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Comparing the Colts to the "Greatest Show on Turf"

I got to spend the weekend on the beach in Florida, visiting with some of my college buddies, and we started talking about the greatest offensive teams of our generation.  It was difficult to think of any pre-1990, as we were all too young at the time for us to have watched them consistently, with an appreciation as to how good they were.

We decided they had to be at least 3 year runs, because "flash-in-a-pan" offenses could not be considered great.  We really could only come up with two entries:  The 1999-2001 Rams, or the "Greatest Show on Turf", and the 2004 - 2006 Colts.  Other teams talked about were both from 1992-1994, which were the Cowboys and the 49ers.  Most of the arguments were for the Rams, since they have been talked about publicly so much.  I, on the other hand, still contend the 2004-2006 Colts had the best three year run on offense over the past 15 years.  I've only included stats for the Rams and Colts, as both the Cowboys and 49ers did not compare with either of these two teams.  I'll start with the passing game (all stats from

  Passing Cmp Passing Att Comp Pct Passing Yds Passing TD Passing Int Sacked Passing NY/A
2004 Colts 353 527 67.0% 4623 51 10 14 8.5
2005 Colts 347 515 67.4% 4096 31 11 20 7.7
2006 Colts 362 557 65.0% 4308 31 9 15 7.5
Totals 1062 1599 66.4% 13027 113 30 49 7.9


  Passing Cmp Passing Att Comp Pct Passing Yds Passing TD Passing Int Sacked Passing NY/A
1999 Rams 343 530 64.7% 4353 42 15 33 7.7
2000 Rams 380 587 64.7% 5232 37 23 44 8.3
2001 Rams 379 551 68.8% 4663 37 22 40 7.9
Totals 1102 1668 66.1% 14248 116 60 117 8.0

Here's what the stats say:

  • Completion Percentage is basically a wash, with the Colts slightly ahead.  Can't make much out of that.
  • The Rams threw for more yards, but the Net Yards per Attempt were almost identical (this takes into account sack yardage).  To put those numbers in perspective, only 13 times has a quarterback had a 7.9 NY/A for a season, let alone for 3 consecutive seasons, and it's a "Who's Who" of QBs on the list:  Warner, Manning, Marino, Young (not Vince), Rypien, Stabler, Fouts x2, Namath, Cunningham, Esiason, Montana, Dickey.  These are great numbers over the course of 3 seasons, with the Rams slightly ahead (0.08 NY/A)
  • Touchdowns are also very close, with the Rams slightly ahead.  For perspective, the 92-94 Cowboys threw for 60 TDs in those 3 years, and the 49ers threw for 95.  And that 51 Passing TDs looks very nice from 2004, as it is the team record for Passing TDs in a season.
  • Here's where the Colts stand out considerably:  They have half the interceptions that the Rams had.  The Rams had 23 in 1 season.  They were careless with the ball as they flung it around the field.  Manning is exceptional at not throwing INTs, and it shows here.  Big edge to the Colts
  • The sack numbers are amazing.  Manning was sacked less than 1 time per game, while Warner/Green were sacked over twice per game.  We all know the Colts had/have a fantastic OL, and this stat shows that.  I think this has more to do with the QBs ability to get away from pressure than anything else, as the Rams OL was also very good (see below with rushing stats).  Again, big edge to the Colts.

Next we'll look at the rushing stats:

  Rushing Att Rushing Yds Rushing TD Rushing Y/A
2004 Colts 427 1852 10 4.3
2005 Colts 465 1703 18 3.7
2006 Colts 439 1762 17 4.0
Totals 1331 5317 45 4.0
  Rushing Att Rushing Yds Rushing TD Rushing Y/A
1999 Rams 431 2059 13 4.8
2000 Rams 383 1843 26 4.8
2001 Rams 416 2027 20 4.9
Totals 1230 5929 59 4.8

There is no need for bullet points here, as it is rather obvious the Rams were superior to the Colts in terms of running the football.  It helps they had that Faulk guy who used to be a Colt, and will be a Hall of Famer in the next couple of years running the football.  The Rams had less attempts, more yards, and more TDs.  I'm not saying the Colts were bad at running the football.  It's just the Rams were just so much better at it.  Five yards per carry is spectacular.

Some other stats to munch on:

  Wins Pts/G Yds/Play 1stD TO
2004 Colts 12 32.6 6.7 379 17
2005 Colts 14 27.4 5.8 363 19
2006 Colts 12 26.7 6 376 19
Totals 38 28.9 6.2 1118 55


  Wins Pts/G Yds/Play 1stD TO
1999 Rams 13 32.9 6.5 335 31
2000 Rams 10 33.8 7 380 35
2001 Rams 14 31.4 6.6 357 44
Totals 37 32.7 6.7 1072 110
  • The Colts had one more win than the Rams, which isn't that different.  They also each won a Super Bowl during their span, and the Rams lost in another (thanks to #4).
  • The Rams averaged more points than the Colts had in a single year.  That's pretty good.  The Rams also had more Yards per Play, by 0.5 a yard.
  • First downs are roughly even, with the Colts having more.  That isn't exactly a good measure to go by, but interesting nonetheless.
  • Again, we see the Rams completely did not care if they turned the ball over or not, as they had twice as many Turnovers as the Colts have had.  It's amazing how many yards they put up even with all those turnovers.

I think an argument can definitely be made that the Colts offense of 04-06 was better than the Rams of 99-01.  It isn't as cut-and-dry as some people seem to think.  If this comparison expands to four or more consecutive years, the Colts blow everyone else out of the water.  If you take out 2002, which was Dungy's first year, the Colts have been in the top 5 of both points and yardage on offense since 1999.  That is 7 out of 8 years.  You'd be hard pressed to find any team in the history of the NFL that did that.