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15 Jan 2008

Any Given Sunday: Chargers over Colts

by Ned Macey

The San Diego Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer for a variety of reasons after their franchise best 14-2 record in 2006. The questionable move could only be justified if the Chargers could succeed in the playoffs where they had twice failed under Schottenheimer. A home win over an average Titans team hardly validated the change to Norv Turner. A win over the defending Super Bowl Champion Colts in Indianapolis? That is a meaningful victory.

The conventional wisdom in this game was strongly shaped by the two teams' Week 10 contest, which the Chargers won 23-21. The Colts, playing with a depleted roster, saw Peyton Manning throw six interceptions, allowed two special teams touchdowns, and still should have won the game. Last week's game was slated to take place with the Colts near full strength and playing in Indianapolis. How would they not dominate?

The general consensus ignored the possibility that the Chargers also did not play well in that game, particularly offensively. Pundits also failed to note that the Chargers were coming into the game with seven straight wins, certainly a longer hot streak than the oft-mentioned momentum of the New York Giants.

San Diego offense improved late in season

During the Week 10 win over Indianapolis, the Chargers offense was an utter disaster, in large part due to the inept play of Philip Rivers. The second-year starter was supposed to be Turner's pet project, and through ten weeks, he had seriously regressed from the year before.

Rivers gradually picked his game up and over the past few weeks, he was playing at an extremely high level. He was no doubt helped by the arrival of Chris Chambers, who was acquired midseason and gave him a second competent wideout to pair with Vincent Jackson. Since the Colts loss, Rivers has improved markedly on passes down the field. Against the Colts, it was Rivers' improved play that spearheaded the Chargers offensive attack.

In particular, Turner had Rivers attack the Colts down the field where they are usually impregnable. Rivers threw four of his 19 passes more than 15 yards down the field. He completed all four for 96 yards and a touchdown. He completed a deep pass on three of the Chargers' four touchdown drives.

The Chargers unleashed this same downfield passing attack the previous week against Tennessee in the second half, and these plays are a reflection of Turner's influence. Turner has stated that his desire was to diversify the offense to make it less dependent on LaDainian Tomlinson. This seems to have had a negative impact on Tomlinson, who had only a great season this year, not the other-worldly campaign of 2006. When Rivers struggled early in the season, the plan appeared to be a disaster.

On Sunday, Turner was vindicated when Tomlinson was effectively lost as an effective player in the first drive of the second quarter. The Chargers scored their first touchdown on the next play after Tomlinson's injury but, more impressively, scored three touchdowns and drove into field goal range on their first five possessions without him.

The results of the new and improved passing game were disastrous to the Colts. Over a 16-game season, the Colts only allowed 19 passes that gained 20 yards. On Sunday, the Chargers had seven. Particularly surprising was the Chargers' success in obvious passing downs. The Colts generally thrive when forcing an opponent into a third-and-long situation.

The Chargers completed their first five third downs, and only one was shorter than 5 yards. In the third quarter, they added a completion on third-and-14 on their third touchdown drive. The key man early was Vincent Jackson, who caught three early third-down passes. The playoffs have been Jackson's coming-out party, as the Chargers have used him effectively on plays down the middle of the field where he can exploit his size.

The problem with these deeper routes is that they are sometimes slow to develop. The quarterback needs time to make these plays work. The Colts defense is predicated on getting pressure on the quarterback, but Rivers was almost never hurried and had plenty of time to wait for the routes to develop down the field.

The lack of a Colts' pass rush is not entirely surprising given the injury to Dwight Freeney. The league's highest paid defensive player only had nine sacks in his previous 25 games, but his mere presence on the field completely changes how an opponent structures their offense. With Freeney and Robert Mathis rushing from both ends, and the Colts' zone defense behind them, teams double-team Freeney and emphasize short, quick throws to leave the quarterback in one piece. As a result, Freeney's statistics are down but the overall defense eliminates the big play.

Freeney was injured near the end of the Week 10 game against San Diego. Over the next seven weeks, the Colts defense did not decline markedly. The truth, however, is that they did not face an opponent with a truly vertical passing attack.

The best opposing pass offense they faced without Freeney was Jacksonville. The Jaguars scored 25 points, the highest output against the Colts before Sunday's loss. David Garrard averaged more than 8 yards per pass. The Jaguars noticed midgame the lack of a consistent pass rush and attempted seven second-half passes of at least 15 yards after trying none in the first half. Garrard completed four, including a touchdown.

Without Freeney on Sunday, the Chargers double-teamed Mathis and provided seemingly unlimited time for Rivers. He was never sacked and only knocked to the ground once. Rivers ended up missing the fourth quarter with an injury, but it was a non-contact injury as a result of planting awkwardly in the turf.

Turnovers key to Chargers defense

Defensively, the Chargers had been one of the league's elite teams in the second half of the season, but this was not their finest hour. They did manage to stuff the Colts' rushing attack, but Manning also had time in the pocket and threw for more than 400 yards. The Chargers survived thanks to three turnovers, but they were hardly impressive plays. On one, the still-hobbled Marvin Harrison dropped the ball after minor contact. The other two were interceptions on balls that tipped off of receivers' hands. Manning was never sacked.

The turnovers are what the Chargers have lived on all season. They led the league in takeaways. Normally, these mistakes are forced by their disruptive front seven. On Sunday, that group did play physically, but the turnovers appeared to be more the fault of poor execution by the Colts.

For the Colts, this is their second disappointing divisional-round loss in three years. Rumors persist that Tony Dungy is seriously contemplating retirement. His loss will be keenly felt, as he has overseen by far the most successful run for the franchise since it moved to Indianapolis. He successfully built a quality defense while allowing the offense under Peyton Manning to play at an extraordinary level. Still, the Colts have massive amounts of talent, a young defense, and a variety of skill players under contract for next season. They are as likely to return to the postseason next year as any other mortal team in this year's playoff field.

Can San Diego beat New England?

San Diego hopes that thoughts of next year are at least three weeks away, but to win next week in New England would be a Herculean feat. The Chargers were already crushed by the Patriots earlier this season, and now they have injuries to Antonio Gates, Tomlinson, and Rivers.

The good news first for the Chargers is that their defense's generally superb pass rush has the possibility to upset the timing of the Patriots' passing offense. The Patriots offense has been merely excellent when faced with a disruptive opposing pass rush. Also, the Chargers knack for forcing turnovers could create the type of momentum-changing play recent Patriots' opponents have been unable to produce.

Offensively, the Chargers newfound deep passing attack likely will make plays against the Patriots. The Chargers are still a run-first team, even if Tomlinson is injured, so the Patriots will likely be focusing their attention there. That should leave a number of plays down the field to Jackson and Chambers.

There's certainly hope for a competitive game, but the number of bad match-ups makes the nearly two-touchdown spread reasonable. First, even if Rivers is healthy, he struggles mightily against a fierce pass rush. The Patriots get consistent pressure on the quarterback. Unlike the Colts, if they struggle to get pressure with four rushers, they can blitz effectively. Rivers is incapable of throwing on the run or escaping pressure when he is healthy. On a bad leg, he will be even more immobile. Furthermore, the slow-developing routes will not have a chance to work, and the offense could self-destruct. If the Chargers are required to use Billy Volek at quarterback, he may stand in against the pass rush a little better, but the rest of his game is wildly inconsistent, and he is prone to making big mistakes.

Secondly, the Chargers struggle immensely with slot receivers. Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer are both good cornerbacks who handle outside responsibilities. Drayton Florence has been a liability this year. Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez both had more yards for Indianapolis than Reggie Wayne this week. For New England, Wes Welker should be effective, particularly if the Patriots extend him down the field a bit. If the Chargers bring one of their two starters inside to cover Welker, then Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth will beat Florence on the outside.

Still, a loss to the Patriots this year would be much less distressing than the Chargers' loss to the Patriots last year. That game at least provided the cover for the elimination of Schottenheimer and the arrival of Turner. Sunday's win over the Colts validates the move to Turner in most people's eyes because of the binary nature of football. Last season, the Chargers outgained the Patriots and forced three Tom Brady interceptions. The teams combined for five fumbles, and the Patriots recovered all five. The Chargers lost by three points. This year, the Chargers were outgained narrowly and only recorded two interceptions. The teams combined for two fumbles, and the Chargers recovered both. The Chargers won by four points.

In Norv's defense, this year's divisional playoff game was on the road against a team that, at least in the regular season, was superior to last year's New England team. Also, the injuries confronted this year were far worse than anything last year's team faced. The fact that the Chargers won thanks to the redesigned passing game is a credit to Turner, and he should receive his accolades. The win, however, says nothing about Turner's 10 previous years of mediocrity as a coach, nor does it prove him to be a better coach than Schottenheimer.

If Turner can follow this effort with an upset in New England, I'd be happy to label him a genius. Until then, let us just respect the quality work that he has done this year with special kudos for an excellent game plan on Sunday.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the most surprising result of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these surprises as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 15 Jan 2008

132 comments, Last at 02 Aug 2008, 9:55pm by Scott


by ddb4 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 8:23am

Even given the improvement of the Chargers passing game (which I think the Colts may have overlooked), I still think there's no excuse for giving up 28 points to an offense missing its two best players. I just can't shake the feeling that the Colts' D had their heads somewhere on Sunday, possibly Tampa or Foxborough.

by Kneel Before Zod! (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 9:49am

I buy the theory that a Freenyless pass rush was finally exposed deep by Jackson ( I had no idea he was this good) and Chambers (WTF - where are the drops we have come to expect).

by RickD (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 10:26am

Great article. I kept wondering where the hard-hitting Colts' D had gone to. Yes, they kept the Chargers' running game in check, but the success of the passing game (under Philip Rivers! and Billy Volek!!) was unexpected. I had been thinking for months that the loss of Freeney would cost the Colts any shot at the Super Bowl, but I didn't think it would happen this quickly.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 10:27am

I will give Norv plenty of credit for the revamped passing attack; I'm a Marty partisan who'll admit that this is one area of clear improvement.

