Football Outsiders
Innovative Statistics, Intelligent Analysis

Game Preview: IND-DEN

by Aaron Schatz


(Sunday, 4:15pm)

The Indianapolis Colts offense is as potent as always. The Denver Broncos have allowed just 7.3 points per game, the lowest in the league. The winner of this battle of strengths will move into the driver's seat in the AFC playoff race.

The Broncos are 1-4 against Indianapolis since 2001; watch this game, and you'll hear a lot about the Colts knocking the Broncos out of the playoffs in both 2003 and 2004. When the Colts exposed the Denver secondary by knocking them out of the 2003 playoffs with a 41-10 victory, the Broncos traded star running back Clinton Portis for Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey. The next year, the Colts knocked Denver out of the playoffs again, 49-24, simply passing to whichever receivers were not covered by Bailey. Again, Denver tried to fill holes exposed by the Colts, drafting three cornerbacks in the second and third rounds of the 2005 draft.

As a result, the Broncos may now have the deepest secondary in the league. Combine that with a strong set of linebackers, and you have one of the best defenses in the league. Denver has only allowed two offensive touchdowns in six games, both late in games where the Broncos had a comfortable lead.

But there are reasons to believe that Denver's defense is not quite juggernaut it seems to be. The Broncos have been stingy with points, but not necessarily with yardage. Opponents average 23.7 yards per drive, which ranks the Broncos sixth in the league. The defense has enjoyed an easy schedule; the last three opponents were Baltimore, Oakland, and Cleveland, three of the five worst offenses in the league in yards per play. It's also harder to score when you don't get the ball very often, and Denver has faced just 65 offensive drives this year, the third fewest in the league.

Top Red Zone Defense DVOA, 1997-2006
Team W-L Red Zone
DEN 2006 5-1  -84.6% -15.3%
BAL 2000 12-4  -83.1% -30.0%
DAL 1999 8-8  -81.8% -15.5%
BAL 2006 4-2  -77.4% -32.0%
CAR 2000 7-9  -67.1% +1.8%
MIA 2003 10-6  -65.6% -18.1%
PHI 2001 11-5  -59.1% -21.5%
TB 2002 12-4  -57.4% -33.6%
CLE 2002 9-7  -57.4% -4.4%
KC 1997 13-3  -54.8% -13.3%

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 Denver as the top red-zone defense in the league. In fact, DVOA ranks Denver as the top red-zone defense since 1997, the first year for which we have play-by-play breakdowns. Never in that time has there been a team with a larger gap between overall defense and red-zone defense. Denver's red-zone defense is certainly going to be strong all year, but this current level of play is simply unsustainable.

Ironically, the Colts may not present the best test of Denver's historic red zone supremacy. On the other 80 yards of the field, the Colts have a DVOA twice as high as any other offense in the league. But this year, they have been just an average offense once they pass the 20-yard line. Peyton Manning's play-fakes become much less dangerous without the threat of the deep pass, and the Colts' running game tends to stall out as it gets closer to the goal line. Part of the problem is too many carries for veteran Dominic Rhodes (3.3 yards per carry) and not enough for rookie Joseph Addai (5.1 yards per carry).

The Colts may not be able to match Denver's strength in the red zone, but they will match Denver's other strength: third downs. The Broncos are the best defense in the league on third downs, but the Colts are the best offense in the league on third downs, and by a huge margin. The Colts have converted 57 percent of third-down opportunities, with no other offense higher than 47 percent. Denver, meanwhile, has allowed conversions on just 28 percent of third downs. (Chicago is the top third-down defense by NFL stats, but Denver is higher in DVOA because Chicago often gives up significant field position on third-and-long without allowing a first down.)

The problem for Denver is less the Colts offense, and more their own. The Broncos have yet to win a game by more than 10 points because their offense has been nearly as anemic as their defense has been powerful. The running game is fine, with Tatum Bell averaging 4.7 yards per carry and finally establishing himself as the starter after sharing time for two seasons. Quarterback Jake Plummer, on the other hand, has been awful.

When Plummer started the season slowly, it seemed like a normal slump, the kind every athlete endures. But six weeks into the season, nothing has turned around. Plummer has a completion percentage of just 52 percent, far below his 61 percent from last season. In fact, it is the lowest completion percentage of his career, lower than even 1999 when he had one of the ten worst quarterback seasons of all time. His average of 5.8 yards per attempt is more than a yard below any season since he came to Denver in 2003, and he's already thrown as many interceptions as he did last year (seven).

Plummer's problems are exacerbated by a struggling group of receivers. The only one having a good season is Javon Walker, acquired in the off-season from Green Bay. In particular, veteran Rod Smith seems to finally be slowing down at the age of 36. Walker has been thrown just five more passes than Smith, but he has seven more catches and 290 more yards. Denver has never relied on more than two wide receivers, and this year is no different; David Kircus is third on the team with just 62 yards. Tight ends, usually a big weapon in Denver, are also a problem. Veteran Stephen Alexander hasn't been good for years, and rookie Tony Scheffler has caught just two of the 13 passes thrown to him.

