On media day, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said that it was hard for him to compare his teams in Indianapolis and his teams in Denver and instead just said that he played with some really good teams both places.
While Manning took the politically correct route and didn't get into which teams were better, I will. While Manning threw for 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 yards in 2013 - both NFL records - I don't think it was his best season ever. While the Broncos offense set a league record in terms of points scored, I don't think it was Manning's best offense ever. While the Broncos went 13-3 and are in the Super Bowl, I don't think it is Manning's best team ever. I will spend the most time here looking at the second one (the offense) but will look at the other two as well.
Comparison of the Colts 2004 Offense and the Broncos 2013 Offense
In my opinion, the best offense the Colts had during Manning's tenure was in 2004, when Manning first broke the passing touchdown record. So in order to look at whether the 2013 Broncos offense is the best Manning has ever had, I think it's wise to look at the offense he had in Indianapolis in 2004. Let's go position by position comparing the two offenses.
Peyton Manning vs. Peyton Manning. One record breaking season vs. another record breaking season. On the surface, this one looks like Manning in 2013 was easily better. But let's go past the surface level stuff. First off, consider that what Manning did in 2004 was in what seems like almost a different era. It was before the modern passing craze, and Manning was on the front lines of blazing a new NFL. Several teams saw what Manning was doing and moved toward a passing game. When Manning broke Dan Marino's record in 2004, it had stood for 20 years and, as Bob Lamey described on the radio call of Manning's 49th touchdown, "the record they thought would never be broken has been broken!" Since then, the record has been broken twice in 9 years. Additionally, in 2004 only 4 players threw for more than 4,000 yards on the year and 2 of those 4 eclipsed that number by less than 100 yards. In 2013, 9 players threw for more than 4,000 yards and 2 threw for more than 5,000. The league is much more of a passing league now.
Also, Manning's 2004 season is still the most efficient season a quarterback has ever had. He averaged 9.2 yards per attempt - nearly a first down every time he dropped back to pass. He averaged a touchdown pass on essentially 10 percent of his throws - that's ridiculous. His interception percentage was a very good 2 percent. His passer rating of 121.1 was an NFL record at the time and still ranks second.
Lastly, consider that in 2004 Manning put up the numbers he did all the while sitting out nearly 7 quarters throughout the course of the season (due to large leads or already having a playoff berth secured). Using the averages of Manning's 2004 season, had he played those extra 7 quarters his numbers would likely have looked like this: 5,116 yards and 55 touchdown passes compared to only 11 interceptions. Also consider that in 2013 Manning threw 162 more passes than he did in 2004. If Manning had thrown the same amount of passes in 2004, this is what his numbers likely would have looked like: 6,042 yards and 65 touchdown passes compared to just 13 picks.
Peyton Manning's 2013 is not the best season a quarterback has ever had. In fact, it's not even the best season that Manning himself has even had. Both of those distinctions belong to Peyton Manning in 2004.
EDGE: 2004 COLTS
|Team||Player||CMP||ATT||CMP %||YDS||YPA||TD||TD %||INT||INT %||RATE||GWD/4QC|
|2004 Colts||Peyton Manning||336||497||67.6%||4,557||9.2||49||9.9%||10||2.0%||121.1||4/2|
|2013 Broncos||Peyton Manning||450||659||68.3%||5,477||8.3||55||8.3%||10||1.5%||115.1||2/2|
Edgerrin James was really, really good. I feel that many people today forget that. But he was really good, and he was just that in 2004 too. He put up over 1,500 yards rushing and averaged 4.6 yards per attempt, while also being a very good weapon both receiving and blocking. Knowshon Moreno has had a very good season this year and has been an important part of the Broncos offense, for sure. But I'd give Edgerrin the edge 10 times out of 10, and I don't really think it's that close.
