Colts fail to heed lesson of Unitas (again)

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 05, 2010



Peyton Manning fans seem to outnumber those devoted to the Colts. We believe this to be true, because whenever we offer tips for improving the team, as we did last week, Manning fans go into rabid convulsions if our offer is anything but "More Peyton. More Peyton. More Peyton!"
 
Colts fans, meanwhile, see our advice for what it is: a generous humanitarian  effort by Dr. CHFF to find a remedy for the team's current ills.
 
Those folks who root for Manning before they root for the Colts are learning the hard way that you can depend too much on a single player. We're NOT  attacking Manning here, folks. Not at all. We're attacking the concept that you can consistently win with strategies that have never succeeded in the history of football.
 
Sooner or later Manning fans will be humbled by the truth and will submit to the infinite wisdom and power of the Cold, Hard Football Facts. And our RX for success will taste bad only for a second:
 
Less Peyton. Less Peyton. Less Peyton!
 
Just look at Sunday's 38-35 overtime loss at home to the 4-8 Cowboys. It was another offensively imbalanced effort by the Colts, another game of big mistakes by Manning (four INT, including two returned for touchdowns) and another loss, too. 
 
Indy is now 6-6. They're still very much in the playoff race, but clearly not the juggernaut they've been for a decade.
 
We offered a very simple solution here last week, one we know will work: take the pressure off the passing game and at least make a token effort to run the football. But the Colts did not listen this week, passing 48 times and attempting just 17 runs against the Cowboys.
 
The season totals? Indy has thrown 534 passes (66.2%) against 273 runs (33.8%). You don't win many games that way, folks. Nobody ever has. Manning is on pace for 712 pass attempts, which would easily break Drew Bledsoe's 1994 record (691).
 
And the effort is blowing up in the team's face. It's blowing up in Manning's face, too, with what's easily the worst slump of his career.
 
Manning apologists will scream bloody murder (like some did last week) and argue that he's passing so often only because he's behind. That's just not the case. This is a very competitive team that's made less competitive by the mistakes in the passing game.
 
Sure, Indy was down 7-0 against the Cowboys. But we all know an early one-score deficit is no time to panic. Yet Indy panicked, like they have all year, and the result was devastating.
 
Four of Indy's first five offensive plays were passes. The fourth attempt was picked off, helping set up a Dallas scoring drive and a 14-0 lead. 
 
Manning was robbed for a pick-six on the next drive, too (three passes, two runs). And, yes, then down 21-0, they just figured they'd fling the ball all over the place. And they nearly pulled it off. But two more INTs and another pick-six hijacked the effort.
 
So, yes, you can argue the Colts are completely imbalanced because they're losing. But we'll argue that the Colts are losing because they're completely imbalanced.
 
Manning fans will try to prove us wrong. Colts fans will look at the Cold, Hard Football Facts and nod in agreement.
 
Here's our original look at the topic that ran last week (Nov. 30):
 
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Dr. Phil of Football
 
Peyton Manning has entered one of the rare dark statistical chasms of his career.
 
But Indy's future Hall of Fame quarterback does not look like Derek Anderson all of a sudden because he's forgotten how to play. He's struggling because his team panicked when the foundation of its ground game withered away beneath its feet. He's struggling because he's passing the football far too often to be healthy, turning his team into a one-dimensional version of its former juggernaut self.
 
Manning and the 2010 Colts should heed the lessons of one of their forebears and of one of the most statistically fascinating teams in history: Johnny Unitas and the Super Bowl champion 1970 Colts.
 
We are in a unique position to offer this advice.   
 
After all, we know, much like a Biblical scholar, or much like a Pete Seeger of Pigskin, that there is a time to every season of analysis: a time to build up and a time to break down; a time when the Cold, Hard Football Facts tell us to praise; and time when the Cold, Hard Football Facts tell us to criticize.   
 
Hell, our unique position reminds us of one of the harmonic old classics from the days of Johnny U's Colts. It's a song that, if we had emotions and if we didn't despise hippies, we would love so much.   
 
show video here
 
 
We are in a unique position to praise Peyton and offer advice because we're the rare outlet had the stones over the years to criticize the Chosen One when nobody else did. So our proven track record of sober, rational analysis puts us in a rare position to come to the defense of Manning and offer advice.   
 
And our advice is this: run the f*cking ball, for Tom Matte's sake!   
 
Manning's dark statistical chasm
You know the numbers by now. After a scorching-hot start to the 2010 season, Manning is crumbling before our eyes. He:
  • Has thrown 11 TD with 10 picks and a humble 79.03 passer rating in his last seven games.
  • Has thrown 9 TDs with 9 INTs and an even humbler 76.94 rating in the five games since Indy's bye.
  • Threw three picks last week in Indy's 31-28 loss at arch-rival New England
  • Threw four picks Sunday night in Indy's 36-14 home loss to San Diego.
What the hell in BrettFavre's name is going on out there!? Picks, picks, picks!
 
O.K., so Manning is having a bad spell here. But he didn't instantly become a lousy quarterback. His prolific mojo didn't suddenly disappear.
 
The problem is not Manning's abilities. Instead, the problems lay with poor game planning and even poorer play calling. To put it most simply, Manning and the 6-5 Colts are withering on the vine of the 2010 season because they've abandoned any semblance of balance on offense:
  • 11 games, 486 pass attempts (44.2 PG) and 256 rush attempts (23.4 PG)
Sh*t, we have slutty ex-girlfriends who are more balanced.
 
