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Monday, November 15, 2004
Updated: November 16, 12:12 PM ET
Can the Colts be tamed?

Page 2 staff

Everyone who has ever said defense wins championships obviously never saw the 2004 Indianapolis Colts.

We've all seen the stats. Peyton Manning, with the help of Marvin Harrison's hands, is on pace to break Dan Marino's 19-year-old record for of most TD passes in a season. When Peyton's overworked shoulder needs a quick break, Edgerrin James moves the chains.

But are we talking about the greatest offense ever? We'll leave that up to our staff of Snap Judgment QBs.

And as long as we're discussing amongst ourselves, we won't forget to mention the surprising 7-2 Falcons, and every other quarterback whose throws left a mark on Week 10.

First down: Peyton Manning throws for another five TDs and 320 yards. Is he directing the greatest offense ever?

Alan Grant: In terms of efficiency, depth, and intimidation, the Colts offense just mightbe the best ever. In fact, the Colts are fairly reminiscent of the New York Yankees' lineup this past season. You've got an A-Rod, always consistent, fundamentally flawless guy in Peyton Manning. You have a do-whatever-it-takes-and-make-it-look-easy guy like Derek Jeter in Marvin Harrison. You have a Bernie Williams, killing-'em-softly guy in Reggie Wayne. You've got the "never back down, hit it like you mean it" game of Gary Sheffield in Edgerrin James. You have Brandon Stokley, with the "I'd be-a-star-anywhere-else, but, you know, whatever," sensibility of Hideki Matsui. And, like their pinstripe counterparts, the Colts are so deep that their version of Kenny Lofton, hitting from the bottom of the order -- in this case, TE Dallas Clark -- can still beat you.

Jeff Merron: The 2000 Rams and 1998 Vikings (both dome teams, like the Colts), were better. Maybe, maybe the Colts will finish the season as one of the best five offenses ever. But check out Indy's schedule -- the Colts haven't faced much in terms of really tough D, and they've racked up lots of easy points against some of the weakest defensive teams in the league. Let's see how Manning, Harrison, James & Co. do against Chicago, Baltimore, and Denver. And also wait for some postseason results to come in.

That's no diss, though -- Manning's audible offense is edge-of-the-seat stuff, fun as heck trying to think along with him at the line. You can't blink. Reminds me of Jim Kelly's 1990s no-huddle Bills, because there's no rest for the peepers between snaps.

Patrick Hruby: Greatest ever? Please. Manning is having a memorable season, without question. But would I take the Colts over the Triplet Cowboys? Air Coryell? A San Francisco club featuring Montana, Rice, Craig, Rathman, Jones and a Hall of Fame o-line that turned cut-blocking into performance art? No, no, and heck no. Indy plays on turf, has the rules stacked in its favor and boasts, at most, three Canton-worthy players (sorry, Reggie Wayne). To put it another way: "Titanic" may be the all-time King of the Box Office World, but that doesn't put James Cameron in the same league as Orson Welles.

Skip Bayless: Peyton Manning is playing the most dominant stretch of quarterback I've seen because he thinks rings around most of today's defenses. That's because he's as good a play-caller and coordinator as he is a passer. It's almost unfair the way he calls or modifies plays at the line of scrimmage to attack the defense's weakness, then runs the play with such conviction because it's his play. But you saw what happened when he tried to play chess with Bill Belichick in last year's AFC title game: checkmate. A defense that's smart, flexible, talented and physical enough can outwit Manning by disguising its pre-snap looks.

That's why Manning's offense isn't in the same all-time-scary league as, in ascending order, Dan Fouts' Chargers, the Montana-Rice 49ers and the 1999 St. Louis Rams. This league has never seen anything quite as indefensible as Kurt Warner's '99 attack. Of course, the alien from Planet MVP that inhabited Warner's body that year has since returned home. But while Warner was unconscious hot and fearless, no one could tackle or cover Marshall Faulk; and especially on that artificial runway in St. Louis, no one could even slow down the flying circus of Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Az Hakim and Ricky Proehl.

Aaron Schatz: It might be close. I think when you consider great offenses of history, you have to consider the context of the times in which the team played, and passing numbers are up all around the league this year. So the Colts aren't as dominant as they look. They also have lucked into not playing many good pass defenses, and they lost to the best pass defense they have played so far this year, the Pats. I'll be curious to see what happens when they face Baltimore in Week 15.

As for best offense ever, I'm still partial to the early '90s San Francisco 49ers and the Otto Graham Browns of the '50s.