The Colts defense could be just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Denver offense. Last year's defensive improvement in Indianapolis has disappeared, as the Colts rank 22nd in pass defense and 29th in run defense according to DVOA. The center of that run defense got a lot stronger last week when the Colts dealt a second-round pick to Tampa Bay for nose tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland, but he was forced into the starting lineup immediately when a car accident knocked out tackle Montae Reagor. The Colts are also banged up in the secondary, where safety Bob Sanders has missed four games after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and his backup, Mike Doss, was just placed on injured reserve.

The Broncos don't have as many injuries as the Colts, but they have one very big injury that stands out. Left tackle Matt Lepsis is the heart of the Denver offensive line, starting every game but one since 1999. Last week, a torn ACL ended his season, and the possible replacements are not promising. Lining up against Colts' right end Dwight Freeney, one of the top pass-rushers in the game, will be rookie Erik Pears, current right guard Cooper Carlisle, or veteran Adam Meadows, who hasn't played a game since 2003.

All these storylines add up to two evenly matched teams and the best game of the NFL season so far. The Broncos will probably set season highs for points scored and points allowed on Sunday, but it's impossible to guess which of those numbers will end up higher.

Eagles Will Regret Mental Blunders If They Miss Playoffs

by Michael David Smith

With eight seconds remaining in the first half of Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Philadelphia Eagles had the ball at the six-yard line. Coach Andy Reid could have opted for an easy field goal, but he decided to try one more play, even though his team was out of timeouts.

Big mistake. Tight end L.J. Smith caught quarterback Donovan McNabb's pass, but he was tackled before he could score or get out of bounds, and as the last seconds of the first half ticked off the clock, the Eagles missed out on three points. They lost 23–21. One play never defines a season, especially if that play is a four-yard gain in the second quarter of the seventh game of the year. But for the Eagles, that play was the latest in a string of errors that have contributed to their 4–3 record -- even though they're good enough to be 7–0.

The Eagles' failure to conserve timeouts also stung them in the previous week's 27–24 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The teams were tied with two minutes left, and the Saints had the ball in field goal range. The Eagles had wasted their timeouts, so the Saints kneeled on the ball three straight times, running all but three seconds off the clock before the game-winning kick.

In that game, Saints coach Sean Payton showed better clock-management strategy than Reid. When New Orleans faced thirdand-1 with 2:17 left in the game and the score tied, running back Deuce McAllister gained five yards. Once McAllister had picked up the first down, the Eagles would have been better off allowing him to run into the end zone so the Saints' score would come with enough time for the Eagles to come back. By tackling McAllister after the first down, the Eagles gave the Saints three free plays to run out the clock. Although allowing an opponent to score a touchdown seems anathema to any football player, coaches need to understand that there are rare circumstances when that's what they need to instruct their players to do.

Reid said after the game that he didn't think of allowing the Saints to score until after McAllister picked up that gameclinching first down. He also said the Eagles used their timeouts early because they had trouble calling plays in noisy opponents' stadiums and had to avoid delay-of-game penalties. But smart coaches plan ahead for crowd noise. Reid and Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg also need to understand that the pass to Smith before halftime against Tampa Bay was a terrible call — in that situation a team should only call a pass that is certain to either score a touchdown or stop the clock with an incompletion.

Reid is a good coach, but the blame for clock-management mistakes falls squarely on his shoulders. Reid has a history of clock-management blunders dating to the Super Bowl two years ago, when the Eagles engaged in a slow, methodical fourth-quarter drive that took almost four minutes off the clock as they tried to come back from a 10-point deficit against the New England Patriots. Although the Eagles did score a touchdown and force the Patriots to punt on the next possession, by the time they got the ball back, they had just 46 seconds, and they lost, 24–21.

Reid shouldn't shoulder all the blame for the Eagles' three losses this season. In their loss to the Giants, a 24–7 lead turned into a 30–24 overtime loss thanks in large part to a fumble by running back Brian Westbrook and a personal foul on defensive end Trent Cole. The players -- not the coach -- deserve the blame for those mistakes. And the Eagles have had bad luck on everything from opponents making long field goals to fumbles bouncing the wrong way.

Despite all this, the Eagles, who host the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, still have a good chance of making the playoffs. But in the important battle for homefield advantage, seven teams in the NFC currently have better records. If the Eagles fall short of getting the home-field edge, and then lose in the playoffs on an opponent's turf, they'll look back at a few mental mistakes and wonder what could have been.

These articles appeared in Friday's edition of the New York Sun.


