Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 Sep 2007

Indianapolis and Shootouts

Since drafting Peyton Manning with the first pick of the 1998 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts are 30-11 (.731) during regular season games in which 55 or more points have been scored. In all games since 1998, the Colts are 92-52 (.638) -- meaning their record is a somewhat more terrestrial 62-41 (.601) in lower scoring games. Since Tony Dungy became head coach, the Colts have lost just four times when the combined score has been above 55.

The highest scoring of those thirty victories was the last time they played the New Orleans Saints, a 55-21 rout in which Peyton Manning threw for six touchdowns (in just 25 passes) and Dwight Freeney recovered and ran in a fumble after a patented Aaron Brooks 12-yard sack.

Perhaps it's no surprise that the Colts are more successful in shootouts. After all, Indianapolis have the league's most consistently strong offense, and if you took defensive play out of the equation, few would bet against the Colts. So what about those games they lost?

Looking at Dungy's four "shootout" losses, we see something of a pattern emerging:

Jaguars 44, Colts 17 (2006)
Chiefs 45, Colts 35 (2004)
Patriots 38, Colts 34 (2003)
Giants 44, Colts 27 (2002)

In these four games Indianapolis running backs combined for 211 yards at 2.77 yards per carry. Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor combined for rather more than that in last year's Jacksonville debacle. With the Colts chasing the game (they were down by two scores at some point of all of them), running opportunities for Edgerrin James and company would have been limited, but with opposing defenses presumably committed to the pass, one might have expected more success.

So, Indy loses shootouts when it gets one-dimensional -- not just as a reaction to the scoreboard, but because the run isn't working. Take away the run and make Peyton Manning beat you? Welcome to the defensive logic of 55-point games.

Posted by: Stuart Fraser on 06 Sep 2007

31 comments, Last at 08 Sep 2007, 12:11pm by OMO


by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Thu, 09/06/2007 - 9:38pm

I would speculate that the Colts' superior winning percentage in these games is at least in part because defining a "shootout" as a game in which 55 or more points are scored when talking about an offense as awesome as Indy's lets in games like their 49-14 win over the Texans in 2004 - blowouts, rather than shootouts.

He ought to compare games with 55+ points and a 10 or fewer point margin of victory with games involving fewer points and a similar margin, or better yet take all games with a margin of 10 or less and do a regression analysis to look for a correlation between total points and likelihood of a Colts win.

by Kami (not verified) :: Thu, 09/06/2007 - 9:41pm

Take away the run and make Peyton Manning beat you? Welcome to the defensive logic of 55-point games. Obvious questions about interpretation of causation aside, nobody goes into a game with the Colts trying for a shootout, I don't think. As you pointed out, the best bet to keeping the Colts from beating you is to keep the score low. That certainly means stopping Manning first and foremost, NOT stopping the run and 'making' Manning beat you. (I assure you, he will.)

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 09/06/2007 - 11:05pm

Yes, putting eight in the box to stop Joseph Addai just feels like an inadequate approach, but, golly, I just can't put my finger on it......hmmmmmm......

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 09/06/2007 - 11:11pm

Sobering up now, and just speculating, perhaps the key might be to sell out to defend the pass, while still being good enough with six in the box to stone the Colts' running game, while getting the lead. Easier said than done, of course.

by mmm... sacrilicious (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 12:50am

Judging by tonight, it looks like the Colts' run D may have firmed up a little over the offseason. Also, so did their pass D.

I know it's just one game, but we knew their offense was awesome, and their defense just completely shut down one of the best offenses in the NFL. I don't like the Colts much, but does Indy have any weaknesses?

by solarjetman (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 1:13am

Tonight's game struck me as a "one team saw something on film" type of game. For some reason the Saints just never went downfield - either because they just wouldn't do it or because the Colts were able to take it away. After a couple weeks' worth of adjustments.

