The 2011 Colts are virtually indistinguishable from the 2009 Colts.
There have been minor changes, mostly for better, but on offense 7 of the 11 starters are basically the same. Indy swapped out Charlie Johnson, Ryan Lilja, Kyle DeVan and Dan Muir, Kelvin Hayden and Clint Session. Gary Brackett is hurt right now too.
But in essence it's the same team that nearly went undefeated. A couple of guys are a little older, but it's functionally the same team.
Now, they may well go winless.
It's not the front office's fault.
It's not the coaches' fault.
It's all about Peyton, and it always has been.
Take just third downs in 2011. Indy is 5 of 23 (28%). Last year, Indy was 5th in the NFL at 44.6%. From 2005-2009, Indy was first every year always topping out near 50%.
The Colts, missing Addai, Collie, and Clark for much of the year were 156% better on third down than this year.
Yesterday, I saw a team that looked prepared. The Colts came out with a plan, and for the most part executed it. They played hard. Those wanting to blame the coaching staff and front office are taking a shallow and shortsighted position. People will throw out false facts like, "Look at the 2007 draft class!". These people forget that the Patriots, probably the best team in football, has NO ONE left from the 2007 class on their team. This is in part because the 2007 class was one of the worst classes in recent memory, and despite picking last, Indy got middle of the pack production that year.
The Colts front office has treated the media and blogs poorly for years. Now they are reaping what they sow as some see an opportunity to serve themselves. Dumping this regime might be great for bloggers and media guys, but it would be death for the Colts. We've heard for years how Indy has completely integrated the structure of the team with Manning. There is no analog in NFL history for what Indy has done. All the statistical models that claim Manning is worth a handful of wins a year are based around historical precedent.
There is no historical precedent for Peyton Manning.
There's no way to replace him in two weeks or two months. This is going to be a long season. Indy might not win a game. If Manning was playing, this is still a double-digit win team. What I saw yesterday convinced me of that. Without him, it may not win at all. It's about fit and system as much as it is about talent. Peyton Manning is like an alien from another planet, and the Colts are his genetically encoded starship.
No one else can pilot the ship. They can't even start the engine.
The payoff was making the playoffs every year but one since 1999 and winning a Super Bowl. The consequence is 2011.
I'll make that trade every time.
Pre-tape thoughts after the jump:
- The Colts desperately missed Brackett and Sims. The middle of the field was open all day for the Browns as Conner and Angerer just aren't there yet in terms of coverage. Either one or both of them might have been enough to put Indy over the top. On Wednesday, I'll break down tape of all the Cleveland 3rd down conversions. I suspect I'll have more to say on this topic.
- Lacey and Bullitt were terrible. Bullitt's play is disappointing, but not surprising. He's been the single most overrated Colt by fans for a long time.
- Bethea is a great, great player.
- Indy played some of the best run defense I've seen in a long time. Conner and Angerer (the same guys I criticized above) played very well. The Indy DTs clogged up the lanes, and it all worked. It's too bad that run defense is irrelevant. Now you see why I've never freaked out about it when teams ran on the Colts. Stopping the run does not win games. Stopping the pass does. Overall, the defense is about the same as last year. Maybe a little bit better. They are slightly better than I expected. I figured on a bottom 5 defense, but they are more like a bottom 10 defense, just like last year.
- This is the best run blocking line the Colts have had since 2007. There are big holes. It's astounding to see live how much better they are. I'm 100% convinced this offensive line is significantly improved over last year. I know Linkenbach had a rough day, but Ryan Diem had LOTS of rough days last year. Castonzo seems to be doing the job.
- The Colts had clearly talked to Kerry Collins about stepping up in the pocket. He did so on almost every play in the first half and avoided sacks. It was a revelation. He got lax with it later. All in all, Collins was awful. The rest of the team played well enough to win. He did not. No team could win with that performance from the QB position.
- Joe Addai. Joe Addai, baby. Man, this team missed him last year.
- I thought Indy would win right up until the Reggie Wayne trip/Collins pick. The Colts seemed like the better team for most of the game. They played very well until Collins came unglued late. The pick was all on Wayne, though. Amazing.
- The real turning point might have been the previous drive with the two blown PI calls. Both were obvious. The second on Wayne was as easy as calls get. Instead of being in field goal range with a chance to take the lead, Indy punted.
- Caldwell's call to kick on 4th and inches was bad, but I don't complain as loudly about field goals as a do about punts. It didn't cost the Colts the game. As bad as Collins was in the redzone, I doubt Indy was going to get more than 3 points anyway. Still, going for it is almost always the right call there. Caldwell did a great job yesterday, though fans won't see it that way. Indy was ready to play. They had clearly worked with Collins a lot. It just wasn't enough. He's not Peyton Manning. He just isn't, and there's nothing Caldwell or any coach could do to make him be Peyton.
- The corners of the Luke are loud. I've never sat there before, but I was impressed with the noise level. Fans wanted to support the team, but there was a lot of realism in the stands.
- Stat of the day from Scott Kacsmar: Manning to Collie 2010: 58/71 (81.7%); Collins to Collie 2011: 3/13 (23.1%)
- A few weeks ago, I gave an interview in which I said that if Peyton Manning missed the season, I thought the Colts were possibly a 0 to 2 win team. Go back and give it a listen. Take note where I discuss Wayne and Clark. It's so very, very true.
- On the bright side, no one will ever, ever again make the "Manning had more weapons" claim. Still, the sad thing is that Wayne has really fallen off. We saw it last year, but the end is closer than the beginning. 2006 Wayne and 2004 Harrison would still be making plays with Collins, I suspect. Then again, going back to 2009, Wayne was completely invisible all playoffs, and his stumble was the end of the Indy hopes, so maybe the decline was already in effect back then.
- Indy needs a new special teams coach. This isn't about a lack of healthy bodies or talent. Too many mental errors. No excuse for it.
- Tomorrow, I'll examine the Andrew Luck question. The Colts are likely to have the first pick in the draft. It's time to deal with this topic.