If you have tuned in to a NFL game this season and was taken-aback by a pair of shaven-headed cheerleaders wearing wrist bands with the words ChuckStrong* printed on them, then you have watched an Indianapolis Colts game. And it’s not only the team’s commitment to their leukemia-battling head coach, Chuck Pagano, which is strong; it’s their record as well.
*New LiveStrong perhaps?
The Colts enter Arrowhead on Sunday with a 9-5 record, 2nd in the AFC South, and with a chance to clinch a wild card playoff spot with a win. They are outperforming their Pythagorean expectation, or expected wins/losses – measured using points scored and points allowed and have the Colts at closer to a six win team then a nine win team – which means they are dynamite in close games. With so much to play for in this uplifting and inspirational story in Indianapolis, the Colts are looking to put the finishing touches on their playoff doubts and a whooping on the hapless Chiefs.
I’m not going to beat around the bush: I love Andrew Luck as a player. Should he be NFL Rookie of the Year? No. Robert Griffin III should run away with that one. Would I promise to name all of my henceforth lineage after him if he somehow defected and became a Chief? Without a doubt. He might still be going through rookie growing pains, but he is running an offense most offensive coordinators wouldn’t dream trying to implement to a quarterback until at least their third year. With just 22 passing yards on Sunday, Luck will pass the 4,000 yard threshold. Additionally, he has 20 TDs compared to 18 INTs (which is why I think it would be a mistake to award him ROTY over RGIII) while completing 54.6% of his passes.*
*Amazingly even lower than Mark Sanchez’s 54.8 completion percentage.
A real struggle for the Colts has been their rushing offense, having a committee approach (Chiefs 2011) to the position between Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, and Delone Carter. Ballard, the rookie 5th round pick out of Mississippi State, leads the squad with 667 rushing yards, with Andrew Luck leads the team in rushing scores with 5 (he also has 233 rushing yards).*
*Which means Luck has more rushing yards and TDs than Peyton Hillis …
For receivers, Luck has found a favorite target in Reggie Wayne, having a renaissance of a season with 97 catches, 1,234 yards, and 4 TDs. Donnie Avery, the free agent acquisition, and T.Y. Hilton, the 2012 3rd round pick from Florida International, round out the top three with both having over 700 yards catching. For tight ends, a pair of rookies makes up that group with 2nd round pick and former Stanford teammate of Luck’s, Coby Fleener, and Dwayne Allen, the 2012 3rd round pick out of Clemson who occasionally comes in as a full back. Allen has 482 yards and 3 TDs while Fleener, battling injuries this season, only has 278 receiving yards and 1 TD.*
*Better than Jon Baldwin’s numbers.
For the offensive line, the Colts have the 25th best (or worst) run blocking and 22nd best pass protection unit according to Football Outsiders; which isn’t good. Injuries have forced a lot of guys to be thrown in the fire, but I’m not sure if their backups are all that much worse than their starters at this point. From left to right: Anthony Castonzo, the Colts 2011 first round pick; Joe Reitz, who was born in Indy; Samson Satele, a second round pick by the Dolphins in 2007 who was traded to the Raiders after just one season; Mike McGlynn, a free agent signing of this offseason; and Winston Justice, because it’s hard to be a right tackle in this league without having Winston in your name.
On the season, the Colts are 8th in passing yards per game (267.6) and 21st in rushing yards per game (107.1).
When Pagano came over from the Ravens, he brought in a different defensive scheme than had been used previously under the Tony Dungy coaching tree. Out went the 4-3; in came the 3-4. And one of the first questions that was asked was: how are Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney going to fit into this? Freeney, a 7x Pro Bowler, and Mathis, a 4x Pro Bowler, were the identity of the defense from the defensive end positions. Well, much like how Tamba Hali made the switch from DE to OLB under Romeo Crennel, Mathis and Freeney have fit right in. They’ve combined for another 11 sacks while continuing to grow in this new defensive system.
For the rest of the linebacking unit, Jerrell Freeman* leads the team with 125 tackles while the guy beside him, Kavell Conner, is a distant third on the team with 54. For the defensive line, Cory Redding, Antonio Johnson, and Clifton Geathers** make up the unit.
*Originally an undrafted free agent in 2008, Freeman spent three seasons in the CFL with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
**Brother of Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers.
In the defensive backfield, the Colts have Vontae Davis and Darius Butler at the corner positions. If you are a fan of the HBO football series, Hard Knocks, then you should be familiar with the scene of Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland explaining to Davis that he had been traded to the Colts. Davis, the former first round draft pick in 2009 out of Illinois, was traded for a second round pick. Well, Davis hasn’t exactly wowed anyone, having no interceptions on the year. But as bad as the Colts defense is now, without Davis the Colts might not be looking to clinch a playoff berth this weekend. As far as the rest of the backfield is concerned, underrated free safety Antoine Bethea* has 89 tackles and 2 sacks while the strong safety, Tom Zbikowski, who followed Pagano this offseason to Indy, has 38 tackles and an interception.
*A two-time Pro Bowler.
With none of the statistics I included above wowed you, that’s probably because the Colts are 21st in passing yards allowed per game (241.6) and 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game (124.7).