It's easy to get routed by the Colts; trust me on this, I'm a Bronco fan. As soon as you spot them a two touchdown lead, their pass rush becomes relevant on every play - and rather than get conservative, they start attacking the safeties who cheat up on the run, and soon that two touchdown lead is a four touchdown lead. Tonight's game was textbook Colts in that sense.

The Colts' defense had a lot of energy and fire tonight, and the Saints were never able to make a play downfield to tone down their aggression. I doubt the Colts will be able to keep this up all year. But they certainly showed a lot tonight, and future Saints opponents are going to be cribbing from their gameplan.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 1:31am

"Tonight’s game struck me as a “one team saw something on film� type of game. For some reason the Saints just never went downfield - either because they just wouldn’t do it or because the Colts were able to take it away. After a couple weeks’ worth of adjustments."

Yeah, thats the way I saw i too.

Couple notes:

1. Jason David can't play man coverage. Maybe its a transition thing, maybe its talent, but he can't do it right now.

2. Reggie Bush has talent, but just isnt that good right now. He hesitates way too much, and needs to just hit the goddamn hole.

3. It seemed like none of the Saints could catch. A ton of dropped balls, right off of people's hands.

4. The colts still bite way too hard on misdirection.

5.Freeney is still a liability in run defense. Almost everything on the ground they (the Saints) did, and a lot of the short passing (screens) was based on Freeney opening up a gap.

I really though S. Payton blew the game with that punt on 4th and inches. You can't give the ball back to the colts at just past midfield with 13 minutes left down by 14, especially when its fourth and inches.

by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 1:43am

Thoughts prefaced with "It's one game."

1. The Saints should have at least attempted to throw deep to Henderson.
2. I like McAllister as your every down back, and Bush as your change up. I think consistency might be good there.
3. I cannot stand when the announcers attack Freeney when he's being held all night. Where's the game charter, how many holds were there? 10? 20?
4. The holding call on Ugoh was BS.
5. Throwing the shuffle pass to your O-Lineman is better than throwing the ball away when being sacked.
6. Obermann is awesome in football and politics, but that was a sheer letdown of a start. He'll do better.
7. Jason David got whooped.
8. Anthony Gonzales is going to have to beg for passes. He's really fighting Dallas Clark, and Clark is way too good. He's going to have to be worked in much slower than I think most people thought.
9. Ugoh can sure run block.
10. A time out with less than 10 seconds in the game, you're losing by a ton, and then you run it? What the hell?!

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 1:48am

"3. I cannot stand when the announcers attack Freeney when he’s being held all night. Where’s the game charter, how many holds were there? 10? 20?"

He did get held quite a bit, but he also got away with about 4 plays that should have been 15 yard penalties. There was a play that killed the saints first drive where he grabbed Brees by the facemask, and pretty blatantly. He hit Brees in the head two or three more times in the game, so I call that a wash.

4.Ugoh: Yeah, it definitely was BS. Should have been a 15 yarder on Smith.

10. That whole thing looked confused. I think Brees got a signal that he thought meant to call TO, but he wasnt.

by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 1:48am

I'm going to respond more since I didn't use the message board because it's horrible to read in comparison to threads like this. I really don't like it at all. Too much white space, too many pages. Just let me scroll and read.


Re 1: Jason David was never very good in man coverage even with the Colts. David and Harper are really good at zone and that's it. Even Madden knows it (look up their man/zone ratings from last year's game.) When they were signed away, the first thing I thought of was that they better play a Cover 2, or they are going to get lit up bad.

re 2: Agreed. It needs to be your main back is Deuce, and Bush is the change up. End of discussion.

re 3: Eric Johnson played well. If he can stay healthy he's going to be a force.

re 4: Agreed. They always will. They were covering backside better than last year though, or maybe tackling better the guy that is covering backside.

re 5: He's going to be a liability. It isn't going to change unless he gets up field and gets the RB which isn't going to happen with holding not being called.

re 6: Yes, terrible punt. I think everyone agrees with that.

by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 1:51am

9: Really? I completely missed the facemask and head hits by Freeney? I believe you, but anyone wanna back that up? I have the game to rewind, but that seems pretty difficult to go to without a point of reference.

