Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

11 Nov 2008

Any Given Sunday: Colts over Steelers

by Ned Macey

The linked article predominately features a discussion of the Steelers' declining passing offense. The Colts' offense has also declined this year, but their troubles are more easily identifiable. Basically, Marvin Harrison has been terrible.

The Colts' run offense has struggled at times this year, averaging only 3.3 yards per carry, but according to DVOA, it is basically league average. The offensive line was in flux earlier in the season but has now solidified. A number of factors lead to the disconnect between their yards per carry and their DVOA. First, they have not fumbled all season. Second, while they struggle on first down (worst in the league), they are much better in short-yardage situations, converting 20 of 27 power runs.

Most importantly, the Colts have played a number of dominant run defenses. Among their nine opponents are six of the top 11 run defenses, including the top three. When the Colts start running more effectively in the second half of the season, remember that they are now facing a number of poor defenses, not suddenly finding their old form again.

As for Harrison, it is unclear that the poor defenses will really benefit him. On the one hand, he has been extremely close to making a number of big plays this year, including two potential touchdowns on Sunday. The optimist would say that he and Manning just need to work on their timing now that Harrison is a step slower.

The pessimist (or dare I say realist?) would argue that Harrison is done. The other three main targets for Manning -- Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez, and Dallas Clark -- all have DVOAs that rank among the top 15 receivers. Harrison, meanwhile, is well-below replacement level and ranks 69th. Opposing defenses are not rolling coverage to Harrison. In fact, they are more likely now than ever to bring an extra safety into the box to stop the run on first down.

Until Harrison can start making more big plays, the Colts will not recapture their traditional dominant form. Given his age, we might safely say that the Colts offense will not recapture its dominant form this season.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 11 Nov 2008

23 comments, Last at 15 Nov 2008, 9:56am by Whatev


by A. Nony Mouse (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 4:03pm


Finz Rule!!!!!

by Micranot (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 4:15pm

Now THIS is what AGS shoudl be like, much better, great read!

by mawbrew :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 4:28pm

If Roethlisberger is going to miss some time, the next few weeks would seem ideal (San Diego and Cincinnati). If he plays against these two teams and consequently misses time later, I think it will be a mistake.

by Bywater Brat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 4:59pm

Does anyone else see the potential for a moral hazard here with regards to the play of the Steelr's O-Line with Roethlisberger under center? The guy is making titty-bags of cash and is known to be able to "create" plays (for whom, it varies).
In the Redskin's game, once Leftwich was in, the line seemed to solidify to protect against the Street Fighter wind-up. It could have to do with protection packages and/or a more conservative rush on the part of the 'Skins? Just a thought, would love to hear what one of the charters has to say about it...

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:17pm

I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say, but the Skins' pass rush has not been very good this year and they sacked Roeth 3 times in 20 dropbacks and Leftwich 2 times in 12 dropbacks (not including QB runs, each QB had 1 of those).

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

by Whatev (not verified) :: Sat, 11/15/2008 - 9:56am

Leaving aside the question of whether the line does a better job of protecting Leftwich than Roethlisberger, there's no incentive for them to behave that way, nor are they somehow shielded from the downside risks related with losing their starting QB, which is what would be needed to constitute moral hazard.

by Bywater Brat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:08pm

Also, I really wanted to see a bubble-screen/flea-flicker to Dennis Dixon in this game since the Colts were flocking to the underneath routes so well...is he still even active?

by Jerry :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 9:41pm

Dixon is always active as the third QB. There's been no indication that the Steelers are considering him for a slash role.

by Bywater Brat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:11pm

One final thought (and then I'll wait for a while and be disspointed that no one wants to address these questions), why can't PIT find a 240+ back somewhere for their short-yardage situations? I mean did Najeh die...the dishwasher a my local pub could pick-up a yard or two with a five step head-start.

by bengt (not verified) :: Thu, 11/13/2008 - 4:20am

He was released last week.

by Bywater Brat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:13pm

Speaking of fullbacks...hOw many people have clicked on that all-lesbian cruise vacation ad only to be thoroughly dissapointed...?

