Mathis must be super in 2012
With training camp opening in a few days, it's time to revisit Advanced Stat of the Week.
All this week, I'll be looking for a key number to monitor in order to assess how each team in the AFC South is progressing.
The Indianapolis Colts have a lot of question marks this season, and how they perform in key categories will tell the story of either a surprise success or an ugly rebuild.
I was tempted to go with Adjusted Sack rate for the Colts, but much of the same logic I used to discuss the Jaguars yesterday applies to Indianapolis as well. Andrew Luck can struggle in many passing categories in 2012, without it affecting his long-term value. I don't worry about picks or Yards Per Attempt in year one, but his sack rate does matter.
Obviously, you don't want your new franchise player to get hit more than is necessary.
The Indianapolis offense will be fine in the long run. If not in 2012, very soon. How it develops will be interesting, but I feel confident enough it's on the right track that fans can feel good about the direction.
If you are among the Colts fans holding out hope for a .500 year, the most important number to watch won't be offensive, however.
Yards Per Attempt (YPA) is an incredibly important statistic, and may be the single most important number in football aside from the final score. Net Yards Per Attempt (NY/A) adjusts the number to include sack yardage.
In 2011, the Colts were among the teams with the biggest difference between their passing defense with and without pressure on the quarterback.
NY/A will tell the story of how the Colts answer the two biggest questions on defense. How will they generate pressure, and how will they cover the pass?
Indy was 27th in NY/A last year, allowing seven yards per drop back. If the Colts want to prove everyone wrong and make a playoff run, that number needs to fall by nearly a yard per drop back.
In 2011, 6.0 NY/A would have put a defense on the edge of the top 10. To make the middle of the league, the Colts would have needed 6.3 NY/A.
Indianapolis didn't have the cap space to overhaul their defense in the offseason, so they are having to rely on guile and volume to fix what has been a long-standing issue for the team. They've continued to add new corners in bulk, making up for a lack of obvious quality by throwing bodies at the problem.
It's not a bad strategy and is probably the only one open to them.
If the Colts can get more pressure and better coverage, they will allow fewer passing yards per drop back. They will allow fewer big plays and fewer completions overall.
That will lead to more winning in Indianapolis.