On the other hand, I can't help but think that the negatives of Norv's reputation were also reinforced in this game. Things like burning all of their 1st-half timeouts, or having 12 men in the huddle (on offense, no less!) seems like things we've seen before. I believe someone here once remarked that Norv never seems to make the major, head-scratching tactical blunders most people notice, but somehow his teams seem unfocused and play below their abilities.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 11:27am

4: I guess the question is which would you rather have, dynamic play and sloppy mistakes, or predictable play and no mistakes? If only there were some way to get both. Maybe have Norv call the plays as the OC, and Marty as the HC.
Still, though, gotta give credit to Norv for the game-plan and the execution. It would have been easy for a team to give up after the setbacks and the injuries.

by mmm... sacrilicious (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 11:39am

Man, Tom Brady is such a loser compared to Peyton Manning. I bet Brady's a federalist.


by Bob in Jax (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 11:47am

I find it interesting that 3 of the 4 divisional results were chalk by weighted DVOA, including this one. Only the Giants over Cowboys was not "predicted" by simple DVOA comparison. Looks like the numbers are pretty good now, with some room for adjustment. What adjustment? Sorry, I don't know. I don't think we will be predicting exact human performance among 22+ persons working as a team (or not) for some time, especially when you factor in oblate spheroids and the bounces they take. Overall, props to the stats. Also, props to this article. I always enjoy reading why something happened, especially since mainstream writers (in general) don't do too good a job of it. Thanks!

by JCRODRIGUEZ (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 12:25pm

What about a SB that pits Norv and Coughlin?..man, PFP07's most bashed Coaches head to head?...could that be the worst coaching match...since what?...Billick Vs. Fassel???...intriguing, indeed...

by jebmak (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 12:31pm

Damn Federalists!

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 12:36pm

Actually, Marty as head coach and Norv as assistant head coac/o.c./q.b. guru would be a great combination.

Great article, for a lot of reasons. It emphasizes the limited usefulness of the sack statistic. Like a great deep threat wr, the great defensive lineman's value can go far beyond the easy to obtain stats, in how such a player limits what the opposing team can do with it's personnel. Randy Moss, as hard as it may be to say, has value to the Patriots which significantly exceeds his catches and t.d.s, and anyone who measures Freeney's value in mere sacks and hurries is crazy. This is also why even advanced metrics falls well short of measuring individual player performance adequately.

Also, kudos to FO for emphasizing the random nature of fumble recoveries. Before anyone uses a small sample size of games to evaluate coaching or qb performance, examining the fumble stats is well advised.

Finally, I'll note again that the most surprising aspect to this game was how badly the Colts pass catchers were outclassed by the Chargers' pass catchers. I guess it should also be noted that Michael Turner had a good success rate; it was't as if the Chargers became one dimensional without Tomlinson.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 12:41pm

Considering that the Chargers only threw the ball 23 times and were clearly trying to run the ball isn't the absence Freeney being a bit overstated? If you check out the Chargers pass protection (checks) that line does a solid job.

I know the Chargers "might" not have gone downfield as much with DF in the lineup. But I also know that Freeney can run himself out of a play that a running back can exploit for a big gain.

For example, I don't see the screen to Sproles playing out any different. Sure DF has the recovery speed to maybe get a "chance" at a tackle but that play was executed brilliantly. Given Freeney's approach my guess is that he is taking Rivers to the ground as the qb is releasing the ball. For a big gain.

by andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 12:55pm

Still hard to believe this is the same defense that gave up 296 rushing yards to Adrian Peterson (and something like 360 overall) in losing to the Vikings midseason. I know, Luis Castillo was out, but still...

Heck, in that game Rivers was a huge liability too...

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 12:55pm

11: Freeney's weakness in run defense has been greatly excaggerated. Also, losing McFarland hurt the Colts run defense, as did forcing Sanders to cover Gates.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:00pm

Badger, I thought Freeney became a significantly better rounded player in the 2nd half of last year, and into this year, prior to being injured. Given the Chargers success on third and long, with a still inexperienced qb, I think it is difficult to overstate what it meant to be without Freeney. I'm not making excuses for the Colts; the Chargers obviously were missing key people as well. I just think that Freeney has become a much better player than in years previous to last year, despite what stats may indicate, which I think is important to note.

by wbenetti (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:00pm

I'm somewhat surprised that the NYG v DAL game wasn't covered in AGS. SD v IND was certainly an upset, but SD had beaten IND once this season already and was the #3 seed going into this game.

That said, I'd suggest two AGS this week. :) Having kept the SD v IND game on while I was doing other things I wanted to find out how SD pulled it off.

by Electrogasm (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:02pm

The DC of IND should have focused his rush up the middle instead of the edge. Rivers' mobility was hampered even more than normal with his bad knee, which turned into two bad knees by game's end. By allowing to step up, Rivers was able to make strong throws down field, negating the speed of the DBs. Even the OL of SD were surprised. Upon his entrance to the game SD's LT McNeil told Volek to step up in the pocket since they were speed rushing on the edge and he was going to continue to force them upfield each time. Simple, but obvious.

by MDZ (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:02pm

Norv Turner and the Chargers offense had a great game plan. They assumed correctly that the Colts wouldn't be able to pressure Rivers. Rivers had a ton of time, which not only let receivers get downfield, but let them break off their routes to find the holes in the zone. It's my opinion that if Freeney is in the game the Chargers would call quicker routes and more screens. They also wouldn't be nearly as successful in obvious passing downs as they were on Sunday. Norv also created extra time for Rivers by designing rollouts away from Mathis. Then again, the biggest reason that the Chargers just plain played better. The regular season game seemed wierd and fluky, but the Chargers have consistently made the Colts look bad for the last four years. As a Colts fan I give the Chargers all the credit in the world. (Also, on the Cromartie INT holding call the ref called it on the wrong guy, Anthony Gonzalez went after Cromartie (even though I doubt he would have gotten to him), broke free of the block and the blocker grabbed his jersey and pulled him down, it's a play that will get called every time.)

by turbohappy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:11pm

Great article. When he went out I figured the loss of Freeney would mean the Colts had no chance to beat the Pats. Then watching the amount of pressure they were getting against decent lines since he went out reinforced that. I thought they'd make another game though...and they would have without the mistakes I guess.

by Cyrus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:12pm

I'm curious to see the SD-NE game. SD is not the same team they were earlier in the season, not by any stretch of the imagination.

And since the Patriots upset them last year in the playoffs, and beat them this season already, I think that it is the same "Its really hard to beat a team three times" scenario as with Dallas.

If SD does win, it would make their GM look brilliant-- keeping Turner instead of trading him, trading for Chambers mid season. Had the Patriots kept Branch last year, instead of trading him, they might have won the Super Bowl.

I still like the outcome (indirectly, Moss/Stallworth/Welker, 16-0 season and a #7 pick) but those GM moves are tricky.

Of course, as a Pats fan, I am hoping that they get plenty of time to throw and just bomb it over SD.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:18pm

Isn't Castillo hurt again? I don't see any mention of that in here.

by Electrogasm (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:19pm

RE: #19

As a Chargers fan, I think there is a chance the Bolts can win, too. Like the following:


by Joe T. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:24pm

Bill Belichick vs. Norv in the AFC championship game? I can't help but laugh.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:26pm

Anybody who says the Chargers absolutely can't beat the Pats is crazy. Would it shock the world for the Chargers pass rushers to have a good day? I don't think so, and if the pass rushers have a good day, I don't think the Pats defense is so good that it would be shocking to see the Chargers score 30 points. Of course, if Rivers is completely immobile, all bets are off.

To grab at some straws of optimism regarding my favorite team, I'll choose to believe that adding Chambers made Rivers a significantly better, and smarter-looking, q.b.. Where do I send my dues to the Tavaris Jackson fan club?!

by Electrogasm (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:30pm

RE: #21 - Catchy lyrics, don't you think?

I never called Bill Belichick a genius,
Cause I remember when he coached the Browns,

He was such a failure up in Cleveland,
The franchise folded up and left the town,

I never said Tom Brady was a hero,
Cause I remember him at Michigan,

Bringing Gatorade to Brian Griese,
Except for garbage time when he got in

So wasn't it a little shady when this quarterback named Brady,
Suddenly became a mega star,

Wasn't it a bit confusing when this coach who's used to losing,
Earned the reputation that he's smart,

When you know which plays are coming, it can make a coach look cunning,
And make an average quarterback elite,

Cheating's how they got their glory, it's the true deceitful story,
Of Shady Brady and Bill Belicheat

I know, I know... It's a moot point but the guy's has thrown together some great sports-themed tunes and, after all, it's all in fun.


by doktarr (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:33pm

Very good article.

Denver:New England::San Diego:Indy?

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:39pm

Not really on topic, but best place to put this...

Aaron is the fill-in co-host for Mike Holley on WEEI's Dale & Holley today. So you can get to hear him from 10am-2pm EST. And later today Will Carroll will be on plugging his book.

by Cyrus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:45pm

RE: 24

Very good article.

Denver:New England::San Diego:Indy?

------ This works if you have Indy:Denver at the end too. Perfect circle.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:52pm

Nice article!

I've been a Norv-doubter (and mostly a Marty supporter) from day 1, and I still am, but I give his development of the offensive passing game some credit. It's odd how Rivers regressed, and then advanced...Norv is supposed to be good at developing QB's...maybe Rivers had to take some of the early season to "unlearn" things and re-learn them Norv's way, and it's paying off?

Norv is also apparently a decent motivator--his team didn't mail it in when they were down and bad midway through the season, and they didn't mail it in on the road against the SB champs decimated by injuries. Of course, Marty is also a decent motivator; at best, I think Norv equals him there.

However, he is not a very good tactics coach. I was screaming at him for his stupid playcalling when the Chargers got the ball at the 2:01 mark. Run three times into a ten man front for a couple of yards, and give Peyton the ball back, when your defense has been porous against them all game, with almost two minutes and a timeout, down by just 4? Stupid! Norv's punter and the sudden good play by his defense, getting the one stop they most desparately needed, saved him there, but it was still colossally bad coaching, and I was disgusted that San Diego won in spite of it.

Part of the reason why Indy's pass rush vanished was not just the loss of Freeney--it was the way that offensive holding penalties seem to evaporate in the playoffs. EVERY QB on Sunday, and practically every QB last weekend had loads of time, probably because refs just aren't calling holding anymore. And no defense can cover forever. The Colts' D, which is predicated on pressure, is especially vulnerable. Of course, one would expect the Chargers D to be as well, as they are also predicated on pressure, and for the most part, barring two fluke interceptions and an uncharacteristic fumble, they were (it's worht noting that all three Indy turnovers took place in FG range, and they lost by 4).

