Will records be broken? Will the Broncos flirt with perfection? All we care about is the playoffs and a shot at the Super Bowl. But playoff victories will validate the greatness achieved during the regular season. Greatness that we may witness through the course of this upcoming season. In other words, it may or may not matter to us now. But someday it might. And when we look back at the teams Peyton played with the last decade, the potential for this team to be historic is there..
The 2004 Colts- An offensive Machine
The year 2004 saw the greatest display of offensive prowess in the NFL until that time. The intent of the Indianapolis Colt front office was to surround their franchise QB with high pedigree skill players. This they did succesfully. Peyton Manning was in the prime of his career. And he was surrounded by high level talent throughout the offense. The Offensive Line and RB positions were stout. The WRs were refined, with pristine route running and sticky hands. The nucleus of the offense had been together for years now. All were in sync with the mastermind in control. They were set to be an unstoppable force against a league not quite ready for the no huddle spread out offensive attacks.
The numbers that year were unprecedented.
Peyton Manning: 4,557 Yards.. 49 TDs.. 10 INTs..
RB Edgerrin James: 1,548 Yards rushing.. 483 Yards receiving.. 9 TDs
WR Marvin Harrison: 1113 Yards.. 15 TDs
WR Reggie Wayne: 1210 Yards.. 12 TDs
WR Brandon Stokley: 1077 Yards.. 10 TDs
The Offensive Line had three all pros at Left Tackle, Center, and Right Guard. They were very good in pass protection and solid in run blocking. The "stretch" run play created running lanes for the workhouse power RB Edgerrin James. This play lead to the domination of the play action fake by Peyton Manning. Often the middle of the field was opened up for the WR trio to carve the Defenses, and Peyton could choose his matchups.
With an average of 40 plus points through three games, this years troops lead by a more seasoned, veteran general, are looking like quite the offensive juggernaut themselves. With the acquisition of Wes Welker, the 2013 Denver Broncos compiled a formidable WR trio of their own. I couldn't help but compare the WRs to see how they stacked up to the 2004 Colts. Here is a player to player comparison of size and Draft status.
Marvin Harrison 6'0 180 lbs
Drafted: Round 1.. Pick 19.. 40 Time: 4.38
DemaryiusThomas 6'3 225 lbs.
Drafted:Round 1.. Pick 22 ..40 Time: 4.38
Reggie Wayne 6'0 200 lbs
Drafted: Round 1.. Pick 30.. 40 Time: 4.45
Eric Decker 6'3 214 lbs.
Drafted: Round 3.. pick 87.. 40 Time: 4.54
Brandon Stokley 6'0 194 lbs
Drafted: Round 4.. pick 105.. 40 Time: 4.49
Wes Welker 5'9 185 lbs
Undrafted.. 40 Time: 4.65
Dallas Clark 6'3 250 lbs
Drafted: Round 1.. pick 24.. 40 Time: 4.68
Julius Thomas 6'5 250 lbs
Drafted: Round 4.. Pick 129.. 40 Time: 4.64
Jacob Tamme 6'3 236 lbs
Drafted: Round 4.. Pick 127.. 40 Time: 4.58
In comparing the two with these numbers also in mind, I basically see the 04 Colts as quicker, with better overall route running and hands. While this years Broncos also have good speed, with really improved route running, also with good/bad hands at times, they do have a lot more size. DT is a big bodied 6'3 target who was just as fast as Marvin Harrison coming out of college. Decker is a little slower than Reggie was, but has three inches on him. Julius has two inches on Dallas with a similar speed, though much more athletic.
As far as the OL and RB positions, here is where the 04 Colts were superior. The Edge was a 1500+ yard rusher. Possibly better by himself than the committee of Moreno, Ball, and Hillman. As far as pass protection, Tarik Glenn was a solid all pro blind side protector at LT. He was a 330 pound mobile Lineman, a first round selection the year before Manning was drafted. That is another advantage to this years Broncos with Ryan Clady out for the year.
