Any Given Sunday
The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Ridley

So much for a sweet homecoming.

On the night Peyton Manning made his triumphant return to Indianapolis, his Denver teammates let him down. Manning was anything but his best Sunday night, but the Broncos lost for the first time in the last 18 regular-season games thanks to poor play at key positions, substantial penalties, and untimely turnovers.

The Denver offensive line was bullied all night, giving up four sacks and 10 quarterback hits after allowing just five sacks and 13 hits over their first six games. Manning was constantly under attack, especially by former teammate Robert Mathis, who notched two sacks, including his NFL record-tying 39th career strip-sack, which resulted in a safety. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Manning was sacked or under pressure on 17 of his 53 dropbacks, the most pressure he has seen since 2009.

A contributing factor to the pressure was Manning's lack of open receivers. The aggressive Colts secondary did a commendable job in forcing Manning to hold the ball and make difficult throws. Vontae Davis silenced Demaryius Thomas, holding the Pro Bowler to just four yards on two catches when Thomas aligned on the left side. Darius Butler, who excelled in Week 5 against Seattle, also played a pivotal role, limiting Wes Welker early in the game. (Welker got going after Butler got shaken up late in the game.)

Unusual sloppiness in all three phases was another key contributor to the Broncos' loss. Fumbles on offense and special teams led to nine Indy points and eliminated a late chance for the Broncos to close the gap. On defense, the Broncos committed six of their league-high 12 penalties, each one seemingly more costly than the last. Kevin Vickerson was the worst offender, committing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for removing his helmet (one was declined) and having a ticky-tack roughing the passer penalty for 15 yards. His unsportsmanlike conduct moved the Colts into the red zone, where they scored two plays later to take a 33-14 lead.

By the VOA

Like Indy's first appearance in this column, special teams was the main differentiator on Sunday.

VOA Reigns Supreme
Team Off. VOA Def. VOA Special Teams VOA Total VOA
IND 9.7% -0.6% 22.9% 33.2%
DEN 2.0% 1.8% -3.3% -3.1%

Pat McAfee wasn't able to recreate his heroics against 49ers, but he was able to pin the Broncos inside their own 20 six times while effectively eliminating Trindon Holliday, who had just 16 yards on four returns and a crucial fumble. McAfee also used his 63-pound advantage to deliver a "world of pain" to the diminutive return man.

Grounded Game

The story throughout this season has rightfully been Peyton Manning's dominance as he led Denver to one of the best starts in DVOA history. What has been mentioned less frequently is how effective the Broncos running game has been. Through Week 6, the Broncos boasted DVOA's fifth-ranked rushing attack behind a reborn Knowshon Moreno. The five-year veteran led all running backs with a DVOA of 31.8% and his DYAR of 143 trailed only LeSean McCoy, thanks to a robust 4.7 yards per carry and seven touchdowns.

Denver and Moreno have had success this year because their offense necessitates that the defense have only two linebackers focus on stopping the run. This creates mismatches and allows Moreno to utilize his agility in the second level. On Sunday, the Colts limited Moreno and Ronnie Hillman to 65 yards on 20 carries behind the strong play of their linebackers and safety LaRon Landry. Jerrell Freeman and Pat Angerer both sufficiently contained Moreno. When Moreno did see daylight, Landry was able to use his speed to aggressively attack the box, keeping Moreno out of the secondary. Denver ended up with their worst rushing performance this year, accumulating -24 DYAR and a DVOA of -35.2%, both league lows for Week 7.

Lucky Feet

It’s not breaking news that Andrew Luck is a good quarterback. In fact, some much smarter than me even claim he may be the second-best quarterback in the league, behind only Manning. This caught some skepticism because Luck doesn’t have the gaudy stats that his peers, such as Manning, Rodgers and Rivers have. But Luck’s talent and play fail to show up in spreadsheets. As Andy Benoit noted in the previous link, Luck has become phenomenal at extending plays with his feet. He doesn’t always do flashy, "Russell Wilson things," but he has the ability to subtly avoid pressure and make plays downfield.