Finally, I wonder if losing Rivers may have actually HELPED the Chargers for that one drive. Teams don't spend a whole lot of time in practice preparing for the opposing team's backup QB. When Volek came in, the Chargers changed up their schemes to fit his style more, and protect him better, and the Colts didn't adapt well to the switch. I suspect if you told them last Monday that they'd be facing the Volek-led Chargers, Volek wouldn't have had so much success. You see it all the time...a backup QB comes in and plays well in the game he starts, and maybe even the following week, but then teams figure him out and everyone sees why he is a backup.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:55pm

#12, I think your point goes to another thing which is under emphasized. Everybody talks about how much good qbs are made to look great when they get great line play, and it is certainly true. What doesn't get mentioned as much is how great qb play covers for weaknesses on an offensive line. No, I'm not saying the Colts offensive isn't good, but I am saying that they look significantly better because their qb is so consistently great.

When the Vikings played the Chargers, the Chargers, for some unfathomable reason, chose to pretend that the Vikings had a Unitas/Montana/Brady hybrid at qb, and Rice/Moss hybrids at wide receiver. The Vikings o-line, which never benefits from good qb and receiver play, thus had a much easier time springing Adrian Peterson to the 2nd level, and while Addai is good, he ain't Adrian Peterson in the open field. The Chargers gave Manning the respect he commands, even though Manning threw for 400 yards. The Colts' offensive line, however, isn't always good enough to take advantage of what Manning provides them, in terms of running the ball.

by slo-mo-joe (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:06pm

Run three times into a ten man front for a couple of yards, and give Peyton the ball back, when your defense has been porous against them all game, with almost two minutes and a timeout, down by just 4? Stupid!

But the SD defense had not been particularly porous. Indy's drives to that point were: TD, fumble, FG, int, int, TD, punt, TD, downs, and the last series had taken the Colts almost 3 minutes (would have been more had not SD called a TO) and a 4th down conversion to get into TD range from their 23.

Sure, putting the game into Manning's hands is a big gamble, but so is putting it into Volek's. Risky, sure (but what choice isn't, at that juncture?), but not stupid.

by ammek (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:17pm

Will Allen, the Vikings DO have Rice/Moss hybrids at receiver. Unfortunately, it's Sidney Rice and Sinorice Moss.

by Peter (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:19pm

If you summarize Indy's drives, they had:
3 drives that ended in TD's;
1 drive that ended in a FG;
1 drive deep into SD territory that ended on downs;
3 drives deep into SD territory that ended on fluke turnovers;
1 drive that ended on a punt from midfield.

I would say the above points to a very porous, but lucky, Chargers defense.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:31pm

But the SD defense had not been particularly porous.
Look at where and how the Indy drives had ended:

fumble in the red zone
Freak INT on the 1-yard line


So prior to the decision to give the Colts the ball back with almost 2 minutes to go, the Colts had had eight drives. Three had ended in TD's, two more on lucky (for the Chargers) turnovers in the red zone (one of which happened on the 1-yard line), and one more got reasonably close. So the Colts had been able to march down the field almost uncontested on six out of their eight previous drives.

Yes, needing a TD with less than two minutes isn't a sure thing, but with Manning back there, it's probably at least, say, a 40% chance or so, if not better, considering how the Colts had been moving up and down the field almost at will. Whereas a single first down essentially wins the game for San Diego. Does forcing the Colts to take one extra timeout decrease their chance of scoring a TD that much to compensate for not even trying to never give them the chance?

I'm not even necessarily criticizing running the ball. But the way that they ran the ball--three consecutive uninspired inside handoffs out of an obvious run formation with your backup RB straight into the center of a defensive formation that screamed "stuffing the box to stop the run"...idiotic. Norv might just as well have offered to skip those three plays and punt on first down, in exchange for the the Colts taking two timeouts. That would have at least lowered the risk of injury...

At least try a high percentage pass like a screen or a swing or a quick hitch, or something off tackle (where you instruct the the RB to stay in bounds at all cost), or add another WR to the formation (or motion someone wide) to force some of the defenders out of the box, or try playaction with instructions to the QB that if no one is open, he should just dive forward and take a 1-yard sack instead of risking an INT.

And especially on first down, when the clock will stop anyway at the two minute warning, try something creative!

I hate it when coaches advertise what they're going to do with their formation, especially if it is exactly what conventional wisdom demands, and then the defense advertises that they are going to sell out to stop it, and the coach goes ahead and does it anyway...

by Nicky P (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:35pm


Nice work

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:37pm

Actually, what I would have tried in Norv's situation at 2:01 would have been to come out in pro formation (3 wide, TE, and RB) that threatened "pass". With the 2-minute warning stopping the clock anyway, it would be plausible for Indy to expect that if Norv was going to pass at all, it would be on first down.

Then, run a draw.
Nice and safe, no chance for a pick-6, and if it doesn't work, you get stuffed for a 1 yard gain (which is all Norv accomplished on 1st down anyway). But if it does, you pick up 6-8 yards and are in 2nd and short AFTER the two-minute warning. Then you are almost guaranteed to pick up the 1st down, and Indy gets the ball back (if at all) with less than 20 seconds and no timeouts.

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:41pm


Awesome song.

by JPS (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:42pm

RE: #27. Has anyone gone back through this game to see how many obvious uncalled holds there were? It seems that much more is being gotten away with, and that's turning me off to these playoffs.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:48pm

Yeah, it was the run from an obvious running formation, with 2:01 on the clock, which was poor judgement. Hell, going for broke from the run formation, with a deep pass, with the qb under instruction to overthrow it a mile unless the receiver was wide open, would have been a better call.

#30, pretty good, ammek, pretty good...

by Peter (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:48pm

The Chargers won because, like the Patriots, they are simply a better team than the Colts. For every "fluke" interception the Chargers produced, I can point to a "bogus" penalty that put Indy in scoring position or literally took points off the board for San Diego.

If they win the battles in the trenches that they did against New England in the playoffs last year (keep in mind the match ups are similar), they'll be able to 1) run the ball, 2) pressure Brady, and 3) use a newly diversified offense to consistently score points against an aging defense that has been very vulnerable of late.

The Chargers are a younger, faster, more physical team, particularly on defense. The last time they played the Patriots they couldn't translate their athletic advantages into execution. If they can do that this time around, it should be a very close game.

by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:59pm

Y'all can't blame "conventional wisdom" for your own predictions--which, coming from actual analysis rather than blather, are typically immune from the silliness that passes for sports analysis from ESPN etc.

But if you'd re-watched the TEN game--in which, not one, but two Pro-Bowl caliber defensive linemen did play, and in which the Chargers consistently made the same kinds of long pass plays they did against IND--you would have wanted to reconsider this "what-if" crap. Nobody--not even FO--saw fit to mention Freeney's absence as significant for this game before Sunday.

I don't think anything we've seen from the Chargers this year invalidates anything you all have written about Turner, Chambers, etc. per se--I'm just a little surprised to see one of your pieces written in order to salvage your own prediction.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:01pm

You know what my favorite part of the game was?

The post game coverage showing a split screen of LdT running out into the middle of the field and waving his arms around and jumping around after the game went to 14-7, while they simultaneously showed him crying after last year's playoff game and saying something along the lines of "when you come into a man's home, and you dance on their logo, thats just not classy, and I'm a classy guy"

You stay classy, LT

by Mr. Beefy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:02pm

Here’s a fun exercise - compare and contrast the 90s Braves w/ the 00s Colts. Both got one title against weak competition and choked the rest of the time! :).

by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:02pm

37: I was just as upset with the failure to attempt a pass (especially with 1st and 10 and the clock at 2:01) as anyone. But the Chargers ran the precise play you called for several times during the game, and on each try, whomever had backside contain nearly sacked Rivers.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:02pm

Re: 30

That's just cold.

by DLM (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:13pm

Statistical analysis and partisan argument aside, the Colts lost twice to the Chargers because Adam Vinateri missed a 29-yard field goal and Peyton Manning failed lead his team to the endzone with a 1st and goal from the 9-yard line.

by DLM (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:15pm

Statistical analysis and partisan argument aside, the Colts lost twice to the Chargers because Adam Vinateri missed a 29-yard field goal and Peyton Manning failed to lead his team to the endzone with a 1st and goal from the 9-yard line.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:16pm

Jon, I'm talking about only sending one receiver out, after play action, and if the one receiver isn't wide open, just overthrowing the pass . Are you telling me the Chargers wouldn't have been able to get it blocked with nine guys in pass protection?

by doktarr (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:17pm

RE: 26,

It's true that Indy has owned Denver in recent years (5-2 since 2002, with the two losses in week 16 or 17) but New England had actually struggled with San Diego until the two recent games. The Pats beat the Chargers in '01 but lost to them in '02 and in '05.

That's wasn't supposed to be a loop, it was supposed to be an analogy. Just as Denver tends to give New England fits, San Diego tends to give Indianapolis fits. I didn't mean to imply anything about the Pats/Chargers relationship.

by doktarr (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:23pm

RE: 45,

It's always tempting to simplify things like that, but this amounts to cherry-picking the reasons of your choice. Since these were both close games, I could easily find two equally game-changing plays in each game, and blame everything on those two plays in stead. For example:

"The Chargers beat the Colts because Darren Sproles sprung for two long return TDs in the first game, and a long screen pass TD in the second game. If the Colts could tackle Sproles they win both games."

Wow, that was even easier than I thought it would be. The fact that it works so well, and yet is completely different from your explanation, shows how flawed this sort of reasoning is. The reality is much more complicated.

by Ryan Harris (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:27pm

Its funny when you look back at personel moves and realize how big of an impact they make.

For example, the Raiders basically gave pennies to get Rhodes after last year. Do you think the Colts maybe would have like to have him in this game? Keith dropped a huge pass on the goal line that got picked. Also with Addai's dissapearance Rhodes could have taken some carries, much like last year.

Also I have to give Norv a ton of credit for getting his team ready. Every analyst was screaming at Norv to "GIVE LT THE BALL". Yes Norv probably could have continued to give LT the ball 25 times a game and won a few more games. But instead he kept coaching and preparing his young (But talented) WRs and QB. While he sacrificed a win or two the Chargers now have a QB that can pass and win in playoff games. Certainly a much better investment for the future than a 13/14 win season.

Also maybe its time for the whinny LT to realize how good he has it. No LT wont get outrageous numbers under Norm, but instead he will have a better surrounding cast that can win games without him. So LT please drop the sad face and understand that Norv may even extend your career a season or two by reigning in on your carries.

Even though the Chargers are probably going to get waxed on Sunday, you have to love their chances for next year. If this is the type of team that the Chargers can be, imagine their potential with everyone on board with the new offense?

