Following blowout losses to both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, many in the media, as well as the fans, have pointed out the many flaws of the Colts roster, coaching staff, and front office.
The argument is simple. The Colts cannot be competitive without Andrew Luck and the team's failures are masked when Luck is playing. In essence, this team is bad, and Luck is very, very good.
While that is certainly a true statement, I don't think this Colts roster is quite as bad as some have made it out to be in the last two weeks.
Yes, some positions are weak and have little depth. However, there is talent on this team, and have a record of 4-2 without Luck under center.
I decided to compare these Colts without Luck, to teams in recent history (since 2008) that have lost a "franchise" quarterback for extended time during a season. I'll compare wins and losses, winning percentage, and point differential. I'll do my best to factor in the quality of opponents as well.
First, let's look at the 2015 Colts. Without Luck, as I mentioned, they are 4-2, which equated to a 66% winning percentage. In those six games, the Colts have been outscored 162-118; winning by an average of 6.5 points, and losing by an average of 35.
Now that we have those benchmarks, let's start comparing with other teams.
New England Patriots - 2008
I mentioned I went back to 2008, and that's simply because of this. Tom Brady is one of the top QBs to play the game. A year after nearing guiding the Patriots to an undefeated season, Brady tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2008 campaign against the Chiefs.
The Patriots won that game, but career back-up Matt Cassel (we'll see him later on this list as well) would be starting for the rest of the season.
Out of this list, Cassel has the largest sample size, starting 15 games in place of Brady. With Cassel, the Patriots rolled up a 10-5 record (66% for those of you keeping score) and narrowly missed the playoffs.
The Cassel led Patriots outscored their opponents 393-299 in those 15 games; winning by an average of 16.8 and losing by an average of 14.8 points.
Obviously the record speaks for itself, but it is the same winning percentage that the 2015 Colts have without Luck. It is worth noting that these Patriots played the eventual NFC and AFC Champions of the 2008 season as well. They blew out the Cardinals, but were blown out by the Steelers (a match-up that could very well be the Super Bowl again this year).
The stats certainly are impressive for this Patriots squad, but more so because of the duration the team was able to keep afloat. It is worth noting that, at one point, the team was 6-5 with Cassel under center before winning out to end the season.
Chicago Bears - 2011
Many forgot how good the Bears were during the 2011 season.
In 2011, the Bears got off to a great start. After stumbling to a 2-3 record, Jay Cutler and the Bears reeled off five straight wins, only scoring below 30 points once in that span, to improve to 7-3. This would keep the Bears within striking distance of the 10-0 Packers, and gave Chicago a certain stranglehold on the NFL Wild Card.
Then it happened. When the Bears advanced to 7-3 in a win over the Chargers, Cutler suffered a broken finger, sidelining him for the duration of the season. The Bears went into one of the most impressive tailspins in recent memory.
The Bears would lose five straight games while being quarterbacked by Caleb Haine and Josh McCown, before beating the 3-13 Vikings (who were in the running for Luck) in the season finale. The Bears finished 8-8, only winning once since Cutler's injury.
This Bears' team is probably the best comparison to the 2015 Colts. A team that lost in the Conference Championship the year before, and played six games without their franchise QB.
Obviously, the Bears winning percentage was awful, going 1-5 (16% winning percentage) in that span. This included losses to the Raiders, Chiefs, and Broncos (led by Tim Tebow). In fact, the only team the Bears played without Cutler that had a winning record was the Packers.
Without Cutler, the Bears only scored 85 points, only an average of 14.1 per game. With Cutler, they averaged 26.8 points per game. In total, the Bears were outscored 134-85 in that span; winning by an average of 4 (their only win) and losing by an average of 10.6 points per game.
Green Bay Packers - 2013
Going in chronological order, the Packers are next up. In 2013, Aaron Rodgers broke his collar bone against the Bears, sidelining him for seven games. The Packers did lose the game Rodgers was injured in, but I won't be counting that in our comparisons.
Going into Week 10, the Packers were 5-3, and still in control of the NFC North.
In Week 10, Green Bay trotted out back-up Seneca Wallace, who was promptly injured, forcing Scott Tolzien into the game. Tolzien didn't last long, and was benched in Week 12.
They would turn to Matt Flynn who, in 2011, had ripped apart the Lions to the tune of six touchdowns in Week 17. Flynn wound up signing a lucrative deal with the Seahawks, was beat out by Russell Wilson as the starter, found his way to Oakland, didn't pan out, and returned to Green Bay.
