ReFo: Colts @ 49ers, Week 3

Ben Stockwell takes you inside the Colts' big win over the 49ers, a game which could launch their entire season.

| 4 years ago
2013 REFO ind@sf week 3

ReFo: Colts @ 49ers, Week 3

2013 REFO ind@sf week 3Both these teams needed to answer the bell after suffering critical Week 2 defeats to derail the momentum gained in Week 1. While the Indianapolis Colts answered that call and rebounded emphatically with a statement victory, the San Francisco 49ers are now reeling from a sucker punch that leaves them two games adrift in the NFC West.

After an uncharacteristically poor performance on both sides of the ball, the 49ers now find themselves with a losing record for the first time since 2010, and in need of answers to score points having notched just 10 in their two defeats to the Seahawks and Colts. Their usually stout run defense was worn down by a persistent rather than dominant Colts’ ground game, and their own running game was under used after showing the ability to get big gains against the Colts early in the game.

For the Colts, this is a huge victory and could be a turning point in a season that had stuttered out of the blocks with an unconvincing victory over the Raiders and a home defeat to the Dolphins. They started with a quick-hitting, clinical drive on offense and then came out with urgency on defense, turfing the 49ers off the field in three plays with four defenders getting to Kendall Hunter short of the markers (admittedly including two missed tackles) on that initial third-down stop. Their urgency and intent got its reward in the fourth quarter with the two late touchdowns that clinched a victory to ignite their season.

Indianapolis – Three Performances of Note

Fast Start Sets the Colts on Their Way

The Colts’ clinical opening drive set their tempo and urgency for the game, and established an early lead thanks to a dream start for Trent Richardson on his first carry for Indianapolis. Of their eight plays, they dropped back to pass six times and didn’t give the 49ers a chance to establish their pass rush and knock Andrew Luck off his game early. Of those six drop-backs, Luck had the ball out of his hands in less than two seconds three times, and didn’t hold it longer than three seconds once. Capping-off that quick passing, the Colts’ run blockers then made life easy for Richardson on his first carry, clearing a path such that he wasn’t touched before the goal line to put the Colts up 7-0 before four minutes of game time had elapsed. The Colts weren’t quite so clinical again until the fourth quarter, but the 49ers’ defense never really looked like it was getting to grips with its opponents – particularly up front where you would have expected them to have the upper hand.

Holding Their Own Up Front

The Colts’ offensive line hasn’t made the strides thus far this season that would have been hoped from them, but in what will be one of their toughest tests of the season they come out with their heads held high, in spite of being without two of their opening-day starters. After his rough start against Lamarr Houston in Week 1, Anthony Castonzo built upon his strong showing last week with another solid all-around showing (+4.0 overall), conceding just three hurries (one nullified) and providing consistently solid run blocking on defensive linemen and linebackers alike. While Jeff Linkenbach (-4.1) was the one lineman to really struggle, the rest were solid or better and they also got some good blocking out of Joe Reitz (+1.5 run block) when he was brought in as an extra blocker. You’ll see more dominant offensive line showings than this elsewhere this season, but for this Colts’ offensive line to hold its own, if not edge the battle, against the 49ers’ defensive front will be one of the more notable and surprising results of the season.

New One-Two Punch Starts Well

Doing the leg work behind that offensive line was the Colts’ new 1-2 punch at running back, with Ahmad Bradshaw leading the way from the newly acquired Trent Richardson in terms of carries, receptions, and yards. Having arrived in Indianapolis toward the end of the week this was not too surprising, and Bradshaw took his opportunity to illustrate why he was such a smart and frugal signing by the Colts during the offseason. Bradshaw made the most of his carries and the blocking he got, and maximized those yards with three missed tackles to get close to a 100-yard game. Bradshaw separated himself most from Richardson though this week in his work in the passing game. While Richardson failed to snag any of the three passes sent his way, and let up a hit in pass protection, Bradshaw was, as ever, flawless in pass protection and brought in all three targets — which included one third-down conversion. As Richardson gets more comfortable in the offense it will be interesting to see if he takes over the lions’ share of snaps (39 to 28 in favor of Bradshaw yesterday).