I never thought I would say it, but Norv...well played sir!

by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:28pm

Will--nothing about Chargers pass protection would surprise me at this point in the season :)
Seriously, I was just offering that as a reason why Turner might have been leery of calling that kind of play. That and Turner's love for Scifries contributed to those play calls. I personally still think it was a bad decision, potentially disastrous if Clark pulls down that 4th and 5 pass and scampers for the TD. It boggles my mind that SD had a chance to put the game away and didn't even attempt to seize it. It goes to show that coaches who don't have the chops to be HC can still win football games.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:28pm

It's a bit much to speak of "failure" after putting up the numbers Manning did. It is much more accurate to say that the Colts lost on Sunday because A) The Chargers offensive line soundly defeated the Colts' defensive front, and B)The guys catching passes for the Colts played poorly overall.

Having said that, Manning's worst play may have been on third and goal during their second to last possession. They attempted that center screen to Addai again, and although Addai was open, he was far from a sure thing for a t.d., even if the pass had not been tipped. Meanwhile, Dallas Clark was extremely open just to the left, and would have strolled into the end zone. Now, it's a little harsh to jump on a qb for failing to find the most open guy, when the primary is open, but in that situation, in the red zone, sometimes that sort of judgement is required. It really is distortive, however, to hang this loss on Manning's "failure" to lead the Colts to the end zone.

by AlexSmithJoe (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:32pm

Three completely random points:

This week Bill Belichick will be unveiling a new strategy: get one of his players to make a borderline catch on third down of the opening drive to cause to Norv to immediately waste a challenge. It could be a sideline route where the receiver smartly gets his second foot down at the last possible instant, or the receiver could be clearly in bounds but he'll juggle it ever so slightly to draw the challenge flag. Norv will then lose the challenge because he has yet to make a good challenge in the playoffs.

The matchup isn't just Belichick vs. Norv. It's also Ted Cotrell's gameplanning vs. the Patriots offense.

And if it's Volek who starts, they can at least use Philip Rivers to yell in the plays in the event of any coach-to-QB communication problems.

by Richard (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:34pm

As a long-time Charger fan, I was hoping that Norv wouldn't let Billy Volek put the ball in the air on that last drive. We were pushing the Colts' D around upfront and knew that we had the best punter in the NFL. I would run three times and punt every time there and I was glad that's what they did.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:34pm

Re: 49

Actually, that might support DLM's underlying reasoning (assuming my assumption is correct) that both games where incredibly close but San Diego won both times due in large part to the outcome of a middling number of plays.

by Richard (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:36pm

51: Does it really make more sense to put more trust in your back up quarterback than your excellent special teams and defense? I just don't see it.

by Richard (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:37pm

50: Next year does look promising. I look forward to the new and improved Vincent Jackson and the newly acquired Chris Chambers lining up next to last year's most valuable Chargers' wide receiver: Eric Parker.

by Dr. Wayne Pitcher (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:40pm

Re: 42

The 1995 Braves beat a 100-44 Cleveland team (equivalent to 112 wins in a full season!) to win the World Series. I'd hardly call that weak competition.

I recently saw Manning compared to Greg Maddux before (can't remember where)--great regular season stats, not so great in the playoffs.

Maybe Bill Polian's s*** doesn't work in the playoffs. :)

Seriously though, has anyone done an analysis to see if different types of teams have success in the playoffs vs. the regular season? I know Bill Barnwell did his "secret sauce", but the correlation wasn't as strong as Baseball Prospectus's "secret sauce" method. Could it be that there is more similarity between the regular season and playoffs in football? Given the number of games played (compared to baseball), it would make sense...

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:45pm

I understand your thinking, Richard, but if the decision tree is reduced to, "Receiver wide open, throw it to him; Receiver not wide open, overthrow thirty yards" with nine guys in pass protection, it's about as low risk as a handoff, even for a backup. Assuming, of course, that the Chargers have practiced for such a situation, even if only with Rivers. That may not be a good assumption, however.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:50pm

Yeah, doc, given football's once a week game format, I doubt if such a disparity exists, as it does in baseball, between regular season and post season success.

by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 4:11pm

Richard--there's more to it than that. SD's defense has in general been great, but in this game allowed Manning to complete 68% of his passes for over 400 yards, and drive up and down the field all game. I'd at least take one chance with Volek (or, as suggested above, a slightly less obvious running play) before conceding the ball to the Colts offense. I'm as happy as anyone it worked out--I was there to see my Boltz win, after all! It's still bad tactics and poor decision-making by the HC.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 4:13pm

Well, one should also avoid getting carried away with the anti-Turner sentiment. Up until the 2:01 point, he had called a terrific game.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 4:22pm

I would run three times and punt every time there and I was glad that’s what they did.

Fine, run it three times, if you don't trust Volek with a very safe, protected pass (after he already drove them down the field to score the go-ahead TD, largely with some big clutch passes).

But don't run inside handoffs into a stacked box from an obvious running formation. Call a run play that at least has a chance of getting you the first down. Norv is supposed to be good offensively and the best he can come up with is runs up the middle? How about going with a balanced formation and running a draw? Or trying something else creative? I'm not talking a triple reverse or a halfback option here--just something a little less vanilla than what he did.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 4:26pm

One more thing about the playcall at 2:01. It was a bad call because the Colts were stacking 10 on the line, playing run all the way, but in that situation, it's reasonable to expect the Colts to play a more balanced defense, so calling a running play isn't necessarily a bad decision. The Colts just got lucky and sold out to stop the run when the Chargers were running. Of course the Chargers had ran on many previous first downs in the game, so maybe the Colts had a good reason to expect a run there.

by patriotsgirl (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 4:40pm

62: I kind of agree, although I think Norv's playcalling was strongest once LdT went out. Obviously, it's a small sample size, but they had a lot of success passing on first and second down (the Sproles play was a second down pass that followed a first down pass), and really seemed to diversity their game plan.

1: I was listening to Madden on the radio, and he thought that the Colts had perhaps listened to a bit too much of the "AFC Championship is Super Bowl" talk; he mentioned that he briefly bought into that hype once in his career, when in 1974 the Raiders played the Dolphins and the prognosticators suggested that the winner would win the Super Bowl. They won, and promptly lost to Pittsburgh. I thought it was interesting that he admitted to the distraction, at any rate.

by JV (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 4:42pm

This thread has been very matchups focused. There are intangibles in this game that don't bode well for San Diego.
1. This will be their 3rd playoff game.
2. They are flying coast to coast after nearly flying coast to coast last week, a total of close to 5,000 air miles in two weeks (hope they're taking their "Airborne").
3. They are really beat up.
4. Game-time temperatures will start around 20 and fall.

In general, I think West Coast teams are worse in the cold weather than Florida teams. If the Chargers can overcome all that, tip your cap to them, but NFL playoff history suggests they face very long odds.

by Tom (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 4:44pm

I think it's kind of foolish to talk about the playcalling by Norv the last time the Chargers had the ball -- it was obviously the best decision since it worked, right? I guess they could've thrown the ball on 1st down since the 2:00 warning was coming up but why take the chance. I think they had to run the ball on 2nd and 3rd downs, you have to keep the clock moving and make the Colts use their timeouts, you absolutely can't have an incomplete pass in that situation (the Chargers won the game at Tennessee because the Titans threw an incomplete pass on 3rd down instead of running the ball).

Also, I've seen a lot of people writing that the last pass was dropped by Dallas Clark. Do we expect all receivers to make over the shoulder one handed catches after a DB has tipped it? That's a pretty harsh standard. Even football cheerleader Peter King said Clark dropped it.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:07pm

Well, on 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 with teams stacking the box I have seen many a running back break through the mish-mash and take it to the house. So with great execution and a bit of luck maybe the Chargers get a 40 yard gain before someone is hauled down from behind.

I don't agree with the call for the various reasons stated. But it wasn't necessarily a "give up" play.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:11pm

67: "it was obviously the best decision since it worked, right?
No, and if you truly believe that I never want you making decisions for me.
In all seriousness, though, it didn't work. A first down practically ices the game. Not picking up the first down gave the Colts a much better chance of winning.

by randplaty (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:19pm

Very good analysis. Thoroughly enjoyed the article.

by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:21pm

I don't actually think the Patriots generate very good pass rush with their "front four," which is somewhat of a misnomer. I think they apply good pressure up the middle with their stout front three and constrain the pocket. I think their outside guys, on applicable plays, can rush the passer fine (Vrabel very well, AD not so much), but they are so often just supposed to set the edge or drop into coverage that it doesn't come up much. New England's defense is predicated on playing smart, not giving up big plays, and putting general pressure on an offense to execute. It's not a penetrate/make plays defense.

I think this will play out against the Chargers much to their benefit, however, because without healthy Rivers, LT, and Gates, even if they play, the Chargers will struggle at times to execute. That plays into the Patriots' hands insofar as they rely on an offense forcing something. What were their tight games this year? It appears from the Philly, Baltimore, and Giants games that the Patriots defense "stiffened up" all of a sudden and "made a play" when they had to. I don't really buy that. I think what happened is that all game long they had been applying steady but not overwhelming pressure, and the offenses on those teams each made a critical error (interceptions for Samuel, Sanders, and Hobbs, respectively) when the pressure got to them.

So from a Chargers O v. Pats D perspective, I would expect more of the same this weekend: The Chargers will get their yards. New England will play steady, tough, smart pressure defense, and sooner or later the Volek or Rivers will rush a throw and give up an interception that will let the Patriots distance themselves.

I don't mean to discount the "playmakers" on the Patriots like Samuel, or discount the immense pressure the Patriots offense applies to the other offense to score. Bottom line, I think the Patriots defense is about steadiness and readiness to capitalize on mistakes rather than always trying to generate them by taking risks.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:25pm

I dunno, Tom, it sure looked to me as if Clark had both hands touch the ball. No, it wasn't an easy catch, but it wouldn't have been a spectacular one, either. The Chargers pass catchers went up and caught some non-easy balls on Sunday, while the Colts receivers did very little of that, and actually, in one instance, badly flubbed an easy catch into an interception near the goal line. For a team with a reputation for a
superb passing attack built over several years, it was a very poor demonstration of professional receiving.

by Jackson (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:34pm

#69, Yes it worked because they won the game based on the D being able to stop Indy when it counted. Because they were able to get off a booming punt and put Indy back in their own territory. Because they didn't turn the ball over.

If they had Rivers, Gates, and LT in the lineup different story, but conservatism was ok here.

by slo-mo-joe (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:42pm

67: “it was obviously the best decision since it worked, right?
No, and if you truly believe that I never want you making decisions for me.
In all seriousness, though, it didn’t work. A first down practically ices the game. Not picking up the first down gave the Colts a much better chance of winning.

