choppin' Wood award hand down this week, eh? Two bad drops and stuffed on a first-down run at the 10 yard line? Plus he came up short twice on third down (although the Pats pulled out the conversion on fourth down both times... well, the Pats once and the officials once).

If I'm the Colts, I have to try to forget about Vinatieri's misses and just move on to next week, but it sure doesn't bode well for the coming playoffs.

62
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Mon, 11/06/2006 - 5:47pm

Re 24: with whom would St. Louis replace Bulger? An unnamed draft pick? Finding a top QB is certainly on every team's list, but as you can tell by scanning the depth charts, there aren't a lot of top QBs available, and drafting a QB, well, they probably figured Bulger would be their man.

And I'm not so sure they're wrong. The St. Louis passing game with Bulger at the controls has been pretty darn good this year, and it's been at least respectable in years past.

Besides, as others in this thread were probably jumping to point out, Manning's never made it to a Super Bowl, in part because of lack of help from the defense and/or the running game. You could argue that Hasselbeck made it there for the opposite reason.

I think the Rams would be better off trying to find DL who can stop the run. The Colts' run defense may be abysmal, but the Rams' run defense is on the edge of the abyss. They're bad against power runs, bad at stuffing RBs, and bad at preventing long gains. With a line like that, they can't afford to fall behind by much, because they won't be able to stop the opponent and get the ball back, and from the looks of things yesterday, their DVOA won't be any better this week.

63
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 11/06/2006 - 9:21pm

Research has shown that when two teams face each other in both the preseason and the regular season, the first half of the preseason game (when the starters play) is an excellent predictor of the regular-season result. In the first half of this year’s preseason meeting, Kansas City shut out St. Louis 16-0.

It was actually 16-3 at the half. But what's a field goal between friends? But a 13-point lead is actually pretty statistically huge, and it repeated itself almost exactly.

Does that make up for the Chicago/San Francisco total screw up? That game ended up being the largest point difference between preseason half victory and regular season victory in 5 years (still nowhere near as bad as the 31-0 to 0-31 Buffalo/New England regular season split, though). At least Arizona/Chicago turned out right.