Makes sense your answer for the timeout, I've just never seen that happen unless it was on purpose.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 2:04am

11. Go back and look at the first or second drive. Theres a pretty blatant facemask by Freeney on Brees. Like drag him down by the face blatant. Seeing how you can't even touch a QB's helmet.... it should have been 15.

There are a couple more, but theyre not as up front blatant as that one.

Anyone see the Addai TD, and how badly the DB whiffed? He ducked to go low, and Addai just basically ran by him. It was awful looking.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 2:05am

RE:11 Its a couple plays before the missed field goal, IIRC (The really bad facemask)

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 3:26am

Nathan #8, yes, yes, and yes.

#10--oooh yeah, baby, scroll and read, no pages, not a big fan of the new game discussion format. oh well.

Still not sure why DVOA projects Indy to regress on O, since their mean is much higher than the NFL mean. Even with Gonzo being a non-factor and taking in to account NO's D struggles, Indy looked okay tonight. And their D looked just like 2005.

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 5:03am

12: Yeah that was the first thing I saw on that play. It was Roman Harper, the SS, making the worst tackle I've seen in quite a while. He did have a nice deflection in the 2nd though.

I was impressed with Ugoh, especially since what I saw of his preseason play had me asking why he was even drafted.

More importantly, where did this Colts D come from??? Was it really them playing Tampa 2 the way it's meant to be played, or did the staff make amazing adjustments, or (my favorite theory) did NO just not execute?

by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 8:01am

I don't know. The second pick of the first round isn't the place to be drafting a third down/change-of-pace back. Unless you intend making Reggie Bush a career WR that carries the ball 7 or 8 times a game, at some point you have to commit to him and let him get 20-carries-a-game experience. You don't learn how to hit the hole in the film room.

by Greg (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 9:07am

9/12 - Are you a Pats fan or something? There was one play where Freeney smacked Drew Brees' face mask. One. Not 'about 4'. One. I'll give you that one 15 yarder. You give me the 20 where he was chicken-winged, tackled, lassoed, etc... They werent even 'judgement' call holds. He was being abused.

by Duck Hunter (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 9:15am

Jammal Brown got away with some fairly blatant holds, there's no doubt.

Keiaho looks like a much more useful player than June already, alright his interception was just the result of Brees wildly lobbing it up because Mathis was hanging off him, but he attacked the LOS, didn't get engulfed by blockers regularly and (this is the big one) looked like a decent tackler. They might miss June's speed to shut down the outside runs, but Hayden and Jackson looked pretty damn solid in run support anyway.

The saddest thing about David is that he didn't even seem to realise that he wasn't in a cover-2 system any more. He kept on getting caught looking into the backfield like a man who knows he has a deep safety, only to realise too late that he was on his own. I felt sorry for him. At least the strip and recover on Wayne was a nice play.

by John (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 9:35am

According to this morning's Indy paper, Keiaho lost the use of one arm early in the game.

Imagine if he'd had two good arms last night.

by billsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 9:37am

re: 7
Agree completely about Bush. It struck me several times during the game that he's dancing around too much, trying for the big play. There was one play in particular, near the right sideline, where if Bush just dove 2 feet, he'd have gotten the first down. Instead, he tried to juke the defender, spun around, and lost 1 or 2 of the yards he'd just gained. It may be a bit premature, but I'm seeing serious sophomore slump potential from him.
Don't know if it was just bad play-calling, bad decision making by Brees, or maybe even good defense, but the Saints seemed to be relying too much on the "pass to Bush behind the line of scrimmage and let him try to make something out of it" play.

by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 9:58am

I think the rule of thumb is that you absolutely cannot let Indy take a 2-touchdown lead or the game is over. That defense is built to rush the passer with a lead after shutting down the pass while the offense gets on track.

