We've been kicking around the new rules regarding kickoffs on NFL.com a lot recently. While much of the discussion has been about the value -- or devalue -- of premium returners, there's one facet of the discussion I'm sure of: The Colts will be fine.
Or, put another way, the Colts are gonna thrive.
Here's the deal: Kickers and kickoff specialists are booming the ball like never before, with touchbacks going up more than 200 percent since the NFL moved the kickoff back to the 30-yard line. Now that the little rubber kicking tee will sit at the 35, touchbacks are sure to increase, meaning teams that will thrive are those that can drive. Indy killed that stat last season.
The NFL measures long drives by those that involve 10 plays or more, and Indy led the league in that area in 2010. Offenses that can handle their business with the worse field position include the Patriots, Eagles, Falcons, and, of course, the Colts.
Not only did Peyton Manning and the offense build tons of quality drives, they also led the league in touchdowns scored on long drives, getting into the end zone a whopping 52.5 percent of the time that they went 10 plays or more on a possession.
Worse field position? Meh, who cares.
Well, actually, teams like the 49ers and Titans, who can't build a time-consuming drive to save their lives, care very much. These clubs that struggle to manufacture 80-yard marches also play right into the Colts' hands. Here's why:
Indy's defense is of the bend-but-don't-break variety, a Cover-2 "bubble" defense that keeps everything in front of it. Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer's unit makes opposing offenses methodically work their way down the field, consistently having to convert third-and-short situations. What the Colts don't do is take unnecessary risks, giving up lots of big plays. In fact, in both 2007 and 2009, Indy gave up the fewest plays of 20-plus yards in the league.
So, if teams have worse field position, they'll have to convert more third downs and sustain longer drives to score. Clubs like the Colts that don't allow quick strikes thrive in these conditions. Not to mention, with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney on the defensive line, Indy doesn't have to take risks to get pressure. Basically, Indy will eventually stop you on a third down, without having to blitz everyone and leave its back end exposed.
Speaking of, some fans felt the Colts' struggles in 2010 -- including an early playoff exit -- exposed them as a team on the decline.
Hate to break it to the masses, but the new touchback rules only make Indianapolis a much stronger club in 2011.
Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.