Offense

This will come as no surprise to anyone, but the Colts pass the ball better than any team in the league. Last year, they posted an astonishing passing DVOA (not familiar with DVOA?  Click here and read the “important digression.”) of 45.1%, twelve percentage points higher than the second-best team, the Chiefs, who posted a 32.9% DVOA. This number would have been a little higher had the Colts not wrapped up home-field advantage so early (and seen their shot at an undefeated season evaporate), which led to Jim Sorgi playing the final two regular season games in place of Peyton Manning.

The reasons for the success of the Colts’ passing game are no secret either.

Peyton Manning is the best quarterback that the NFL has seen in a long time. There are people that like Brady, and with good reason, but Manning’s stats are pretty amazing. Last year, he posted a personal DVOA of 41,7%, the best in the league among all position players by a wide margin. Of course, last year was Peyton’s “off-year.” In 2004, he posted the best season a quarterback has ever had, with a DVOA of 62.8%. If you need this translated into conventional statistics, that’s 4,557 yards, a completion percentage of 67.6%, and 49 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions.

(You can talk about post-season failures all you want, but last time I checked, this was game 1 of the regular season. Now, people might say that the Colts’ struggles in the playoffs indicate that they have a tough time against good defenses, and that their awesome stats are a product of beating up on lousy teams.

Well, I checked into this and it turns out the Colts fared pretty well against good defenses last year: The Ravens had the 5th best defense in football last year: The Colts put up 24 points and 340 yards, accumulating a DVOA of 24.6% (Keep in mind that DVOA adjusts for opponents) and cruising to a 24-7 lead.

Jacksonville had the 7th best defense last year. In their first meetings, the Colts only scored 10 points and put up 268 yards, but still posted an above average DVOA of 3.2%. In the next meeting, they figured the Jags’ defense out, rolling to 26 points on 399 yards and a DVOA of 30.5%.

Before the playoff game against Pittsburgh, the Colts pasted the Steelers in the regular season, winning 26-7 and putting up 366 yards for a DVOA of 39.0%. Even in the playoff game, where they were dominated for most of the first half, they still managed to score 18 points and finish with 305 total yards against an elite defense at the top of its game that had schemed them perfectly.)

The receivers are awesome as well. Like the Giants, the Colts are loaded with weapons. Harrison and Wayne are the best tandem in the league. Not to disrespect Webster and Madison, but we lose these match-ups pretty handily. The Colts run a ton of three-receiver sets (83%, and then 3% of the time they run four-receiver sets, which means that almost nine out of ten plays there are at least three receivers on the field) which means that Brandon Stokely, the best slot receiver in the league, is a big part of the offense. His production trailed off last year (he went from 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns to 543 yards and 1 touchdown) but he remains a potent weapon.

The underrated Dallas Clark rounds out the arsenal. ProFootball Prospectus writes this about him: “In his first year since the departure of Marcus Pollard, Clark played the role of dumpoff outlet, screen pass, third and fourth option, and ‘find a hole in the zone’ quite admirably.” All of these guys could present big problems for us.

The Pittsburgh loss opened the Colts’ offensive line up for a lot of criticism, even from their quarterback. “We had some problems in protection,” said Peyton in his bratty, prima-donna way. But that loss to the Steelers shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Colts, whether it was due to scheme or talent, where the best team at protecting their quarterback last year. Their adjusted sack rate (yes, another footballoutsiders stat. This one is sacks divided by pass plays, adjusted for opponent) or 3.4% ranked 1st in the league.

The middle of the Colts’ line is small, something that bodes well for the Giants’ non-dominant interior defensive line. The two guards, Jake Scott and Ryan Liljia, weigh 295 and 290, respectively. Pro-Bowl center Jeff Saturday weighs 295. According to footballoutsiders’ “Power” statistic, which measures the percentage of short runs on third down, forth down, and goal line situations that can be considered successful, the Colts were the worst in the league.