I don't have the splits, but I bet the Colts have terrible records in games where they don't score first or are down in the late game.

by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 10:05am


I noticed that Addai whiff too... pretty bad.

I couldn't believe Sean Payton didn't go for it on fourth and inches. Even MORE surprising, he didn't make any halftime adjustments, while the Colts obviously did. (Dungy talked about how they were playing defense better/different than he thought they would)

The Saints seemed scared to try and put it downfield... but given the horrendous passes Brees was throwing, I can't blame them too much.

Ten carries for Deuce, is that right? Might want to think about a few more for him.

I saw alot of holds in the game, more for the Saints but the Colts had a few as well. The most noticeable was the one where a facemask was held on a Colts defensive player (Freeney I believe) for a good 5 seconds.

And finally,

This is our country.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 10:31am

"The Saints seemed scared to try and put it downfield… but given the horrendous passes Brees was throwing, I can’t blame them too much."

Yeah, that I agree with. Brees's passes looked really... i dunno...slow. Like it was an arm strength issue.

by MDZ (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 12:15pm

The Colts safeties played deep virtually the whole game. The Colts did much better neutralizing the run with their front 7, and Sanders or Bethea only really zoomed to the line on draw plays. I'd have to see the endzone cameras to be sure, but I doubt that the NO receivers were getting open against a 2-deep coverage.
Also, the Colts D was swarming and as fast as I've ever seen them play. The worst thing a runner can do against the Colts is hesitate in the open field. Reggie Bush just didn't seem confident, maybe because the linebackers were beating him outside. Keiaho was everywhere and Morris looked very comfortable at the SAM. Also, did the Saints complete a single pass to the outside all game?

Brees was obviously frustrated for the last 3 quarters, and his problem seemed to be that he was rocketing the ball on short passes instead of giving some touch. He had a few bad downfield passes, but on most he was hit as he released the ball.

One side note is that Scott Fujita made one of the best plays I've ever seen a LB make in coverage. In the first half, Fujita was covering Clark, seemed to commit to him, Manning saw it and fired to Wayne, then Fujita came off of Clark and made a great play to break up the pass.

by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 12:21pm

RE: 16

It's irrelevant to me that Bush was the second pick in the first round. Sharing carries isn't a bad thing, and I'd argue that Warrick Dunn is still a productive back because he could share carries with Alstott for so long.

He's still on the field at WR which at least to me gets injured much less. He still gets to run the ball, and learn the speed of the game without being relied on to power his way for 3-4 yards on a first down. It's what I would do without reservation, but that's me.


His arm strength didn't look good compared to Peyton's, but it looked fine. He didn't actually fling the ball down field much at all. You have to throw it to see if it worked.

Agreed with the person who thought David looked like he thought he was playing a Cover 2 at all times. He was shaded to the outside, he gave up the inside as if a Safety would be there. It really looked like he was in a Cover 2 all night even if the defense wasn't.

That missed tackle by the CB I didn't mind at all. No one accept Bob Sanders or Ronde Barber is going to stop a running back running full speed without being touched at the 1/2. The best possible option was to dive hard and make the running back make a move.

Addai made the move, and it was 6. If he would have went head on, he would have been carried into the endzone. I liked his angle of attack for his size.

The biggest gameplan mistake in my mind was simple. When you are playing against a Cover 2, you need to do 2 things.

Attack with posts with your Tight end (who happens to be really good in Eric Johnson), and run the ball with a power runner.

Not with your shifty runner against a fast defense designed to take down fast runners, and not by ignoring the biggest advantage you have against a Cover 2 in the tight end.

Quite simply, a good coach like the Pats, Colts, etc would have had a much better game plan.

Poor Coaching was the biggest problem. I think you call that game differently and get a radically different result.

by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 12:27pm

RE: 24

They did play deep, they were in a Cover 2. So you attack the seems with the tight end.

