Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Patriots and Colts: Two Conflicting Philosophies

It occurred to me, as I was reading about the imminent end of Peyton Manning's games-started streak, that the Indianapolis Colts and their arch-rivals the Patriots don't just have a quarterback rivalry. Their philosophies on how to build a professional football team are also in direct conflict.

Indy's Incompletions
The Colts have traditionally staked everything on arguably the greatest players in the NFL today, Peyton Manning. Their offense has been tailored for a decade precisely the way that's best for him. The Colts don't have many star players, excluding Manning and defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Usually, they just in pieces around Manning and let his unbelievable brain, feet and arm do the rest. Boom, 12 wins. Boom, playoff berth.

Because of Manning's ability, the Colts have been able to squeeze by with some really crappy high picks over the past half-decade. Indianapolis arguably hasn't had an elite first-rounder since Dallas Clark (TE) in 2004. CB Marlin Jackson (2005) is no longer with the team, and subsequent picks Anthony Gonzalez (WR, 2007), Donald Brown (RB, 2008) and Jerry Hughes (DE, 2009) have all been unimpressive. Only Joseph Addai (RB, 2006) has made the Pro Bowl, and he hasn't had a 1,000 yard season since 2007.

The Colts' third- and second- round picks have also been largely crappy. Larry Tripplett (DT, 2002, 2nd), Joseph Jefferson (SS, 2002, 3rd), Mike Doss, (2003 S, 2nd) Donald Strickland (CB, 2003, 3rd), Bob Sanders (S, 2004, 2nd) Ben Hartsock (TE, 2004, 3rd), Gilbert Gardner (LB, 2004, 3rd) Kelvin Hayden (CB, 2005, 2nd), Vincent Burns (DT 2005 3rd), Tim Jennings (CB 2006 2nd), Freddy Keiaho (LB 2006 3rd), Tony Ugoh (OT 2007 2nd), Dante Hughes (CB 2007 3rd) and Quinn Pitcock (DT 2007 3rd) are no longer with the team. Jennings, Sanders and Strickland all had success (particularly Sanders, a former Defensive Player of the Year), but the rest of these players haven't had much.

Mike Pollak (G 2008, 2nd), Phillip Wheeler (LB, 2008, 3rd), Fili Moala (DT, 2009, 2nd), Jerraud Powers (CB, 3rd, 2009), Pat Angerer (LB, 2010, 2nd) and Kevin Thomas (3rd, CB, 2010) are still with the team, but only Angerer has impressed thus far.

Most teams that draft this poorly would be perennial 6-10 squads. The Colts have avoided this fate by riding their stars (Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne and of course Manning) and just letting Manning make competent players out of whoever they throw at him. Without Manning, the whole artifice comes crashing down.

(The Colts have also drafted an astounding ten defensive backs in rounds 1-3 over the past nine years. Only Powers and Thomas are still on the roster, and Thomas missed all of 2010.)

The Patriot Way
The Patriots, by contrast, are famous for signing older, established free agents-Andre Carter, Chad Ochocinco, Shaun Ellis and Albert Haynesworth from this season alone-and drafting enough talent for Tom Brady to get by. Like the Colts, they have strong systems that they can plug players into and get results from just about anybody. Unlike the Colts, they are built to survive without Tom Brady (witness 2008, when they went 11-5 with Matt Cassel at the helm). Indianapolis, with its culture and players completely centered around Peyton Manning, is unlikely to fare as well if he misses extended time this year.

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