It’s always fun to reminisce about the great Colts teams of old, and the good news for fans is that those great teams actually weren’t that long ago. The Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis was a special time in which the Colts consistently had not only the NFL’s best quarterback but also one of the best offenses, period.
Recently, Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz wrote a piece for ESPN on the top 30 offenses of the last 30 years, using DVOA to determine it - a metric that seeks to incorporate all sorts of data points to determine how good a unit really was, comparing it to the league average, to the strength of opponents, etc. It shouldn’t really surprise Colts fans (or football fans period) to learn that Peyton Manning was the quarterback for four of the top 30 offenses over the last 30 years according to DVOA (including postseason performance, which is pretty weird since that’s a deviance from the typical DVOA rankings).
What is more interesting is that the seasons represented account for just two of his five MVP awards and just two of his seven first-team All-Pro selections, meaning that while these are arguably his best offenses, Manning was just as good in a number of other seasons too.
Let’s take a look at which Colts seasons made the cut. You’ll see their rank, the DVOA number (the + number represents how much above league average they were, with the league average being 0), Schatz’s comments (in the block quotes), and then after that my comments on the offense.
25. 2006 Colts, +25.8% DVOA
In the regular season, this was one of the most unbalanced teams of the past 30 years: No. 1 on offense but No. 25 on both defense and special teams. The postseason, of course, was a different story, as the defense stiffened and helped Peyton Manning win his first title.
By 2006 Colts fans had grown accustomed to offensive success, which is why much of their focus was spent on the defensive side of the football discussing how bad the unit was (particularly toward the end of the year). But that shouldn’t get in the way of yet another great offense and yet another great season from Manning. The quarterback completed 65% of his passes for 4,397 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 9 picks for a rating of 101.0. Rookie Joseph Addai notched his first 1,000 yard rushing season (1,081 yards and seven touchdowns), while Dominic Rhodes also added 641 yards rushing. Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne both put up their typical 1,000 yard season receiving, and both receivers joined their quarterback in the Pro Bowl, along with center Jeff Saturday and left tackle Tarik Glenn.
21. 2000 Colts, +27% DVOA
The first of six seasons in which Peyton Manning led NFL quarterbacks in passing DVOA. Tom Brady has done it three times, and no other quarterback has done it more than twice. The Colts' rating actually goes up when we add in their 23-17 playoff loss to Miami; the Colts won the turnover battle 3-0, and it's hard to blame Manning and the offense for giving up 258 rushing yards.
Though some might be surprised to see this one make the list, the Colts’ offense was absolutely terrific in 2000 and saw the ‘triplets’ all go to the Pro Bowl. Peyton Manning led the NFL in passing yards (4,413) and passing touchdowns (33) while completing 62.5% of his passes and only throwing 13 picks, putting up a 94.7 passer rating. Edgerrin James led the NFL in rushing yards (1,709) and total yards from scrimmage (2,303) while also scoring 18 total touchdowns, putting together the best season of his career. And Marvin Harrison led the league in receptions (102) while producing 1,413 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 13.9 yards per reception. This Colts offense was terrific, and it was mainly because of the big three on offense.
16. 2013 Broncos, +31% DVOA
Peyton Manning blew away the NFL record with 55 passing touchdowns, which is how the Broncos rank so high despite a running game that was good but not great (10th in DVOA). This Broncos team has the sixth-best passing DVOA ever despite getting penalized for an easy schedule (30th).
Peyton Manning dominated the stat sheet year in and year out, and that was especially true in 2013 when he led the NFL in completions, attempts, yards, and touchdowns. He completed 68.3% of his passes for 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns, and 10 picks for a 115.1 passer rating. He set the single-season marks for both passing yards and passing touchdowns, both of which still stand today. Knowshon Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards and ten touchdowns and totaled 1,586 total yards and 13 total touchdowns, while four Broncos - Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas - all recorded at least 775 yards and ten touchdowns receiving.
8. 2004 Colts, +33.4% DVOA
This was arguably Peyton Manning's greatest season, and the Colts dominated offensively in every way you might imagine. As noted earlier, the 2004 Colts are tied with the 2011 Green Bay Packers as the second-best pass offense in DVOA history. Reggie Wayne led all wide receivers in DYAR, with Brandon Stokley finishing fourth and Marvin Harrison 15th. Edgerrin James ranked third among running backs in rushing DYAR and second in receiving DYAR. The Colts' 49-24 wild-card victory over Denver (No. 5 in defensive DVOA) was so commanding that their offensive DVOA actually went up in the playoffs despite a 20-3 loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game.
No Colts fan is surprised to see this in the top ten, as the best Colts offensive season, or the best offensive season of Manning’s career. Manning was absolutely terrific en route to his second MVP award, completing 67.6% of his passes for 4,557 yards, 49 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a 121.1 passer rating. At the time, he set the NFL records for single-season passing touchdowns (which ranks third now) and single-season passer rating (which ranks second now). Perhaps most impressive of all was Manning’s efficiency, however, as he not only posted a then-NFL record for passer rating but averaged close to a first down on every attempt (9.2 yards per attempt) and a touchdown on nearly ten percent of his throws (9.9%)! Both of those marks still rank among the best in NFL history. On top of all of that, Edgerrin James rushed for 1,548 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 4.6 yards per carry, and he once again totaled over 2,000 yards from scrimmage (2,031). What the receivers did was especially impressive, as Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley all put up over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdown figures.
Manning appears four times on the list, one of just three quarterbacks to do so (along with Tom Brady and Steve Young). Furthermore, the Colts’ three appearances is tied with a few other teams for the third-most of any NFL franchise, behind only the 49ers and the Patriots.
So what do you think? Do you agree/disagree with the inclusion of any of these offenses on the list? Do you think others should have been added instead?