A prime example came with just over a minute left in the second quarter. Von Miller and Shaun Phillips collapsed the pocket, forcing Luck to move up. Despite having real estate in front of him, Luck took only the necessary steps to elude pressure (drawing Danny Trevathan up in the process) and fired a bullet to Coby Fleener. This play proved to be pivotal as Indy was able to score a touchdown right before the half expired. On the stat sheet, it merely goes down as one completion, but when the film is analyzed that Luck’s hidden value is revealed.

Other Thoughts

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the season-ending injury to Reggie Wayne. Wayne is an emotional leader on the Colts and his absence cannot be overstated. The Colts will move forward with a wide receiver committee to fill his absence. As Tom Gower noted in Audibles, the NFL is not the same without him.

In other bad Indy news, Trent Richardson continues to look like a bust. He ran 14 times for just 37 yards and added a fumble that gave the ball to Denver on the Colts’ 23. In five games with the Colts, he’s failed to have a positive DYAR in three of them and now has a season total of -14 DYAR. For once, it appears Cleveland was right.

Back in Denver, the Broncos need to become more adept at defending the flat, especially in the red zone. The Colts were able to exploit the hole in the defense repeatedly, including on touchdowns to Stanley Havili and Fleener. Both were wide open and able to immediately turn up field for big gains. With the Chiefs and Jamaal Charles still due up twice on the schedule, it's a problem Denver needs to address quickly.


40 comments, Last at 25 Oct 2013, 6:14am

4 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

The TD pass to DHB could be considered a flat pass as well, though it was an outstanding play by design--line up wide left, motion inside and deep to fake the reverse (drawing a Del Rio-chewed-out Champ Baily to the center), stop, pause, and trot back left, not quite tot he LOS. Receive pass, run ten yards untouched to the EZ. Wow.

The Colts really did fine the holes in the Denver D--even the "Reggie Wayne ends his season" play, had his knee held up and the pass been a foot higher (the pressure was on Luck), that was a long catch and run TD as he was wiiiiiiide open.

6 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

I'd like to know when HC John Fox will put HB Montee Ball in the lineup, instead of Moreno and Hillman. Oh yeah, Fox doesn't like rookies, so better talent will be on the bench for this year. Great.

The other question is when does Indy move Trent Richardson to FB instead of HB? He had the potential talent to be a "foundation back", but it looks like his actual talent is "foundation FULLback".

9 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

Is Montee Ball really better than either Moreno or Hillman?

Comparatively, in 2.2 times the carries of Moreno vs. Ball, Moreno has 2.95 times the yards (which is obvious in the yards/attempt stat); additionally, Moreno's long run is 10 yards longer. The only game Ball has been better was against Oakland.

Hillman has fewer total carries but more yards, and in the only game Ball did respectably, Hillman did better.

I really do not see Ball being better than either, and their current RBBC rotation has been at worst effective.

11 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

Ball is the worst of the three running backs.

Montee Ball has ordinary speed and quickness for an NFL RB, decent strength, and can't pass protect. He isn't anything special as a receiver.

Knowshon Moreno has become a very good pass protector and better than average receiver for a running back (although he is not the kind of receiver to split wide often; his few snaps out there against the Colts were for no-huddle purposes). He has decent strength, ordinary speed and somewhat better than ordinary quickness.

Hillman has very good speed and quickness, but falls down if gestured at authoritatively and fumbles in the face of a mean-looking glance. he is a good receiver but poor in pass protection.