46 comments, Last at 30 Oct 2006, 9:14pm

1 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Reid has a history of clock-management blunders dating to the Super Bowl two years ago

Oh God, it's been more than that. I can think of at least 4 situations just recently where they've made the same mistake consistently, failing to get points at the end of the half, and that's just recently. It's been the one lowlight of Reid's coaching career.

But the playcall wasn't to Smith. It was to Brown and Baskett, and Smith was running a clear route just inside the end zone to try to tempt the backs to cheat off of Brown and Baskett. They didn't - they were both covered. But Smith looked kinda open, so McNabb took a shot there. Ronde Barber, though, who lives inside McNabb's head apparently, probably knows that McNabb will check down even on a play he shouldn't, and probably bolted for Smith the instant McNabb began a throwing motion.

A lot of Eagles fans have been saying "it's not Reid, it's McNabb", but it's all Reid. It's Reid's job to get points in those situations, and I'm pretty sure Philly's way, way below the league average in "points scored when you're within the 20 with under 15 seconds left." And if that's true (which it probably is), then it's the coach's job to realize that something needs to be changed.

2 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

What's even weirder is that the first few weeks -- or at least the first two games -- of this season, it looked like the Eagles had solved their end-of-first-half woes.

Week 1: They drove down the field in less than a minute at the end of the second quarter to score a touchdown and retake the lead from the Texans.
Week 2: Against the Giants they got the ball at almost midfield with about 40 seconds left in the half and got close enough to kick a field goal.
Week 3: Eagles got the ball with only 3 seconds remaining in the half and kneeled on it.
Week 4: Lined up to take a 50+ yard field goal against the Packers, they ran a weird fake that had no chance of success.
Week 5: Got the ball with about 50 seconds left in the half and went 3-and-out.
Week 6: The Saints scored with 15 seconds left in the half. Eagles ended up throwing an interception on a hail mary.
Week 7: The pass thrown short of the goalline, as mentioned in the article.

Those first two weeks, everything seemed to be clicking on the final drives of the half, both in playcalling (getting plays in quickly) and in execution (passing the ball in rhythm, receivers getting out of bounds if possible). Since then, it's like the same old problems have started creeping back in. The Eagles were originally much closer to the end zone in Week 4 against the Packers; the reason the field goal was a 50-yarder was that McNabb took a sack on third down.

One other thing to mention is that the coaches have definitely noticed this too. Reid specifically said that he told McNabb to throw the ball into the end zone or throw it away: "I wanted the ball in the end zone; it didn't go in the end zone." Marty Mornhinweg later in the week: "It was a fine play to call in that situation. Now, for Donovan, it's not. We'll do a couple of different things there." It's true that a lot of the blame for the clock-management issues -- especially burning timeouts due to late playcalling -- goes right to the coaches, but at the very least it looks like they're finally noticing that McNabb tends to make some less-than-ideal decisions or force plays if they give him the chance to do so.

3 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

"but it’s all Reid. It’s Reid’s job to get points in those situations" Well, isn't it at least equally McNabb's job to get points in those situations? (I would say even moreso.) I'm definitely one of those Eagles fans who puts that play 100% on McNabb. If you want to blame Reid for running a play in the first place, that's fair. But don't blame him for McNabb's blunder on throwing it to LJ. There was nothing wrong with having LJ run an underneath route to draw a defender, and if every single person watching the game at home understood that the ball had to go either in the endzone or out of it, then #5 should have understood that too.

I also need to take at least a little issue with the idea that the Eagles should have been able to let Deuce run into the endzone after he picked up the first down. You're fighting some pretty fierce instinct to tell 11 guys to stop everything two seconds into a play, especially a short-yardage play where the action is particularly ferocious. Much like the 'Westbrook should have stopped at the 1-yard line to drain time' thread, the idea seems like armchair quarterbacking to the point of near-absurdity.

One more nitpick - the Eagles' timeout usage in the 2nd half of the Saints game isn't as bad as it seems. One timeout was due to official's error - the refs were meeting to decide if a play was a sack or an incomplete pass, but left the playclock running, forcing the Eagles to use a timeout that the refs wouldn't give back. One was used because Reid didn't like the Saints' defensive look on 3rd and 11, which in my opinion is a perfectly legit usage. And the last timeout they did have at the end of the game, they used it to stop the clock at 2:17.

4 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

...but it’s impossible to guess which of those numbers will end up higher.

No, actually, it's far from impossible to guess which one will be higher. It's not even impossible to predict - it's merely impossible to truly know. Heck, even that may not be impossible - we merely haven't proven it possible.

5 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Why doesn't anyone blame Smith in that situation? Maybe the play call was a mistake, but there were receivers in the end zone, so that doesn't seem true. Maybe McNabb shouldn't have thrown to a receiver not in the end zone. True, but it's irrelevant if LJ Smith -drops the pass-

I watched the game and was aghast that he caught it. He knew he wasn't in the end zone, and he caught the pass anyway! What a doofus! If he bats it down, they get 3 points, same as if McNabb had lofted a pass through the uprights.

