Indianapolis Colts 2021 Team Study

Part 17 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 16 on the Chicago Bears. Part 18 now available: Tennessee Titans.

Offense

Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
5.16 +0.21 10th


Offensive Eff. Rating (blue and silver) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
17th 1st 26th


Looking to replace the retired Philip Rivers without going into a rebuild, the Colts opted for Carson Wentz. Wentz had shown that he could be a successful quarterback under perfect conditions but struggled in his last year with the Eagles behind a bad offensive line and with limited weapons. The Colts were looking for a competent quarterback who could lean on a solid run game, avoid turnovers, and take the easy throws to create yards after the catch.

Wentz did not understand the assignment. Despite arguably the NFL’s best offensive line (when healthy), Wentz was mediocre at best. The Colts had the league’s best running game and plenty of options in the short area passing game who could turn catches into yards. They had a well-designed scheme that Rivers executed effectively in 2020, built around making quick throws, picking up positive yards, and letting the skill players make plays.

But behind an offensive line that allowed the NFL’s best rushing EPA/play and the 2nd-highest average time in the pocket, Wentz managed to be one of the least accurate starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Time in the pocket and only the 17th-highest average depth of target did not help Wentz consistently hit his receivers. He completed some really tough downfield passes that showed up on highlights and gave him confidence, but his inconsistency in the short game killed them.

I was wrong about Wentz. I thought he would succeed in Indianapolis the way Ryan Tannehill succeeds in Tennessee because quarterbacks in that mold tend to be very circumstances-dependent. When they have time, a good ground game, and a good scheme, they can perform. Otherwise they struggle. I thought Wentz belonged in this tier, but he does not. He lacks the ability to take the easy ones and capitalize against defenses focused on taking away the run. He tries to do too much, and forfeits what could be a consistently reliable offense.

Since 2013, the Eagles are 35-33-1 (including 0-1 in the playoffs) with Wentz and 47-36 (4-2 in the playoffs with a Super Bowl win) without him. The quarterbacks for the Eagles during that stretch? Nick Foles (31 games), Jalen Hurts (20), Sam Bradford (14), Mark Sanchez (10), Michael Vick (6), and Gardner Minshew (2). And in 2021, Wentz took an 11-5 Colts squad to a 9-8 record. At this point, there is simply no reason to believe Wentz can elevate a team around him.

With an inconsistent quarterback unable to capitalize by making easy throws, the Colts did not take advantage of defenses that allowed a high completion percentage to opponents. Chart A shows the Colts' relative offensive performance ranking each opponent by completion percentage allowed on the season. Two of their worst performances came against the Jaguars, who allowed the 2nd-highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. Over half their games involved teams who were bottom-10 in this metric, but the Colts offense only capitalized fully against the Jets.

Chart A

Chart A: Adjusted Eff. Rating by opponent completion percentage allowed on the season.

Ultimately, this cost the Colts in the biggest spots. With the season on the line, all they needed was a win against the Jags to secure a playoff spot. They fell flat, losing 26-11 because Wentz could not convert on third down. At this point in the season, the coaching staff did not trust Wentz on fourth down, and instead ran the ball with Jonathan Taylor on two fourth and short situations. Taylor was stuffed on both. With the season on the line, you need a quarterback who can make a play. The Colts did not have one.

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