The Colts and Analytics: A Skeptical Relationship


The Indianapolis Colts have tried to develop themselves into an old style football team. They value grit, promote iron sharpening, and only want “Horseshoe Guys,” whatever that means.

When it comes to evaluating the play on the field and the talent of their players, the Colts take a very traditional approach.

Recently, ESPN took a look at how teams utilize analytics in their team building and execution process.

The Colts are placed firmly in the “skeptics” category when it comes to advanced stats. The one caveat to analytics comes with the use of Catapult technology to track player performance during practice, games, and training.

Catapult is designed to measure player exertions in order to minimize risk of injury and prevent over-training. Coach Chuck Pagano believes it can help eliminate some types of injuries, although you wouldn’t notice it if you looked over the Colts injury reports.

But as far as using any kind of analytics, and this hardly qualifies in terms of traditional analytics, the Colts prefer traditional stats and tape to make their decisions. ESPN’s piece also singles out Pagano’s penchant for punting on fourth down when he shouldn’t.

There are 11 other NFL teams that qualify as skeptics, including AFC South foe the Houston Texans. At least they are better than the Tennessee Titans who qualify as nonbelievers.

There are nine teams that are believers in using analytics. Those include the past two of the past three Super Bowl champions (the Patriots and Ravens). Also on that list are the Jacksonville Jaguars, likely because they have to do something to get out of the bottom of the NFL.

Advanced stats are merely a tool that helps supplement what you can see through film. While they are very helpful with a sport like baseball, its harder to adequately apply them to a sport like football.

There are 22 moving parts on every play. Couple that with scheme fits and play calling and analytics takes a back seat.

There has been a lot of hate directed towards the use of analytics over the past year, but why wouldn’t a team want to use everything available?

Football Outsiders helps to break down a player’s total value and value per play. It helps to evaluate where a team’s strengths and weaknesses really lie.

Pro Football Focus gives us simple grades on a players performance, but those are still based on a person’s opinion after watching tape.

We could watch film and tell that LaRon Landry was bad, PFF just helped confirm that fact. The same goes with Ricky Jean-Francois, and a quick glance at PFF might have helped inform a decision.

Buying into analytics doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that will govern a team’s decision, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take a look.

When Pagano and Ryan Grigson took over, they seemed hell bent on building a team that would be successful in the 1970s. They’ve since switched their approach and played more to the team’s strengths.

If they are willing to shift philosophy on the field, then its time to do the same in the front office. This doesn’t mean the team should ditch the scouting department but rather just add advanced stats to the process.

Nothing is lost by being more thorough when it comes to evaluating players and there is so much to gain. It is the ultimate no-risk, high-reward move a team can make.

While the front office has been stubborn about so many things, this is one area where bending just a bit could produce big gains on the field.