At tackle, Pro-Bowl alternate Tarik Glenn protects Peyton Manning’s blind side. At 6-5, 332, Glenn is a mountain, but might be vulnerable to the speed-rush of Osi Umenyiora. Ryan Diem is an excellent run-blocking tackle, but is a little more vulnerable in pass-protection. He will be matched up against Strahan. The defensive ends must be very active if we are to have a chance to win this game. The Colts line is good, but between the undersizedness of the guys in the middle and the ponderousness of the tackles, this is a good match-up for the Giants.

Finally, the running backs. Last year, the Colts posted a run DVOA of 8%, good for 8th in the NFL) which pales in comparison to the 45.1% passing DVOA, but shows that the Edgerrin James led-running game was no slouch. In the post-Edgerrin era, the Colts will trot out two small backs: Dominic Rhodes (5-9, 203), and Joseph Addai (5-11, 215). Both are fast and quick, but not particularly physical. They can break big plays (especially Addai, a serious home-run hitter and a receiving threat), but they and the Colts’ small offensive line won’t wear the middle of the Giants defense down, which is probably Big Blue’s biggest concern.

It will be interesting to see how the loss of Edgerrin affects the Colts scheme. Despite Peyton’s awesomeness and their reputation as a pass-happy team, the Colts actually ranked right in the middle of the league (16th) in pass to run ratio, running the ball 45% of the time. This number may be somewhat misleading though. In the first half of games, they ran the ball only 39% of the team, 29th in the league, suggesting that the passing game accumulated big leads and they went with a more ball-control style in the second half.

 

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Defense

On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts return ten starters of a young unit that made huge strides from 2004 to 2005. In 2004, their defensive DVOA was 3.5%, 19th in the league, but it improved to -8.8% last year, good for 8th in the league.

Just like the Giants, the strength of the Colts D is an outstanding pass rush. Despite rarely ever blitzing (only 11% of their sacks last year came from a linebacker, 25th in the league, and they did not get a single sack from a defensive back), the Colts ranked 2nd in the NFL in adjusted sack rate (a football outsiders stat that divides sacks by the number of passing plays by the opposition).

Right DE Dwight Freeney, maybe the best pass rusher in the league, leads the charge. Freeney is explosive, relentless, and plays with excellent leverage. He could potentially be very disruptive, and Luke Petitgout will have his work cut out for him protecting Eli’s blind side.

On the other side, Kareem McKenzie will have a hard time in pass protection against undersized speed-rusher Robert Mathis. McKenzie is 327 lbs and Mathis is 245, something that gives Mathis an advantage on pass plays and McKenzie and advantage on run plays. It will be interesting to see how both teams play this match-up.

The Colts’ defense will have to recover from the loss of David Thornton, who manned the strong side and was their best linebacker. As a group, the Colts LBs are undersized: Gilbert Gardner, Thornton’s replacement at the strong side, weighs 228; Gary Brackett, their middle linebacker, weighs in at 235; and Cato June, their weak side backer, weighs 227. They are small, but they are quick and good in pass coverage, complementing the outstanding pass rush that the Colts get with their front four.

This D doesn’t really have a specific weakness, but they are stronger against the pass than the run. They put up a -12% DVOA against the pass and 5.2% against the run.  Not bad at all, but closer to average than their pass defense. Perhaps their undersized linebacking corps has something to do with this stat.

The secondary is led by two hard-hitting safeties, Mike Doss at the strong and Bob Sanders at the free. Like the Giants safeties, these guys are better in run support than pass coverage.

The corners are merely adequate. Nick Harper, in addition to getting stabbed in the knee by his wife and taken down by his ankle by Ben Roethlisberger, is small (5-10, 182), and according to the Sporting News scouting guide, “doesn’t show a second gear tracking the ball downfield.” Jason David, their corner on the other side, is even smaller (5-8, 172). Look for Eli and the Giants to exploit the matchup between Burress (6-5, 232) and Toomer (6-3, 203) against these guys. Little slants and comebacks might be the only way for the Giants to go, because Eli will have a lot of pressure in his face from Freeney, Mathis and company.