I guess that is right, but I don't think it was a "stupid" decision either. The bottom line is that Volek has played at most a dozen total snaps this season, and ultimately the SD coaching staff has a much better idea of what he can be relied on doing than any of us. I wouldn't go second-guessing their decision too much.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:43pm

73: "Yes it worked because they won the game based on the D being able to stop Indy when it counted. Because they were able to get off a booming punt and put Indy back in their own territory. Because they didn’t turn the ball over."
But they wouldn't have needed the first two things to happen if they get a first down there. Which they didn't. Just because it ultimately works out doesn't mean it was the right decision.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:59pm

74: I agree, it wasn't stupid. But saying that it was the right decision just because everything worked out is a terrible way to judge the situation.

by MattB (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:03pm

I think that some of you are oversimplifying the issue a bit on the Chargers possession with 2:01 left in the game. A first down would have been great, but it would only "ice" the game if the Charger's got it on second or third down. If the Chargers pass on first down and get the first, then the two minute warning hits and now the Chargers have to get another first down because the clock is at 1:55 or so and Indy has three timeouts. Here Indy still uses its timeouts on 1st, 2nd and 3rd down and they get the ball back, but this time without an additional timeout.

Granted that is better than Indy getting the ball back with a timeout, but it doesn't ice the game. Also I think some are ignoring the fact that by running the ball on first and second down (even against a stacked defense), the chargers were faced with a makeable 3rd and 3 I believe. Now they didn't convert that 3rd and 3 to truly ice the game, but they had the chance.

by Tom (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:05pm

Remember, the Chargers #1 priority there was to keep the clock moving and force the Colts to use their timeouts, not to gain a first down (although of course that helps that). Only two things stop the clock in that situation, a timeout or an incomplete pass. With Billy Volek in there I don't see how you can risk throwing an incomplete pass although I can see the reasoning for throwing on the first down play as the clock was going to stop anyway. However, it seems like the risks were higher then the reward and looking back, Norv was correct. It was the correct decision because it worked, just like Tomlin going for two from the 12 was wrong because it failed (if it worked it would have been right).

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:14pm

"Only two things stop the clock in that situation, a timeout or an incomplete pass"

Have you missed the whole conversation? Seriously? The clock was 2:01. A run stops the clock just as much as an incomplete pass. There was no "clock" incentive to running on first down.

by Doug (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:16pm

I didn't catch this at the time, but did anyone see the Indy crowd booing the girl w/the Pats shirt who won Punt, Pass, and Kick? I loved her reaction too, she was laughing and having fun with it.

by zip (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:20pm

just like Tomlin going for two from the 12 was wrong because it failed (if it worked it would have been right).

So playing Russian Roulette is a good idea if you don't get shot?

by Doug (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:22pm

Eddo, there are good cases to be made on either side of the argument

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:24pm

Yes, Matt but if getting the first down entails a forty yard gain, with a long pass to single receiver out in a pattern, the game is pretty much iced. If, as was posited above, Turner comes out in a pass formation, forces the Colts to spread out, and then picks up a six yard gain, second and four makes things a lot more difficult for the Colts than second and ten.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:32pm

Of course, there are two sides to the argument. And I'm not necessarily saying that Turner made an undeniably wrong call; in fact, I would have only thrown on first down, when the clock was going to stop anyway. After that, two runs into the middle would have been fine with me.
I was arguing more with the statement "t was obviously the best decision since it worked, right?", not the playcalling.

by Richard (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 7:04pm

82: Well, it wasn't obviously the best decision so you have that right. What I don't understand though is why people are talking about what was at worst a debatable play call after a game in which Turner called a great game.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 7:15pm

83: Cause we love picking on Norvalicious, mostly because he's an easy target. Does he call the plays for SD, though? I thought that was typically the OC's job.

by lannychiu (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 8:09pm

So if I go Las Vegas and bet my entire life savings on 36 black, it comes up and then I retired to a tropical paradise, it was a good decision because it all turned out well?

Or was I an idiot because probabilistically I made a foolish error that luck bailed me out of.

by Scott (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 8:39pm

I mentioned somewhere else on this site last week that the Chargers are doing something right when they play the Colts. They have forced Manning to throw at least 44 passes in 4 straight games (5 now), they shut down the run, and the SD offense has been pretty successful as well against that defense. It was stunning that they got it done without LT/Rivers, but the Chargers winning period wasn't too much of a shock.

Btw, that'd be an interesting nugget to look into. Manning's thrown for 300+ in 5 straight games against the Chargers (specifically at least 328 in all 5 games). Has any QB ever had this kind of streak of 300 yard games against the same opponent?

I haven't really looked yet, but I checked out Brett Favre's career just because it's so long. He's riding a current streak of 3 straight against the Colts, but there's no way he'll be able to extend that past 4 (GB plays Indy in 2008) unless he plays next year and both teams are in Super Bowl 43.

by Scott (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 9:00pm

One last thing, I believe Indy's last 5 playoff losses have all been to 3-4 defenses

2007 Chargers
2005 Steelers
2004 Patriots
2003 Patriots
2002 Jets

They still haven't perfected how to attack it (unless it's the Dom Capers coached Texans version, which just goes to show talent matters the same as scheme)

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 9:20pm

You know -- I thought you guys were only joking about "Norvalicious". But then I found myself wondering, "What the heck is 'Norv' short for, anyways?" Wikipedia comes through with (drumroll), "Norval". So go, Noravalicious! :)

by Jomo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 10:35pm

There have to be others like me who root for a head coach's obviously bad decision, especially near the end of the game, to bite him in the behind. For instance, it was sweet justice when Mike Tomlin went for that 2-point conversion from the 12-yard line with way too much time left, and then lost to the Jags by 2 missed extra points.

I think Norv's decision to run on first down with 2:01 on the clock falls into the same category. Given that a run and a pass are equivalent in that situation in terms of using up clock, and that a first down probably sews up the game, and that you're playing against the prolific Colts offense, and that the Colts defense was keying hard on the run, that was a must-pass situation. Too bad he got away with it.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 11:03pm

Scott, after a 3-4 yielded 450 yards, and kept the Colts from scoring via two tipped balls that easily could have been caught, and a four down stop inside the 10 that came because the Colts had failed to at least kick easy field goals prior to those tips, and given what the Colts did to the Pats 3-4 last January, I think one should be hesitant to draw conclusions about a supposed problem the Colts have with the 3-4. Of course, to be accurate regarding your post, nobody ever "perfects" anything.

by Richard (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 11:18pm

86: Turner does call the plays.

by Papa Narb (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 12:41am

Does anyone know why the Colts ran almost exclusively between the tackles versus using the stretch play against San Diego?

Is it a function of the 3-4 defense, or a function of Addai not being as good as Edgerrin James at running it?

It seems the lack of stretch also has contributed to less play action out of Peyton. Maybe it's a function of the OL not being able to hold the pocket long enough.

by Tom (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 1:00am

I can't imagine that any QB has that sort of success against one opponent like Peyton against the Chargers -- unfortunately the gamelogs on pro-football-reference.com don't go back very far.

Changing the subject to the Pats-Jags game, I was wondering if there had every been a QB game like Brady's before -- in that he only threw the ball once down the field (I think, I can't remember the 14 yard pass to Moss and how far the incomplete to Watson went). Other than that, every other pass was very short. I seem to remember a Chiefs game against the Chargers where Joe Montana seemingly dumped the ball off every pass but threw for 300 yards, not sure the year or anything on that though.

by Scott (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 1:06am

Will Allen, you just don't see those kind of plays from Indy when they're playing different defenses though. In fact in 2005 when the Colts lost to the Chargers after starting 13-0, Manning had two interceptions in that game and both of those picks were off of tipped passes from Indy receivers as well (I believe one by Wayne again).

They also seem to struggle with their playcalling in the redzone against these defenses. That INT was on Keith for sure, but why go for the screen there anyway? It wasn't the only ill-advised RB screen down there in the game either. Why not go big and play action to some rarely used player like Lawton (sort of like the TD pass to Klecko in the AFC-C last year). Or we've seen them in the past go to Clark on a fade pass in the back of the endzone. I didn't like their playcalling in goal-to-go. Of course they had some bad plays that close in the last few meetings as well. They tried running for a 2pt conversion in the reg. season game this year and it didn't work. Manning tried a bootleg in the 2005 game on a 4th down, but he forgot to tell his teammates so there was no blocking. They turned that drive over on downs.

And aside from last year's AFC-C, they've had a pretty rough time against NE over the years in that situation as well. The 3-4 is still giving them problems.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 1:22am

95 (Tom):
The Super Bowl just this last year is a good example. I can't say for sure how many times Manning threw downfield against the Bears, but it was less than half a dozen. There was the early Wayne TD, but other than that he took what the Bears (and stupid Ron Rivera, curse him) gave him, which was an open RB underneath every single play.

by Tom (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 1:30am

97: Wasn't that more weather related though? He was 25-38 for 247 with 1 TD and 1 INT. Harrison had a 22 yarder, Clark a 17 yarder, Wayne a 53 yarder, that's all the long passes. With 12 incomplete passes I'm assuming a majority of them were longer passes as I don't think he'd miss on that many dumpoffs. That's still going to be probably at least 7 "long" passes, 5 more then Brady at the minimum.

by Cadillac (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 2:44am

I really appreciate the intelligent discussion here without the pettiness, name-calling etc so prevalent on other blogs.

As a Charger fan who has watched just about every down this season, I make two observations:
1) Norv habitually calls the run up the middle inappropriately. As mentioned earlier, with the box stacked up, run outside the tackles, just stay in bounds at all costs. Turner has the speed to turn the corner, as demonstrated in 2005 when he iced the game against the Colts in Indy to break their streak. This is a better attempt to get the first down. 3 straight 'plunges up the middle and a cloud of astroturf' would have given me a heart attack had I not predicted it based on Norv's demonstrated tendency. A pass of any kind, regardless of which QB, makes me nervous for the extremely costly potential for interception.

2) What was the first play of the game for SD offense? Run up the middle when LT was still in the game healthy. This is a bad use of his talents. LT is NOT a battering ram like Jerome Bettis! Anyone who has watched him like I have his entire career knows he does his best magic when he gets the ball in space--a pitch to go wide, a short pass, etc. He jukes people out of their jock and uses speed, and then when contact is inevitable, the guy still only gets a piece of him and LT spins for another 3 yards.

What does using LT up the middle predictably do? Allow defenses to bottle him up and GET HIM HURT! Norv's giving him fewer touches doesn't preserve his career when SO MANY of his runs are between the tackles.