14 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

SO far , Richardson hasn't impressed me at all, but the only reason I feel the slightest bit inclined to try to give him a bit if a break, is the fact that it seems most of the time, the Colts telegraph his upcoming running play by putting in 6 lineman, and bringing in the tight end tight to the line on the play side, with no attempts at misdirection whatsoever. Everyone in the stadium knows where the play is going, and our lineman aren't talented enought to just straight up win those battles. It seems like 9 times out of 10, Richardson is met in the backfield as he's taking the hand off. I'd like to see what he could do if he had a little space to run in. Maybe a few pitches instead of hand offs to get him to the edge quicker, or some spread formations so the defense isn't all jammed in the box. A little trickery here and there to give the defense pause.
One thing that no amount of trickery can fix though, is his speed. He looks slow....or rather, his quickness is poor. He sometimes makes some nice moves, but getting back to speed after them is like watching a Mack Truck take off...he takes forever to accelerate out of cuts.

23 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

I can't agree more. I haven't seen anything special from TR (maybe 3-4 runs all season), but he seems to always run out of the 3 TE + FB formations. The plays where Luck turns on the scrolling text on front of helmet that reads, "Hey, fellas, it might be a run. Why don't you come into the backfield here and meet my new friend Trent." (facepalm) ON the few occasions where he's had a hole, it seems to have been out of 3 WR one-RB formations. He seems to run with a mean streak, but when you get hit at the LOS or before, it's hard to impress people.

He may be good, he may be ordinary. I don't THINK he sucks. But I don't think we've had a chance to see him used well. Even in a good game (Denver) Pep Hamilton's play-calling, especially near the end, was suspect. "Okay, Drew, we're killing clock here, so we're gonna run three times and punt. Send Trent up the gut." "But Coach Pep, sir, if we maybe pass once and convert a single first down, that gives us three more plays to burn clock with, right?" "Shut up, you ball-hogging grandstander and hand the damn ball off, before I call three consecutive QB sneaks. You'll be picking your neckbeard out of your facemask after that's done."

10 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Manning was sacked or under pressure on 17 of his 53 dropbacks.

"Pressure on 30% of your dropbacks? Luxury!!" - Tony Romo & Jay Cutler

13 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

I'm as big a Manning supporter as they come but I wouldn't lead with "his teammates let him down" in this case. That has certainly been the case in other games where idiots labeled him a choker, but he was as imperfect as any other Bronco in this game.

Even when he wasn't under pressure - and no question, he faced as much of it as I can remember him seeing in any game in recent years (which surprised the hell out of me) - Manning was off. He missed spots on a lot of throws to the sidelines. The kind of throws where he normally makes guys be open because he puts it where only a receiver can catch it, even when covered. Those were falling inside and low rather than landing out of bounds if not caught. It was, even independent of the excellent pressure and coverage, probably the worst I've seen Manning look in years.

Which is funny. We expect so much of him that even when the Colts play a defensive game as strong as I can remember, with the best DB play I can remember, and he faces extreme pressure AND has a bad game AND there are drops and fumbles... he still puts up 33 points, 380 yards, and had a chance to win. On an off day.

18 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

Well, but that's why "his teammates let him down" is appropriate. Manning's bad game should've been enough to win. Was Manning off? Sure, absolutely. But you can't place blame for the loss on a guy who looks "only" like a top-10 QB instead of the best QB in the league. That's crazy.

I mean, just looking at the special teams plays is enough for the difference between the two. That has nothing to do with Manning, and the special teams screwups are bad enough that even average special team play would've probably been enough to tilt the game in Denver's favor.

20 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

Any one singular player can have a bad game and still be enough to win because it's a team sport.

I guess I don't like the phrasing, but mostly I don't like the history. It makes it sound like it's making excuses for Manning on a less than great day. Which is fine, I guess, but years and years of irrational Manning defense makes me feel like I'd rather pick my battles, with this not being one of them. Manning's the best player on every field he steps on to, so in that regard I guess you could always blame someone else. For this game I'd rather say it's shared and focus my defensive efforts elsewhere. (Because god forbid I have the discipline to just ignore people that know nothing...)

I would have really, really liked to be able to watch the endgame if Hillman had scored instead of fumbling.

(Also, I really, really wish Reggie Wayne hadn't gotten hurt... and for X-ray vision.)

