Stats & Info: Indianapolis Colts

Manning/Luck each have statistical case

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning and Andrew Luck talk after last year's meeting in Indianapolis.
Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck meet for only the 2nd time on Sunday night.

Luck took the first step toward escaping Manning’s shadow by posting a 39-33 win in Week 7 of last year.

Luck also accomplished something in his second season that it took Manning six years to pull off - win a playoff game.

Who will win? Let's take a look at the cases for each quarterback:

Three reasons Manning will win

1. He plays well in openers. Manning has averaged 362.3 yards in his last 4 season openers, throwing 13 touchdowns and one interception (3-1 record). Manning has an 82.9 QBR in his last four openers, and is 11-4 overall in Week 1.

2. The defense has some new faces. Denver ranked 20th in defensive efficiency last year, and responded by signing three players with Pro Bowl experience. The Broncos signed DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to go with 1st-round cornerback Bradley Roby.

3. The Colts offensive line may be an issue. The Colts lost three linemen who played at least 300 snaps and didn’t sign a free agent. Their only addition was Jack Mewhort, a second-round offensive tackle from Ohio State. Ware and teammate Von Miller both rank in the top six in sacks over the last three seasons.

Three reasons Andrew Luck will win Sunday

1. Reggie Wayne is back. Wayne suffered a torn ACL in Week 7 against the Broncos, ending his 2013 season. Wayne led the Colts in targets, receptions and yards through seven weeks last year, and averaged 8.7 yards per target (all other Colts averaged 6.5 yards per target).

2. The Colts' rushing defense quietly upgraded. Former Raven defensive end Arthur Jones signed a five-year deal in the offseason. Whith him on the field last season, the Ravens’ 3.4 yards per rush allowed would have ranked second, but 4.6 yards per rush allowed without Jones would have ranked 29th. The Colts also added veteran linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who spent his first eight seasons in the league with the Browns.

3. Who will Manning throw to? The Broncos had only four wide receivers catch passes for them last season. Nearly 60 percent of those receptions will not be on the field in Week 1 on Sunday.

Eric Decker signed as a free agent with the Jets, while Wes Welker is serving a four-game suspension.

One receiver who will be on the field is Demaryius Thomas, who caught 4-of-10 targets against the Colts last year, Manning’s second-lowest completion percentage targeting Thomas in a game last year.

Manning will be relying on Thomas and free-agent acquisition Emmanuel Sanders.

Blount's historic day leads Patriots to win

January, 12, 2014
Jan 12
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsLeGarrette Blount became the second player to run for four touchdowns in an NFL postseason game.
Playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, LeGarrette Blount had 151 rush yards and two rushing touchdowns the entire season.

In the New England Patriots’ divisional playoff victory Saturday night over the Indianapolis Colts, Blount surpassed both of those numbers, making NFL history with 166 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in the 43-22 victory.

He’s just the second player in NFL postseason history to run for at least four touchdowns in a game. Ricky Watters had five for the San Francisco 49ers in a divisional playoff game in the 1993 season. No other player has had more than three, making Blount the first player in postseason history to have more than 120 rushing yards with at least four rushing touchdowns in a game.

For the game, 162 of Blount’s 166 yards came on runs inside the tackles. That’s the fifth-most by a player in a game this season, regular and postseason.

The Patriots' blocking deserves a lot of credit for the performance as well. Blount had 146 of his yards before contact, the second-most such yards for a player in a game this season. Only DeMarco Murray (149 against the Rams in Week 3) had more this year.

Blount didn't do it alone
Blount wasn’t the only Patriots running back to find the end zone. Stevan Ridley scored twice to give the Patriots six rushing touchdowns for the game, making them just the third team in NFL postseason history to reach that mark.

Before Saturday, the Patriots had never rushed for more than four touchdowns in either a regular-season or postseason game.

Patriots win without Brady TD
All the success the Patriots had running the ball meant the load was lighter on Tom Brady.

This is the fourth time that Brady has played a postseason game and not thrown for a touchdown. The Patriots are 4-0 in those games, two of them coming in 2001, Brady’s first season as a starter. The other was in the 2011 AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Scoring at least 43 points in a postseason game without a touchdown pass is a rare accomplishment; it’s now been done just three times in NFL history.

• Super Bowl XX: The Bears beat the Patriots 46-10 with four rushing touchdowns and an interception return for a touchdown.
• 1993 divisional playoffs: The 49ers beat the Giants 44-3 with no TD passes from starter Steve Young, thanks to those five Watters scores.
• Saturday: All six Patriots touchdowns come on runs.

It’s unusual that the Patriots lean this heavily on the run. The Patriots called designed rush plays on 46 of their 73 offensive snaps (63 percent) against Indianapolis -- their highest rate in any postseason game since 2001. During the regular season, the Patriots ran the ball 41.3 percent of the time, the 15th-highest rate in the NFL.