Manning averages 44.2 paser attempts per game, which puts him on pace to break the existing record of 43.2 pass attempts per game set by Drew Bledsoe with the 1994 Patriots. (That strategy didn't work too well for New England, either. The 1994 Patriots went 10-6, scored just 21.9 PPG and were bounced by Bill Belichick and the Browns in the wildcard round.)
 
The Colts simply need to bring some balance to their offense. They need to take the pressure off the passing game and provide some semblance of a threat on the ground, no matter how poor that threat may be. Quarterbacks simply cannot do it all alone – even a quarterback as great as Manning.
 
But the Colts are a terrible running team! They're injured! They just can't run the ball!
 
Yes, we understand Indy is banged up in the backfield (and everywhere else, for that matter). We understand they're not a good running team. The Colts have rushed 256 times for 909 yards, a paltry average of 3.55 yards per attempt.
 
But the Colts run the ball well enough to win a Super Bowl! Yes, you read it here first, folks: the 2010 Colts run the ball well enough to win a Super Bowl. They just need to attempt to run it.
 
Need proof? Let's look at one of the more statistically fascinating teams in NFL history. Let's look at one of Indy's own forebears – the 1970 Colts, then of Baltimore.
 
The 1970 Colts
Back in an era when teams relied on the run more heavily than they do now, the Colts were an embarrassment. They rushed the ball 411 times in 14 games that year for 1,336 yards. That's a pathetic average of 3.25 YPA – well below the 3.55 YPA average of the 2010 Colts.
 
The legendary Norm Bulaich was the team's leading rusher in 1970 with 426 yards. Ouch. And he ran the ball 139 times to get those 426 yards. That's an awful 3.06 YPA out of the team's top ball carrier. These are not good numbers, folks.
 
In an era in which the ground game was paramount, the Colts produced just nine rushing touchdowns all year.
 
It could have been worse, too: a bunch of big-play runs by receivers Eddie Hinton and Roy Jefferson (11.7 YPA between the two of them), including two touchdown runs by Hinton, prevented the numbers from looking even more abysmal.
 
Injuries hampered the 1970 Colts, much like they've hampered the 2010 Colts. The team's sole big-name ball carrier, Tom Matte, led the NFL with 11 rushing TDs in 1969. But he was injured in 1970 and barely touched the ball (12 carries).
 
The 1970 Colts, again like the 2010 Colts, had a Hall of Fame quarterback who was having a tough statistical year. Johnny Unitas posted a 65.1 passer rating.  
 
Yet the 1970 Colts did something pretty impressive: they went an incredible 11-2-1, the best record in the brand-new AFC, and beat the star-studded Cowboys in Super Bowl V (16-13).  
 
The 1970 Colts were and remain the worst rushing team (3.25 YPA) to win a Super Bowl (followed closely by the 2003 Patriots, who averaged 3.40 YPA, also worse than the 2010 Colts).  
 
Yes, the 1970 Colts had a good defense. But it was not a great defense. They ranked seventh in scoring defense (16.7 PPG) in a 26-team league.  
 
But here's the key: the 1970 Colts didn't panic on offense like the 2010 Colts and abandon any semblance of balance when they lost Matte or when the ground game proved to be historically inept.  
 
As poorly as they ran the ball – and remember, they ran the ball worse than the 2010 Colts – the 1970 Colts had a very, very healthy run-pass balance: they attempted 416 passes and 411 runs. They produced this balanced attack despite the fact their no-name collection of backs were among the worst in football.  
 
The 2010 Colts have already lost five games this year (6-5). It's the first Indy team since 2002 that will fail to win at least 12 games. And the quarterback is in the midst of one of the worst stretches of his career.
 
But the reason for these struggles is not Indy's lousy running game, as some "pundits" would lead you believe. No, the problem is simply the fact that Indy has given up on the running game.
Indy has purposely made itself one dimensional. It's consciously made itself one dimensional. As noted above, Indy has attempted 486 passes through 11 games, and just 256 rushes.  
 
They Colts have panicked offensively in other words, under the misguided and feeble belief that a team can win by passing alone.
 
Man cannot live by bread alone. And football teams cannot live by the pass alone. Not even a team led by Peyton Manning. Hell, not even a team led by Johnny Unitas.
The record-pace over-dependence on the pass is obviously having an impact on Manning's capabilities: As Indy's dependence on the pass has increased, Indy's productivity in the passing game has decreased.
 
We wrote in great detail about this phenomenon in the off-season in our "mind-blowing statistical orgasm." Teams in general these days pass too often. This dependence on the pass has actually reduced scoring – not improved it.
 
Teams scored more points in the 1960s than they have in recent years. And teams in the 1960s ran far more often than they do today.
 
As you know, we dismiss the "establish the run" advocates as ignorant oafs perpetuating fallacies. Teams win because they pass well, not because they run well. There is an incredible correlation to success when teams pass effectively. There is little to no correlation to success when teams run effectively.
However! There is a high correlation to success when teams at least attempt to run – no matter how effectively they do it. Balance helps improve the effectiveness of the passing game – and this more improved passing game is what makes it more likely you'll win.  
 
The 1970 Colts are a perfect case study: they were an inept running team that at least made an effort at balance ... and rode that effort all the way to a Super Bowl championship.
 
The 2010 Colts would do well to heed the lessons of their champion-winning forefeathers. After all, the 2010 Colts  boast a better ground game than the champs. They just don't have the same will to run.

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