What I would LOVE to see is Norv put Michael Turner in the backfield, LT in the slot, Gates at TE and Chambers (or Jackson or next year, Eric Parker) at wideout. You can't cover all that talent! That would case a DC some real migraines! Can't do that all the time, but man, not even ONCE in a season?

Re: SD vs NE, it is an uphill road for the Chargers for sure, but as they say, that's why they go ahead and play instead of just polling the not-so-bright talking heads on ESPN and networks.


by Travis (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 3:18am

One last thing, I believe Indy’s last 5 playoff losses have all been to 3-4 defenses.... 2002 Jets

The 2002 Jets were a 4-3 team (they didn't change to a 3-4 until Mangini got there). Link to gamebook here.

by JeffW (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 3:41am

Can't believe all the posts saying Norv improved our offense. Our offense declined substantially from 2006 to 2007.

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 11:54am

94: The Colts new LT Ugoh isn't very good at running the stretch play, he's much better at traditional run-blocking.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 12:14pm

Scott, the tips by Keith and Wayne had exactly nothing to do with a 3-4 defense. It was simply a matter of one guy (Keith) not making a high school level play, and another guy (Wayne) not making a play on a ball thrown a little high, a play that a professional receiver frequently makes. Defensive scheme didn't mean anything.

I don't particularly like a center screen inside the 10 yard line, either, but that has nothing to do with any special problems the Colts have with a 3-4. Look, it's very reasonable to suppose that the Colts have more difficulty with a 3-4 than with a 4-3. I'd be hesitant, however, to draw any conclusions off such a tiny sample size.

by DGL (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 12:21pm

52: "They attempted that center screen to Addai again, and although Addai was open, he was far from a sure thing for a t.d., even if the pass had not been tipped. Meanwhile, Dallas Clark was extremely open just to the left, and would have strolled into the end zone. Now, it’s a little harsh to jump on a qb for failing to find the most open guy, when the primary is open, but in that situation, in the red zone, sometimes that sort of judgement is required."

But does this hold on a screen? I always viewed a screen as a "single-read" kind of play -- the QB isn't looking through any kind of progression; he's just waiting for the blocking to develop and tossing it to the screen receiver. Am I wrong?

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 1:49pm

"and given what the Colts did to the Pats 3-4 last January, I think one should be hesitant to draw conclusions about a supposed problem the Colts have with the 3-4."

Will, the colts got DESTROYED by the Pats 3-4 last year in the playoffs. The 2nd half the defense fell apart, but that was as much an issue of illness as it was scheme/talent/whatever. Players were vomiting on the sideline because of the flu. Eric Alexander played!!!!.

The reason the colts won that game was because they managed to hold down the Patriots offence.

by Papa Narb (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 1:55pm

Re: #102

From what I saw of Ugoh earlier in the season, he was very good at pulling and getting to the edge in run blocking. Did it change after the injury?

Re: #103

I agree with you on the 3-4 comment. A lot of this is based on postseason losses versus regular season games. In the regular season, Colts have beaten NE and Pittsburgh, who play a 3-4, and scored a bunch on them too.

A lot of it just comes down to better teams and better defense played in the postseason.

I'd also argue that the Colts D was much more responsible for this loss than the Colts O - because, if I remember correctly, the D only forced two 3 and outs all game, 1 of which was post the two minute warning when San Diego was just ramming the ball up the middle.

by doktarr (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 3:38pm


To be blunt, that's an odd argument when the Pats scored 34. Granted, there was the late stop where Caldwell dropped the ball, but that drive was only necessary because the Pats defense gave up 38 points.

The injury argument is reasonable, but the Colts did win three straight against the Pats from 2005-2006. Only this year, when the Pats went to another level, did they snap the streak.

Between that, and the Colts lack of struggles against the Steelers or Ravens, and their relative slowdown on offense against the Titans, I don't really see a big correlation anymore between 3-4 defenses and bad games by the Colts offense. The Colts offense struggles against teams that have good defenses, not 3-4 defenses.

by doktarr (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 3:56pm

RE: 88,

That is a fascinating stat. Looking a little deeper:

2007 divisional (L): 48 passing attempts, 2.4 YPC (44 yards)

2007 week (L): 56 passing attempts, 2.88 YPC (75 yards)

2005 week 15 (L): 45 passing attempts, 1.6 YPC (24 yards)

2004 week 16 (W): 44 passing attempts, 4.2 YPC (105 yards)

To my eye, it seems that San Diego may be the only team that goes into Colts games looking to shut down the run and make the Colts one-dimensional. When they succeed, they have a chance to win. All of these games have been close in the fourth quarter, but it seems like this unusual approach is effective.

You could argue that the Pats used this approach in the '03 and '04 playoff games as well. I think that in those cases have other explanations. In the '03 game they managed to get Manning to make bad reads, and in the '04 game the weather was a big factor in shutting the Colts offense down nearly completely.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 4:36pm

Rich, last I checked, the 2nd half counts. Maybe illness was the reason, maybe not, but the game can't be ignored when examining the proposition "The Colts' offense doesn't score a lot versus 3-4 defenses".

DGL, I think you are mostly right, but that is one of the problems I have with that play, in that situation. When one absolutely needs six points, focusing solely on the one receiver who is not in the end zone seems problematic. Like I said, I wouldn't hammer Peyton Manning too hard for it, unless I knew a lot more, like what Manning and Moore say to each other upon reviewing the film.

by Scott (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 6:55pm

Hey, I love watching Indy's offense and am a big Manning fan, but if you ask me, the probability of their offense making a mistake or uncharacteristic play goes up when they're playing against a legit 3-4. I think it's a flaw that has caused them to get to only one SB, and I am stunned that Tom Moore and Dungy would not figure out better ways to deal with it.

There are really 4 main teams that matter in the AFC that have used the 3-4 in recent years: Pittsburgh, New England, San Diego and Baltimore

Vs. Patriots: (and it's only logical to go back to the 2003 meetings), Indy's offense has had their moments: 32 pts in the 2nd half in the AFC-C, a 21 pt comeback in 6 minutes in 2003 to tie the game at 31, a 40 pt thrashing in NE in 2005, a solid 27 pts (plus Vinatieri missed a FG) up there last year. But then you have a longer line of blunders that has helped NE claim HFA in several seasons and pick up big wins: Edge can't run it in from the 1 yard line in 2003, Manning has one of his worst games ever in the AFC-C w/4 picks, Marvin fumbles in the redzone in that game (a forgotten huge play). 2 lost fumbles, 6 dropped passes, no running game and only 3 pts the next year in the playoffs. 2 Edge fumbles in the redzone, another Manning INT near the goal line, and an unblocked Willie McGinnest for a big sack to start the 2004 season. 2007, stifled on their last two drives at home, with a forced fumble by Colvin to seal the deal.

vs. Ravens: Someome mentioned their success against their defense, and while they have done pretty well (5-0 in the Dungy era), their 2nd worst offensive game of the 2006 season was in Baltimore against the league's best defense. Now because they were the best defense (far and away IMO) and it was the playoffs, you get a little bit of a pass. 5 FG drives was pretty good work and the defense played great for a change. But generally, that performance wouldn't get it done. And if you're curious what Indy's worst offensive performance was in 2006 (by my guidelines which take into account many things), it was at Dallas where they lost 21-14. What does Dallas have? Another 3-4 with great athletes like Ware. So their worst two offensive performances last year were against the 3-4. In 2007, the only 3 games they lost (forget the Titan mail-in game) were to 3-4 teams, and the offense turned it over 11 times and were not good enough in the redzone.

vs. Steelers: Another team mentioned as Indy having no struggles against, and that's really not true. They were beat soundly 28-10 back in 2002 and Manning was intercepted 3 times (to go along with 300 yards though). That Steeler pass defense was awful, btw. Then they played a pretty good game on MNF against them in 05, getting a lot of ground yardage against that stout run defense. But then you look at that classic playoff game and it's probably the worst pass protection Manning played with in his 10 year career. They gave them absolute fits that day, and while the comeback effort was nice (aided by a bad replay call), the Steelers defense ultimately won that match up.

vs. Chargers: We've talked about the past matchups throughout this page. There have been several tipped INTs, a bunch of redzone failures, awkward bootleg plays, poor running game, and sometimes bad pass protection (especially the 2005 26-17 game). The Chargers have as much claim as anyone to playing the Colts offense well.

You give Manning and that offense a crack at Denver's defense with it's lack of pass rush and their ability to stay away from Bailey with other options, and they torch the hell out of them every time. Try another fire blitz Shanahan, you'll get killed. Try sitting back like in 06, and you'll die a slower death.

You give Indy what they see in practice, like the cover 2 of the Buccaneers or Chicago Bears, and they look like a well-oiled machine, picking up big yardage all over the field, ground or air. And those are very good defensive teams.

The Eagles and Jaguars have had good, if not great defenses with nice d-lines over the years, and the Colts usually give them fits (especially Philly).

But when you can field a defense with great, smart athletes and disguise the blitz well, you have a better chance of disrupting them than you do any other kind of defense.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 7:17pm

"Rich, last I checked, the 2nd half counts. Maybe illness was the reason, maybe not, but the game can’t be ignored when examining the proposition “The Colts’ offense doesn’t score a lot versus 3-4 defenses”."

Will, I think its silly to use a half where players are vomiting into trashbarrels all over the sideline to make a claim for ANYTHING. That half of football simply isn't useful from an analysis perspective.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 7:19pm

"To be blunt, that’s an odd argument when the Pats scored 34. "

Go back an look at the drive charts. Colts offensive turnovers lead to almost all the points.

by doktarr (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 2:37am

RE: 110,

Let me summarize what you said:

vs. Pats: They've done well and done poorly. They particularly do poorly when players drop passes, or when the Pats defense is particularly good that year.

vs. Ravens: They've done well, although they didn't finish get a lot of TDs against them when the Ravens had a really great defense last year.

vs. Steelers: They lost against them before Manning was at his current level, and they had a terrible game protecting Manning in the '05 game. Other than that they've done well.

vs. Chargers: They have struggled fairly consistently, with only the '04 game as an exception.

Frankly, I don't see a pattern of struggling against the 3-4. And again, you're minimizing struggles against good Titans and Jaguars defenses.

I think it's reasonable to say that if you give the Colts offense a clone of the Colts defense (i.e. straight Tampa 2) they will be super-familiar with it and will eat it up. I also agree that the circa 2004-2005 Colts offense, which was based around the stretch run play, had some inherent issues with the 3-4 alignment. But this idea that the 3-4 confuses Manning and forces the skill players into drops or other mistakes is not really backed up by the data, as far as I can see.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 12:07pm

Rich, I wasn't any making any strong assertions, other than saying you can't just ignore a game when trying to develop a theory based on what is already a tiny sample size. My entire point is that the sample size is so tiny as to make strong assertions very silly. doktarr sums it up pretty well in #113.

by Mark K (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 2:21pm

#99 Cadillac

'What does using LT up the middle predictably do?'

