Today we will be graced with two special guests from Colts sites. We have Joe from 18to88 and Jacob from Coltzilla. I asked them both the same questions and got similar answers but from different perspectives. After the jump I've got a few of their answers. But this is only part one, so make sure you check back later for part two!
Jon: After the Super Bowl the Colts were the preseason favorite to return. What prevented this above all else?
Joe: Injuries at the skill positions combined with the steady decline of the OL talent over the last several years left the Colts envious of one dimensional offenses. Much of the year the Colts couldn't run or attack deep on offense, leaving them with about half a dimension on offense and throwing WR screens seemingly every other down because it was a quick enough throw they could actually pass protect for it and provided a pseudo-running game.
Jacob: It will sound cliche, but the single biggest reason the Colts did not have a return trip to the Super Bowl this year was injuries. As other questions deal with injuries, I won't delve into it too much, but the Colts have a history of being one of the more injured teams in the NFL in an average year, and 2010 was an historically bad year for the Colts in terms of injuries. One of the few bright spots for this year is the knowledge that 2009 and 2010 have been so outlandish for injuries with the Colts that regression to the mean will take over at some point. We will continue to be injured, but with any confidence in statistics, hopefully less than 2009 and 2010.
Jon: The Colts were devastated by injuries. Just how bad was it?
Joe: The Colts were the most injured team in the league according to Football Outsiders' starter games lost statistic. Compounding that, the injuries were mostly to skill position players and the secondary, utterly devastating to a team built around passing the ball and stopping the pass. The Colts top 6 skill position players missed a combined 41 regular season games. In the secondary the Colts faced the Jets in the playoffs with just one of their starting DBs and with a 4th stringer at SS (who got injured early in the 2nd and didn't return).
Jacob: As I said, 2010 was an historic year. I did an analysis of the injuries for the Colts on Coltzilla that I can link if you'd like, but here are the highlights. The Colts lead the league in games missed by starters (92 of 416), and furthermore, the Colts had the most players on IR, and the Colts lead the leagues in games missed by first and second string players (137 of 512). For comparison, in 2009, the Colts had a very bad year with injuries, while 2008 was more of an "average" year for us. In 2010 the Colts had 52% more injuries than in 2009 and more than doubled our injury total from 2008.
Still, the injuries go beyond simply games lost. The Patriots, for example, lost a number of starters early in the season, but they had a consistent group of players on offense and defense for most of the year. The Colts had 8 different combinations of primary (#1 and #2) running backs, 4 combinations of WRs, 3 combinations of TEs, 5 different starting offensive line units, 9 combinations of linebackers, 3 combinations of safeties, and 9 combinations of Corners.
The major areas we struggled in, specifically our rushing attack, our run blocking, and pass prevention correlates with areas we had essentially no consistency all year. Also, these numbers don't include partial games, so the multiple instances where our starting LT, Charlie Johnson, our #2 WR, Austin Collie, and #2 RB Mike Hart, left early because of injury. Not only did we have to prepare new starters every week who had either never played an NFL game, or who had spent the whole time learning the ST playbook instead of the starters playbook, but we also had to train their backups, whom we were picking up off the street in droves. Injuries are a fact of life for the Colts, but this past year was so much worse than anyone could have even begun to predict.
Jon: Peyton Manning had one of his poorest years in 2010. Was this due to the injuries, poor O-line play or did he just take a step back?
Joe: Peyton started off on a pace to match his MVP campaign of the previous year, but as the season went on and his targets started to drop like flies his pace slowed, culminating in the 11 INTs over 3 straight losses that defined Peyton's 2010 season for many. As a few players returned and guys like Jacob Tamme and Blair White settled into the offense the numbers rebounded a bit, but 2010 was clearly the point where the Colts discovered the point in which they were leaning too hard on Manning to make the offense go.
Jacob: Actually by the raw numbers, Peyton had one of his strongest years. He threw for 4,700 yards and 33 touchdowns. He had one of the fewest sack totals in the NFL, and was only slightly above his interception average for his career (15.2 average, and he had 16). Take out Manning's 3 game slump when he was essentially trying to win games without WRs or RBs and Manning averages and Manning would have averaged 7.4 INTs with nearly 4500 yards, and he would have had a 95.9 QB rating. Considering what Peyton dealt with through the year, there is only 1 game that can really be pointed to as being on Peyton. If other teams and the media want to feel Peyton had a "bad" year, that is fine with me. Give Peyton any kind of consistency next year and with the same type of performance as this year you could see Peyton leading the league in just about every category. Age will catch up with him at some point, but it was not the cause this year of any difficulties. Injuries and a lack of consistency with our available weapons did that job well enough.