How often does a team have to throw to score?
In the case of the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, it was a lot.
Points per attempt (PPA) is not a commonly used stat, but is an interesting concept posited by Texans FC Jeffery Roy in a previous article.
The idea is to divide a team's offensive points scored (excluding defensive and special teams scores) and divide that by the number of passing attempts.
What the resulting number tells you is how often a team was forced to pass the ball in order to generate points.
PPA is not strictly a passing stat. It's ultimately a team efficiency stat. Obviously, short fields and a strong running game will lead to more points with fewer passing attempts. Additionally, teams pass more when trailing in games.
For the initial calculation, I did not include sack data.
The teams that did well in PPA in 2012 were the Seahawks, Redskins, 49ers, Patriots, Giants, Packers, Broncos, Vikings and Texans. Of those nine teams, eight qualified for the playoffs. If you drop the list down to the top 12 in the NFL, 10 of the teams made the postseason.
The only two teams to make the playoffs while finishing low in PPA are the Falcons (14th) and the Colts (23rd).
Of course, it should not be of surprise to anyone that the 2012 Colts finished low in a predictive category but still won a lot of games. The Colts were boosted by 35 points from defense and special teams thanks to six returns for scores (four interceptions, two special teams).
The Colts scored 0.52 points for every time Andrew Luck dropped back to pass. That was 10th worst in the league and emphasizes just how inefficient the Colts offense was the season. Indy ranked between the Browns and Jets in PPA.
What makes the Colts even more unusual is that they scored more points than most of their compatriots in the bottom-10 of PPA. Their 324 points ranked 19th in the league, but they threw the fifth-most passes to get them.
To improve in PPA will mean Indy will have to generate more offense with fewer passes. That can be accomplished in three ways.
First, the Colts will have to get better starting field position in 2012. They were 30th in average starting field position. Obviously, the more yards a team needs to gain to score, the more plays it's going to take. That will bring down PPA.
Second, the Colts have to get more production out of the their running game. When you consider the role Luck's scrambles had in producing points, it's clear their real PPA may actually have been worse than it even looks. The top five in PPA were also the top five in run offense DVOA. The better a team runs, the fewer passes it needs to score.
Finally, Indy has to become more efficient in the passing game. The Bruce Arians offense was a high-volume, deep-threat passing attack which led to too many incomplete passes. Add in copious amounts of dropped balls, and the result is an offense that put up an average number of points, but needed a lot of throws to do it.
Whether PPA has any value or long-term significance remains to be seen. Early returns are favorable, however, as it certainly passes the smell test with the 2012 Colts.