Matchups to watch: Colts vs. Patriots

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
A win Saturday night in Foxborough would make Andrew Luck the first quarterback drafted first overall to win two playoff games by the end of his second season. Considering the company on that list -- names like Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Troy Aikman and both Peyton and Eli Manning -- Luck is playing for an impressive amount of early postseason success.

If any quarterback knows early playoff success, it’s Tom Brady, who started his career 10-0 in the postseason with three Super Bowl championships before his first loss but has gone 7-7 since.

Here’s a look at how Brady has contributed to the 7-7 stretch as well as three other key matchups that will send either the Indianapolis Colts or New England Patriots to the AFC Championship Game.

The Colts’ four-man rush vs. Brady
Brady’s postseason play has been part of New England’s recent playoff problem. His 71.1 Total QBR in the regular season since losing Super Bowl XLII is fourth best in the league, but his 45.7 playoff QBR in that span ranks 19th.

Brady has always been good against the blitz. He has 76 touchdowns and six interceptions when opponents send at least five rushers since the start of 2008 (including the playoffs). His plus-70 TD-Int differential is best in the league, and only Aaron Rodgers has even thrown 70 touchdowns.

The problem is teams don’t blitz Brady as often in the postseason. The 2007 Giants solidified a basic tenet for beating Brady: don’t rely on extra pass-rushers. Teams have followed that blueprint with success since the 2007 Giants.

T.Y. Hilton vs. Aqib Talib
After Reggie Wayne went down in the fourth quarter of Week 7, Hilton emerged as Luck’s preferred target. Over the final 10 weeks of the regular season, Hilton’s 55 catches tied for eighth in the league. He had the fewest drops among the 18 players with at least 80 targets in that span.

The Chiefs didn’t provide an effective model for stopping the speedy Hilton. He set Colts playoff records (and career highs) with 13 catches for 224 receiving yards and added a pair of touchdowns. Hilton’s season-high 72 yards after the catch was the third highest in a game by a wide receiver against the Chiefs this season.

The New England secondary allowed only one wide receiver to reach 50 yards after the catch in a game this season -- Josh Gordon (90 in Week 14, 71 of which came on an 80-yard touchdown).

Hilton will likely draw Talib in coverage Saturday night. Talib, who was named second-team All-Pro last week, has been effective playing physically this season, something Hilton struggled with this year. Hilton caught 65 percent of targets against non-press coverage this season but only 48 percent against press coverage.

Donald Brown vs. Patriots rush D
While Trent Richardson was the most-publicized Colts running back this season, Brown quietly put together an impressive season.

Brown’s 5.3 yards per rush was second best in the league among running backs and more than a yard better than his career average entering this season (4.1). He averaged a half-yard more after contact per rush (2.7) than any other qualified rusher in the NFL this season.

Brandon Spikes is the latest Patriots run-stopper to be placed on injured reserve. Both Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo had played their final game of the season by Week 6, and from Weeks 7 to 17 the Patriots rush defense was ranked in the bottom six in rush yards, yards per rush, yards before contact per rush and first downs allowed.

Julian Edelman vs. Colts secondary
Injuries left Edelman and a cast of rookies as Brady’s supporting cast in the passing game. Edelman became Brady’s top receiver and had an extremely productive season.

If Edelman’s per-game averages without Rob Gronkowski (11.1 targets and 7.8 catches) were prorated for a full season, he would lead the league in catches (125) and tie A.J. Green for the league lead in targets (178).

The Colts defense allowed 8.0 yards per attempt to slot receivers this season, 23rd in the league. Edelman ran almost exactly half his routes from the slot this season (275 of 549) and has the third-shortest average target distance (8.1) of the 34 players with at least 100 targets.

Matchups to watch: Chiefs at Colts

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
The Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts meet Saturday afternoon in an AFC wild-card game.

This is the fifth playoff game in the Super Bowl era between quarterbacks who were drafted No. 1 overall. All five of those games have taken place since the Chiefs last won a playoff game on Jan. 16, 1994.

Andrew Luck and the Colts hope to improve to 4-0 all-time against the Chiefs in the postseason. The Colts beat the Chiefs after the 1995, 2003 and 2006 regular seasons.

Here are three key matchups to watch Saturday:

Jamaal Charles versus the left side of the Colts' 3-4

Jamaal Charles rested in Week 17 but still finished with an NFL-high 35 percent of Kansas City's offensive yards from scrimmage this season. The next closest was Chicago’s Matt Forte at 31 percent.

Charles led the Chiefs in rushes, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

Charles only needed two rushes to get the Chiefs on the board when the teams met in Week 16. Charles took a pitch left for 6 yards and followed that with a 31-yard score on a handoff to the right.

