Well, that felt good. The Colts disposed of the Rams by 36 points, making the 13.5 spread look pretty ill-advised in retrospect. Let's examine why, upon further review, the Colts made BadNFL look so good last week:
1. Manning led an efficient passing attack.
Well this was no shock, given that pretty much every pundit, including BadNFL, predicted that Manning would play well against the Rams' struggling pass defense. But that he did, throwing for an efficient 235 yards and 3 TDs. If anything, I'm surprised that Manning threw for under 300 yards, averaging a solid but not overwhelming 6.9 YPA. But Manning played quite well within the system of the offense, as he always does, and as usual generated lots of points and few negative plays. Like the Colts have been doing all year, they used solid protection schemes and quick releases so that the Rams' pass rush barely sniffed Manning in the pocket. And, as only Manning (and increasingly Brees) does, he distributed the ball around his offense quite democratically, leading to 5 players with at least 3 receptions.
The Colts' running game was also better than it has been, putting up 152 yards and 2 TDs for a little over 6 YPC. The overall numebrs can be misleading, as Addai--the main RB--generated a below average 3.4 YPC. But the Colts running game was still effective, for 3 reasons. First, they stuck with it, and despite a pedestrian average on most of their runs, they were able to generate the type of balance (25 rushes) that Philly infamously lacked last week in their deplorable loss to Oakland. Second, they broke off some big runs from their secondary backs, as Brown and Simpson combined for 93 yards on 5 carries. Third, they were effective running it on 3rd and short; so even if Addai wasn't particularly effective overall, he was able to move the chains consistently and give Manning and the Colts' bevy of WRs a fresh set of downs. And the Colts, as they have been all year, were lethal in the redzone. Essentially, they complemented their aerial attack enough so that Manning could put up fewer than 300 yards yet still win comfortably.
2. The Colts' defense, while proving vulnerable on the ground, generated enough negative plays to turn a lead into a blowout.
People are finally starting to take notice of the Colts' improved defense. They're playing loose, they're making progress every week as they get healthier, and they are turning into a defense--much like I've observed of the Saints'--that plays quite well from ahead. To be sure, they were pretty helpless to stop Rams' RB Steven Jackson--who ran for 134 yards--for most of the game. But it's difficult to commit to the running game when you're behind early, and that's exactly what happened. Ultimately, there seemed to be 2 related reasons why the Rams' fell so far behind that they essentially had to abandon the running game. First, the Rams could not sustain drives; even though Jackson was quite effective busting out 10+ yard runs, they were only 4/13 on 3rd down and 0/2 on 4th down (compared to the Colts' efficient 66% 3rd down conversion rate). Second, whenever Bulger dropped back to pass, bad things happen. The Colts, because of their big early lead, were able to pin back their ears and generate significant pressure with their front 4, harassing Bulger into long sacks and turnovers. In sum, the Colts continued their pattern of playing elite pass defense and run defense that is passable enough given the situation of the game.
1. The Colts will cover lines like this against bad teams. Come on Vegas, 13.5 was way too low for this game, and almost everyone seemed to know it. If you look at the Colts' performance in the last 4 weeks, their mindblowing (and increasing) margins of victory jump out at you. Moreover, this is just business as usual for the Colts; they have started 6-0 for the 4th time in 5 seasons, and they just easily dispose of bad teams. The Rams have been blown out in every loss save two (Redskins and Jags), and they are last by far in the NFL in point differential. In a year that has been defined so far by heavy favorites covering, -13.5 was not an intelligent line. And while the trap game is obviously a worry, I feel pretty comfortable that I correctly diagnosed the Colts' low propensity for the trap game this week; the Colts mentally avoided the Eagles' fate, and as such, the huge gap in talent between the teams ended up being the story of the game.
2. Watch for explosive passing offenses against poor passing defenses. One of the reasons that a similarly tempting Eagles line against Oakland didn't work out was that the Eagles didn't exploit the Raiders' biggest weakness (run defense). But in both of the cases where BadNFL has predicted the Colts to cover the spread against a poor pass defense, it has really paid off big time. I think there are 3 teams that are safely in this category now: the Colts, the Saints, and the Pats. If they play a team with a bottom 5 pass defense, there is no excuse for the line to be under 14, and if it is, it should be a easy pick. Here's the thing about this year: parity is dead. Unless the lines start reflecting that, Vegas is going to continue to suffer.