Now, as per your question, as another Charger fan who has seen every game this season, I believe that I can answer that, but I want to tell a story first....I remember hearing great old stories about the 70s Pittsburgh Steeler teams under Chuck Noll and how physical his offensive line was. How physical? They used to beat up opposing defensive lineman so badly they would stagger to the sidelines, knees nearly buckling from the pounding they had been taking all game long, playing until they were so exhausted they barely knew their own names.

Flash forward to the San Diego Chargers.

Every game the Chargers open up by running right into the teeth of the opposing defense, with 8 in the box or against run blitzing, correct?

And every 4th quarter, the Chargers offensive line begins to dominate the opposing defensive line, correct?

The truth is, Norv sends in McNeill, Dielman, Hardwick, Goff, and Clary to soften up opposing defenses. They are there to physically wear them down and diminish their will.

I've heard more Charger fans complain about the Chargers predictable run-run-pass style of offense, and I just kind of smile because I know that once Kris Dielman has pounded on you for 2.5 hours, you are ready to mail it in in the 4th quarter.

This is, of course, my opinion.

by Mark K (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 2:34pm

101. Can’t believe all the posts saying Norv improved our offense. Our offense declined substantially from 2006 to 2007.


The offense HAD to take a step backward as it changed it's identity away from MartyBall to a more vertical offense that pushes the ball up the field. This team hasn't even fully grasped Norv's digital offense yet and the Chargers have only been showing a real grasp of it since the Baltimore game. Next season is when the dividends are going to start to pay off. When Philip stops thinking and instead starts reacting, this team will really take off.

In the meantime, although the offensive decline is evident, the number of playoffs wins more than makes up for it.

Thanks Norv.

by Scott (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 4:51pm

Re: doktarr/Will Allen

Look I like Indy but I guess I'm still mad over their loss Sunday, and them cheating us NFL fans of the AFC-C rematch everyone wanted to see. So I have to do a little bashing here. I know the whole "they struggle with the 3-4" thing has been built on the strength of several big regular season and playoff losses, but shouldn't it be that way? After all, teams like NE/PIT/SD/BAL are the ones they've had to beat in recent years to get to the SB. They deserve criticism for not handling it better.

From what I gone through and looked at, the Colts have played 31 games in the last 6 seasons against a 3-4 defense. I think the sample size is just fine. As fans we argue over individual players in the postseason, and we're lucky if that sample size is even in the double digits. This is almost two full seasons worth of data to look at.

I don't think the 3-4 defense confuses Manning, I think it frustrates him, and him being a perfectionist, he doesn't play as well as he's capable of when he's frustrated. The 20-3 NE playoff game is a good example. While he individually didn't play a bad game, he was clearly frustrated all game long, it impacted his performance, and it was the 2nd worst offensive performance they've had in the Dungy era (worst being the 41-0 blanking to the Jets in the Wild Card game).

As for me "minimizing struggles against good Titans and Jaguars defenses", you're right, I don't think they've really struggled with either of those non-3-4 defenses. They're 10-3 against the Jaguars, average over 24 ppg, Manning has a 25 TD/8 INT ratio and 96.2 rating. The one game they really struggled was in 2005 where they only scored 10 pts, but still won it because of the defense. I think they would have welcomed the Jaguars into the RCA Dome this past Sunday instead of the Chargers. And as for the Titans, the only time they gave Indy trouble was back in the day when Indy wasn't as efficient as they are now. And remember, the Titans were an elite NFL team from 99-03. The Colts have owned them since, winning 8 of the last 10. The only losses were on a 60 yard FG and the game they played subs in. Titans have started playing them close again, but I wouldn't say the offense has struggled.

I think there are plenty of interesting tidbits from the sample size here.

- In 2007 Manning only had 3 games with more than one turnover. All were against the 3-4.
- As I said earlier, the only 3 games of significance the Colts lost all year in 2007 were to 3-4 defenses
- The only two games of significance Indy lost in 2005 were to the 3-4 (San Diego, Pittsburgh, with both games looking very similar)
- The most turnovers Manning had in a game in 2006 was 3 (twice), and one of those games was against the 3-4 (Dallas). The other was against his old buddy Ty Law for the Chiefs.
- Indy's record is only 4-6 in their last 10 games against the 3-4

Manning's lowest passer rating game in a season:
2007 - 49.4 vs. San Diego (3-4)
2006 - 39.6 vs. Baltimore (3-4)
2005 - 44.0 vs. Jacksonville (4-3)
2004 - 69.3 vs. New England (3-4)
2003 - 35.5 vs. New England (3-4)

4 of the last 5 years it was a 3-4.

- Manning has finished 8 games in the last 4 seasons with exactly 2 INTs. 6 of those games were against the 3-4. The other two were against Tennessee. Of course he's also thrown 4 against the Pats and 6 against the Chargers.

Ok, 31 games against the 3-4 defense

vs. Texans - 8 of those 31 games have been against that below average defense from 2002-05 when Capers was there (8-0 record). They always outplay the Texans, and their offense has arguably been even better the last two years since Kubiak took over and they're building with the 4-3 and their young d-line. They averaged 29.1 ppg in 8 games against the 3-4 Texans, they've averaged 33.75 in 4 games against the 4-3 Texans.

vs. MiscellaneousThey played that one game against Dallas last year and did not play well offensively. They played Cleveland's version in 2005 and only scored 13 pts (won the game though). They scored 28 against the lowly 2005 49ers, but 7 of those pts were on a pick 6, and Manning was getting pressured and intercepted twice in that game. He tore up Atlanta's version (25/30 w/5 TDs) in 2003 when Wade Phillips was interim coaching.

Pretty much covered the other teams already. 4 tough games against San Diego. 4 games against the Ravens (2005 Ravens didn't run a 3-4), all pretty tough except for that rout this year when the Ravens were very short handed. 3 games and some struggles with the Steelers (they will be at Heinz Field in 2008).

And of course the 8-game rivalry with NE that is pretty well-documented. The performance in the 3 consecutive wins was great, but any other time they did something positive, there was always a "yeah but" attached to it.

2003 Reg. Season, 38-34 NE win
- "Manning threw for 4 TDs and they came back from 21 down." Yeah but they faltered on the last couple of drives and failed to score at the 1 yard line when Edge was stuffed on 4th & goal.

2004 Reg. Season, 27-24 NE win
- "They rushed for over 200 yards on NE's defense." Yeah but Edge fumbled twice in the redzone, most notably a crucial fumble on 1st & goal at the one with minutes left in the game.
- "Manning led the team down the field at the end before Vanderjagt missed the FG." Yeah but Willie McGinnest is somehow unblocked and sacks him for a 12 yard loss to make the FG longer. There was also that redzone INT on the first drive that looked just like the one in the AFC-C loss.

2007 Reg. Season, 24-20 NE win
- "Addai had like over 200 yards from scrimmage." Yeah but he disappeared in the 2nd half (and basically for the rest of the season). Something seriously changed at halftime that day for Indy's running game, and it lasted the rest of the season.
- "Manning converted a huge 3rd & long to Clark then ran it in to put Indy up 10." Yeah but you have to beat NE with your offense still, and they generated no points with their last two drives, had poor pass protection, and fumbled on the last chance.

Now I still think Indy should have won all 3 of those games, which would have changed things in the postseason those 3 years (no snow meetings), but the fact remains they ended up losing all of them.

Unless you're the Houston Texans who would get crushed running any defense, the 3-4 should help in playing this Colts offense.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 5:52pm

Scott, when you begin with the proposition that a sample size of 31 is "fine", because fans argue about posteseason performances with even smaller sample sizes, well, there probably isn't any reason for us to discuss this further. I find nearly all arguments regarding postseason performance vs. regular season performance nearly worthless for that very reason. Geez, now you seem to be attributing some 3-4 affect on Addai and the running game that has lasted since the Patriots game.

Again, I'm not asserting you are wrong. I'm just saying skepticism regarding strong assertions derived from small sample sizes is entirely reasonable.

Look, the Chargers have talent. A lot of it. The Colts defensive front got pushed around the whole game, no matter who was paying running back, qb, or tight end for the Chargers. That has nothing to do with the Chargers defense. The Colts pass catchers tipped two balls in the air that were intercepted in the red zone, one that was an easy catch, and one that was moderately difficult. These tips had zero to do with a 3-4 or 4-3. Harrison's fumble had nothing to do with a 3-4 or a 4-3. The Colts had over 450 yards in offense against this 3-4, and the three plays that produced zero points on three trips into red zone, or a yard or two from the red zone, had nothing to do with 3-4 or 4-3.

by Nicky P (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 6:59pm

I think 31 is a pretty decent sample size in this case. And it's not always sample size that matters. It's also percentages. So if a team fails 31 out of 31, I think it's safe to say you can draw a conclusion from those numbers (I know the Colts didn't fail 100% of the time).

Same with postseason performance.

I think Scott has pointed out a reasonable trend, but nothing that should be considered Bible. I think his argument that "they struggle with the 3-4" is a good one. Notice he's not saying "they can't beat a 3-4," or "they always struggle with a 3-4." I think, if his stats are correct, they do appear to have more problems with the 3-4 than the 4-3. I'd be interested to see Manning's splits vs both types of defense. I'm willing to bet his numbers are much better vs 4-3.

Did the 3-4 tip those balls in the air or cause Harrison to fumble? No. But I happen to believe one of the major reasons the Colts lost, and have lost many times recently, is because they appear to coast into the postseason and don't keep their intensity levels up, especially if they have a bye. I don't think they've quite figured out how to manage the roster coming down the stretch.

by doktarr (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 7:14pm

The 20-3 NE playoff game is a good example. While he individually didn’t play a bad game, he was clearly frustrated all game long, it impacted his performance, and it was the 2nd worst offensive performance they’ve had in the Dungy era (worst being the 41-0 blanking to the Jets in the Wild Card game).
He was frustrated because he was losing, not because he was playing poorly. That game is a poor example IMO because the cold, snowy weather and the (intentionally) terrible field conditions had a massive impact on both offenses - basically taking the deep stuff off the table. The Pats won that game because the 2004 Colts defense couldn't stop the Pats' power running game, which was at its peak in 2004.