"Oops! I missed!" is worth three points. And as we all know, it isn't like LJ Smith doesn't know how to drop passes...

6 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

I didn't see the play in question with L.J. Smith, but from what I understand about the play, I agree that he should have intentionally dropped it. In that situation, the quarterback shouldn't throw a pass to a receiver who can't reach the end zone or get out of bounds, and the receiver shouldn't catch it. However, it would take a very smart, instinctive player to bat down a pass in such a situation.

That's not the only situation in which an offensive player should intentionally drop or bat down a pass that he can catch. A running back surrounded by a swarm of defenders five yards behind the line of scrimmage should intentionally drop a screen pass, and a quarterback whose pass is deflected by a defensive lineman back to him and who is surrounded by defensive players should knock down or drop the deflected ball. Some quarterbacks do this, but many others don't, ending up with a reception for many negative yards. As for the running backs, I can't recall ever seeing one intentionally drop a ball, even when it would mean losing 3-5 yards for sure.

7 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

It'd be interesting to see that chart with a column added for non-Red Zone DVOA. I don't have a good feel for how much of the overall defensive DVOA is made up of Red Zone DVOA.

Let's see, Red Zone plays are worth 20% more, and I'll estimate that 1/5 of the plays take place in the Red Zone, so...

(1.2*RZDVOA + 4*nonRZDVOA)/5.2 = DVOA
nonRZDVOA = (5.2*DVOA - 1.2*RZDVOA)/4

So then, that gives the following non-RZ DVOA's:

TB 2002 ….. -26.5%
BAL 2006 ….. -18.4%
BAL 2000 ….. -14.1%
PHI 2001 ….. -10.2%
MIA 2003 ….. -3.9%
KC 1997 ….. -0.9%
DAL 1999 ….. 4.4%
DEN 2006 ….. 5.5%
CLE 2002 ….. 11.5%
CAR 2000 ….. 22.5%

Does that make sense?

OK, so I find this interesting. There are 5 teams on that list who made the playoffs and had a defensive DVOA better than -10%. Three of those had a "non-RZ DVOA" (in quotes because my numbers are obviously not right) of better than 10% (BAL 00, PHI 01, TB 02). Those teams went 9-1 in the playoffs and won 2 SUper Bowls. The other two had "non-RZ DVOA's" around 0% or worse (KC 97, DAL 99). Those two both lost in the first round. It's obviously not enough data to draw any kind of conclusion, but it's enough to make me want to see more RZDVOA vs. nonRZDVOA analysis.

8 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Completely agree on your second point (and your other ones too, actually), I don't think any of those defenders in the history of their lives were ever taught to try and stop a guy from getting a first down, but then if he did get it (which would require them to not try and and tackle him within a yard or two of the first down line because it would be possible that he would fall forward enough to reach the line anyways, and also be conscious of the exact line of the first down) to simply stop and allow him to run into the endzone.

9 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Let me stress the one thing #2 states:

You’re fighting some pretty fierce instinct to tell 11 guys to stop everything two seconds into a play, especially a short-yardage play where the action is particularly ferocious.

If you forgive the Philly defenders for not fighting instinct and letting Deuce score, and you forgive LJ Smith for not fighting instinct (he said in a postgame that he thought about dropping it, but his instincts took over), it's the same thing for McNabb. He's also fighting instinct to avoid throwing to the open man.

That's the main reason I put that blame on Reid. It should be clear after years of this that McNabb's instincts are going to take over. Which is why he shouldn't have a receiver in that area, or he should've just kicked the field goal.

A running back surrounded by a swarm of defenders five yards behind the line of scrimmage should intentionally drop a screen pass,

No way. You have to worry that the pass might've been thrown horizontally, or slightly backwards, in which case the ball was live.

10 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Pat, I think there's a definite matter of degree here. In one case you have a qb choosing which receiver to throw to, a decision process that comes up on every pass play. On the other hand you have a receiver intentionally dropping a pass, a decision that comes up very, very rarely. And well beyond both of those is 11 guys independently shifting gears, in an instant, from trying to stop a guy to letting him go.

Again, if you want to say Reid, in that situation, should recognize McNabb has shown a tendency to screw up in that situation and therefore not attempt to run a play in the first place, that's a valid criticism. But you said it's all on Reid, and I just can't see any way McNabb dodges blame here, when in his case the right decision was such an obvious one.

11 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

In one case you have a qb choosing which receiver to throw to, a decision process that comes up on every pass play.

Exactly.. but you're asking him to make a decision that's counter to the decision making for every other play he faces. You're asking him to throw the ball away when there's a play available to be made, underneath. I can easily see how instincts would take over there.

12 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Running backs are of the opinion that they'll break six tackles every play.