AUDIBLES FROM OUR QBS
 
Jeff
Merron

Patrick
Hruby

Alan
Grant

Skip
Bayless
Brian Griese, man or myth? Band-aid man. Man, until he trips over the dog. Man. Inconsistent man, but man. Mostly Myth.
Quincy Carter, backup or starter? Miami's 2005 starter. Just a thought. Neither, if I'm a GM. Starter. For Dallas. Less a gamble as backup.
Describe LaMont Jordan's pass in 3 words or less: Wrong jerseys, man. Michael Jordan. Curveball. Curiously. Poor. Decision. If covered, RUN!
Cowboys' starting QB, 2005: One of the three Drews. Is there a capologist in the house? Drew Brees. Drew Henson. Better be Henson.
Holmgren or Martz? Holmgren in a landslide. Could Martz answer to 111,507 smart, passionate owners? Holmgren is Nick Nolte to Martz's Gary Busey. Holmgren. Neither, thanks.
Hasselbeck or Bulger? A healthy Hasselbeck. I'll take Hasselbeck. And I'm gonna win! Bulger. Bulger -- with one eye covered.
QB who could be a star on another team: Peyton Manning. Jeff George, on any team. Quincy Carter Aaron Brooks.
Simms or Esiason? Field: Boomer. Booth: Simms. Boomer. Took the Bengals to the big game. Simms. Simms because he was luckier.


Second down: Which quarterback had the most important game (good or bad) in Week 10?

Alan Grant: Daunte Culpepper, because he was up against a three-headed opponent: the Green Bay Packers, a receiving core without Randy Moss, and Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. If you recall last Monday's loss at Indy, Culpepper only threw the ball 18 times. Let me repeat that -- 18 times against one of the league's worst pass defenses. But this week, Linehan came to grips with the fact that even though Moss wasn't playing, it was OK for him to throw downfield. So on Sunday, Culpepper hoisted the rock 44 times. Though the Vikings still lost, methinks Culpepper (and more importantly Linehan) regained their confidence in the product they have without Moss. And when Moss returns, well, that product may be more complete than it ever was before.

Jeff Merron: Roethlisberger, because he proved (again) what's obvious to anyone who's watched the guy: He's apparently bulletproof. Nothing fancy about his performance, but he goes into Cuyahoga and just isn't fazed at all by Gerard Warren's threats or the pregame fight. He reminds me of Greg Cook, and looks like a lock to surpass Cook as the greatest rookie QB in NFL history. Let's hope he doesn't share Greg's later football fate.

But a better comparison might be to Fernando Valenzuela, because Big Ben could achieve the football equivalent of Fernando's 1981 season, leading his team to a title while winning individual honors as MVP and ROY.

Patrick Hruby: Brett Favre, who matched Daunte Culpepper's four touchdown throws and made a clutch touch pass that set up Green Bay's game-winning field goal in a division-tying victory.

Skip Bayless: The most important positive game was Marc Bulger's performance against a team I can't figure, Seattle. With Bulger's team in danger of quitting on Mike Martz, Bulger came out hot and set a tone that would echo for four quarters. Of course, Martz swallowed some of his mad scientist pride and actually called 31 runs, yet Bulger was 23 of 34 for 262 yards and zero interceptions. The Rams live.

The most important negative performance belonged to former Rams wonderboy Kurt Warner, who surely has lost his team. At Arizona, Warner often looked brainlocked in the pocket. It's as if he suffering shell shock from all the hits he has taken and the secondary turns into one big blur. He was sacked six times, mostly because he's so immobile and slow on the draw. If Tom Coughlin doesn't go to rookie Eli Manning next week -- Coughlin indicates he won't -- he'll face a more destructive potential mutiny than his you're-late-if-you're-not-early rule caused during training camp.

Aaron Schatz: Marc Bulger and Brett Favre, since both had great games and both put their teams into the division lead. That is, after all, the goal: to play well and lead your team to the playoffs.

By the way, Jeff, I hope you don't mind if I step off the Ben Roethlisberger MVP bandwagon. There's no doubt Big Ben has been very good and an important part of the Steelers going 8-1, but he passes the ball far less than other quarterbacks. That team is based on the run; they run more than 60 percent of the time. Naming Big Ben the MVP because he's the quarterback of a superstar-free team based on running and defense would be like naming Richard Hamilton MVP of the NBA because he's the guy on the Pistons that scores points.


Third down: Don't blink, but the Falcons are 7-2, second-best in the NFC, despite having outscored their opponents by only 10 points. Can Michael Vick lead them deep into the playoffs? How far?