Scott, you say 31 games is a decent sample, and I agree, but you seem to be dancing around the fact that the Colts have done, on average, pretty good in those 31 games. When you talk about the teams they steamrolled, you mention poor defensive talent on those teams. I agree, but this seems to ignore that the teams they have struggled against have great defensive talent. This includes not just the 3-4 teams, but teams like the Jags and Titans at times, and the Jets in the WC game, for that matter.

Just to summarize what I believe:

1) The Colts offense will do especially well against a pure Tampa-2 defense. (Note that only some 4-3 defenses use the Tampa-2 scheme.)

2) The "stretch play and play action" Colts offense of (roughly) 2003-2005 had some inherent scheme problems against a 3-4 because it was difficult to get a block on all the linebackers on their key running play.

3) Since the Colts have diversified their offense, they don't have any particular struggles against particular defensive formations. They struggle against teams that have good personnel, like the current #1 weighted DVOA defense, the Chargers.

4) Chalking up wide receiver drops to a 3-4 scheme makes about as much sense to me as chalking up missed FGs to a 3-4 scheme.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 8:06pm

Yes, Nicky, if I flipped a coin 31 times, and it came up tails 31 times in a row, I'd conclude that something was hinky with the coin. If it came up 21-10, I would not, because randomness doesn't really reasonably preclude that percentage, over such a small sample size.

This is the same issue I had with people who would formulate a theory out of 18 postseason games coached by Schottenheimer, while ignoring the the total sample size of 345 Schottenheimer coached games. If you want to say that Schottenheimer is a bad postseason coach, fine, everybody is entitled to their opinion. Don't, however, bring in entirely inadequate statistical data to put forth the theory. It'd be more convincing to actually see the offensive DVOAs from each Colts performance vs 3-4, compared to DVOAs against 4-3s ,since a play by play analysis would actually provide us a meaningful sample size, and adjust for quality of defensive personnel. That'd be an interesting project for Aaron, actually, if I were to be so presumptuous to spend Aaron's time.

by Nicky P (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 8:30pm


I knew you were going to bring up the coin flip. I understand what you're saying.

Can't this debate end by saying "TO DATE, the Colts have struggled with the 3-4," or "Marty has not been a very successful postseason coach SO FAR?"

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 8:40pm

I guess I'd put it, "At times, the Colts have struggled against 3-4 defenses, especially when the 3-4 defense has had excellent personnel."

by doktarr (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 8:51pm

Nicky #122,

I haven't seen the evidence that they've struggled against the 3-4.

Quantitatively, they've played 31 games and won more than they lost. Correct for opponent's record, and I doubt there's any significant trend of struggling more than they have against other teams.

Qualitatively, I think the Colts offense changed their approach and solved the scheme-related issues they had with the 3-4 after the Pittsburgh playoff game in 2005.

by Nicky P (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 8:58pm


Excellent point. Does anybody know if we can get their production vs. 4-3 teams with excellent personnel? Any Colt fans out there want to give this a try?


I was basing my comment on Scott's information in #117 above.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:02am

Nicky, if we really want a good answer, we need the play by play analysis that DVOA provides, because it is the only way to get a big enough sample size. I don't think Aaron publishes the offensive DVOA numbers from each game, but that is what you need.

by Scott (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:44am

But why is it always "something" that didn't go right when Indy gets in these games against the quality 3-4 teams? Yeah they drop passes, they tip them to picks, they leave guys unblocked, they get stuffed at the goal line, they can't convert in the redzone, they miss FG's, etc. etc. They're simply mistake prone to this defense and they never look as crisp as they do against regular defenses.

People, let's remember that 8 of those 31 games (25.8%) were against the 2002-05 Texans, a team that went 18-46 and had adjusted scoring defenses that ranked 21st, 25th, 15th and 30th during that span. And that's 8 of the wins too. Also, I posted the numbers earlier, they're arguably doing better against the now 4-3 Texans of the past two years. And those teams have arguably better defensive talent than the early Houston teams.

"I haven’t seen the evidence that they’ve struggled against the 3-4."

What more do you need? If you ranked their worst offensive performances in the Dungy era by using some combination of points scored on offense, yards, turnovers, efficiency, importance of game, etc., then mostly all of them would be against a 3-4.

"Quantitatively, they’ve played 31 games and won more than they lost. Correct for opponent’s record, and I doubt there’s any significant trend of struggling more than they have against other teams."

They've won 75%+ of their games during this span, so 67% is a difference (and again, 8 games against a Texans franchise they own really helps). If you've watched these games over the years, how could you say they don't clearly struggle more with them than they do JAX/TEN/CIN/KC/DEN/MIA/etc.? Also let's not neglect defense/ST. They stepped up a few times for Indy's offense in performances that normally wouldn't garner a win (AFC-D in Baltimore for example).

"Qualitatively, I think the Colts offense changed their approach and solved the scheme-related issues they had with the 3-4 after the Pittsburgh playoff game in 2005."

They're 4-4 in the games against a 3-4 since that playoff game. Manning has 15 TDs and 15 INTs. They didn't look good offensively against 06 Dallas and 06 Baltimore, and they made too many mistakes in the 3 games this season against San Diego and NE. The other common theme is pretty poor redzone execution. And even though I disagree with them, Patriot fans will argue they were too "banged up and short handed defensively" in the 2006 games. Never mind NE had dominated this offense without Seymour and Ty Law in the past.

"Does anybody know if we can get their production vs. 4-3 teams with excellent personnel? Any Colt fans out there want to give this a try?"

Jacksonville should count shouldn't they? I posted those numbers earlier, and they're very nice. The 10-3 record, over 24 ppg scored, and Manning's stats are very favorable.

Denver is probably Manning's favorite team to play. Not counting the game he sat out in 2004, he's 6-1 against them and they average 33 ppg.

The Eagles have had good defenses that ranked high and had multiple Pro Bowl players, and the Colts have averaged 41.3 against them in 3 meetings.

Tennessee's defense was good in 2003, Indy played pretty well against them. They stunk from 04-06, but in 07 they were good and the Colts went into their place and scored 22 pts on 381 yards of offense. Vinatieri botched an XP and FG, so it really should have been 26. The week 17 game doesn't even enter into the discussion because of the way Indy played it.

Looking around the league and at teams Indy has seen a few times in recent years, there really aren't any other teams worth mentioning. Teams they often kill like the Bengals and Chiefs just don't have the personnel.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:20pm

Scott, again, to use phrases like "never look as crisp" in regards to a sample size of 31 is a very poor way to to employ statistics. The universe is a very random place.

by Cadillac (not verified) :: Sat, 01/19/2008 - 1:28am

re: 115 Mark K---

'The truth is, Norv sends in McNeill, Dielman, Hardwick, Goff, and Clary to soften up opposing defenses. They are there to physically wear them down and diminish their will.'

Mark, I'll grant you that getting beat on by those big guys will wear a D line down, but my concern is that it also wears LT down (as in risk of injury which we saw against Colts early in the game). But there is another way to wear down the D line, and that is to run those big guys ragged chasing a runner wide left, then wide right, back and forth. Beat up or exhausted I think produces the same effect, but wide runs keeps LT safer AND gets him the space he needs to do his thing!

If forced (for some strange reason) to employ your strategy of banging up the middle, I think the Chargers would actually be better off using Michael Turner in the first half since he is a more powerful straight ahead guy, and then LT in the second half when he would be fresh to make his sharp cuts when the D would be beat up as you say.

But I still can't figure out why Norv limits LT's touches in space with a pitch or short pass at any stage of the game. This boggles my mind and I believe has cost the Chargers more than one win--maybe the GB and Jax games.

Oh and whatever happened to the LT pass? He's pretty darn good at it, and I realize you can't do it all the time, but why only ONCE all season?

Your thoughts?

by Cadillac (not verified) :: Sat, 01/19/2008 - 1:35am

Also re: 115, Mark K--

Here's a clip fm the preview on this coming week fm Aaron Schatz which I believe proves my point statistically:

'We like to think of San Diego has an up-the-gut running team, but the Adjusted Line Yards numbers show they were much better this year when running around the ends. They ranked 12th and 11th running around the sides, but 22nd or lower running left tackle, middle, or right tackle.

Normally, a team known for its running backs would build its offense around consistent first-down gains, but that’s not the case in San Diego. The Chargers gained an average of just 4.7 yards on first down — only Chicago, Kansas City, and San Francisco were worse.'

What say you, my friend?

by ChiJeff (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2008 - 1:17pm

The biggest problem the Colts have had against 3 - 4 defenses is they tend to allow themselves to get one dimensional. They quickly abandon the run. In last years run to the Superbowl Indy was a BALANCED team. Even when the run was not being sucessful ( ie the Baltimore game ) they stuck with it. The Colts beat NE last year by being patient with the run. This year? no running game. And no victory.

by Scott (not verified) :: Sat, 08/02/2008 - 9:55pm

This game was long ago, but with the '08 season fast approaching, it has weighed on my mind. I came here to see what FO had to say about the contest. Many have vilified the Colts D-Line for their performance, unfairly I say. Glad to see that Rivers was given some credit here, although the phrase "Unleashed same downfield pass attack..." is generous to say the least. I understand Rivers completed 4 passes of over 15 yards, and that he completed a deep throw on three of their 4 TD drives. But c'mon, this was hardly a Dan Fouts/Air Coryell show. Let's not forget, 3 of the 7 pass plays covering more than 20 yards started out as short screens that developed into big gains. In my opinion, it was the Indy LBer's and secondary that had their heads up their preverbial rear ends. Manning torched that defense, and the team was put into position to score 38+ points. Plenty to overcome any preceived anemic pass rush. If you review the whopping 14 completions by Rivers, you will conclude that rarely did he have Brady like time in the pocket. On several occassions, he was at least forced to move his feet and make adjustments. Surprisingly (to me) he manned up and did it. The key play early in the game was the Harrison fumble. He goes down like he ALWAYS does. Colts get out to at minimum, a 10 point lead. A crucial second half play came on 3rd and 4, with Volek in, Jackson gets called for a hold or facemask, covering a guy who was never an intended target (Voleks pass was woefully short on a deep play). Chances are, Colts get the ball back, and take a 6 to 10 point lead, which would have made their later decision to go for it on 4th (down 4), much easier. A FG with just over 2 to play cuts the lead to 1. 2 minute warning and all three TO's left. Dungy did this back in '03 versus the Pats. Brady and Company promptly went three and out, setting up the goal line cramp by Willie McGinist. Back to my point, Rivers does deserve accolades for his performance, and the Colts D-line doesn't deserve the crticism it received.