It's time to start comparing the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts. You can forget the first matchup as that should have little to no bearing on the outcome of this game other than provide the Colts with a slight edge in desire - if that matters. No, I want to compare how well these teams are on both sides of the ball and see where advantages and disadvantages may be for each team.
The stat I have decided to key in on is the Average Yards Per Play, because it feels like "total yards" is a bit of a red herring. Any team can throw the ball fifty times and end up with the most passing yards in a season, but what really matters is how successful a team is at it on a per play basis. I'd take 500 yards less in passing if it meant each passing play averages 3-4 yards more. Games are won with first downs and touchdowns, not yards. Just ask Jay Cutler.
This game will feature two of the NFL's elite quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. The average per pass play reflects that with the Broncos 6th overall in the NFL and the Colts right behind them at 7th. The two teams are amazingly similar in their proficiency when throwing the football.
The Broncos average 7.9 yards per attempt, while the Colts are at 7.7. Both were well behind the Dallas Cowboys who led the league at 8.4 yards per attempt. This is where yards begin to matter as both the Broncos and Colts finished with over 1,000 more yards passing than the Cowboys.
The slight advantage must go to the Colts here due largely to the question marks lingering from Manning's recent struggles. Hopefully the rust shakes loose on Sunday for him.
Okay, we now know both teams sport dangerous passing attacks. What about their pass defense? Here is where the Broncos may have a slight advantage over the Colts. The Broncos have the leagues best pass defense when it comes to average yards per attempt, holding teams an impressive 6.0 yards per attempt. That mark was best in the league by quite a bit, with the Seattle Seahawks in second place with 6.3 yards per attempt. This is impressive, because it is the widest gap between two spots in the league.
What makes the Broncos stat even more impressive is that they did it against a sustained aerial onslaught from their opponents each week, while teams like the Seahawks didn't have the same troubles. In fact, no team was passed on more than the 641 attempts the Broncos played against - nearly 150 more attempts teams made against the Seahawks. The No Fly Zone apparently shot down a lot of planes this year.
The Colts on the other hand, finished giving up roughly the same amount of passing yards as the Broncos defense, but were middle of the pack at 7.2 yards per attempt. That tells me this defense could open to exploitation in the passing game.
The Denver Broncos were atrocious in the running game until about midseason when it became a major focal point for this offense. They finished the 2014 regular season with a respectable 4.0 average yard per rush attempt, which was good for 20th in the NFL. This was still two spots ahead of the Colts 22nd ranking for their 3.9 yards per attempt average.
The caveat is that since the Broncos loss to the St. Louis Rams, the Broncos have 200 rushes for 886 yards for a 4.43 yard per attempt average. That would put the Broncos in the top 10 in rushing entering the playoffs. The Colts on the other hand, started out the regular season with huge success running the ball and have become majorly deficient in the running game over the final month of the season.
With the Broncos commitment to the run and the Colts recent struggles, I'll have to give them the slight advantage here even though they finished nearly equal to close out the season.
The Broncos finished second in yards and fourth overall in yards per attempt when defending the run, giving up just 3.7 yards per rush. This number is much better than the 19th ranked 4.3 yards per attempt the Colts gave up during the regular season.
Looking at what the Broncos defense is doing to opposing teams on a per play basis has me beyond excited for this team. The only other defense in the NFL to finish in the Top 5 in both average play per pass and per rush would be the Seattle Seahawks. Considering they are the defending Super Bowl champions, that is elite company to be a part of this late in the season.
There you have it. On paper, the Broncos should win this game. Even the Colts advantage in passing offense isn't very large. At any moment, Manning could hit Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas for a game killing touchdown. Suffice to say, I like our chances on Sunday. They just have to execute.
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