Anyways, I think it's ridiculous to say things like this after the fact, and actually expect a player to be able to analyze every situation like this. You think LJ was able to think "Oh no, I'm not in the end zone and it's near half-time, I should drop this pass".

13 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Two quick corrections with the Broncos: They defeated the Colts in week 15 on the road of the 2003 season, the Quentin Griffin game, and again the next year during a game the Broncos had to have and the Colts rested their starters in.

In addition, Erik Pears is not a rookie--though he will be making his first ever start--he was on the practice squad last year.

14 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

5. It's real easy to say Smith should have just batted that ball down, because you are looking at the play from a completely different perspective than the receiver. In that situation it is absolutely impossible for him to judge in that split second whether or not he's going to get into the end zone. No receiver in the league would drop that pass on purpose.

15 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

The point that McNabb threw to L.J. Smith because he is open and it is more or less instinctual for McNabb to make that throw is a good one, and it is not something that should be fixed in McNabb's game, in my opinion. One of McNabb's strengths is that he will find open receivers and get them the ball very quickly. When he doesn't have an open man, he'll try to force something, and usually that results in a bad pass or a lucky catch. (Such as the flea-flicker reception against Dallas. That exact same play was used against Houston and was incomplete. I think they should burn the paper it is written on.) However, when the defense screws up in coverage, 90% of the time McNabb will throw it right on the numbers to the open guy. If you try to train McNabb to curtail the instinct to throw the ball to an open guy in the redzone in clock-situations, maybe he hesitates for a second when someone cuts uncovered in a corner route into the endzone, or someone is open outside the endzone and can get it in easily but McNabb doesn't get the pass to him fast enough. Andy Reid needs to make a decision of when the extra 4 points is worth the risk that McNabb will throw to someone who is open outside the endzone but can't make it in, costing them the FG. Or draw up plays that don't use distractor receivers in the open field.

Another situation where this strength becomes a flaw is on improvised quick throws to wideouts when the cornerback lines up too far back. A lot of times McNabb will throw the ball to the receiver the moment it is snapped, and the Eagles receivers usually don't react quick enough after getting it and will get pasted by the CB before making what would be at least a 4-yard gain if they got moving. These passes would work fine if the receivers all had good reactions and good acceleration, but most of them don't have both.

16 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Damn, totally forgot the rest the starters game. The "1" in the 1-4 is the Quentin Griffin game.

17 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Andy Reid needs to make a decision of when the extra 4 points is worth the risk that McNabb will throw to someone who is open outside the endzone but can’t make it in, costing them the FG.

Or that McNabb will throw an interception, or get sacked, or any number of things which could also go wrong on that play.

And guess what? They were down 7-0. They didn't need the extra 4 points. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why they didn't just kick the field goal.

18 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

I'm an Eagles fan, and if it comes down to homefield advantage costing the Eagles a trip to the Super Bowl, I'll be really angry about the three losses so far.

The only two areas the Eagles are not doing great right now, according to DVOA, is special teams and run D, front-7 if ALYs are to be believed. The special teams are average, and while it migh give an edge if they were better, I'm not worried about that. If the Eagles Run D was to become a great run D, they would be stopping drives more often and keeping teams from running out the clock. A big reason I think the run D will get better is that the line and LB have limited experience, and will learn as the season goes on. The WLB is a second-year player in his first season starting, one of the DEs is a 2nd-year player who played a lot in the second-half last year, and one of the starting DTs is a 2nd-year player. In the rotation are two rookie DTs and a DE who has only played one whole season due to injuries. Improvement in this group could improve the entire defense, not just the run D.

I honestly think that the Eagles team at the end of this season has a chance to be the most dominant Eagles team of the DVOA era, and it would be a shame if they end up having to play Chicago in the second round at Soldier Field and lose.

19 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

it's pretty obvious that mcnabb is overrated because he's black.

20 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

"No way. You have to worry that the pass might’ve been thrown horizontally, or slightly backwards, in which case the ball was live."

Yes, Pat, if there is any question whether the pass might be a lateral, the running back should always catch it. I'm not talking about that situation, however, which usually involves a swing pass. I'm talking about a situation (either on a designed screen that is jumped by the defense or a pass where a quarterback tries to avoid a sack by dumping the ball to the running back who stayed in the backfield for pass protection) where the ball is clearly a forward pass and the running back knows he is surrounded by defenders who will tackle him the instant he catches the ball.

21 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Marko, the issue to me isn't so much conquering instinct -- that's an issue, but they've all conquered certain instincts towards self-preservation to play these games.

