Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Dec 2006

FO Mailbag: How not to run against the Colts

Mike Junt: I was just browsing the defensive Adjusted Line Yards stats and figuring to look up how bad the Alleged Colts Run Defense(tm) is, and then I noticed:

The Colts are ranked number one against runs around left end.

Is that a typo, or are people really running over the entire Colts defense except Dwight Freeney? If that isn't an error, isn't that really noteworthy and worth investigating? If Freeney's really playing that well, considering his bad pash rush statistics this year, that would be a pretty miraculous mirror image of, well, the rest of forever.

Aaron Schatz: Yep, that's pretty crazy. Let's go look into the situation.

This is not a case of Dwight Freeney turning into an amazing run stopper. A run "at" Freeney would probably be listed as left tackle or left guard by the official scorekeepers. Unfortunately, one of the things about Adjusted Line Yards is that we are at the mercy of the official scorekeepers, and we can't know for sure what the real difference is between "left end" and "left tackle" without seeing each run individually. But an "end" run is usually a sweep, a stretch, or a pitch, not a straight ahead run. The other problem is that a backwards pass is technically a run, so a few ends listed as runs are actually screens.

What we have here is a case of small sample size. Through Week 15, there are only 14 recorded runs around left end by running backs against the Colts. That's the lowest of any defense in the league, and the average is 41. I wondered if the issue was the official scorer in Indianapolis -- does the guy just never mark anything as an end run? -- but the Colts rank fourth in left end runs on offense.

Marion Barber had one for 20 yards, but none of the others are over six yards. Four of them are listed as zero yards and three lost yardage. By total chance, two of these runs were by Clinton Portis, on the same drive in Week 7, and it just so happens that I have all the Week 7 games on DVD, so I went and actually looked at the plays. I think they demonstrate why teams don't run left end against the Colts.

Picture the angles in your mind. Dwight Freeney is doing his outside spin move around the left tackle. If you run behind your guard and tackle, he's taken himself out of the play. But if you run a wider run around the end, you are going to run right into Freeney as he's on his way towards your quarterback. That's exactly what happened with Portis. The first play is a pitch left. But Freeney is so far upfield that Portis has to change his angle and try to go even wider. By the time he gets to where he's turning the corner, Gilbert Gardner is right there for a six-yard loss.

On the second play, the pulling guard (R. Thomas) runs right past Freeney, who reaches back to get a hand on Portis, enough to slow him slightly, and then Booger McFarland beats center Casey Rabach, which forces Portis again to take a wider angle, and Cato June takes him down for a loss of one.

The other reason why teams don't run left end on the Colts? Why run left end when going up the middle is so damn easy? The Colts are 24th in Adjusted Line Yards against runs left tackle, 31st middle/guard, and 32nd right tackle.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 19 Dec 2006