The Chiefs should continue to run to the right Saturday. They rank in the top five of the NFL in yards per rush, yards after contact per rush and rushing touchdowns when running to the right.

The Colts' defense ranks in the bottom five in rush yards, yards per rush and rushing touchdowns allowed when offenses ran right.

Andrew Luck versus Tamba Hali and Justin Houston

Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are expected to be available for Saturday’s game. The two outside linebackers tied for the team lead with 11.0 sacks during the regular season.

Can the return of both stars reignite a Chiefs pass rush that was dominant early in the season?

The Chiefs led the NFL with 35 sacks through seven games, the most by any team through seven games since the 2000 Buccaneers. Over their last nine games, the Chiefs had just 12 sacks, fewest in the NFL.

If the pass rush with Hali and Houston can return to its early-season form, they have a great opportunity to get to a quarterback who has been under pressure since the day he was drafted by the Colts. Luck has been pressured an NFL-high 376 times since the start of 2012.

The Chiefs pressured Luck just six times in Week 16, Luck’s lowest single-game total of the season. On those pressures, they had one sack while Luck completed one of five passes for a single yard.

Chiefs tackling versus Colts yards after contact

The importance of this matchup can be summed up in one play from Week 16.

The Colts had the ball on their own 49-yard line and called a draw play to Donald Brown. Brown shed one tackle from Brandon Flowers at the Kansas City 40, then another attempt by Kendrick Lewis a few yards later.

Brown broke free for a bit before stiff-arming Dunta Robinson from the 15 to the 5. Robinson fell to the ground as Brown tip-toed down the sideline on his way to the end zone.

Brown has been breaking tackles all season, leading the NFL in yards after contact per rush.

The Brown touchdown was one of many tackling issues for the Chiefs late in the season. Through Week 7 the Chiefs allowed 1.3 yards after contact per rush (11th). That number spiked to 2.0 from Week 8 on, second-worst in the league.

Though Trent Richardson has not been the ground threat the Colts hoped for when they gave up a 2014 first-round pick in a trade with the Cleveland Browns, Richardson has been effective making defenders miss in the passing game. Richardson led the NFL in yards after contact per reception at 2.9 during the regular season.

The underrated units of the NFL playoffs

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
Heading into the NFL playoffs, each playoff team’s offense and defense will be subject to even more detailed evaluation than usual.

The traditional statistics used to evaluate NFL teams’ offenses and defenses are based on yardage, which is an incomplete measure for many reasons.

Going beyond the box score and looking at what has actually happened on every play where a given unit was on the field (using expected points added, or EPA) results in a much more accurate evaluation of that unit’s complete contribution to the scoreboard, and therefore, winning and losing.

Below are a few examples of offenses and defenses that will be taking the field this weekend whose quality is misrepresented by their yardage rankings.

Because playoff teams are generally good, the biggest differences come when looking at units that are underrated by their yardage-based ratings. If these units were actually as bad as the yardage rankings indicate, the teams would have had much less chance of making the playoffs at all.

Indianapolis Colts Offense (15th in YPG, 6th in EPA PG)
Based on the Indianapolis Colts' 342 yards per game, the offense looks average. But Andrew Luck and company have been really great at limiting mistakes, committing just 13 offensive turnovers (three fewer than any other team in the league) and being penalized for just 14.7 yards per game while on offense (also least in the league).

On a related note, the Colts offense has drawn a lot of penalties, earning 40.3 yards and 2.4 first downs per game due to calls on the opposing defense (both ranked in the top-5 in the NFL).

With that additional yardage not accounted for in “total offense” and the fact that the Colts have done well converting their yards into points - averaging 5.0 points per red zone trip - it makes sense that their offense rates near the top of the NFL in terms of EPA.

Philadelphia Eagles Defense (29th in YPG, 15th in EPA PG)
It seems difficult to believe that a team with the “fourth-worst defense” in the NFL, giving up nearly 400 yards per game, could have gone 10-6. And that’s because in actuality, when you take into account everything they do to impact the scoreboard, the Philadelphia Eagles defense hasn’t been the fourth-worst in the NFL.

First off, there is the pace issue. Because of Chip Kelly’s fast offense, the Eagles defense was on the field a lot – a league-high 1,150 snaps, to be exact – so it’s not fair to compare them to others using total yardage.

Looking on a per-drive basis, the Eagles still allowed a decent amount of yardage but tightened up in the red zone and limited opponents to just 1.74 points per drive overall, slightly better than the league average.

The Eagles defense forced 31 turnovers (tied for third in the NFL) that contributed to preventing points and also helped set up their own offense. Putting it all together, the Eagles defense certainly isn’t elite, but it ranks right around the league average – much better than the yardage numbers indicate.