But for batting down a screen pass or knowing to drop an inbounds pass in clock situations -- except in very rare cases -- the receiver is in a position of incomplete knowledge. I didn't see the Smith play in question, but if it's representative of similar plays I have seen, Smith has to assume that McNabb hit him for a reason. If he bats it around when he's two steps from the end zone and open by five yards, and then the Eagles lose by two, we're all excoriating him on this thread. Ditto backs catching screen passes -- they've often back to the oncoming defenders, or else the blocking/tackling formations are setting up as they watch the incoming ball. They don't have the vision perspective of the TV viewer with the whole field, the clock, and a scroll of their division rivals' scores. They're looking through a mask at ground level. They have to assume that if the quarterback, generally the player in best position to see the field of play and tasked with managing these variables during the game, is pulling the trigger instead of winging it over their head, they're in a position to make the play. Those plays are almost always the fault of the quarterback, or of the play-calling entities, or simply a good play by the defense.

I do think receivers in 2-minute drills generally are hair-pullingly stupid with regularity -- cutting back into the field when from the sideline, failing to throw laterals out of bounds when they're held up near the sidelines, scrabbling for two extra yards when they could get down cleanly and get the next play off six seconds faster. (The Seattle-St. Louis clock runoff situation has also offered up a new 2-minute drill play that teams should employ: on long gains, just have the nearest two receivers line up as C and QB for a spike and take the five-yard penalty to save all kinds of time. But who knew that before?)

But yeah. Catching the ball in the shadow of the opponent's goalposts or accepting a pass on a designed screen which the defense turns out to have sniffed out ... aggravating for viewers, but the only parties dividing the blame pie for L.J. Smith are Reid and McNabb. Maybe that's what Donovan puked up.

22 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

If this Eagles team becomes the best Eagles team in DVOA history, I think they'll wax the Bears, whether at Soldier field or the Linc...

By the way, some of these Madden nitpicks are ridiculous. I mean, armchair speculation can be fun but to criticize LJ for not dropping it or Westbrook for not stopping at the one is just horrible. Don't you remember the story about Larry Bird filming the commercial where he was supposed to miss a free throw? Supposedly it took him 10 tries to miss one!

I'm a guitarist, and you work hard to internalize these things. You can't just all of a sudden do it wrong or go against what you've ingrained.

23 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Smeghead, I don't disagree with what you said. However, we're not talking about the same thing.

I'm talking about the situation where the running back KNOWS the defenders are swarming him and will tackle him instantly. Many times, that will not be the case; the running back won't know the defenders are right there. I'm not suggesting that a running back drop the ball intentionally in those cases. I'm talking about the situation where the running back sees the defenders there and knows he has no chance for positive yards - a situation where, for example, a linebacker is able to tackle the running back instantly after the catch is made, with two other defenders right there ready to gang tackle him.

A comparable situation is where a running back is falling down as the ball is coming to him, 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, with defenders right there. Should he catch the ball as he is losing his balance for a guaranteed 5 yard loss (because he will surely be touched by a defender immediately)? Of course not.

24 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Denver’s red-zone defense is certainly going to be strong all year, but this current level of play is simply unsustainable.

Actually, the 1999 Dallas Cowboys prove that it is QUITE sustainable. Their disparity was only 3% less than Denver's. Also, the existance of two sub-80% Red Zone defenses show that it's very possible for Denver to keep up this level of play. It's probably not likely, but it's certainly not unreasonable. If anything, I don't see any reason why we should expect the RZ defense to regress towards the overall defense and not vice-versa (the overall defense trends towards the RZ defense).

I don't know if it's what you intended to do with the numbers, but as a Denver fan you've simply convinced me that this season so far isn't a fluke of historic proportions (a pretty much exactly-as-fluky season occurred within the past decade), and you also convinced me that this level of red zone production is certainly sustainable (although such a feat wouldn't be likely).

25 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Aaron one of the best articles I have seen this year on the matchups from anyplace.

However, I think you missed several relevant points.

1. If you call out Denvers defense for feasting on bottom feeders, then you have to call out the Colts Offense too. 4 of their 6 (HOU,TEN,NYG, and WAS) opponents are in the bottom 8 defensive teams in the league. The other two, JAX and NYG, are good but not elite defenses.

NYG were horrible the first two games until they cut their Scheme back. And JAX was already missing their Top Pass Rusher in Hayward and one of their excellent DT's got nicked and did not play for most of the game.

2. The Broncos are the Only team in the league to not give up a TD from outside the red Zone. The red Zone Comparison chart is nifty, but they have not surrendered a TD from outside the red zone in 6 NFL games.

3. Denver's defense has surrendered over fifty percent of its total points from TO's that are within scoring position or within ten yards of scoring position.

Again, thanks for spending the time to preview this game.

26 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Correction to 25

1. The Colts have played 4 of the 5 worst DVOA defenses in their 6 games and Caught the NYG's before they quit their complex scheme and shifted to a more simple variation in week 4.

27 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

but they have not surrendered a TD from outside the red zone in 6 NFL games.

Given the offenses they've faced, that's not particularly surprising.

