Yesterday, I shared Ned Macey's view that the Colts were becoming like the late 90s Dolphins teams. The view was expressed in the 2011 FOA Almanac. I want to examine the claim more closely.
First, let's look at the last five years of Marino's Career. He was 34 in 1995. Below I've listed the team's record, as well as their rank in points scored and allowed and the offensive and defensive DVOAs for those years. Remember that for defense, a negative DVOA is good and a positive is bad.
|Record||O rank||ODVOA||D rank||DDVOA||Playoffs|
You can see why Macey made the claim, at least in terms of records. The late 90s Miami teams were all between 8-8 and 10-6. They made the playoffs in four of Marino's final five seasons, won a few playoff games, but weren't serious contenders. However, a big reason for that was the play of Marino himself. The Dolphins were nothing like these Colts.
The Colts of today have an outstanding offense and a suspect defense. While that was true of the 1997 'Fins, the 1998 Miami defense was the best in the NFL. It was the Miami offense that largely floundered in mediocrity. Check out Marino's final five seasons:
The fact is that the reason the late 90s Dolphins teams were mediocre is because they had a mediocre quarterback. Dan Marino was the weak link. In 1999, the Dolphins went 4-1 without Marino and 5-6 with him. The fact is that the Dolphins were unable to push for a title because Marino simply wasn't up to it. His knees were gone and he wasn't the same quarterback he had been. It wasn't the Dolphins fault Marino never got a ring. Unlike Elway, Marino didn't raise his game at the end of his career. Injuries derailed and slowed him, but the point remains that he had a championship defense and couldn't get it done. Over his final 6 playoffs games from 1995-1999 he threw 5 TDs and 10 picks. In fairness, his defense gave up 37, 38, and 62 points in three of those losses, but Marino's play was rough at best.
To the extent that the Colts depend on Manning, the Colts can and should worry. If Manning's play falls off significantly, there's no reason to expect the Colts to compete for a title. Ironically, the Outsiders projection for Manning is rather rosey. They see Manning going for 4300 yards, 31 TDs, and 12 INTs. Personally, I can't see any way for Manning to post those kinds of numbers in a down year for the Colts.
If Manning starts completing less than 60% of his passes or posts ratings in the 80s, the Colts will be in trouble. As it stands, if the Colts put together a defense as good as the late 90s Dolphins, they are more likely to be Super Bowl contenders than middle of the pack finishers. While I'm not high on the Colts defense for 2011, I do believe there is talent there and could be formidable in 2012 and beyond.
Regardless of how 2011 plays out, I'm not convinced there are long term systmatic problems for the Colts. They will continue to be as healthy and successful as Peyton Manning can make them.