Kansas City Chiefs Defense (24th in YPG, 8th in EPA PG)
The Kansas City Chiefs defense definitely performed much worse as the level of competition stepped up dramatically in the second half of the season, but they were nowhere near a bottom-10 defense as the full-season yardage numbers indicate.

The Chiefs wiped away a lot of the yards they allowed by forcing turnovers and turning them into points or great field position for the offense.

Not only were the Chiefs second in the NFL with 33 turnovers forced and tied for first with six defensive scores, but they were also great at setting up their offense with great field position.

On possessions following turnovers and turnovers on downs (times where the defense directly “set up” the offense), Alex Smith and company came onto the field with an average field position on the opponents’ 39, the best such average of any team in the league by more than five yards.

In large part because of all those turnovers, the Chiefs allowed just 1.5 points per drive, good enough for fifth in the NFL.

Put it all together and the poor yardage ranking is way off – the Chiefs defense was a net positive for the team, adding nearly three points per game to the scoring margin and helping them get to 11-5 and a Wild Card berth.

San Francisco 49ers Offense (24th in YPG, 13th in EPA PG)
The San Francisco 49ers defense is the main strength of the team no matter what stat you use, but if you just looked at the yardage numbers, it would be appear that the team was succeeding in spite of the offense.

Part of the reason is the 49ers offense is one of the slowest in the league, averaging 40.6 seconds between line-of-scrimmage plays, fourth-most in the NFL. As a result, the 49ers average just 60 snaps per game, second-fewest in the league, and therefore it makes sense they don’t rack up quite as many yards as other teams with more plays.

Like the Colts, the 49ers have done a good job limiting turnovers, with only 18 offensive giveaways all season and none being returned directly for scores.

Colin Kaepernick and crew have done a good job making the most of the yards they do get, scoring on 79 percent of drives inside the opponents 40 (third-best in the NFL) and averaging five points per trip into the red zone.

Looking at the overall contribution of the San Francisco offense, it is actually above average at nearly three net points per game.

Super Bowl statistical sleeper: The Colts

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1

Andrew CutraroAndrew Luck hopes he has a few fist-pumps left in the 2013 season.
Are the Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl contenders?

The Colts’ season took an interesting turn following Reggie Wayne's ACL injury. Andrew Luck and the offense struggled despite going 6-3 over the last nine games, and the Colts were actually outscored by a point in those games.

Prior to Wayne’s injury though, the Colts beat three teams that would eventually finish with 12 wins: the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos.

Although the Colts did struggle down the stretch, it’s hard to ignore the three wins against the league’s elite. Winning is one thing, but it was the manner in which the Colts won that should legitimize their status as contenders.

Week 3 at 49ers, 27-7
The 49ers have boasted one of the best rush defenses in the NFL in recent years, leading the league in yards per rush allowed since the start of 2011 (3.7). The 49ers allowed 618 rushing yards fewer than the next best rush defense during that span.

Despite this, the Colts went into San Francisco in Week 3 and rushed 40 times, gaining 184 yards (4.6 average) and scoring three rush touchdowns in the process. No team in the last three seasons has rushed for more yards or more touchdowns in a game against the 49ers. It was also the Colts’ best rushing performance of the season.

Week 5 vs Seahawks, 34-28
The Seahawks excel in pass defense like the 49ers excel in rush defense. The Seahawks’ 38.1 Total QBR the last two seasons is second in the NFL and no team has intercepted more passes (46).

Luck didn’t seem to have too much trouble passing against Seattle though.

In the first quarter, Luck connected with T.Y. Hilton for a 73-yard touchdown, the longest pass play allowed by the Seahawks since Week 16 of the 2007 season. It was the first of two touchdowns by Luck in the game that were thrown more than 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Luck was the first quarterback to throw multiple touchdowns on such passes against the Seahawks since Drew Brees in 2010.

Week 7 vs Broncos, 39-33
Amazingly, the 33 points scored by the Broncos were their fewest of the season at the time.

The feat pulled off by the Colts that game wasn’t holding the Broncos to 33 points, it was pressuring Peyton Manning.

Manning was sacked four times against his former team, and was put under pressure (sack or duress) on 32 percent of his dropbacks, both highs against Manning since he joined the Broncos. Manning was sacked a total of five times in the six games prior to playing the Colts.

What about Wayne?
Luck did struggle in the wake of losing Wayne, but a demotion to Darrius Heyward-Bey and the emergence of Griff Whalen and Da'Rick Rogers has brought some stability to the receiving corps.

In the first six games after losing Wayne, Luck completed only 52 percent of his passes to wide receivers and had only three plays of 30 yards or more. In his last three games, Luck completed 69 percent of his throws to wide receivers and had three plays go at least 30 yards.

