The undercurrent has been brewing for a couple of years that Marvin Harrison was the problem with the Colts' offense in the postseason.
Yesterday, Reggie Wayne showed just how ridiculous that notion is.
When asked about Garcon and Collie, Manning was quick to praise his veteran #1 Reggie Wayne. Wayne, only had 3 catches for 55 yards, yet garnered a lot of kudos from Manning. In the first game, Wayne caught 8 passes, but for only 63 yards. The reason Manning cited Wayne is that he knows that a WR can't be measured just by his catches. In the postseason, #1 WRs often get taken away. Check all of Randy Moss's great games in the playoffs. There aren't any. A wideout, unlike other players, is dependent on several different players just to get a catch attempt. He can't make anything happen on his own until the QB has time to throw to him and makes that choice. A wideout can beat his man every play and never see the ball. Hence, Manning heaped praise on Wayne for helping to make 100 yard games by Collie and Garcon possible.
When discussing Marvin Harrison, it's important to realize that there were four phases to his postseason career, and each was very different.
1996: Indy plays in Pittsburgh. Harrison is just a rookie, but is already the Colts' top receiver. He catches 3 passes for 71 yards in a 41-14 loss. It's hard to complain about that production
1999, 2000, 2002: This is the Harrison IS the offense era. How bad were the Colts other receivers? Terrance Wilkens was the #2 in 1999. Teams knew that if they clamped down on Marv, that Manning had nowhere else to go with the ball. Harrison had 5 catches for 65, 5 for 63 and 4 for 47. Those numbers are dead on similar to the kinds of game Reggie Wayne had yesterday. The problem was that there was no Pierre Garcon to catch 11 passes or Austin Collie to toss in a spare 100 yards. Harrison was the leading receiver for the Colts in 3 of his first 4 playoff games. Jerome "I dropped a key TD pass" Pathon out-gained him 6 yards in the Miami game. It's hard to fault Harrison when he was still the most productive Colt WR on the field.
2003-2006: Now we've moved into the phase where the Colts had two legit wideouts (three actually for three years). Harrison's numbers were pedestrian, but the Colts actually went 7-3 in the playoffs in this stretch and won a Super bowl. Marvin continued to absorb the double coverage even as Reggie Wayne broke out for big games. During this stretch Marv averaged 4 catches for 59 yards a game. Again, sound familiar? Go back and watch the tape of the Super Bowl. Harrison didn't have a huge game, but he did make several key first down catches. Manning tried to force a pick into him early in the game, but the safety had him doubled. That was how teams played the Colts. It didn't matter overall, because Indy had enough weapons to over come it. Harrison basically had the same game win or lose. Harrison took the double coverage so Wayne could have huge games.
2007-2008: These games were ugly. Marv should not have played in the 2007 game, and his fumble legitimately cost Indy the win. By the fourth quarter of the 2008 game, Harrison was effectively done as an NFL wideout. Manning threw him one comeback pass in the fourth quarter that comes to mind. Harrison failed to attack it, sitting passively while the DB cut in front and swatted it down. I won't argue with anyone who claims Harrison weighed things down in these two games. Even so, the Colts offense was not the problem in the first loss to San Diego, so it's hard to kill Harrison too much.
Saying that Marvin Harrison was hurting the Colts in the playoffs is about like saying that Reggie Wayne has hurt them this year and that Pierre Garcon has clearly passed him as the Colts best wide out. Such statements ignore the way football is played and place the blame on wideouts for things they have no control over. Manning doesn't throw to double covered men, instead favoring single coverage when possible. Harrison spent his entire career with Manning getting the double coverage. Now that he's gone, Wayne is getting it. Harrison's struggles early had more to do with the Colts being an incomplete team. His struggles late were due to his health. While he was healthy and the Colts had other options, his stats were low, but the team won lots of playoff games.
As long as Manning has somewhere else to go with the ball, the Colts will keep winning in January and February.