San Francisco – Three Performances of Note

Still Lacking That Spark

In the latter half of the 2012 NFL season we got used to seeing explosive plays from the 49ers’ offense from all over the field. Watching them the past two weeks you would be excused for thinking that you weren’t looking at the same team. Certainly the loss of Michael Crabtree, so influential in the second half of last season, hurts the team but the offense in the past two weeks has just looked devoid of the threat to hit an opposing defense at any point on the field. Colin Kaepernick’s (-3.3) only completion on a pass targeted 10+ yards downfield came to Garrett Celek late in the fourth quarter with the game already dead, and his receivers couldn’t break a short pass into a longer gain to spark the offense. With the 49ers erring away from the ground game, they looked short of the big play that might have thrust them back into the matchup.

Stifling 49er Defense AWOL

Having been so dominant, so consistently, for so long, we should probably excuse the San Francisco defense for this down day. It wasn’t universal, but it was strange to see this defense so off form. Up front there were solid displays from Ray McDonald (+1.9), Glenn Dorsey (+1.2), and Ahmad Brooks (+1.3) but behind them there were more down performances from the 49ers in one game than you’d expect to see combined in a month. Both Justin Smith (-2.0 run defense) and NaVorro Bowman (-2.9 run defense) were uncharacteristically poor against the ground game, as were reserve linemen Tony Jerod-Eddie (-2.5) and linebacker Michael Wilhoite (-2.1). Meanwhile, Aldon Smith (-1.5 pass rush) chipped in with only two pressures (one sack, one hurry) in a sub-par pass rushing display. Making things worse, rookie safety Eric Reid registered three missed tackles, and both corners struggled in coverage, with Tarell Brown committing three penalties. The 49ers’ defense was poor yesterday, but should we expect this to continue? No, this is a one-off and I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised to see a big bounce-back performance on Thursday night in St. Louis.

The Forgotten Ground Game

The most puzzling aspect of this game is that the 49ers were in this contest, on the scoreboard at least, for so long and yet they didn’t choose to just send a heavy dose of the ground game at the Colts to try and power their way back. On only 11 carries, Frank Gore racked up 82 yards, with 60 of those coming before contact. Alex Boone (+3.1 run block) and Bruce Miller (+2.0 run block) had big games on limited opportunities,  as did Kendall Hunter. On their combined 15 carries, Gore (+1.9 running) and Hunter (+0.7 running) forced five missed tackles. The Colts got some stops in early, but even considering that, in such a close game with a struggling passing attack the 49ers’ ground game was conspicuous with its relative absence this week.

Game Notes

– For the third straight week inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (+3.4 overall) registered four stops for the Colts on defense.

– After being shutout in Week 1, Ahmad Brooks added five stops to his nine from last week, taking his season total to 14 after three games. Aldon Smith (with six yesterday) is second on the 49ers’ defense with 13.

Andrew Luck was pressured on 10 of his 30 drop-backs. He was 18 of 19 for 164 yards when not pressured, with one scramble. When the 49ers got pressure on him he went 0 of 8 with one scramble and one sack.

PFF Game Ball

One of the league’s better all-around backs, Ahmad Bradshaw proved his worth this week and should be extremely useful as the Colts get Trent Richardson up to speed in their offense.


Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben

| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

  • [email protected]

    History tell us Bradshaw simply can’t get that many snaps and stay healthy. I’d also say Richardson’s head was still spinning. While fans all only look at the football angles, this guy has to find a place to live, relocate his very young family all while spending 12-15 hrs a day trying to pick up the Indy playbook. Sure, I’m sure Indy has consultants who help his family, but it can’t be easy for a young mother to leave one city, where she, and her children, have a supporty system and move to another city and start fresh. While Richardson’s daily routine likely changes very little, his family’s does immensely. To think that doesn’t weigh on him is naive.
    As for Bradshaw, as peeved as TRich is, at Cleveland, Ahmad has to be similarly peeved at Indy. He’s only 27. He couldn’t find a job until late in the game. When Ballard goes down, he’s likely looking at the situation thinking: If I go out and have solid to above expectations year, I’ll be in position to get a decent pay day next year. When your GM brings in a 23yr old, former #3 overall pick, he’s telling you what he thinks your long term viability is. I’m sure Bradshaw brought it, with a little extra gusto, this week. He literally can not afford to lose significant touches.