What else bodes well for the Colts?
There are other statistical factors that would seem to be positive indicators for the Colts heading into the postseason. Here are three others to keep in mind:

• The Colts have committed a league-low 14 turnovers this season. Luck threw nine interceptions this season after throwing 18 last season.

• Donald Brown has averaged 2.7 yards per rush after contact, best in the NFL.

• Robert Mathis led the NFL with a career-high 19.5 sacks this season.

Keys to victory: Colts 30, Titans 27

November, 15, 2013
What were the keys to the Indianapolis Colts' 30-27 win over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday?

Luck went their way
Andrew Luck didn’t throw for any touchdowns, but he was effective, completing 23 of 36 passes for 232 yards and not throwing an interception. He was 6-for-7 for 91 yards on his play-action passes, considerably better than the 1-for-5 he recorded in last week’s loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Luck has adjusted without the presence of injured receiver Reggie Wayne. Luck’s average throw when Wayne was on the team traveled 9.4 yards downfield. In the last three games, Luck’s average pass has traveled 7.0 yards downfield.

Coby Fleener was Luck’s main target, again, setting career highs for catches and yards. Luck was 8-for-10 for 107 yards when throwing to Fleener.

Fleener had 32 targets in his first seven games, but has been targeted 25 times in three games since Wayne’s injury.

Luck also ran for a touchdown, his ninth in the NFL over the last two seasons. That’s second-most by any quarterback in the NFL in that span, trailing only Cam Newton, who has 12.

Luck has five touchdowns on runs that were scrambles, tied with Christian Ponder for the most in the NFL.

The Colts have managed to find ways to win that don’t require Luck throwing a touchdown pass. They’re 4-2 the last two seasons in starts in which he has none.

Brown runs them over
Donald Brown had season highs in rushes (14), rushing yards (80) and nearly as many rushing yards as he had in his previous four games combined (86). Of those 80 yards, 79 came on runs between the tackles.

Brown actually has more touchdowns with the Colts since Trent Richardson joined the team with three, than Richardson has with the team (two).

The Colts had only eight rushes for 38 yards in the first half, but managed 99 yards on 24 runs in the final 30 minutes of the game. They managed only 18 rushing yards against the Rams last week.

Vinatieri from deep
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri connected on three field goals, hitting from 48, 30, and 50 yards.

Vinatieri is now 6-for-8 on field goal tries of 48 yards or longer this season. The six makes tie him (for the moment) with Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski for the most in the NFL.

Top stats to know: Colts at Titans

November, 14, 2013
The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans kick off Week 11 Thursday night. Both teams look to get back on track after suffering losses last week.

1. Andrew Luck has struggled since losing his top wideout Reggie Wayne, for the season with an ACL tear. Luck has a Total QBR of 73.6 with Wayne on the field, with Wayne off the field that number plummets to 28.7.

In Week 10 the Colts turned the ball over five times against the St. Louis Rams leading to a 30-point loss, their worst home defeat since 1993.

The silver lining is that Luck has yet to suffer back-to-back losses in the first 25 starts of his career. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us only three other quarterbacks since the merger in 1970 can say that (Dan Marino, Kordell Stewart and Pat Haden).

2. T.Y. Hilton has done a good job of stepping up to help out Luck, but no one else has contributed much. Luck has a completion of percentage of 73.7 percent when targeting Hilton the last two weeks; that percentage is just 48.5 percent for all others on the Colts.

Hilton is fourth in the league with 251 receiving yards in his last two games. He’s the first Colts player with seven receptions and 120 receiving yards in back-to-back games since Wayne in 2007.

3. The Titans started off the season strong, going 3-1 in their first four games. Since then they have lost four of their last five contests. Their starting quarterback Jake Locker is out for the season with a foot injury.

They will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has 72 turnovers since 2010, third most in the NFL behind Eli Manning and Carson Palmer. The Titans are 1-7 in their last eight divisional games.

4. The Titans have allowed multiple rushing touchdowns in each of their last four games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last NFL team to allow multiple rushing touchdowns in each of five consecutive games in one season was Cleveland in 1999 (six straight).

On the flip side, the Titans pass defense has played well this season. They are the only team in the NFL that has not allowed a touchdown pass thrown at least 15 yards down the field. They are also eighth in Defensive Expected Points Added, a metric that accounts for context when evaluating defensive performance.

5. The Colts have won eight of their last nine games against the Titans, including three straight. In order for that to continue the Colts need their run game back in order.

Since being acquired by the Colts in Week 3 Trent Richardson has 250 rushing yards, 37th most in the NFL over that span. In week 10 they rushed for just 18 yards, third fewest in franchise history.

No Wayne, no problem

November, 5, 2013
Andrew Luck led his 10th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in a 27-24 win over the Texans. The win pushed the 6-2 Colts to No. 2 in ESPN’s weekly NFL Power Rankings.