Alan Grant: Well, well. Talk of Michael Vick leading his team to the playoffs. I like it. As Vick eases into the one-dimensional, boring, systematic machination of the typical NFL quarterback, both he and his offense will become even more efficient. As this happens, he won't be as much fun to watch, but I guess that's my issue. Anyway, I've said it before. The Eagles are clearly the best team in the conference. Unless the Rams make a push to become the Rams of old in December, and the Packers consistently keep folks out of the endzone, Philly's opponent in their fourth straight Championship game might very well be the Falcons.

Jeff Merron: Vick can lead the Falcons to the NFC title game, where they would probably lose to the Eagles. The Falcons average seven or eight yards every time he runs or passes. He's having a career year, in a new offense, picking it up way faster than anyone, including myself, expected. Getting to the playoffs and getting some home-field advantage makes a difference, but I'm not sure how important that narrow point differential is.

If we were talking baseball or basketball, and we had park factors and all those other cool, crisp sabremetrics readily available, it would be a relatively easy call: the Falcons are lucky to be 7-2 with that kind of point spread. Aaron and his Football Outsiders team have gotten us a lot closer in that area. But are we there yet? I'd cede to Aaron on that one.

Patrick Hruby: As far as I'm concerned, Vick could lead the Falcons all the way to the Super Bowl. Mostly because Kansas City plays in the other conference.

Skip Bayless: Vick can lead his team as far as Atlanta's defense takes it. Atlanta is quietly playing the NFC's most consistent defense. That, of course, requires throwing out Atlanta's one shocking and misleading abberation -- the 56 points the Falcons allowed in Kansas City. That will happen to lots of teams. Other than that, the Falcons are allowing only 16 points a game.

Of course, "SportsCenter" featured the one beautiful second-read throw Vick made, for 49 yards to tight end Algie Crumpler, as well as Vick's one breakaway run. He remains the game's most exciting broken-field runner. But, God bless him, I still don't see how he can stay healthy risking so many vulnerable high-speed collisions. Then again, if he can limit himself to only two "SportsCenter" highlights a game and keep contributing a relatively mistake-free eight-of-16 for 147 yards, as he did against Tampa Bay, the defense is solid enough to get Atlanta into the playoffs. If the Falcons wind up with a home game against an NFC wild-card pretender, they could win one playoff game.

Aaron Schatz: Yes, the Falcons are lucky to be 7-2 when they've only outscored their opponents by 10 points. Bill James' "Pythagorean Theorem" that says that you can estimate wins based on runs scored and allowed works in the NFL, too, with two caveats. First, the exponent is different (2.37 for the geeks). Second, with only 16 games in a season, the variation between teams' "expected wins" and actual wins will be far greater. But a team that has scored 194 points and given up 184 points in nine games should be expected to be 5-4. In general, the team with the best record estimated from points scored and allowed will win the Super Bowl. Since 1991, the team with the best "Pythagorean record" during the regular season has won the Super Bowl nine out of 13 times, and the team with one of the two best "Pythagorean records" has won the Super Bowl 12 of 13 times. (Yes, the 2001 Patriots are the exception.)

But even though that would seem to indicate that the Falcons will fall in the playoffs unless they start playing more dominant football, I think Atlanta might make the Super Bowl, anyway. The NFC is a morass of mediocrity. If the Falcons currently had the record that their points scored and allowed would indicate, they would still be tied for the second-best record in the conference at 5-4. You can call a couple of their wins lucky, but the fact is that they do have those wins and that means they'll probably have the first-round bye. We all know how important that first-round bye is. Then maybe they go into Philadelphia for the NFC championship. What is Philadelphia's obvious, glaring weakness? Run defense. What is Atlanta's obvious, glaring offensive strength? The three-headed running monster of Vick, Duckett, and Dunn. Be afraid, Eagles fans.


WEEK 10 RANKINGS:
By Aaron Schatz, footballoutsiders.com

Click here for Aaron's complete rankings for all the QBs.

The QB rankings now include adjustments for the quality of defense faced. (DPAR = Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement that each QB was responsible for.)

WEEK 10: TOP THREE QUARTERBACKS
Quarterback Skinny DPAR
1. Marc Bulger
23/34, 262 yards
1 TD, 0 INT
More yards for Faulk, better game for Bulger. But is Martz paying attention? 14.5
2. Daunte Culpepper
27/44, 363 yards
4 TDs, 0 INTs
They've thrown the red beanbag. Minnesota is challenging the competency of this officiating crew. 12.1
3. Jake Delhomme
19/34, 303 yards
3 TDs, 0 INTs
69 yards in the first half, 234 yards, 3 TDs in the second half. 9.8

WEEK 10: BOTTOM THREE QUARTERBACKS
Quarterback Skinny DPAR
26. Tim Rattay
22/37, 284 yards
1 TD, 4 INTs
Yes, the system detracts big points when you get intercepted four times. -11.1
27. Craig Krenzel
10/28, 116 yards
0 TDs, 2 INTs
Hard to play much worse than this and still win. Chicago has to feel good about 2005 with this defense and Rex Grossman at QB. -11.6
28. David Carr
22/41, 215 yards
0 TDs, 3 INTs
How do you throw three picks and have three fumbles against the COLTS? Surpasses Jeff Garcia's Week 2 against Dallas (8/27, 71 yards, 3 INT, -16.0 DPAR) as worst-rated game of season. -16.8


Fourth down: Patrick Hruby files a special report from the Redskins-Bengals thriller in D.C. What says you, Patrick?