    • MaxStout

      Its going to be interesting to see how the touches get split going forward. Bradshaw nay have had a chip on hi shoulder but he badly outplay Richardson. I’m not giving T Rich a pass because he was worried bout how how wife was adjusting and I don’t think the coaching staff will either.

      • [email protected]

        And, when Bradshaw comes up lame, it won’t really matter.

        • MaxStout

          Excluding his rookie year when he wasn’t starting or injured in any game, Bradshaw has missed an average of 1.4 games per year but was questionable in many. T Rich missed one game due to injury last year and was questionable in many. You can’t count on somebody getting injured but all running backs have injury risk and, based on their NFL careers it about the same. The interesting question here is can Indy find the special back that was picked in the first round or will they get the average back that T Rich has been so far.

          • [email protected]

            I appreciate your zeal. However, when you use numbers you can’t pick and choose what fits your argument. Let me point a few things out to you. For the exercise I am only going to look at Bradshaw’s first 6 years. Yes, he’s performed this year, but when Indy was evaluating whether or not to trade for TR, I think we can assume they were looking at Bradshaw’s history.

            In regards to durability
            -From ’07 to ’12 he played in 84 of 96 games. Now, I don’t know if he were a healthy scratch in any of them. But that works out to 14 games a year, or missing 2 per year. His career attempt per game (apg) is 11. His career yards per carry is 4.6 (ypc).

            -From ’07-’09 he averaged 6.3 apg and 5.22 ypc. During this time he was in a RBBC situation.

            -From ’10-’12 he was the NYG primary back. He averaged 15.9apg, and 4.3ypc

            -2010 was clearly his best season. He played in all 16 games. He averaged 17.25 apg, and 4.5 ypc. He also caught a career high 47 receptions averaging 6.7 ypr.

            -He had his first foot surgery following the 2010 season.

            -From ’11-12 he had 392 total attempts, in 26 games, for a 15.07 apg and averaged 4.27 ypc

            Those are the raw numbers, what do they tell us?

            -In 2010, his career high 276 attempts raised his APG to 17.25, from 6.3, in the previous 3yrs.

            -The extra carries resulted in his YPC going from 5.22, his first 3yrs, to 4.5-makes sense.

            -After the foot surgery, his APG went from a career high of 17.25, to a solid 15, in the following 2 seasons.

            -He missed 4 games in ’11, and 2 in ’12. So after seeing his APG skyrocket in ’10, and missing no games, he averaged 3 missed games the following 2 seasons, even though he was getting less work, nearly 3 apg, than he did during ’10.
            However, the 15 apg, was still well over his career avg of 11, and miniscule average of 6, during his first 3 years. He also saw his ypc fall to 4.27, from the 4.5 he averaged in ’10. Finally, after catching 47 balls in ’10, he managed only 57 from ’11-12. He did have a better 9.15 ypc.

            Without even considering his second foot surgery this off season, I think the evidence suggests, Bradshaw isn’t physically capable of handling 15 apg. His APG is down, his YPC is down. In his first 4 years, he missed 6 games, in the ensuing 2 years he missed…6 games. Now, maybe he’s an outliar, he is only 27. However, personal experience tells me, when you have surgeries the afflicted area isn’t likely to improve over time. He’s a RB and his feet are going to take a beating. I’m not a doctor, but it is obvious to me, and based on Indy trading for TR, it’s obvious to them, he’s passed his physical prime.

            Now, on to TR. He only has 18 career games played, so sample size certainly affects his numbers. That said:

            -As a rookie he played in 15 games and had 267 carries, an average of 17.8, which is better than any season AB ever had. Remember, AB wasn’t ‘full time’ until year 3.

