INDIANAPOLIS – The message has been an annual one from Chris Ballard.
It sounded like this in January 2020:
“As a whole, not just the quarterback position, but our passing game has to improve, unequivocally,” Ballard said during his season-ending press conference. “That has to get better. You have to be able throw the football to win in this league.”
Two years later—with Philip Rivers quarterback the Colts during that in between 2020 season and retiring after one year—Ballard had this to say at his season-ending presser after the 2021 campaign:
“Our passing game has to be better, just has to be,” Ballard said back in January. “…It’s a passing league…and you’ve got to be able to throw it.”
In both of those January messages, Ballard has been accurate in explaining where the Colts need to improve.
However, those words have not turned into anywhere close to positive actions.
Where is the Colts passing game in 2022?
The numbers are ugly.
31st of 32 teams in passing DVOA, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on a play compared to league average, factoring in situations and opponents.
The Colts rank 25th in passer rating (84.2) and 27th in net yards per pass attempt (6.7), which factors in yards lost to sacks, another big number for Indianapolis.
Twice this season, the Colts have finished the first quarter without a single completion.
The optics are also ugly.
It’s a passing offense lacking any inability to challenge opposing defenses down the field.
When Ballard said back in January the Colts needed a quarterback to ‘make the layups,’ little did he know he’d have an offense unable to shoot outside of 2-feet, when continuing the basketball analogy.
The result of that is opposing defenses suffocating a group of pass catchers unable to create much separation.
With a Colts offensive line having more issues in pass protection this season, dialing up such attempts brings in some risk.
And the quarterback, 37-year-old Matt Ryan is seriously lacking in the velocity department to routinely take such chances that are absolutely necessary in keeping opposing defenses honest. This type of passing offense was seen back in training camp, when Ryan and the starting offense rarely attempted/completed anything down the field, despite practicing in a time where the pass rush isn’t allowed to hit or touch the quarterback.
One of the most alarming numbers about Ryan and the passing offense comes in the verticality department.
According to Next Gen Stats, Ryan is averaging 6.2 yards per intended pass attempt, basically saying the average throw from him goes just over 6 yards down the field.
That ranks dead last in the NFL among 39 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 90 pass attempts this season.
Since Next Gen Stats began keeping that intended yards per attempt stat in 2016, 280 quarterbacks meet the pass attempt number threshold.
Ryan’s 6.2 number ranks 279 out of 280 quarterbacks.
The only one below Ryan? Alex Smith coming off a gruesome broken leg injury in 2020.
And it’s been quite the rapid demise for Ryan.
If you look at Ryan’s average air yards as of late, it’s a stark drop off in 2022.
Here are Ryan’s average of air yards per attempt in the last six years: 9 in 2016, 8.7 in 2017, 8.5 in 2018, 8.3 in 2019, 8.9 in 2020, 7.2 in 2021, 6.2 in 2022.
Seeing such a drop off, can any of that be contributed to Ryan’s right shoulder injury from last month? Although, a primarily underneath passing game was still there before Ryan injured his throwing shoulder on October 23rd against the Titans.
In today’s NFL, when a passing offense can’t challenge defenses post 15 yards, you have an archaic offense unable to compete at a necessary level.
And all of this comes after Ballard has stressed the need for passing game improvement this past offseason, which was the same message he had two years earlier.
Yet, this past offseason, the Colts made no substantial veteran free agents at wide receiver and tight end, despite losing T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal and Jack Doyle.
They elected to stray away from any spring veteran free agent signings on the offensive line.
The only notable moves at those supporting spots to the quarterback were rookies.
And after saying no to any of the bleak free agency options at quarterback, the Colts decided to trade for Ryan in his 15th year.
What does all of this say about the passing game personnel Ballard has given the Colts coaching staff?