Patrick Hruby: First things first: Anything coming out of a Redskins-Bengals tête-à-tête shouldn't be labeled "special," unless you mean it in the Olympic sense. Similarly, the term "thriller" is a wee bit generous, if not downright batty. So what can I say? Carson Palmer looked fair. Not special, but credible. He did a decent job of spreading the ball around, showed the arm strength of a top pick and only made two egregious errors. That's a start. As for the Redskins . . . well, they're still searching for that aforementioned credibility. With Washington down early and staggering on offense, Joe Gibbs had little choice but to pull Mark Brunell (one completion, six yards) and insert Patrick Ramsey. Though the move delighted the crowd -- isn't that always the way with quarterback switches? -- results were inconclusive. Ramsey nearly rallied the 'Skins from a 17-0 deficit, but also tossed two interceptions, one of them badly underthrown. Still, the Brunell era appears to be over -- farewell, 10-yard outs into the turf -- while Ramsey has seven games to determine his future in Washington.


Best Throw of The Week:
Alan Grant: I liked Michael Vick laying one down the pike, sweet, soft and true to Algae Crumpler for six, but its impossible to ignore Brett Favre's soft-as-Charmin toss to Tony Fisher on a corner route in O.T.

Patrick Hruby: Jacksonville's David Garrard delivered a sweet downfield block on a 42-yard run by Fred Taylor, throwing himself into a Detroit defender. As is the case when punters make tackles, it's always nice to see football players playing football.

Jeff Merron: Some love for Griese: His 25-yard TD pass in the second quarter, to a wide-open Clayton running a post, was a both a great read and a beautiful throw.

Also: Billy Volek's 29-yard rainbow pass to Derrick Mason in the first quarter for a TD. Perfect touch to corner of end zone.

Skip Bayless: Brett Favre's remarkable lob to running back Fisher against a retreating zone that was the equivalent of making the 18th-hole miniature-golf putt into the clown's mouth. This pass, which set up the winning field goal, was like threading the needle from above, with touch and and accuracy.

Aaron Schatz: We had Saskatchewan-B.C. on a second TV at my friend's house and I have to say, former Chicago Bear Henry Burris looked pretty good even though Saskatchewan lost. He had a great touchdown throw to Corey Grant in the end zone when nobody was within 20 yards of him (sorry, make that "metres"); and then, under pressure, hit Elijah Thurmon in the end zone with a minute left in the fourth quarter, the Rough Riders down by four, and the season on the line. Henry, I have the Washington Redskins on Line 1 for you ...


Worst Throw of The Week:
Alan Grant: Jordan, of course.

Patrick Hruby: Jordan's halfback option pick against the Ravens. Any other choice would be intellectually dishonest.

Jeff Merron: LaMont Jordan's pass was truly terrible. But somehow, the fact that Herm Edwards called that play was even worse.

Skip Bayless: The worst throw was actually the worst coached throw. I liked the idea of Jets offensive coordinator Paul Hackett calling a halfback pass and going for the jugular with a 14-0 lead. After all, he was playing with his backup quarterback against the league's best and smartest defense. But LaMont Jordan must be coached during the week to throw it only if the receiver is wide open. If he isn't, Jordan should have known to tuck the ball and do with it what he does best -- run. No defense studies harder and is better prepared than Baltimore's, and probably because Jordan has thrown two passes in his career, the Ravens had three defensive backs blanketing the receiver. Jordan claimed he was trying to throw the ball out of bounds, but he threw a line-drive prayer into the end zone. That, in large part, is poor coaching.

Aaron Schatz: LaMont Jordan, of course, since he threw the ball towards the back corner of the end zone, 10 yards past anybody in a Jets uniform and directly to two Ravens. At halftime, Herman Edwards said that Jordan was trying to throw the ball out of bounds. It doesn't seem that hard, if you want to throw the ball out of bounds, to keep it away from the other team by perhaps throwing it more than two inches out of bounds.

The worst throw by an actual quarterback was J.P. Losman's pass to Tulla Banta-Cain with absolutely no Bills whatsoever in the area.