EDGE: 2004 COLTS
|2004 Colts||Edgerrin James||334||1,548||9||4.6|
|2013 Broncos||Knowshon Moreno||241||1,038||10||4.3|
The 2004 Colts were the first team to ever have three different receivers top 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in the same year. The 2013 Broncos were the first team to ever have five different players top 10 receiving touchdowns. Both years, the teams had the most dangerous receiving core in the NFL. But which one was better? I looked at it in terms of the number one receiver vs. the number one receiver, the number two receiver vs. the number two receiver, and the number three receiver vs. the number three receiver. Keep in mind also that in 2004 it was before the rules helping the passing game really came into effect and that it was harder to be a receiver then than it is now. I also feel that people forget how good Marvin Harrison was in his prime, and he was in his prime in 2004. There was arguably no receiver more dangerous in the entire NFL than Harrison, and he should absolutely be voted into the Pro Football Hall of fame this Saturday. While Demaryius Thomas is very good, I'd take Harrison any day of the week - and I think Manning would too. Reggie Wayne is another player who should be a future Hall of Famer, and in 2004 he really emerged as a top weapon for Manning and would soon surpass Harrison as Manning's top target. In 2004, Wayne was tremendous. Again, I'd take Reggie any day. The slot receiver is really where it gets interesting, as I would definitely say that Wes Welker is a better player overall than Brandon Stokley was. But if we're going just one season, I'd take Stokley's 2004 season over Welker's 2013 season. Manning and Stokely had a great connection going and Stokley always made the catches when he needed to. I'd also give the edge in this one to Stokely's 2004 season.
EDGE: 2004 COLTS
EDGE: 2004 COLTS
EDGE: 2004 COLTS
|2004 Colts||Marvin Harrison||86||1,113||15||12.9|
|2013 Broncos||Demaryius Thomas||92||1,430||14||15.5|
|2004 Colts||Reggie Wayne||77||1,210||12||15.7|
|2013 Broncos||Eric Decker||87||1,288||11||14.8|
|2004 Colts||Brandon Stokley||68||1,077||10||15.8|
|2013 Broncos||Wes Welker||73||778||10||10.7|
Marcus Pollard was a good tight end for the Colts and 2004 was the year when Dallas Clark really emerged as a legitimate pass catching option for Peyton Manning. Dallas Clark really helped blaze a trail for the modern day tight end that is essentially like a wide receiver, and that is exactly what Julius Thomas is for the Broncos. In his prime I'd take Dallas, but when looking at the 2004 season vs. the 2013 season, Thomas gets the edge - especially since the number one tight end for the Colts in 2004 was Marcus Pollard and not Dallas Clark. Thomas gets the edge pretty easily over Marcus Pollard. In terms of the number two tight end, however, Clark gets the edge over former Colt Jacob Tamme.
EDGE: 2013 BRONCOS
EDGE: 2004 COLTS
|2004 Colts||Marcus Pollard||29||309||6||10.7|
|2013 Broncos||Julius Thomas||65||788||15||12.1|
|2004 Colts||Dallas Clark||25||423||5||16.9|
|2013 Broncos||Jacob Tamme||20||184||1||9.2|
The offensive lines for both teams were very good and they both protected Manning well and provided room for the running game to operate. Like many of these positions, it's like choosing between two good units. I'd take Tarik Glenn over Chris Clark at left tackle by quite a bit. I'd take Rick DeMulling over Zane Beadles at left guard too and Jeff Saturday over Manny Ramirez at center easily also. I think that Louis Vasquez gets the edge over Jake Scott at right guard but that Ryan Diem edges out Orlando Franklin at right tackle. In 2004 the Colts offensive line allowed only 13 sacks (an insane number). The 2013 Broncos line was also very good, allowing only 18 (on a significant amount more of drop backs). Both teams ran the ball well, too, but the Colts were slightly better. I'd take the Colts offensive line in 2004 over the Broncos offensive line in 2013 in a close one - and neither one is a bad option.