You matchup Eric Johnson vs. Bob Sanders / Freddie and attack. That's what you do.

And you're right, the Colts D was swarming, which is why Brees had to throw hard on short routes. The ball has to get there fast so the receiver has time to get away from fast defenders.

Aside from the massive holding on Freeney, I thought the Saints executed fairly well. They just needed to have a gameplan that would work.

Who beats a Cover 2 with a fast defense by throwing underneath? The CB's stay up for run support. The underneath on the outside is covered, and the middle is defended less, but still reasonably.

Underneath and outside is really good against a Man D. That's how the Niner's attacked very successfully.

Maybe I'm looking too far in this, but often times games are pretty complicated. This one seemed very very simple.

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 12:53pm

I went to bed at halftime, with the score even at 10. Did the Saints even get the ball in the second half?

I think the rule of thumb is that you absolutely cannot let Indy take a 2-touchdown lead or the game is over.

I think that's really a good rule for any opponent. Ass-crownings aside, it's hard to make up 14-16 points. Not impossible, of course, but most of the time, a two-score lead will hold up.

How many times were we told that Bill Cowher was something like 115-1-1 when leading by just 10 at some point in the game?

by gmc (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 1:08pm


Addai looked okay. Not Larry Johnson running-over-people amazing, but Edgerrin James I-get-one-more-yard-than-I-deserve good.

Reggie Wayne is a better receiver than Harrison now, but he's not nearly as much of a pro about it. Harrison is a glorified possession receiver now. Check out the number of third down throws to Harrison (high), and first down throws to Reggie (high).

At one point, four of five touchdowns scored involved Larry David.

Is that the "Seinfeld" Larry David? It would explain a lot.

Reggie Bush would be a really amazing running back; I mean, just out of this world. If he was still in college. He could teach Appalachian State a thing or two, bu Bob Sanders and Freddy Keiaho? Not so much.

Welcome to the statistical phenomenon known as regression to the mean Drew.

Indianapolis' rush defense last year was history-making bad against the run. No one thought that was a fluke? Even after they were merely mediocre in the playoffs?

by MDZ (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 1:33pm

Brees rarely passed from anything other than a 3 step drop, so I don't know if he would have had the protection for a TE to run a post, seam or corner. Also Eric Johnson has sure hands and catches a lot of dumpoffs, but as never been known as a guy that stretches the field. The Cover 2 is designed to allow short completions (with a quick tackle) and defend mid-range passes. The Saints kept taking what the Colts gave them in the passing game, and the big mistake was not running McAllister more to force the Colts out of the Cover 2.

by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2007 - 1:50pm

RE: 29

He would have had the protection given the play I put in the other Colts extra point, the newer one.

And Eric Johnson was a guy that stretched the field before he was hurt. Just look at the end of the game when he caught pass after pass in between them. The point is, you attack your big pass catching Tight end against a Cover 2.

I agree with your McAllister point, I think where I disagree is that the Cover 2 allows short stuff, EXCEPT TO THE TIGHT END.

If you can get protection (having your backs block against a 4 man rush), the Cover 2 zone doesn't allow guys to just go off and free lance deep. A 5'8'' SS will be matched up against a 6'3'' Tight end until they adjust.

by OMO (not verified) :: Sat, 09/08/2007 - 12:11pm

It's amazing how the commentary on these Colts EPs threads by a select few posters so differs from the running commentary from the discussion boards about the game.

The Colts front 4 four pressure on Brees and the difficulty he was under during the game has turned into "arm strength issues".

One missed Freeney facemask penality has turned into "about 4".

Great plays by Morris and Keiaho on Bush have turned into "Bush is dancing around too much".

The discussion boards may be bulky, harder to use, etc...but I can tell you with a high degree of certainity that the discussion (outside of the "yea touchdown rooting" posts) is more unbiased, less agenda driven and in general a much better representation of the on-the-field performance than the "what I want to recall" BS that I'm reading on these two threads.