You don't need me to analyze what happened in Cincinnati yesterday.
As the Colts dropped to 0-6, I've noticed a ridiculous trend among some in the national media. Bill Simmons said on Friday that he thinks the Colts would have been terrible regardless of Manning's injury. Will Carrol noted yesterday that he didn't think Peyton Manning was a 5 or 6 win player. As the losses mount, many will begin to assert that the Colts were not a playoff team even had Manning been healthy.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The numbers don't lie:
2010 Colts PPG: 27.2 (4th in NFL)
2011 Colts PPG: 17.3 (27th in NFL)
Peyton Manning isn't worth a touchdown a game.
He's worth 10 points a game.
Even if you take out the Week One aberration, the Colts are still averaging just 19.4 points a game. Considering that they've either had the lead or the ball and the chance to take the lead in each of the last FIVE fourth quarters, you can't possibly tell me that 8-10 points a game more from the offense doesn't put this team at 5-1 at worst.
Oh, but the offensive personnel is worse!
No. No they aren't. The Colts are running the ball better than they ran it in 2010. The offensive line isn't any worse than it was last year in pass protection, especially considering that Curtis Painter (!) has been sacked just once in the past two games.
The 2010 Colts played more than half the year with guys like Tamme, White, and James getting serious snaps.
It's impossible to argue the Colts have less talent on offense in 2011. If anything, they are healthier and better.
Peyton Manning is worth 10 points a game and at least 5 wins already to this team.
Oh, but Nate, you ignorant slut, the defense! The defense is worse!
2010 Colts PPG: 24.2 (24th)
2011 Colts PPG: 27.2 (29th)
Doesn't that prove this defense is worse?
Nope. The 2011 Colts have given up 25% of their points either on scores for touchdown or short field scores after turnovers (<30 yards). Consider as well the amount of time the defense is on the field: 2010-30:32 a game, 2011-35:10 a game. The Colts defense is on the field nearly five minutes longer a game. The 2011 Colts face five more plays a game than 2010 Colts. Yes, it's true. The 2011 Colts have fared slightly worse on defense. At the end of the day, however, we are talking about a ranking drop of a few spots per category. When you couple that with a 10 point a game nose dive for the offense, it's reasonable to assume that most of the difference is just noise.
Through five weeks, the Colts offense was averaging more than 10 yards less per drive than the 2010 Colts did. Even with the new kick-off rule dramatically helping the Colts, the Indy defense is still facing a worse average starting field position than in 2010.
It is human nature to reject the improbable. It's much easier to say things like, "The Colts would be bad anyway. There's no talent on this team. The front office failed. This is a 7 win team with Manning!". Those things sound plausible because no player in NFL history has ever been worth more than a handful of wins in a season. Our minds naturally reject the idea of a 10 win player. Who could possibly be worth so much?
The fact is though, that when you look at the 2011 Colts, it's just impossible to reach any conclusion but that Peyton Manning makes nearly a two touchdown a game difference when you weight his total offensive and defensive effect. Carrol is correct. Peyton Manning is not a 5 or 6 win player.
Peyton Manning is an 8 or 9 win player...at least.
Pre-tape observations after the jump.
- Jim Caldwell committed professional malpractice at the end of the first half. With 1:54 to play in the half, the Bengals had first and goal inside the Indy 10. Cincy had timeouts, so there's no way they run out of time. No matter what, the Colts with three timeouts should have plenty of time to get the ball back to end the half. If Caldwell calls the timeouts on defense, the Colts see the ball with no worse than 1:30 on the clock. I suppose he could argue that with a rookie QB, he didn't want to give them time to talk, but I'm not buying it. In a close game, Caldwell cost his team a drive. Just as much as the fumbles by Clark and Garcon were turnovers, Jim Caldwell turned the ball over by not stopping the clock. I've had it with this stuff. He's not even trying to win the games at this point. I still contend he doesn't survive the season.
- Garcon had a marvelous game, right up until the end. He tied a career high with 8 receptions, and also netted his third long pass interference flag of the season (should be 4, actually). His fumble in the final moments was incredibly reckless, but it doesn't negate the fact that he's having a massive impact on this offense.
- Delone Carter had a bad YPC day, but he played better than his numbers. His success rate was 64.2%. Success rate is a great stat that illustrates how well a given play works. It's defined by what percentage of the yards needed a back gets per down. A run is successful if it gets 40% of the yards needed on 1st down, 60% on 2nd down, and 100% on 3rd. The best success rate in the league is Beanie Wells at 62%. So for Carter to post that number is excellent. To date, his rate was only 44% which is horrible. He ran well.
- But Don Brown ran better. Brown only had 5 carries, but again showed that he's explosive and should be playing more. Even without his 18 yard touchdown run, he was still up over 4 yards a carry on his other 4 attempts. His success rate was 3/5, so he also broke the 60% mark. Again, there's absolutely no evidence that Carter is a better back, despite his solid effort yesterday. Don Brown is being buried by these coaches, and it's time to start asking for answers. There's no reason this guy should go down as a bust. He had some injuries and ran behind one of the worst lines ever. When he finally broke out, he got benched. It's like the coaches don't want to admit they made a HUGE mistake in the Jets game last year going with Dom Rhodes. Brown deserves 15 carries a game. The Colts can finally block for him; I want to see what he has in the tank. He's still young and could still be valuable, even dynamic.
- The problem with the defense yesterday was not the secondary, but the line. The Bengals erected an impenetrable wall around Dalton who had all afternoon to sit and throw unmolested. Neither Freeney nor Mathis ever came close to touching him. Don't ask me what Coyer was doing playing a 3 man front on third downs. It obviously didn't work. There was no pass rush at all, and that always spells doom.
- Despite all of that, the run defense played well again, holding the Bengals to just 3 yards a carry.
- Painter played about how you'd expect. He got great protection all day, but he is just limited. He didn't lose the game for the Colts, and that's all you can ask. 34 dropbacks for 188 yards is what it is. They are protecting him, and he's not throwing picks (the last throw doesn't really count, the game was over at that point).
- Reggie Wayne really wants 1000 yards on the season. I'm betting he gets it.
- Nice job again by the offensive line. This has been the rule rather than the exception. It's not a great line, obviously. But it is a lot better. They've allowed just 1 sack in two games, and are opening holes. There are still some fails, but overall, it's better.
Conclusion: What else is there to say? There's no point in nit-picking every game. It's the same story every week. I told you all before Week One that the year was lost. I told you this was 2 win team without Peyton. I don't believe that's a reason to freak out or fire the front office. It's a sign that they put their eggs in one laser-rocket armed basket. That strategy worked great, right up until it didn't. It was the best way to win almost incessantly for a decade. I'll say it over and over and over again: this is the price we pay for such a historic run of unbroken success.
At 0-6, even at 0-16, it's still a bargain.