The Indianapolis Colts won a game without Andrew Luck in week four, but that doesn’t mean the defense is any good or that the offense can survive without Luck. In fact, this was the rare game where the Colts got outplayed on both sides of the ball and still win. It sure helps to have two All-Pro specialists on the team.
Take a look at the boxscore from the game. The Colts won by 3 points, and PFR provides an expected points summary of many aspects of the game play. By definition, the sum of those values have to equal +3 for the Colts, and -3 for the Jaguars. On offense, the Colts were 3.57 points below average, and therefore, the Jaguars were 3.57 points above average on defense. Indianapolis had a similar performance on defense, where it was 3.23 points below average, and Jacksonville was 3.23 points above average.
But the Colts gained a bit advantage on special teams: Indianapolis’ punting unit scored a +4.3, while Indianapolis had an 8.63-point advantage when it comes to field goals and extra points. In other words, score one for Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri, in particular contrast to Bryan Anger and Jason Myers.
Let’s start with the punting game. In the off-season, I looked at one measure of punting, which involving comparing where the opposing team took possession after a punt relative to expectation. This isn’t breaking news — it’s pretty much how Football Outsiders has been grading punters for years — but I think it provides an improvement over traditional measures.
Well, by that metric, the top four punts in the game were by McAfee.
- With 56 seconds left in the game, the Colts punted at their own 16 yard line. The Jaguars had two timeouts remaining, and would “expect” to take possession at their own 43-yard line. Instead, McAfee punted 57 yards with no returns, pinning Jacksonville at their own 27. McAfee’s punt produced 16 yards of field position over average, and it turned out to be even more important than that.
- With 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, McAfee punted from the Jacksonville 40, and pinned the Jaguars at the…. 1 yard line. An average punt would have dropped the Jaguars at their own 11, so this produced 10 yards over average.
- With 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Colts had to punt at their own 19. McAfee boomed a 53-yarder, allowing just 3 yards on the return, giving the Colts 8.5 yards over expectation.
- Finally, early in the game, McAfee punted from the Indianapolis 39. The average punt there gains about 40 yards of field position, but McAfee punted for 45 yards with no return.
As for Vinatieri, he went three for three with a 54-yard field goal in the 1st quarter, and a 32-yarder in the 4th, and a 27-yarder to win it in overtime. That’s a good game, but not exactly an “article-worthy” one. Instead, the Colts big advantage in the kicking game was tied to the failures of Myers.
After McAfee’s huge punt at the end of regulation, Blake Bortles drove the Jaguars down the field in the final minute to set up a 53-yard field goal to win the game. Had McAfee not been so successful, Bortles and the Jaguars offense would have had more time (or fewer yards) to get into better range; instead, Myers missed the 53-yarder, resulting in the game going to overtime.1 Then, in overtime, he missed a 45-yard attempt.
Without Luck, the Colts offense was less impressive than an improving young Jacksonville offense. And it’s not a stretch to say Jacksonville’s defense now appears to be better than the Indianapolis defense, too. But in week 4, Indianapolis had big advantages at punter and kicker. Every once in awhile, that’s all a team needs.
- He actually missed the kick twice, since the Colts “froze” him before his kick. [↩]