Davenport: Is it Really Donald Brown?

Gary Davenport’s article, Where Indianapolis Colts Still Need to Continue to Surround Andrew Luck with Talent, is an excellent read for three reasons:

– it draws three pieces together: Peyton Manning, Donald Brown, and the Colts’s O-line

– it correctly shifts the blame for the mediocre run game from the running backs

– it hints at the real reason that the Colts cannot run the ball: the offensive line is not stable. Period.

Davenport says that Manning was able to cover for the abysmal ground attack, and he’s right – Manning hasn’t had help from the run in years. If you go back far enough, however, he didn’t need to cover for them at all. Remember the Edge? When he played for the Colts, it was a thrill every time the offense took the field; in 2004, it was Manning, James, Harrison, Wayne, and Clark, all near their peak. What a lot of people forget: Tarik Glenn, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem, Jake Scott, Rick DeMulling held down that offense unlike any other team in the NFL. They connected.

This is why:

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Glenn Glenn (10) Glenn Glenn Glenn
Demulling (14) Demulling Demulling (11) Lilja Gandy (11)
Saturday Saturday Saturday (14) Saturday Saturday
Diem Sciullo (13) Scott (9) Scott Scott
Meadows (14) Diem (13) Diem Diem (14) Diem (15)

* parenthesis indicate games played, if any were missed

Basically, for 5 years – right up to their Superbowl win – the Colts had a dependable front five. Glenn missed all of six games in five years; Saturday missed two; Diem missed six. The O-line that won the Superbowl was Glenn, Dylan Gandy, Saturday, Scott, and Diem; between the four mainstays, you had 267 games of colts experience in five years. It’s worth it to note that, during those five years, Edgerrin James topped 1000 yards three times – after rushing for 989 yards in ’02 – and made the Pro Bowl twice, on consecutive 1500+ yard seasons. In 2006, he left; Joseph Addai, as a rookie, came out with consecutive 1000 yard seasons (’06 and ’07).

In 2007, Glenn retired; Tony Ugoh replaced him. With four consistant starters (including Lilja rather than Gandy), Addai made the Pro Bowl and rushed for 1072.

In 2008, Lilja and Scott were released; Addai rushed for a paltry 544.

In 2009, Lilja was brought back up; Charlie Johnson (a 2008 mainstay) stayed on, and Addai worked back up to 828 yards. The Colts went to the Superbowl, lost, and – incredibly – the fault was placed on the O-line. Lilja was released again, this time for good.

In 2010, with a makeshift line resembling little of its past, Addai and Brown split 8 starts each; they combined for less than 1000 yards. In perspective, when Addai was in his rookie year, he rushed for 1081 without starting a game; the Colts’s actual starter, Dominic Rhodes, rushed for 641.

In 2011, Addai managed only 433 yards.

I’m not doubting the Edge’s prowess, or that Addai faded down the stretch. I’m saying that, until 2007, that O-line was as solid as you can get, and the running game proved that. James left, and Addai and Rhodes managed more yards than him the following year. Lilja left, and Addai’s rushing total was cut in half. The Colts need to work on their front five consistency; once they get it set for good, expect the ground game to take off running.

Stats @ Pro Football Reference Online