            -With that work load he missed 1 game

            -As a rookie he 51 catches, more than any in a year by AB, averaging 7.2 ypr

            -Yes, his YPC is a meager 3.5, but sample size makes that misleading. For example, if he were to gain 160 yards on 20 attempts Sunday, v J’ville (not out of the question), his career YPC would jump from 3.5 to 3.8. If AB were to do the same his would not move.
            -YPC is deceiving because defenses were designed to stop him last year. Only AP so more ‘8 in the box’ looks last year than TR, as per PFF.
            -He had 59 forced missed tackles in ’12, as per PFF
            -This year, Christopher Harris had a nice piece, after the trade, pointing out how TR ability to avoid TFL compared favorably to other top backs:
            Only time will tell if TR is an ‘average back’. I think there is enough evidence to suggest he’s not. However, what I do know is there is a preponderance of evidence that shows Ahmad Bradshaw would not have been able to carry the load as a featured back. The numbers don’t lie.
            Enjoyed the discourse, but this is checkmate.

          • MaxStout

            Tanks for the reply but you’ve missed the point. Bradshaw badly outplayed T Rich and he doesn’t get a pass because he might be worried about his wife. Your analysis shows what you don’t know can hurt you. In Bradshaw’s rookie year he was fourth on the depth chart behind Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ruben Droughns. He served as the kickoff returner in weeks 1 – 4 then was a healthy scratch in weeks 5 – 7. He started seeing limited action in week 8 only because of the poor play of Droughns. He did miss week 17 but had played thought the same calf injury the week before. The Giants were in the playoffs and the game couldn’t affect their #5 seeding. Several players with minor injuries were inactive. Coughlin wouldn’t comment if the players were being rested or actually to injured to play. He wasn’t active so I’m counting this as a game missed due to injury. Since you want to include this year in the analysis that makes it 8 games missed in six years or 1.3 games per year. I didn’t include it before because it makes his numbers better, not worse but still don’t think it is appropriate to include a year when he didn’t play all that much.The Giants are a RRBC team so it’s difficult to evaluate but no one has said that he could stand the load of a featured back. However do know that T Rich couldn’t in his first attempt. Sorry, the numbers don’t lie. What they show is that T Rich is just as likely to breakdown as Bradshaw.

            Also, while it seems to be common knowledge that T Rich was always facing 8 in the box per PFF he faced it well below the league average. here the link:

          • [email protected]

            I didn’t suggest TR ‘get a pass’. I simply gave an opinion that after walking into the only locker room he knew on Wednesday, being told he was traded and playing, on the road, for a different team, 4 days later might have something to do with his less than stellar performance. In the end, he has to adjust. I get that.

          • [email protected]

            I know I promised, but I can’t help myself. Who could have seen this coming: ?????????
            Hey, at least it’s not his feet. For those keeping score at home:
            week 1-7 carries
            week 2-15 carries
            week 3-19 carries
            week 4-unable to play

          • MaxStout

            – Really disappointed that your throwing in the towel.
            – I call it a pass but that’s semantics. Call it what you like.
            – Never been a Giants fan. Full disclosure. I used to be a Cowboys fan but swore them off when they signed TO many years ago. Now just a fan.
            – I don’t take football advice from music sites. It was a moneyball move and a smart one. I would have cut him loose as well but in hindsight Wilson isn’t working out.
            – I am admittedly a what have you done for me lately evaluator. In my experience a guy that isn’t performing at a high level rarely starts doing so. T Rich has a chance to be the exception but the odds are against him.
            – Richardson and Bradshaw played behind the same line against the same defense. Powell’s game isn’t really comparable.
            – Looks to me like you came around from “until Bradshaw comes up lame” to you can’t tell when a player is going to be injured. That was my point all along.
            – The Colts signed Bradshaw to a one year deal. He was never more than a short term acquisition. They traded for T Rich for a longer term. I also agree that they wanted another back because I’m sure they know that pounding on any RB in the NFL he’s likely to get hurt and Donald Brown has never gotten the job done.

          • [email protected]

            Looks like both our theories are panning out…Indy doesn’t have personnel to run power football yet.

          • MaxStout

            Yep but it was a great debate. thanks!