2009- Near Perfection From an Imperfect Team
While 2004 was a demonstration of many quality parts working in unison as a well oiled machine, the 2009 Colts was a marvel of the operator. Gone was the stout offensive line lead by LT Tarik Glenn. Replaced by an average pass protecting line, with atrocious run blocking. Edgerrin James was replaced by Joseph Addai. Offensive stalwart Marvin Harrison had been retired, and reliable Brandon Stokley was playing with someone else. In their place was 2nd year WR, sixth round pick, Pierre Garçon, who was thrust into a starting role for the first time. And rookie WR Austin Collie from BYU, a fourth round selection known for his smarts and skilled route running. He would take over the slot, while Garçon would play opposite Reggie. Here are their measurables and draft status:
Pierre Garçon: 6'0 210 lbs
Drafted: Round 6..Pick 205.. 40 Time: 4.48
Austin Collie: 6'0 200 lbs
Drafted: Round 4... Pick 129.. 40 Time: 4.53
With statistically the worst running attack in the NFL, and new mid to late round WRs having little familiarity with the system, the Colts offense was faced with unique challenges it hadn't faced in a decade. Yet the offense scored points, and the team continued to find ways to win. Mannings numbers are impressive when considering the circumstances:
4500 Yards.. 33 TDs.. 16 INTs
And the Receivers numbers:
Reggie Wayne: 1264 yards.. 10 TDs
Dallas Clark: 1106 yards.. 10 TDs
Pierre Garçon: 765 yards.. 4 TDs
Austin Collie: 676 yards.. 7 TDs
The 09 Colts were an enigma to me. I knew that if Peyton was taken away it was probably a four win team. They had a defense that gave up yards, and excelled only with a big lead, which they didn't often have. At times they held the run, kept teams out of the end zone, and made big plays late to close out games. But they were far from a shutdown defense. On the other side of the ball it was all about Peyton and his receivers. And as for the special teams unit, it was far from special. Yet they continued to win games. Wether it was the defense making plays at the end of a game, or Manning finding ways to win, or even other teams making dumb mistakes at the end of a game, they kept winning. They went 14-0 before benching the starters in the second half of week 15.
2013- Potential For True Greatness
I see a little bit of both of these teams in Denver this year. There are new receivers and little bit of unfamiliarity as there was in 09. With two backups on the offensive line, it may resemble the 09 Colts line a little bit, though better in the running game. But the talent, and size combination of the WRs and TEs is something Manning has never had.
What I learned from 09 is that Manning can make up for a lot of deficiencies. And from top to bottom, this team has nowhere near the deficiencies of the 09 team that went 14-0.
With the loss of Clady, the offense may not be the juggernaut it was setting up to be. Records may or may not be broken. What we do know, though, is this offense will score points.
Two other seeming advantages that make this team in Denver potentially the best unit Manning has ever had: Adam Gase/Jack Del Rio.
It's early in this young season, but I think I like this Manning/Gase tandem. This is not just Peytons offense. In Indy, he was basically the Offensive Coordinator. But here, he still is, but I see a lot of Gases influence. While this offense has lots of concepts and plays from Indy, there is a lot of moving parts and varying formations. Changing formations from one play to the next, being run at a speedy pace, is tiring and challenging for teams to defend. Indianapolis ran a lot of the same basic routes out of the same basic formations. It wasn't easy to stop, but somewhat easier to gameplan for. I like the speed and creativity I'm seeing so far from this offense. And I think the fresh outlook is causing intrigue, and awakening the brain, firing the synapses of the Peyton Manning cerebellum. :)
And for the first time ever, Manning has a defense that has outstanding coverage and can stop the run. Teams can't play keep away like they used to. Even if big plays are given up, the ball is quickly back into the hands of the offense. More possessions give Manning more opportunities to get dialed in.
There may be talk of fifty touchdowns. There may be eventual talk of an undefeated season. Manning is locked in. The defense will get better as time goes on. For someone who has seen many records broken, often with disappointing finishes, my expectations are tempered. But this team has the potential to be historic. And this machine is built to go where the 2004 or 2009 Colts could not go. To finish the job. To take it all the way. I say keep expectations under control. There will be bumps. But jump on board and enjoy the ride.