It was Luck’s first game without Reggie Wayne and although the Colts walked away with a win, it was anything but pretty. Luck completed only 45 percent of his passes, his worst percentage of the season and second lowest of his career.

Was this just a case of playing a tough defense on the road or was Week 9 a sign of struggles to come for the Colts’ offense?

The Colts need Reggie Wayne
Wayne was the most dependable of the Colts’ wide outs as Luck completed 65.5 percent of his attempts to Wayne this season, and 49.6 percent to all other Colts wide receivers.

Wide receivers have made up 66 percent of the Colts’ pass targets this season, the fourth highest percentage in the NFL. That percentage actually went up without Wayne, as 28 of the Colts’ 40 passes vs. Houston were to wide receivers.

That’s not to say that those attempts were successful. Luck completed a season-low 43 percent of his attempts to wide receivers despite completing seven of his 11 passes to T.Y. Hilton. Luck was 5-17 when targeting Darrius Heyward-Bey, Griff Whalen and LaVon Brazill.

The running game is not helping matters. Trent Richardson has averaged 3.0 yards on 83 rushes with the Colts. All other Colts have averaged 6.0 yards on 61 designed rushes.

The Colts can win without Wayne
Wayne has been important to Luck and the Colts offense, but he had become less of a focal point.

Last season Wayne accounted for 31 percent of the Colts’ total passes, third highest in the NFL. Through Week 8 this season, that number had dropped to 26 percent.

One of the reasons for the decline is the emergence of Hilton.

The seven receptions and three touchdowns on Sunday were career highs for Hilton. His ability to stretch the field makes him a constant threat on the outside. Since entering the NFL, Hilton leads all players with eight touchdowns on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield.

Another big reason the Colts can continue to contend is the ball security displayed by Luck this season, which is in part tied to Wayne.

Luck has thrown 21 career interceptions, and 12 have been when targeting Wayne, including two of his three this season.

Those 12 interceptions account for 4.9 percent of his passes to Wayne. To all others, interceptions account for 1.4 percent of his passes. Despite a low completion percentage in Week 9, Luck didn’t throw a pick for the fifth time this season. He had six games without an interception in all of last season.

And as was seen in Houston, when the Colts are losing, they are never really out of it. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Luck’s 10 career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime are the most for any quarterback in his first two seasons in the Super Bowl era.

Luck far away from Manning’s 2013 pace

October, 19, 2013
Peyton Manning was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts No. 1 overall in 1998 and spent 14 seasons with the team (including the 2011 season when he sat out with an injured neck).

During his time there, Manning was named the AP NFL MVP a league-record four times, led the Colts to two Super Bowls (winning Super Bowl XLI) and started 208 consecutive games, the second longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history.

He’ll oppose the Colts for the first time in his career when the Denver Broncos travel to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Luck has posted better stats in his first 22 career starts than Manning did, but he still has a long way to go to be as good as the current version of Manning.

Manning has been setting the league on fire so far this season. His 22 touchdown passes and 2,179 yards are the highest by any player through six games in league history.

Just check out the heat map below to see exactly where on the field Manning has been so effective this season (he’s above the league average in passing yards per attempt on throws 10 and 20 yards down the field).

Luck, on the other hand, has not been as effective as Manning. He’s below the league average in yards per attempt on throws short and to the middle of the field.

Keys to victory: Chargers 19, Colts 9

October, 15, 2013
Getty Images, AP Photo
Philip Rivers has been accurate both on short and long throws in 2013.
What were the biggest keys to the San Diego Chargers 19-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football?

Philip Rivers worked the short passing game
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had another efficient game, throwing for 237 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions.

Rivers went 17-for-20 for 145 yards on throws that traveled five yards or fewer downfield.

Rivers was 9-for-9 on those throws when targeting Keenan Allen, whose catch total was a career high. Keenan Allen had his second straight game with at least 100 receiving yards. He's the first Chargers player with back-to-back 100-yard games since Malcom Floyd in 2011. Rivers was also 5-for-5 when throwing to Danny Woodhead.

As the image above shows, Rivers currently rates above average in terms of accuracy on short, intermediate and deep throws. His 77.0 Total QBR in 2013 trails only Peyton Manning.

The Chargers limited the Colts to 21:29 of possession time, their lowest in a game with Luck as their starter.

San Diego managed to hold on to the ball so long because of their running game. The Chargers ran for a season-high 147 yards Monday, including 96 yards between the tackles, their most in a game since Week 9 of last season. Ryan Mathews had season-highs in rushes (16) and yards (67) between the tackles.

The Chargers’ rushing success led to the offense averaging 8.4 plays per drive, the most by a team in a game in the last two seasons.

Luck’s receivers don’t help his cause
The Colts managed only nine points, matching their fewest in a game with Andrew Luck as their starting quarterback.