EDGE: 2004 COLTS
|2004 Colts||2013 Broncos|
|LT||Tarik Glenn||Chris Clark|
|LG||Rick DeMulling||Zane Beadles|
|C||Jeff Saturday||Manny Ramirez|
|RG||Jake Scott||Louis Vazquez|
|RT||Ryan Diem||Orlando Franklin|
|Rushing||427-1852-10 (4.3)||461-1873-16 (4.1)|
It seems very clear to me that the 2004 Colts offense was better than the 2013 Broncos offense. The only position where I think the Broncos have the edge is at tight end. There is no shame in being the second best offense of Peyton Manning's career (or perhaps third best if you want to say that the 2005 team with roughly the same unit was better, too). He has had some tremendous offenses, but the one he is currently on is not the best of his career. It's not the best he has played, either.
What about the Defense:
Several people will just assume that, while Manning's offense in 2013 wasn't better than his Colts teams, his defense must have been. That is also false. In fact, I'd say it is just about an average defense when compared to his Colts teams in their prime. In 2005 the Colts had what many consider to be their best team in the Manning era, and so we'll look at that defense (as well as the one in 2004) compared to the Broncos defense in 2013. Keep in mind, however, that statistically the best defense the Colts had in Indianapolis was in 2007 and not 2005 (in 2007 the Colts had the league's top-ranked defense). But, for the sake of this discussion and in an attempt to stick with roughly the same team that we have been looking at, let's compare the defenses.
|Position||2004 Colts||2005 Colts||2013 Broncos|
|DE||Dwight Freeney||Dwight Freeney||Derek Wolfe|
|DT||Josh Williams||Corey Simon||Terence Knighton|
|DT||Montae Reagor||Montae Reagor||Kevin Vickerson|
|DE||Raheem Brock||Raheem Brock||Shaun Phillips|
|OLB||Cato June||Cato June||Von Miller|
|MLB||Rob Morris||Gary Brackett||Woody Woodyard|
|OLB||David Thornton||David Thornton||Danny Trevathan|
|CB||Nick Harper||Nick Harper||Chris Harris|
|CB||Jason David||Jason David||Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie|
|CB||Joseph Jefferson||Marlin Jackson||Champ Bailey|
|SS||Mike Doss||Mike Doss||Duke Ihenacho|
|FS||Idrees Bashir||Bob Sanders||Rahim Moore|
I'd take the 2013 Broncos at defensive tackle (Kevin Vickerson over Corey Simon), defensive end (Shaun Phillips over Raheem Brock), outside linebacker (Von Miller over Cato June), outside linebacker (Danny Trevathan over David Thornton), and cornerback (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie over Jason David), but other than that I'd take the 2005 Colts defense at every spot. Also keep in mind that while Raheem Brock was the starter at defensive end for the Colts in 2005, Robert Mathis recorded 10.5 sacks in a backup role.
EDGE: 2005 COLTS
So we've established that Peyton Manning had a better offense while with the Colts and a better defense than he has with the Broncos in 2013. As a result, one big question is raised: why didn't Manning's Colts teams win (or even make) a Super Bowl in 2004 or 2005 while Manning's 2013 Broncos are playing in the big game this weekend.
I believe that the best explanation for this can come from looking at the conference they each played in. The AFC in 2004 and 2005 was much, much tougher than the AFC in 2013. In 2004 the conference had 6 teams with double digit wins (including the Colts) and 2 with 14 or more. The AFC in 2004 also had 9 teams with 9 wins or more. In 2005, the number of teams with double digit win totals rose to 7 (including the Colts), and the number of teams with 9 or more was at 9 again. In 2013, 5 teams (including the Broncos) had double digit wins (with only two - the Broncos and the Patriots - having more than 11) and the AFC had 7 teams with 9 or more wins. In the time of those Colts teams of 2004 and 2005, the Patriots had a dynasty, winning three of four Super Bowls (including the one in 2004) and the Pittsburgh Steelers came out of the AFC in 2005 and won the Super Bowl. In both seasons, the Colts were defeated by the eventual Super Bowl champion. There is absolutely no doubt that the AFC was a much tougher conference in 2004 and 2005 than it was in 2013.
None of this is intended to take anything away from the Broncos this year, who have accomplished incredible things. But the statements that this is the best team Peyton Manning has played on, the best offense Manning has had, or the best individual season Manning has had are all false - those distinctions belong to his Colts teams.