NFL Week 18: Run the Damn Ball
Last week, elite running backs were ignored, while quarterbacks struggled incredibly to move the ball. The Colts, among them, can't let this happen again.
🏈 Colts -15.5 -110
We’ve made it to the bonus week of the NFL’s regular season, and unfortunately for some, it has teams scrambling for their bid at the playoffs. The Chargers and Raiders determine their fate in a loser-goes-home matchup on Sunday Night Football. San Francisco needs to win against the Rams, or they’ll be checking their phones on the sidelines hoping New Orleans loses to Atlanta. Pittsburgh, on the shoulders of Big Ben, needs to win in Baltimore—however, it won’t mean anything if Indianapolis overtakes Jacksonville. To Pittsburghs’ dismay, Indianapolis needs this win to clinch their playoff berth, unless of course, the Chargers and Patriots lose. And since I’ve now gone full circle, let’s start there, in the Jacksonville swamps of the AFC.
Indianapolis has found themselves in this spot before—too many times, I’m sure fans would agree. For the third time in four years, the Colts need a desperate win in their season finale. Jacksonville, at 2-14, have their own motivations. With a loss, they secure the number-one overall pick of the 2022 draft. If they win and Detroit loses against Jordan Love and the Packers, then Detroit takes the blessed draft pick.
So the Colts sit in good favor, right? As long as they get the ball in their best player’s hands, they should walk away easily. If not, Jacksonville could give them the trouble they always have since 2015.
Despite having one of the best running games in the league with one of the best backs, the Colts read from a playbook last week that made you think they had Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady behind center. If you didn’t know, they don’t. They have Carson James Wentz.
On the season in late down scenarios, the Colts gave the ball to Jonathan Taylor 33 times at 67% success for a first down, per Sharp Football Stats. They passed in these late down scenarios 150 times at 36% success (Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, and Tom Brady have had 43-47% success on late downs, for some perspective). When we look at yards-to-go greater than 2 yards and less than 9 yards, their rushing success is 50% and their passing success is still 36%.
Last Sunday, they ran the ball once in a late down scenario at 100% success and a touchdown. This was from the one yard line. They passed eight times at 13% success. That’s one first down in eight attempts. On third downs alone, Wentz went 2-of-7 for 9 passing yards. Five of these third downs were less than 7 yards-to-go, and when your quarterback is as cold as it gets, it’s time to put the ball on the ground—especially if your running back is Jonathan Taylor.
Yet, the Colts weren’t the only team to mind-blow fans and under-utilized their elite running back. Enter Exhibit B: the Minnesota Vikings and Dalvin Cook. On the year, the Vikings probably could have utilized Cook more, ranking 18th in rush plays per game, while Kirk Cousins on late downs has the same first down success rate as Carson Wentz at 36% on 195 pass attempts. On those late down scenarios, Dalvin Cook rushed 18 times at 44% success.
Last Sunday night with Kirk Cousins sidelined and Sean Mannion at the center of the huddle, the Vikings rushed the ball one time on third down, and this was a 3rd and 20 with no expectations of continuing the drive. They passed the ball 13 times at 15% success for two first downs. They had six 3-and-outs and four in a row in the first half. Dalvin Cook ended the game with 9 carries, while their back-up quarterback struggled to continue drives.
Enter Exhibit C: the Cleveland Browns and Nick Chubb. On the year, the Browns rank 8th in rush plays per game at 44.94% because they have great backs and a solid run-block offensive line. On Monday night in Pittsburgh, Nick Chubb had 12 carries (his average on the year is 17, which includes games he’s shared carries with Kareem Hunt). The Browns gave the ball to Nick Chubb 4 times on second down and 8 times on first down. On late downs, the Browns passed the ball 17 times at 24% success for a first down. Baker and his “broken arm” ended the game at 44.4% completion percentage at -20.2% completion-percentage-over-expected and -10.1 EPA, per rbsdm.com. They ran the ball once on third down, and it was third-and-forever, much like the Vikings only third down rush attempt on Sunday night. Baker went 1-for-5 on third downs less than 7 yards-to-go.
The Browns have nothing to play for in Week 18, but the Bengals do have a chance at the number-one seed if they pull off a win in Cleveland and Kansas City and Tennessee manage to lose. The Vikings are also out of the playoff race after their loss to Green Bay, and their last week game against Chicago is meaningless, as the Bears are out as well.
So, the Colts are left to determine their fate, and they could avoid a whole lot of Wentz anxiety if they just run the damn ball. Hell, the Patriots had success last week doing so in their 50-burger win over Jacksonville.