28 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

For reference, incidentally, of the teams that Denver has faced, the ones with the most scores outside of the red zone are New England and Oakland, both with three. For reference, probably the team with the most is Philly, with 11.

Indianapolis, this year, only has 3, but I don't think anyone would claim that they don't have the potential to be explosive. Likewise, I don't think anyone would claim that any of the teams Denver has actually faced has the potential to be explosive, except maybe New England.

29 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN


The offenses they have faced have scored 70 TD's. Only 2 of which came against denver. But yah, they really have not stopped anyone from scoring, right.

30 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

It is interesting that there are not any Colts fans disputing Aaron's assessment. I don't know Denver well enough to know the impact of losing the LT, but I know the Colts injuries (Doss gone, Sanders and Reagor still out) could make Jake look good for one game. Of course, Jake's rollouts usually aren't as effective against the Colts team speed.

I only hope the Broncos have a brain freeze and try to run on the edges, where the Colt team speed can help them in run D. If they run tackle to tackle, the Colts are in trouble, and as the stats show, Denver runs nearly 90% of its running plays from tackle to tackle (unlike Washington, whose running game struggled -- relatively speaking -- against the Colts because they run almost 50% of their running plays outside the tackles).

I'm not optimistic, but I will keep rooting for the Colts

31 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Anyone else think Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler are almost an inversed rerun of Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman last year? Shanahan insists on sticking with Plummer "because he's winning" even though it's hard to imagine that Cutler would be anything but an upgrade. The fact that the quarterback is winning shouldn't mean that he won't be benched no matter how bad he stinks it up

32 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

I think Denver's strength on defense is LBs and secondary. They also seem to be playing to avoid the big play - less blitzing more zone. Due to this, they will be tougher in the red zone where field is narrowed. It is not unreasonable to expect them to have better DVOA in the red zone. It is porbably unlikely that they will be able sustain the current level of disparity between red zone and non red zone DVOA, but at the end of the year i expect them to have better red zone DVOA. The encouraging thing for Bronco fans should be the performance of offense so far. They have 23rd ranked pass offense DVOA and if they can some how bring up to median level, it should be sufficient to offset the expected decrease in red zone efficiency and they will be tough match up for any team.

33 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

I would argue that the Rams' offense as well as the chiefs offense has the potential to be explosive.

34 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Lighten up. Using cruder stats, Denver this year typically has held teams to about 13.2 pts below their scoring average in other games. That'd knock the Colts 28.5 down to about 15.2. Indy has held opponents scores just below their season average (0.9 pts less), putting Denver at about 11.6.

Strangely, I did not look at offenses and how they have fared vis-a-vis their competition's previous "typical" games, but I will assume Indy scores more than their opponents typically allow and Denver less. Based on how they have done previously against typical opponents--scoring only--it looks like about a 15-12 Indy game. (This ignores how good their oposition is and only looks at how it scores in its other games. It also blends home and away games, so to add HFA to this "neutral" field result, I guess that makes it 15-14, not exactly a normal NFL score.) Close, exciting, but nothing to get depressed about.

Regarding injuries, Indy's D has not been whole all year--with the exception of safety, this is the same D that held a decent, but inconsistent, but good rushing WASH offense in check. Excluding a punt rtn and garbage time, WA only scored 1 TD.

The Lepsis injury, OTOH, will probably be huge, limiting both the run game and pass game on that side. Freeney's been getting good penetration all year, but has fallen short because of short drop-backs and other things. It might be a breakout game for him against a first-time starter (so long as the whirling-dervish spin move is reserved for a change-of-pace trick, and not his standard rush).

What I most fear: The draw. A good game by Jake. Complete breakdown at safety. Complete ST breakdown. Since 2 and 3 are related and I think #2 is a long shot, if Indy stuffs a draw or two early, it looks promising. Regarding ST, DVOA ranks them 20 and 30--maybe worth something less than a point? Thanks to Wilkins, Indy has a DVOA advantage in the punt return game and this promises to be a game with more than a few punts.

35 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

#17 - Pat, I agree with you 100%. Down by 7 - only 9secs to play in the half, ball at the 6, no timeouts left. Why risk the 3 when the extra 4 is full of danger (sack, interception, pass to the 2yd line etc)

So - It's a no brainier - The call SHOULD ALWAYS be FG every time right?

But it's the human factor that I always find fascinating in sports. First half Eagles have 250yds of total Offense with 3 turnovers (key) while Tampa has just a measly 85 yards (49 of those yards came on Tampa's FINAL drive of the half) - so for much of the First Half Tampa had only gained 33 yards! I can just about imagine Reid & McNabb thinking "can you believe this game!! We're killing em but we are losing". That's what 30 minutes of frustration will bring - EMOTIONAL DECISIONS even when Logic tells you otherwise. I'm not justifying Reids "brain explosion" to go for it & McNabbs "poor option" to throw short. Both (IMO) have a part to play here - But I can certainly understand WHY ! Call Arrogance or Frustration or a little of both !