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:20pm

So did they up the word limit or what?

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

by Nathan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:33pm

When did the ads get to be NSFW? I don't want to meet naughty women, I want to read about football.

by are-tee :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:53pm

"They now have to be considered a favorite to win an AFC wild card."

The WC race is so competitive this year, I'm not sure I'd call anyone a favorite - among Steelers or Ravens and practically the entire AFC East,in addition to the Colts, it will probably go down to week 17.

by DZ (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 7:47pm

The reason the Colts are a favorite is because of 1. an easy schedule here on out, 2. head to head wins over three potential competitors and 3. Far and away the best conference record of the teams in WC contention.

In a jumbled field, you take the team with the built in advantages.

by Yaguar :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 8:42pm

Yep. Aside from the whole "Peyton has started being Peyton again" theory, which has a whole lot of credence since he's led quick reads twice in a row now, the Colts' schedule is a cakewalk for the next few games. Texans, Chargers, Browns, Bengals, Lions, with three of those games coming at home.

They're likely going to be 4-1 in those games. They'll probably be the favorite in all of them, but I'm betting they'll stumble once.

So they'll be 9-5 going into their last two games, one of which will be at home against the Titans, who might have nothing to play for. Playoff Odds has the Colts with about a 69% chance of making the playoffs, and I'd venture to say that it's a little bit more likely than that. Those wins against New England, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh will REALLY help in tiebreakers. And they just look like a solid football team right now.

by RickD :: Wed, 11/12/2008 - 1:39am

It's really hard to see the Titans not playing hard against the Colts. It's not like they're a finesse team. Would they bench Haynesworth?

Beating the Colts is very important to the Titans. I would think it would be doubly so if there was a chance to knock them out of the playoff race.

by td (not verified) :: Wed, 11/12/2008 - 2:38am

They ought to bench Haynesworth if they've got everything wrapped up. He never plays 16 games, best not risk him heading into the playoffs.

by ammek :: Wed, 11/12/2008 - 5:22am

Like Peyton, Ned Macey is starting to adapt to a new context and rediscover his 2007 form.

The comments about the Indy running game are eye-opening. I last saw the Colts in Green Bay three weeks ago and the whole offense stank, apart from Dallas Clark. I figured they were dead and buried.

Wouldn't it be ironic, in the circumstances, if the first AFC postseason game was wildcard #2 Indy at AFC East champion New England?

by JMM :: Wed, 11/12/2008 - 11:29am

The other aspect of the Balt - Pitt race is the remaining schedule. To this point, Pitt is the only top 10 DVOA team who played a top 10 difficulty schedule. Their schedule comes back to the top 10 pack for the balance. Balt has a tougher schedule for the balance.

Balt also have a rookie qb who played extensively in the preseason and a week 2 bye week. Flacco's arm meet the rookie wall.

by Pete (not verified) :: Wed, 11/12/2008 - 12:52pm

Is Harrison done? Or is he just a decent 3rd or 4th WR (possession WR)?

I thought that Indy should have drafted a little better a few years back. They either need a quality 4th receiver, or better yet, a RB with the dedication of Edge in his earlier years.

by drobviousso :: Wed, 11/12/2008 - 3:02pm

One thing that I thought was really interesting, but I haven't seen anyone say anything about it, was the lack of Woodly for this game. Since he's started, and started bringing a lot of pass rush pressure, Harrison's sack total has gone way up, to say nothing of Lamar's sacks as well.

It's conventional wisdom that knocking around Manning is the best way to throw him off his game.

I don't know how many knock downs the Steeler's defense had, but they only had 2 sacks that game.

by dwhorton :: Fri, 11/14/2008 - 7:44pm

how about the colts converting 4-3rd and shorts running the ball.