When Luck threw the ball, his receivers hurt him with four dropped passes. They’ve registered at least four drops in each of the last two games after totaling only two dropped passes in their first four games.

Reggie Wayne did have five catches, becoming the ninth player in NFL history with at least 1,000 receptions in his career.

Unsung hero: Nick Novak
Chargers kicker Nick Novak had four field goals, including one from 50 yards to put the Chargers up by 10 points.

This was the second time Novak was 4-for-4 in a game this season. Prior to this season, Novak had only twice made at least four field goals and been perfect on his kicks in any game in his career.

The 50-yarder was his longest of the season and put him over 50 percent on kicks of at least that long (7-for-13) for his career.

Novak is 12-for-14 on field goal tries of 40 yards or longer over the last two seasons, tied for fifth-best in the NFL in that span. Both misses are from 50 yards and beyond.

Top stats to know: Colts at Chargers

October, 14, 2013
USA TODAY SportsAndrew Luck and Philip Rivers rank in the top three in Total QBR.
The Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers meet tonight on "Monday Night Football" (8:25 ET/ESPN). Here are six stats Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden might touch on tonight:

1. This game features two of the top three leaders in Total QBR this season. Philip Rivers is second at 78.5, while Andrew Luck is third at 77.1. Peyton Manning leads at 90.1.

2. Milestone watch: Philip Rivers is trying to become the first player ever to throw for 400 yards in three consecutive games, and Reggie Wayne needs four receptions to become the ninth player in NFL history with 1,000.

3. Don't look for Dwight Freeney. The longtime Colt, who signed with the Chargers in May, was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Oct. 1 with a quadriceps injury. Freeney had a half-sack in four games with San Diego.

4. The Chargers lead the series 17-10, including the postseason. The teams are meeting on "Monday Night Football" for the second time (Chargers won 31-0 on Nov. 29, 1993, in Indianapolis).

5. The Colts are seeking their fourth straight road win dating to last season. They are among only three teams without a road loss this season.

6. Luck is much improved this season. He has thrown an interception on 1.5 percent of his passes thrown 10 yards or more downfield this season, ranking fifth in the NFL. Last season, Luck threw an interception on 5.6 percent of those throws, ranking 23rd in the NFL. Luck ranked 28th in completion percentage when facing five or more pass-rushers last season, completing just over 50 percent of his attempts. Luck ranks fifth this season, completing nearly 68 percent of his attempts.

Colts fill specific needs with Richardson

September, 18, 2013

Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsTrent Richardson has reason to smile, as he's headed to a division-title contender.
The Indianapolis Colts made a bold move on Wednesday night, trading their first-round pick in 2014 to the Cleveland Browns for running back Trent Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The Colts now have two of the top three players selected in that draft in Richardson and quarterback Andrew Luck. They’ll look to improve on an attack that averages 3.9 yards per rush since the start of last season, 23rd-best in the NFL. One spot above them: Richardson’s former team, the Browns.

Filling needs
How will Richardson most help the Colts beyond the basic answer of leading the running game?

Richardson has scored eight rushing touchdowns in goal-to-go situations in his NFL career, fifth-most since the start of last season.

The Colts' best goal-to-go rusher during that time has been Luck, whose five touchdowns match the total from the Colts' running backs combined.

Catching the ball
Richardson's 58 receptions since the start of his rookie year in 2012 are tied for the fifth-most by a running back during that time.

Colts' running backs have caught the fewest passes in the NFL over that same time.

Richardson has 418 receiving yards since the start of the 2012 season, more than Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw combined (364).

Pass Protection
Since the start of 2012 with Richardson on the field, Browns quarterbacks were sacked on 4.8 percent of dropbacks. With Richardson off the field, Browns quarterbacks were sacked on 9.4 percent of dropbacks.

Colts quarterbacks have been sacked on 6.2 percent of dropbacks since the start of last season, the ninth-highest rate in the league.

Room for improvement
Richardson has only two 20-plus yard rush plays on his 298 career rushes. Of the 25 running backs with at least 200 rushes the last two seasons, only Mikel Leshoure has fewer 20-yard plays than Richardson.

Richardson has averaged 1.6 rushing yards after contact in his NFL career, 21st among the 50 running backs with 100 rushes the last two seasons. Richardson averaged 2.8 rushing yards after contact his last season at Alabama.

Did you know?
Since 1980 the Browns have drafted five running backs in the first round. Not one rushed for 1,000 yards in a season with Cleveland. The last Browns first-round running back to rush for 1,000 yards was Mike Pruitt (drafted in 1976).

The last running back that Cleveland drafted in any round that ran for 1,000 yards in a season with the team was Earnest Byner (drafted in 1984, ran for 1,002 yards in 1985). Since Byner, the Browns have drafted 18 running backs and not one rushed for 1,000 yards in a season with them.

