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How Garcon and Collie make it work
How Garcon and Collie make it work
By K.C. Joyner
During the NFL playoffs, Football Scientist K.C. Joyner is offering a series of "Contrarian Thoughts" -- basically, things about pro football you assume are true that aren't actually true. This edition focuses on the AFC Championship Game between the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts.
One of the primary themes of the Contrarian Thoughts series is to uncover unsung heroes who aren't getting the credit they deserve. There have been more than a few of these this postseason, but no two players may be more unsung than the Colts' wide-receiving tandem of Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie.
In order to illustrate their importance to Indianapolis' offense, it helps to take a step back and look at where this team was at the beginning of the season. Marvin Harrison had finally come to the end of his illustrious career; that meant the Colts were in need of a flanker.
That need was compounded in part by Harrison's longtime insistence that he line up almost exclusively on the right side of the formation; while this may have helped him hone his game to an elite level, it also meant it was very difficult for anyone else to gain experience at the flanker position -- which is probably the most important receiving position in the Indianapolis offense.
This situation was made worse when Anthony Gonzalez, the heir apparent to Harrison and the Colts' receiver with the most experience at the flanker position, injured his knee in Week 1.
The loss of Harrison and Gonzalez meant that Garcon had to take over as flanker. His résumé would not suggest the expectation of a dominant performance; he was selected No. 205 in the 2008 draft (sixth round) out of tiny Mount Union College and had a grand total of four receptions as a rookie, only one of which was thrown by Peyton Manning.
Despite this lack of receiving pedigree, Garcon put up elite numbers when lining up at the flanker position. He caught 43 of the 78 passes thrown his way and gained a grand total of 785 yards if four penalty plays are included. That equates to a Marvin Harrison-like 9.6 yards per attempt (YPA) total.
Garcon's performance also allowed Reggie Wayne to stick to his usual role of playing almost exclusively on the left side. He was on that flank for 136 of the 154 passes thrown his way in 2009.
As impressive as Garcon's numbers were, Austin Collie may have had a larger impact on the offense. His primary contribution came as a slot receiver, as his 71 percent completion rate and 8.2 YPA total provided the Colts with consistent down-the-middle productivity.
That production had a double impact: It allowed Dallas Clark to move out of the slot receiver role. Clark has a reputation for being a dominant slot receiver, but in every study I have ever done on his slot production, he has posted a YPA total between 6-7 yards. 2009 was no different in this respect, as Clark gained only 6.2 yards per attempt on slot passes. An average wide receiver will gain between 7-8 yards per attempt, so that means Clark actually has a history of posting below-average numbers when lining up as a wideout.
The good news for Indianapolis is that Clark typically has dominant metrics when lining up in a standard tight end position. He kept that trend up this year by catching 70 of the 88 passes thrown his way and racking up 829 yards. That 9.5 YPA is an elite total that Clark likely would not have posted if he had been forced to man the slot receiver position.
It is rare to see an offense effectively integrate one young wideout into its game plan, but with the help of Peyton Manning, the Colts did it with two this season. It is a key reason why he won the MVP award, but it is also a tribute to the talents of these two relative unknowns.
K.C. Joyner, aka The Football Scientist, is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider. His Countdown Daily by IBM weekly video matchups can be found every Tuesday here. He also can be found on Twitter (@kcjoynertfs) and at his Web site.
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