22 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

Any one singular player can have a bad game and still be enough to win because it's a team sport.

Manning did not have a bad game. He had 103 DYAR, for instance. He was still top-10 in Quick Reads. Manning had a bad Manning game. These are totally different things.

It makes it sound like it's making excuses for Manning on a less than great day

I don't think it's that at all. Everywhere people are saying "what's wrong with Manning?! He didn't look like himself!" And honestly, that's just nuts. Was it a bad day for Manning? Sure. Was it an "oh my God, he looks totally different, his arm strength is gone, he'll never be great again" day? Hell no.

Do you think people would be saying the same things if Denver had won? I don't. Not nearly as loudly.

24 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

Yeah, it's crazy. I thought he was sharp on his two early TD drives, but his throws looked like those of a merely above average QB most of Sunday night. (His pocket footwork was still stellar.) Yeah, so even in his worst game of the year, he still puts up 3 TDs and 300+ yards, and his INT was tipped at the LOS. His team fumbled it away twice, and still they were close to winning.

Just a little reminiscent of his six-pick game versus SD back in 2007 or so. He threw six picks, the Colts ST allowed Sproles to return TWO punts for TDs, the Colts lost Harrison, Clark, and Freeney as well as two OL mid-game, and Manning was throwing to guys he'd never met before (Craphono Thorpe, Emery Moorehead, Devin Aromashodu--I forget which ones), and they were a missed 28 yard FG away from winning at the buzzer. How the hell does that happen? Evenwhen he contributes MIGHTILY to the loss, he's hardly the only cause.

29 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

When QBs are under pressure a lot, it changes their approach to future snaps, almost always resulting in less efficient play. Just because it's difficult to measure by exactly how much doesn't make it go away. His teammates are responsible for that reduction in efficiency. Or the opposing defense is, also another hard thing to rate.

32 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

Manning definitely didn't have his best game but it should have been enough to win on most Sunday's. Consider that the Colts longest drive all night was only 66 yards. Their average TD drive they only needed 42 yards. That means that on average when they scored a TD they started on the Denver side of the field. That's unacceptable. This happened largely because of turnovers and poor special teams play (Manning was involved in a couple of those situations - although not solely responsible). And Indy's average scoring drive (both TD's & FG's) they only had to go 38 yards. That's a very short distance.

This was a team loss due to poor play and some unlucky situations. Example: If the safety had been ruled a TD it would have taken 2 points off the scoreboard and given Denver an extra possession.

40 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

Come on guy.... anyone would take a TD over a Safety.... there was no guarantee that the TD would be scored. You can't blame that on bad luck or timing. The Colts drove down and scored and Denver had every chance to stop them. The Colts gave up a Safety against Seattle too... Denver lost the game and the Colts won. Please stop playing the 'what if'' game. It's BS...

16 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

The Colts have Richardson for a total of 46 games plus playoffs for less than 7 million. He's played less than 1/10th of his potential games from this trade. It may be early to bury him.

21 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

I'm not quite ready to bury him. He may respond to coaching, and the play calling may be off. Plus pro-football-focus claims he is being hit in the backfield an inordinate number of times and actually gaining yards after contact at a good clip.

However, given the sum total of his production to this point, he doesn't even belong on the roster much less the field. Not only is the $7 million too much, but he is actively hurting the team. That's what negative DYAR means. Below replacement.

Given that he was literally replaced by an off the street, not even in training camp, multiple knee surgery 32 year old, who has put up nearly identical season numbers, whereas he cost a first rounder and $7 mil, he is a bust so far. A major one. One that costs the Colts a chance to get a high end offensive lineman or a replacement for Reggie Wayne next year.

26 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

If you are not ready to bury him, you certainly sound like you have a shovel in your hands. (a Holy Grail scene comes to mind: "I'm not dead yet." "Shut up. You will be soon enough.") My eyes tell me that PFF is right about him being hit in the backfield. Addai had that problem a bunch in his later years. TR's no Addai, but I think a change in play-calling will help considerably.

