For those of you who read NFL Gridiron Gab on a regular basis and just happen to be fans of the Indianapolis Colts, you may or may not have had discussions about the sudden resurgence of the team in this season’s first four weeks and how that has come to be.
I think it is safe to say that the running game has had little to do with Indianapolis’ success thus far. Come to think of it, their run defense – while getting better by the week – has, at best, a small role. But if you’ve been following their offense regularly, you probably notice something markedly different about them. That something being that Peyton Manning and Co. has actually gotten better without the presence of future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison.
You may be thinking, “How can that be?” By and large, a reasonable and valid question to ask. And there very well could be some logic and merit to that argument. After all, Harrison, the Colts’ leading receiver for the vast majority of his 13 seasons in Indianapolis, played a huge part in the team’s success during that time. 13 years, 1102 receptions, 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns – so obviously numbers do not lie.
But unfortunately for Harrison, injuries dogged him during his last two seasons with the Colts, and as a result was subsequently released. Naturally, there was the early, expected dissent early on by those who are pro-Harrison. And you have to throw in there that the team would draft Anthony Gonzalez during the 2007 NFL draft. That would certainly seem to had been a message to Harrison. Despite all of this, Harrison was released by the team for reasons known only to the Colts’ brass, namely team president Bill Polian.
But a funny thing happened during training camp for the Colts this season. Personally, I can think of several theories for the success of the team despite the loss of Harrison. But perhaps you can go back to 2004, when Manning threw 49 touchdown passes. While a remarkable feat, the fact of the matter is that those 49 TD throws went to a diverse corps of receivers. And it looks like the 2009 version of the Colts seem to be following along those lines.
Back in 2004, Indianapolis, besides having Harison and Wayne, they had such wide receivers such as Aaron Moorehead, Brad Pyatt, Brandon Stokely and Troy Walters. That’s as diverse as it gets, folks. Of course, we know what happened to the Colts that season, don’t we? Nope, no Super Bowl. Got booted out of the second round of the AFC playoffs by the New England Patriots. But the postseason isn’t the point in this argument, really. The 2004 season found the Colts winning 12 games that year, and the WR corps was a big part of that success.
This year’s version of the Colts – again going back to perhaps as early as training camp – have apparently rose above lots of people’s lofty expectations. I mean, who would have expected the group of Wayne, Hank Baskett (yet to make an impact), Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. Arguably more diverse than the 2004 collection of wideouts. And I’d be remiss in not mentioning tight end Dallas Clark. Yet Manning has managed to have to date one of his better seasons due to this group of WR’s. And there still are 12 games left in this season – and they will probably get better, which has to be a scary though to teams around the league.
Please note that there is a player who is missing from that list – one Anthony Gonzalez. You think the Colts are scary now? Once Gonzalez returns, this-already potent group of WR’s will become even more potent. Before Gonzalez’ knee injury, he was slowly making a case as an up-and coming wideout in the AFC and arguably the NFL. And most definitely one thing that works out in Indianapolis’ favor here – this group, save for Wayne, are really young.
How young? Try this on for size: Baskett – 4th year. Collie – rookie. Garcon – 2nd year. Gonzalez – 3rd year. Wayne is the “elder statesman as he is in his 9th season with the Colts. Suffice it to say, this could be a mirror image of the 2004 squad, both in their relative youth, diversity and success. Maybe the only difference between this year’s team and the 2004 version is that back in 2004, the Colts actually had a running game (remember Edgerrin James?). Other than that, not many differences.
So while the loss of Harrison was something that was inevitable, his absence has actually made the Colts a better team on offense. And because the secondaries have for the most part become clueless in trying to figure out this motley crew of WR’s (with Manning being the ringleader), that can only benefit the team and bodes well for their future success this season.
Don’t get me wrong, that does not at all minimize anything that Harrison did while a member of the Colts. However, the Colts’ braintrust apparently knew something in drafting Gonzalez and the irony isn’t lost on me when it is common knowledge that after Indianapolis released Harrison, not a single NFL team took a flyer on him. Not one. And because of this, the Colts haven’t missed a beat. Now if they only could put together a respectable running game.