If Peyton Manning Doesn't Play This Weekend, Do We Still Have To Watch His Commercials?

It's almost here.  Just two more days and we'll finally have Texans football.  The suspense is absolutely killing me.  It's like being a little kid staring at the clock on Christmas Eve, counting down the minutes until Santa comes.  Except Santa Claus is decked out in Battle Red and is delivering a dose of hard knocks.  And beer.

This year, however, Santa gave us a slightly early present when he sent a posse of elves down to rough up Peyton Manning.  Some may argue that they'd rather we beat the Colts when they're at their best, but we've actually done that and it didn't get us very far.  Also, I don't remember the Colts apologizing when they took advantage of our backup quarterback (see Rosenfels, Sage; circa 2008).

No, right now I'll happily take any advantage we can get.  If we're hoisting the Lombardi trophy next February, I'll gladly take a few moments to apologize for all the breaks we caught along the way, but when you consider the history of your Houston Texans, it's probably best to just move along.

How much of a break is it, though?  I mean, sure Manning has treated our defense like his own personal chew toy in the past, but how much has he personally been responsible for our past heartaches?  Well with apologies to those who are sick of analysis, I have those answers for you after the jump (but beware, there will be math).

In the past three years, the Texans have actually played the Colts extremely close, even if the outcomes have rarely been in our favor.  Let's start with a quick summary of those games and just guesstimate Manning's impact on them.
  • Week 5 2008:  Lost 31-27.  The (in)famous Rosencopter game.  Matt Schaub was sick and missed the game, so in trots Rosie.  Sage Rosenfels actually dominated the Colts defense for three quarters before making like John Elway, only without the victories, positive plays, and the like.  While the true catalyst of that disappointment was Rosie, Manning played a significant role in tossing four touchdowns in the final two minutes.
  • Week 11 2008:  Lost 33-27.  Another Texans masterpiece!  The Texans were in the game thanks to strong performances by Steve Slaton (huh?) and Ahman Green.  Wait a second...yeah, that's right.  Slaton finished with 156 yards on 14 carries, and while Green only had 17 yards on 9 carries, he did punch in two scores.  Still, Manning absolutely dominated the Texans' D (duh) with four consecutive second half scoring drives of 81, 80, 73, and 69 yards.  Hey, we were trending in the right direction!  Then Rosie capped our potential comeback with a last minute interception, causing MDC to coin the term "ensaged". 
  • Week 9 2009:  Lost 20-17.  My goodness. How, as fans, did we ever survive this?  This game brings two words to mind.  One is "slant" and the other is unsuitable for print per fine decency rules that govern this wonderful establishment.  Those who have been unsuccessful in erasing these games from memory may SLANT remember that Manning and Dallas Clark combined SLANT for 14 receptions and SLANT 119 yards.  The Texans still had a chance to tie, however, until Kris "With a K" Brown missed a 42 yard field goal as time expired.  Hence, the unpublishable word. 

Damn, this hurts.  I don't know if I can finish.  I need a drink.

  • Week 12 2009:  Lost 35-27.  My everything hurts.  The Texans led this game by 13 at halftime before a combination of Texans turnovers and Manning touchdown drives made this yet another version of "what could have been."  Manning had two fourth quarter touchdown drives while the Texans had two fourth quarter turnovers (and a meaningless touchdown with 18 seconds left).  Moving on.
  • Week 1 2010:  Won 32-24.  I'd like to take a moment to profess my love for Arian Foster.  Foster led the team to victory behind 231 rushing yards.  Still, Manning threw for 433 yards and 3 touchdowns in a frightening moment of foreshadowing. 
  • Week 8 2010:  Lost 30-17.  Behind such luminaries as Mike Hart and Jacob Tamme, the Colts decided not to toy with the Texans this time and just dominated from the start.  The Texans picked up their play in the second half, but the Colts did not allow them back in the game.  This is an interesting strategy that I recommend the Texans mimic in the future.  Manning picked apart our pickable secondary and made his backups look like all pros.

Texans offense vs. Colts defense

Despite the pain involved in reliving those past games, there is a silver lining there.  Namely, the Texans offense has consistently been able to score on the Colts defense.  In the past three years, we've hung upwards of 32 points on their defense and not less than 17, averaging 24.8.

This includes offenses led by Sage Rosenfels and Steve Slaton. 

The Texans offense is consistent and, outside of Foster, healthy, and the Colts defense has not improved appreciably over the off-season, so it seems reasonable to expect the Texans to be able to match that average of 24 this coming Sunday.