The cost of a 1st round player next year (think Jerry Hughes! Think Trev Alberts!) can't be judged yet--will there be a replacement for Wayne at what will be a 25+ pick? Maybe. Reggie was there after all. But maybe not. The TOP OL guys tend to go in the top 20 and there are typically 2-5 of them, with a drop-off to the next tier, who may be around in round 2.

Assume that the coaches had three choices, (1) Do nothing, (2) trade a future 1st rounder for TR and pay $7M over three years, or (3) Sign McGahee for $2M for one year. Clearly, they saw their backfield situation (BRadshaw was not yet IRed but was sitting out) and knew they could not do #1. They probably looked at the "broken down" older backs and said they're nothing more than a band aid, of questionable benefit, very short term, cheap. It looks to me like that thought TR was a superior RB (okay, maybe a mistake) who was as young as any draft pick next year might be (okay) and a potential longer-term solution (if good enough). Not quite as cheap, but still a decent price for a starting RB. Maybe they even knew he was the functional equivalent of McGahee, but decided that the stability of him being there for three more years was worth it. I don't know.

I sure wish he was doing better, but don't think it's quite his fault yet. More passes out of a run formation on 1st and ten, and more runs out of a pass formation on 2nd and 8 I think will bump his YPC to 4.0 or more, with a handful of those important clock killer runs and surprise first downs mixed in.

28 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

Quote: "pro-football-focus claims he is being hit in the backfield an inordinate number of times and actually gaining yards after contact at a good clip". So how exactly is this Richardson's fault? How is HE hurting the team if he is getting hit in the backfield and yet somehow still gaining yards?

30 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

BTW, my comments above are not meant to be argumentative. I too have been disappointed with T.Rich's production so far (who wouldn't be). But my eyes see a wall of bodies at the LOS every time he takes a handoff. There just aren't any holes that I can see. Maybe a truly great RB would make a cut and create something out of nothing, I don't know.

31 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

I agree with you, but I also did see 4 or 5 occasions in the Denver game, where it looked like Richardson bailed on the play early and didn't follow it where it was desgined to go. Whether that was the result of seeing it as a complete loss early, or him lacking patience to let his blocks develop, I don't know, but he lacks a certian something.

27 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

"The Colts have Richardson for a total of 46 games plus playoffs for less than 7 million" ... and a first-round pick in the next draft. If he's not going to help them significantly in this year's playoffs, it will be really hard for that trade to work out to be a good decision.

33 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

I find it interesting that the Colts' victory is viewed as a major upset and that Broncos played so poorly giving the Colts very little credit for being the better team that night. The score is actually a lot closer then it should have been, and it's not like they had a clear advantage in good fortune, the Broncos had a some breaks too. Yes the gambling lines and conventional wisdom say it was an upset, the numbers say it was toss up going in ...

Is it surprising that Colts can beat a quality team? See SF and SEA. Is it possible that people are little too high on the Bronco? See DAL or even JAC.

I think a winless team beating a first place team, WAS vs CHI, would have been a better option for the AGS analysis, just my 2 cents.

39 Re: Any Given Sunday: Colts Over Broncos

I'm surprised that when having all of this discussion about how much Peyton Manning was pressured, you didn't mention that Denver's starting right tackle was out and that they had a guard playing right tackle while the backup guard took over the right guard spot.

Manny Ramirez has played well enough most of the year that people didn't notice that he's a backup and the same is true of Chris Clark who is starting for Ryan Clady who is out for the year. For the first time this year, Chris Clark played like a backup against a very good pass rusher.

I feel that much of Denver's success running the ball this year has had to do with the strong run blocking of the right side of the line with Vasquez and Franklin.

What also surprised me was that Denver didn't employ the blocking tight ends more to compensate for the weakness of the offensive line.

The bright point for Denver fans is that this is actually an improvement for the defense's play considering the quality of Indy's offense, but also how atrociously they've played at times this year.