AFC South Advanced Stat of the Week: Indianapolis Colts

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistMarch 20, 2012

Oh the humanity!
Oh the humanity!Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Welcome to the Advanced Stat of the Week column. Each week, I will explain an advanced (or semi-advanced) stat and illustrating how understanding it can affect your knowledge of each team in the division.

This week's stat is Net Yards per Attempt (NY/A).

Net yards per attempt is a derivative of the grandfather of all passing stats: Yards Per Attempt (YPA). YPA may be the single most telling stat in football. If you want to know why teams win and lose, first look at their YPA. Passing yards are wholly irrelevant to winning football games, but YPA goes a long way to determining the outcome.

Like its stately cousin, NY/A helps us understand what happens each time the quarterback drops back for a pass. NY/A is calculated by subtracting sack yardage from passing yardage, then dividing by passes attempted plus sacks. In other words:

(yards passing - sack yards) / (pass attempts + sacks) = Net Yards per Attempt

Yesterday, I covered the Jaguars, and today is the Indianapolis Colts.

Everyone knows the Colts suffered through a train-wreck season thanks to the loss of Peyton Manning. One of the most underrated parts of Manning's game was his ability to avoid sacks by releasing the ball quickly. Even as his YPA fell off in recent years, his NY/A has stayed strong because he rarely goes down with the ball in his hands.

The Colts replaced Manning with the unholy alliance of Kerry "I never came out of retirement" Collins, Curtis "Oh God no" Painter, and Dan "Backdoor" Orlovsky, so named for his uncanny ability to do nothing at all until the game was out of reach before rallying the Colts to meaningless scores that served only to irk the gamblers.

Here's how they stacked up against each other:

  YPA Sacks Sack % NY/A
Collins 4.9 5 4.9 4.3
Painter 6.3 16 6.2 5.5
Orlovsky 6.2 14 6.8 5.4

One of the worst media stories from 2011 was that Orlovsky was clearly a better quarterback than Painter. Painter was truly horrible, and by the end of his tenure he was so shell-shocked and broken that playing him was a form of sadistic cruelty on the part of Jim Caldwell. Orlovsky, however, was not really any better.

In fact, their numbers are remarkably similar. Yes, Painter threw more interceptions than Orlovsky, but Orlovsky fumbled seven times (compared to five in 50 more drop-backs for Painter). There is actually remarkably little real difference between the two players. Both are terrible. Neither should ever be allowed to play in actual NFL games.

The media latched on to Orlvosky because everyone was tired of Painter, and he was great at stat padding, but there was a reason the Colts were terrified to let him throw for the final 24 minutes of the their win over the Titans. Only bad things happen when he drops back.

The Colts went from the Super Bowl to the first pick in the draft in two years. NY/A shows just how that happened.

  Offense NY/A PPG Defense NY/A PPG
2009 7.4 26.0 5.5 19.2
2010 6.6 27.2 6.1 24.2
2011 5.3 15.2 7.0 26.9

Remember that the Colts points/game numbers in 2009 were slightly skewed by the two late-season "give ups." Still the difference is remarkable. In the span of just two years, the Colts lost more than two yards per drop-back and gave up more than a yard and a half more. They went from a positive scoring difference of nearly seven points a game to a negative scoring difference of more than 11 points a game.

Passing the ball and stopping the pass are the keys to victory in the NFL, and the 2011 Colts did neither.