36 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

One more small note regarding IND/DEN: Indy has faced opponents with an average offensive DVOA if 14.2 (freakishly bolstered by NYG and the inconsistent WAS) and held them to just below their average pts. Denver's offensive DVOA rank: 20.

DEN has faced teams with an average offensive DVOA of 19.7 and held them well below their average point totals, but Indy's offensive DVOA rank: 1.

It really is a test of strength on strength and weakness on weakness.

37 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

I think we agree Marko (23) -- if there's a difference, I just think the sort of situation you describe is extraordinarily uncommon.

As I type this, it also occurs that there's the individual risk/reward factor. Everyone will understand/forgive if the player makes the catch on instinct or out of a misguided confidence in his own athletic prowess. Intentionally *not* making the play ... boy, when film study rolls around, it had better turn out that you were right about that.

38 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

34: "It might be a breakout game for him against a first-time starter (so long as the whirling-dervish spin move is reserved for a change-of-pace trick, and not his standard rush)."

[deep music reference]Should his music be "The End"?[/deep music reference]

39 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

A comparable situation is where a running back is falling down as the ball is coming to him, 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, with defenders right there. Should he catch the ball as he is losing his balance for a guaranteed 5 yard loss (because he will surely be touched by a defender immediately)? Of course not.

So he should bat the ball in the air, where one of the defenders might intercept it?

40 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

The offenses they have faced have scored 70 TD’s.

Explosive is not the same as productive. You said it was impressive they haven't given up a TD outside of the red zone this year. It's not that impressive considering they've faced offenses which don't do that often. If they had faced, say, Philly, that'd be more impressive.

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They must be something doing right if they stopped these teams from red zone. All the opponents of Den have scored less against Den than their avg against other teams.

STL (Avg 24.2 / Den 18)
KC (22.2/6)
NE (25.8/7)
Bal (21.4/3)
Oak (13.8/3)
Clv (16.2/7)

Den has very bad opening game which hurt their total DVOA. If you only consider the DVOA of the other games, they will be one of the top teams.

42 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

If we're assuming smart players and smart coaches, we cannot say that letting Duece McAllister score is smart, because he should, as a smart player, then pull a what-Brian-Westbrook-must-do, and stand in place at the 4 to waste time.

43 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Smeghead: Yeah, we agree. You're right that the type of situation I'm talking about is not common, but it does happen. I've already seen it about 3 or 4 times this year, where a player could have done what I advocate. (I've never seen it done, however.) And I definitely agree with you about the film study aspect of this - any player doing this better be damn sure he is right.

Scott de B.: Obviously, the player falling down should not bat it up in the air. I never said that he should. Let's not create strawman arguments. Depending on the circumstance, the running back can either let the ball hit the ground or, as Tom Jackson loves to say, "knock it down."

44 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

All the opponents of Den have scored less against Den than their avg against other teams.

Well, duh. It's not like Denver's a bad defense. But it's not like they're "the best defense evar!!1!".

45 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

Wow. Everyone talks about how being able to consistantly run against a defense despite the fact that they know you're going to run is the biggest thing you can do to break their spirit. I disagree. I think setting up and demonstrating to a defense that, no matter what they do, they will be entirely unable to get within arms length of the QB for five full seconds after the snap is the biggest spirit-crusher.

After Denver scored to tie the game at the end, I turned to my girlfriend and told her that Denver had just lost. Their one hope was to get a TD (to force Indy to get into the end zone), or else to run all but 30 seconds off the clock. There was no way Denver's secondary could have held up to that protection that Manning was getting. I question whether anyone got a hand on him during the entire game.

Actually, I checked the game logs. Denver hit Manning once all day. But during the second half, I routinely started counting at the snap, and usually got at least to 4 before Manning passed, and one time even got to 6. And it's not like Manning threw the ball because a hit was imminent- he could have easily taken another 2 or 3 seconds back there. I have *NEVER* seen a team keep its QB that clean all day long. No hurries, no hits, no sacks, no nothing. Maybe all this Champ Bailey talk was wrong- maybe Gerard Warren is the real Denver defensive MVP.

46 Re: Game Preview: IND-DEN

#45: Smart analysis.

Every play in the second half seemed to be the same: Manning makes his read, the receiver makes his cut, ball arrives instantly at precisely the right spot. It's not like Denver was doing a lousy job covering, but when I guy turns on an out and the ball is waiting for him, you just have no shot at stopping it.

I was surprised Denver didn't pull out all the stops and go with some all-out blitzes. They were being absolutely picked apart (didn't Indy score on their last 6 drives or something like that?) so the fear of the big play shouldn't have been as big an issue as had they been holding their own.