Colts offense vs. Texans defense

As good as the Texans offense has been in these matchups, the Colts have been better.  They've averaged 28.8 points against our less than stellar defenses. 

It is now, however, much more difficult to project this data to this Sunday because as we all know, the Texans defense is not expected to resemble those, um, "defenses" of the past.  Also, in case you haven't heard, Manning may miss the game.

How much offense did Manning account for?

So the obvious question now, is how much of the aforementioned offense did Peyton Manning account for over those last three years? 

Well, by reading the above game summaries, I would say "a lot."  Clearly Manning had a significant impact in each of those games and was able to wreak havoc on our would be defense.

If we want to try to quantify it, however, we can hop over to our friends at Advanced NFL Stats (disclaimer:  I have not actually met them, so they may or may not agree to the term "friends").  They have this nifty stat over there called Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/P) where they estimate how much value in expected points each player adds to their team.  In 2008, Manning had an EPA/P of 0.25.

Now, I may be completely abusing the metric here, but if I take that 0.25 and multiply it by the 34 passing plays that occurred in the first game of 2008, it says that Peyton Manning "added" 8.5 points. 

Manning's also had an EPA/P of 0.30 in 2009 and of 0.19 in 2010.  If I multiply this out across the passing downs of all six games, we learn that Manning accounted for an average of about 10.86 points or 38% of the total points scored against the Texans.  Smells about right.

How much offense will Collins account for?

Over the same three years, Kerry Collins had an EPA/P of 0.10, -0.09, and 0.10.  Yes, he had a negative EPA/P in 2009. 

I realize that it's not particularly fair to compare Collins' EPA/P to Manning's over that time frame because they played in different systems, but if you'll allow me a little bit of statistical leeway for a second, let's compare how Manning and Collins would have compared in those six games with respect to how many points they would have contributed.

 

Year Passing Plays Manning EPA/P Manning EPA Collins EPA/P Collins EPA
2008 34 0.25 8.50 0.10 3.40
2008 46 0.25 11.50 0.10 4.60
2009 51 0.30 15.30 -0.09 -4.59
2009 35 0.30 10.50 -0.09 -3.15
2010 57 0.19 10.83 0.10 5.70
2010 45 0.19 8.55 0.10 4.50

 

Next, let's see what would happen in those same six games if we would have deducted Manning's contribution and replaced it with Collins' potential contribution. 

 

Year Hou Score
Ind Score
Actual Winner Adjusted Ind Score New Winner
2008 27 31 Ind 25.9 Hou
2008 27 33 Ind 26.1 Hou
2009 17 20 Ind 0.11 Hou
2009 27 35 Ind 21.35 Hou
2010 34 24 Hou 18.87 Hou
2010 17 30 Ind 25.95 Ind

 

Again, this is not an exact science, but it does show us that Manning's contributions were quite significant and in some cases the singular factor that shifted these games from a potential victory to a loss -- often a devastating one.

This also fits with our subjective analysis, where it felt like Manning was the difference between a win and a loss.

What about Wade?

Of course, there's one final factor that we haven't accounted for.  The Colts will now be facing a tougher Texans defense than they have in the past.  I'm not quite proclaiming this the GREATEST DEFENSE EVAR yet, but it's not exactly much of a stretch to say that this defense will be better than that of years past.  I mean, the only way they could be worse is to just not take the field.

The impact of losing Manning is pretty significant, as we saw above, but even with the fuzzy logic of the tables, many of the games are still close and simple variation or isolated events can still swing the game away from the Texans.  If Wade's defense can make an impact of only a few points, however, the spread becomes more significant, and the results more stable. 

Furthermore, one of the great equalizers in some of these past games has been turnovers.  The Texans have turned the ball over in each of those six games, and have averaged 2.4 turnovers in the losses.  Conversely, the Colts have averaged 1 turnover in all six games. 

If Wade's defense can pull just one or two more turnovers and even out that battle, paired with their only moderate improvement in preventing points, it seems that the Colts will have a tall challenge to top the 20 point mark.

So, you're saying there's a chance!

Ultimately, football is a game of variables.  The unpredictability of those variables is what makes it great, and obviously it is impossible to predict the outcome of any of these with any level of certainty.  The loss of Manning, and subsequent replacement with Collins, along with the expected improvement in the Texans defense, however, suddenly shifts the likely outcome of these variables decidedly in the Texans favor. 

Earlier, I said that the Texans should be able to match their average point total against the Colts.  I think followed that up with an analysis that says that the Colt should see a significant decrease in their output. 

Add it all up, and I'm seeing a 24-17 victory for the boys in white.

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