A few months ago I looked at the various units on the Colts' team to assess if they were better or worse than last season. Looking back, I'm encouraged that I was wrong about some of those assessments (I would no longer rate the Coaching as "Worse"). As a whole, we would all agree that the Colts are a better team now than last year. Certainly, the record would indicate improvement (11-0 verses 7-4 a year ago).
Let's go deeper into the numbers and see how the 2009 Colts compare with their ill fated counterparts from a year ago to see if this year's team is truly better equipped for a playoff run. We'll start with the offense today, and tackle the defense tomorrow, with the special teams and coaching on Saturday.
Statistically, Manning has been a bit better than in 2008, although that's largely because he got off to a slow start last year. His DVOA right now is at 38.6%, last year he finished at 36.1%. But essentially, 2009 Manning is the same Manning we had for the last several weeks of 2008. Let's call this one a wash.
The perception is that Addai is playing better than he did in 2008. That's true to some extent, but mostly he's just healthier. Last year, he had 155 carries for the season. Currently he's at 160. He's also caught 15 more passes this season than all of last year. His YPC is up (barely), as is his DVOA (3.8% from -1.3%) and his success rate (52% from 48%). Don Brown has clearly out performed Dom Rhodes from last year as well, although Brown's health may cause the Colts to bring Dom back before it's all over with. As a unit, the Colts are rushing for 3.9 YPC this year as opposed to 3.4 YPC last year, and the trend is upward.
Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne are having better years than they did last year. Pierre Garcon is set to surpass Marvin Harrison's 2008 production. Garcon has a DVOA of -.08 and 37 catches for 574 and 4 TDs and a catch rate of 52%. Marv finished last year with a DVOA of -9.2%, 60 catches for 636 and 5 TDs with a catch rate of 56%. Garcon will likely pass Harrison's yardage and TD totals in the next couple of weeks. The only slight regression the Colts have seen is from the slot. Last year, AG caught 72% of passes thrown his way for a DVOA of 26.2%, and conventional stats of 57, for 664 and 4 TDs. Collie's numbers are great for a rookie, but not up to that level of production. He has caught 69% of passes for a DVOA of 14.5% with 43 catches for 483 and 4. By the end of the year, Collie should surpass Gonzo's production from last year in terms of volume, but fall just short in terms of quality. As a unit, the WRs are clearly better than they were last year.
In terms of pass protection, the Colts adjusted sack rate is slightly higher in 2009 than in 2008, but only slightly and still ranks first in the NFL. It's important to note that at the same time, Manning's YPA is up from 7.2 YPA to 8.1 YPA, indicating slightly more time to throw. In terms of run blocking, the Colts were 23rd in 2008, 21st in power running (62%), and the second most 'stuffed' team in the league (21% of runs resulted in no gain or a loss). It didn't much matter which direction they ran in, unless they ran right where they were 31st. Now a year later, the Colts have replaced three starters (depending on how you count moving CJ from guard to tackle), and the run blocking has improved. Indy is now up to 14th in "adjusted line yards", and power runs are up slightly to 65% and stuffs are down slightly to 20%. Those aren't massive improvements, but they are improvements, and as we've noted, the run game seems to be trending upward right now. The Colts are now respectable running in most directions (third in the league running up the middle), but have fallen off on runs around the left end (25th in the league). As a whole, it's fair to say that the offensive line has shown slight improvement.
The 2008 Colts had an offensive DVOA of 22.1% good for 5th in the league. The pass offense was second at 41.8%, and the run offense was 27th at -6.5% (below average).
The 2009 Colts have an offensive DVOA of 26.1% good for 3rd in the league. The pass offense is 5th at 49.6%, and the run offense is 15th at 2.2%. Essentially, that means the Colts have gone from a below average rushing attack to a perfectly average rushing game.
The Colts offense is simply better now than it was a year ago. The passing game is more sound (although that may just be the effect of a healthy Manning all year) and the running game has become respectable.
It doesn't just feel like the 2009 Colts are better on offense than the 2008 Colts...they are better.