In those seven games, the Packers would go 2-4-1 (28.5% winning percentage). In those games, Green Bay was outscored 215-152; losing by an average of 16.2 points per game, and winning by an average of one.
Rodgers would return in Week 17 to beat the Bears, clinch the NFC North, and send the Packers into the playoffs.
Arizona Cardinals - 2014
The most recent example of struggles without a franchise quarterback came just last season.
The Cardinals were tearing apart the NFL, en route to an 8-1 record, when Carson Palmer was injured in Week 10 against the Rams.
From there, Drew Stanton (who was also injured), Ryan Lindley, and Logan Thomas were left to quarterback the team. It didn't go too great.
Without Palmer, the Cardinals went 3-4 (43% winning percentage), saw their lead in the NFC West evaporate, and saw their scoring drop from 24.7 points per game to 12.4.
In those last seven games, the Cardinals were outscored 129 - 87; winning by an average of 5.6 points per game, and losing by an average of 14.7.
Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers - Multiple Seasons
And finally, this brings us to two of the better, but oft injured, quarterbacks in the league: Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger.
This year has been one of the largest indictments for the Cowboys in particular. Many believed the Cowboys to have one of the most complete teams in the league last year and were a Dez Bryant catch/no catch away from the NFC Championship Game.
So far, they are 4-8 this season, 3-1 with Romo starting the game, and 1-7 without him.
Since 2006 (when Romo became the starter) the Cowboys are 47-30 with Romo in the line-up. Without him, they are 41-38 (52% winning percentage).
So while Dallas has not tanked without Romo (for the most part) it is abundantly clear that they are a much superior team with him in the line-up.
Roethlisberger is another quarterback who has missed time due to injury (amongst other things) during his career.
With Roethlisberger in the line-up, the Steelers boast a 111-55 record, which is phenomenal. Without their quarterback, the Steelers have amassed a record of 13-10 (56.5% winning percentage). So, much like the Cowboys, not great, but not bad.
Note: When I started my research on this, I didn't realize that Romo had missed so many games, and that Roethlisberger had missed so few.
Obviously, for both the Cowboys and Steelers, I did not tally up the margin of victory and defeat across all season. Also, these numbers only include regular season stats.
What Did We Learn?
Based purely on statistics, the 2015 Colts are about where they should be, compared to other teams, if not a bit better.
Their winning percentage is tied for the best in this exercise with that of the 08 Patriots. Their average margin of victory is (somehow) second on the list, only to those Patriots.
The only catastrophic number is the average margin of defeat for the Colts, a whopping 35 points. Granted, that is partly because of the coincidence that both losses were by exactly 35 points.
I think the first argument would be that the Colts still, despite the injury to Luck, still have superior quarterback play compared to the rest of the teams I listed. And that is partially true. While I would take Hasselbeck over a few of the other quarterbacks listed, I wouldn't say the 40-year-old gunslinger isn't too far above some of the other back-ups who have been called to action.
And certainly quality of opponents come into play. But I don't want to factor that in too much. Heck, these Colts are the best reason not to factor that in. They beat Jacksonville with Hasselbeck starting his first game with the team, and who was beginning to have symptoms of his food poisoning. Then, that same team, with Hasselbeck making his sixth start, was blown out of the water by that same Jaguars team. The 2011 Bears, as I mentioned, only played one team with a winning record, but two division champs without Cutler.
Long story short, this Colts team could be a heck of a lot worse. Consecutive 35 point losses make it seem like the situation is worse than it really is. But being within striking distance of the division title is something only the 2008 Patriots and 2013 Packers (somehow) were able to accomplish without Brady and Rodgers, respectively.
Also worth noting that this list compiles a lot of, I think, very good coaches. When you look at the teams I pulled, their coaches are Bill Belichick, Mike McCarthy, Lovie Smith, Bruce Arians, Bill Cowher/Mike Tomlin, Wade Phillips/Jason Garrett, and Chuck Pagano. With and injured franchise QB, Pagano and Belichick have the best win percentage.
Please know, I am in no way saying that Pagano is on the same level as Belichick. Not even close. I'm simply pointing out that he should be given some credit for guiding this team, and keeping them winning, without Luck.
I'm not trying to say that this Colts roster is loaded with talent, but it really isn't as bad as some have made it out to be. Yes, they have their flaws, but this could be much, much worse. And when the going gets tough, just remember, this could be the 2011 Colts.