This is an unusual trade in this regard: The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Richardson joins defensive lineman John Matuszak as the only players since the NFL merger to be drafted within the top three picks, play their first season with the team that drafted them, and then play for another team the following season.

Flacco, Ravens show Colts how it's done

January, 6, 2013

AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyJoe Flacco had a day to celebrate on Sunday.

The experience of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco won out over the performance of an up-and-coming rookie.

The Ravens became the sixth team in NFL history to win a playoff game in five straight seasons and improved to 6-1 all time in the wild-card playoffs.

Ray Lewis got much of the attention for his team-high 13 tackles, but Flacco and the Ravens' offense also played a huge role.

Let’s take a look at some of the statistical highlights.

Flacco’s big day
Flacco completed 12 passes but managed 282 passing yards.

The only other quarterback since 1960 to have at least as many yards on that few completions in a postseason game was Tim Tebow for the Denver Broncos against the Pittsburgh Steelers last season.

Flacco was 5-of-8 passing at least 15 yards downfield Sunday, including 4-of-5 targeting Anquan Boldin.

Anquan Boldin set a Ravens team playoff record with his 145 receiving yards. He had two catches on throws that traveled 31 yards or more in the air, matching the number he had in the entire regular season.

Flacco finished second in the NFL behind Drew Brees with 10 such completions in the regular season. He was 2-for-2 on such throws Sunday after completing only 10 of 39 in the regular season.

Ravens were tough on Luck
Andrew Luck set a postseason single-game rookie record for pass attempts and had the most passing yards by a rookie in a playoff game since Sammy Baugh in 1937.

But the Ravens' aggressive pass rush caused Luck a lot of trouble. He was 5-for-14 for 56 yards when the Ravens sent five or more pass-rushers at him. He was also sacked three times by that rush.

Luck had a fumble and an interception, snapping a streak of three games without a turnover.

Colts receivers didn’t help him out. They registered seven dropped passes by our video review, tied for the most by any team in a game this season.

Luck finished with a 27.2 Total QBR, his third-lowest in any game this season.

Pierce picks up for Rice
With teammate Ray Rice fumbling twice (once more than he did in the entire regular season), Bernard Pierce picked him up with a terrific day -- 103 rushing yards on 13 carries, the first 100-yard-rushing game by a Ravens player in postseason play since Jamal Lewis had a pair in 2000.

Pierce had 46 yards after contact. His 3.54 yards after contact per rush average was the best of any Raven with at least 10 rushes in a game since Willis McGahee averaged 5.8 in Week 17 of 2009.

Pierce averaged 2.1 yards after contact on runs in the regular season. With Adrian Peterson and the Vikings having been eliminated, Pierce’s average ranks best among those still in the postseason.

Looking ahead
The Ravens will get a second look at the Broncos, and Flacco will hope for a better performance than he had against them in Week 15.

In a 34-17 loss that day, Flacco posted an 0.4 Total QBR, tied for the second-worst single-game QBR by a quarterback in a game this season.

What to expect with the return of Ray Lewis

January, 4, 2013

AP Photo/Nick WassHow will Ray Lewis' return impact the Ravens defense on Sunday versus the Colts?
Ray Lewis has missed the last 10 games, but is expected to return Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens host the Indianapolis Colts. What does his return mean for the Ravens' defense?

For starters, expect a more aggressive pass rush. In the first six games this season with Lewis, the Ravens sent five or more pass rushers on 39.6 percent of opponent dropbacks. Only five teams used added pressure more often during that span.

In 10 games without Lewis, the Ravens utilized five or more pass rushers on 25.5 percent of opponent dropbacks, less often than 20 other teams.

Not only is Baltimore utilizing added pressure far less often without Lewis, it has also been far less effective when it does blitz.

In the first six games, the Ravens defense did not allow a touchdown pass and held opposing quarterbacks to a Total QBR below 20 when sending at least five pass rushers.

In the 10 games without Lewis, the defense gave up five touchdown passes and no interceptions when blitzing. During that span, only six other teams failed to intercept at least one pass when bringing added pressure. All six of those teams missed the playoffs.

If Lewis plays and the Ravens revert back to their blitz-happy schemes, how might that affect the performance of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck?

The rookie has not been sharp against added pressure, especially on the road. In his past two road games, Luck completed just 13 of 31 passes (42 percent) against five or more pass rushers.

On the season, Luck has a Total QBR of 43.0 on the road against the blitz, nearly seven points below the league average. He completed only 51.1 percent of his passes against added pressure on the road, which ranks just below Mark Sanchez and good for 27th out of 36 qualified passers.

It’s likely that Luck will not be a happy camper if the return of Lewis means a more aggressive pass rush by the Ravens on Sunday.