Tempo Is Everything

With the third full week of professional football officially in the books, it’s time to start making some observations. A few things have stood out to me so far: trades will be made at any time if the opportunity presents itself (hey there Trent Richardson) and perennial NFC powerhouses have their off years too (did you watch this weekend’s Giant’s game?) But the biggest thing that’s stuck out thus far has been setting the offensive tempo.

I think we saw two great examples of how offensive tempo can really predict the outcome of a football game. I want to take a look at Sunday’s Colts vs. 49ers matchup and the Broncos vs. Raiders Monday Night Football (MNF) game.

Sunday’s game did one thing for me and that was make me fall in LOVE with the Indianapolis Colts offense. Coming off a monster steal, in which they picked up former Browns RB Trent Richardson, all of the talk leading up to Sunday’s Indy-San Fran matchup was whether the Colts would let Luck air it out or if a power running game could be established in less than a week’s time.

The Colts took the latter approach, with the duo of Richardson and former Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw combining for 130 of the Colts 179 total rushing yards. Luck finished the game 18/27 for 164 yards and 1 rushing TD. Pretty average numbers for a guy who has 5,037 career passing yards (and he’s only 3 full games into his second professional season).

If I could craft my own ideal football team, the offense would resemble something very similar to what the Colts looked like this past Sunday. It would feature a strong offensive line, with the ability to dominate the line of scrimmage. That O-line would allow for a power running game, with running backs that fight for every inch and can physically wear out the opposing defense. Everyone knows that a good ground game opens up the passing game, and with a quarterback like Luck, it’s easy to spread the field and lay it out wherever you’d like.

Most football analysts discredit a strong rushing attack nowadays, as the NFL has recently resembled a very “pass-happy” league of late. The role of the quarterback is ever-evolving and offensive coordinators are now implementing more Pistol offensive schemes and Wildcat formations than college playmakers could ever fathom. But there’s something to appreciate about good, old “ground-and-pound” football.

In sharp contrast to the Colts, we have the Denver Broncos and their Peyton Manning era. To this day, it still blows my mind that the Colts dropped Manning post-injury, but it seems like they’ve found their new franchise guy in Luck. Anyway, Manning and the Broncos put on a clinic against the Raiders Monday night, with Manning breaking Tom Brady’s record of most touchdowns in the first three games of the season (12).

Manning completed a career-high 86.5% of his passes last night, hitting three different receivers for touchdowns. According to ESPN, the Broncos lead the league in total points scored, with 127 points so far this season. Monday night’s win was the third consecutive game in which Manning & Co. scored at least 37 points in the game. I’m lucky if my Jets can break 20.

The Broncos rushed for a total of 164 yards against the Raiders, a mere 15 yards shy of what the Colts rushed for against the 49ers on Sunday. The Broncos also torched the passing game, with 372 yards, compared to the Colts 157 total passing yards. Yet, both teams managed to grab decisive victories. Why? Because running wins games, either by physically exhausting your opponent or by opening up passing lanes.

What’s the biggest advantage of having a reliable running game? You get to dictate the tempo of the ENTIRE game. The Colts’ time of possession (TOP) was 36:25, 12.9 minutes longer than the 49ers. The Broncos’ TOP was 35:24, about 10.8 minutes more than the Raiders. TOP is a natural by-product of a strong running game and effective passing at crucial moments. Both the Colts and the Broncos understand that all of these factors are what it takes to win in the NFL.

Frankly, I can’t wait to see these two teams face off in Week 7′s Sunday night matchup in Indianapolis. It might be a preview for this year’s AFC Championship game.

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