Which receivers were truly most effective with the ball in their hands last season? We look at the leaders in YAC+ for 2014 and the last nine years.
05 Feb 2007
Here's the final Audibles at the Line, a look at the e-mail conversation of the Football Outsiders staff during Sunday's games. There wasn't much in-game conversation for the Super Bowl, but we all shared our thoughts afterwards. Our Indianapolis native writer and our Indianapolis resident adjunct PFP contributor are pretty happy this morning.
Bill Moore: I guess we don't introduce individual players on teams anymore.
Will Carroll: That sound you heard after Devin Hester's touchdown was Indianapolis. Has anyone discussed the fact that Bill Polian is on the edge of losing his sixth Super Bowl?
Bill Moore: Looks like Vasher has been on Harrison much of the start of this game. I don't know who's on the irregular side.
Doug Farrar: On that Wayne TD, there hasn't been a Colts receiver that wide open in a Super Bowl since Jimmy Orr in Super Bowl III.
Will Carroll: And no one had Reggie Wayne. Looked like the safety 38 (Danieal Manning) went in on Clark up the middle.
Hunter Smith is no Koy Detmer.
You will lose a fight for the ball with a guy named Hagler.
Doug Farrar: Hunter Smith, Tony Romo. Tony, would you like to introduce Hunter to the group?
Will Carroll: Has any Super Bowl ever been so affected by weather? Will the long halftime help this pass?
Bob Sanders had his head down the whole play. His career might have one, maybe two more productive years.
Doug Farrar: I think Super Bowl IX (PIT-MIN) at Tulane Stadium was cold and a bit drizzly, but nothing like this.
Colts have a 2-1 time of possession advantage at the half, and after watching this team through the playoffs, I'm convinced that's absolutely according to plan. Tire out their defense and keep yours of the field. Remember the 30-play stretch at the end of the first and beginning of the second halves in the AFC Championship game where the Colts had possession on 29 of those plays?
Bill Moore: Just as an aside, I would expect playing electric guitar in the pouring rain would be a hazard. Plus I think his makeup is running.
Patrick Laverty: How does a safety stepping into the neutral zone cause a left tackle to jump? That neutral zone infraction seemed wrong to me.
And how about Nantz noticing that Hester checked the jumbotron on his way to the end zone. Making it sound like Hester was just admiring his work. Not a mention that players do that to see where the tacklers are without having to turn around and slow down.
Nantz just doesn't seem good this game.
Before the game, I heard that this was the first one played in rain.
I think Rex lost another 6 yards by trying to pick the ball up and not just falling on it.
As a Patriots fan, this game sure looks familiar.
Will Carroll: The Colts have run three plays today (inside delay, play action and back to same RB, and Harrison in the slot) that I haven't seen all year.
Michael David Smith: Am I the only one who thought that should've been roughing, not running into, the kicker?
Doug Farrar: No, you're not the only one. No doubt Bill Polian is frantically speed-dialing Rich McKay and Jeff Fisher right now.
Ryan Wilson: I actually told my wife it looked like roughing the kicker (or, at least what I envision roughing the kicker might look like). She seemed unfazed, but I stand by my initial call.
Patrick Laverty: Bad boy Rex. Bad boy.
Doug Farrar: Another fun football drinking game -- not as quite as dangerous as the Madden/Favre one: Take a shot every time Phil Simms asserts with 100% confidence that something will happen or has happened, and the exact opposite proves to be true. My favorite this game was his assertion that Grossman's first pick would put him "in a groove" and he'd start throwing better. He said that just before the snap on the next interception. Runner-up: The Harrison catch. "Even from up here, I could tell it was out of bounds." Uh ... yeah. This is the guy CBS wants on its A-Team? Will someone explain this to me?
Will Carroll: Would it be wrong to vote for "Rex Grossman IND" as MVP?
Doug Farrar: Ha! Not at all. I'm trying to think here -- has a rookie ever won MVP? I don't think so, but my vote would go to Addai.
Will Carroll: I also think Addai should win.
Doug Farrar: Okay ... THAT'S scary.
Bill Moore: Adam Vinatieri now has his fourth Super Bowl ring. What individual has the most?
Michael David Smith: Charles Haley is the only player with five rings.
Mike Tanier: Let me beat Aaron to the summing up:
Never in history has a game gone so exactly as everyone thought it would go. By "everyone" I do not mean Football Outsiders, but everyone who follows the game and knows the two teams well.
The Bears got one touchdown on a special teams play and one on a lapse by the Colts run defense, Grossman provided three (?) turnovers and made some terrible decisions. The Colts had trouble in the red zone but moved the ball pretty easily. The Bears ran on third-and-medium and failed. It was like someone had a clipboard (a Saunders Clipboard, I bet) and was ticking off the necessary items.
Now, I wait for Peyton Manning to be assumed body and soul into heaven, and I thank my maker that I am not Rex Grossman and I don't have to listen to an off-season of screaming for my head, especially with the knowledge that such shouting is deserved. I suppose now the mantle of Quarterback Who Never Won has officially been passed to Donovan, and I will be informed of this in a Philadelphia Daily News headline by Tuesday.
And Prince rocked.
Okay, time to crawl back into my coffin for a while.
Bill Moore: Happy for the Colts, Dungy and Manning.
That has to be among the worst owner speeches ... ever.
The selection of Peyton Manning as MVP was purely a reputation-precedes choice. Although he didn't play poorly, by any means, there were clearly others more worthy.
Will Carroll: I think in absence of a clear MVP, Manning was going to get it.
Best line of the night from my Super Bowl party:
Drunk 1: "What, he's going to do more commercials now?"
Drunk 2: "No, just charge a lot more."
Bill Moore: I would have to say that Rex Grossman's absolute horrendous game is the worst since Tony Eason, which ironically was against Chicago. Is there any performance I'm missing?
Ryan Wilson: Roethlisberger might send Grossman a thank-you note. Or at the very least, Eason's thank-you note will have a postscript that reads: "Oh, yeah, Ben says thanks for crapping the bed."
Ned Macey: Obviously I have a million thoughts on the game, but I'll wait to see sort of what the neutral observers thought before going into too much depth. I will say that Tanier was 95% right on, but the one missing was a deep pass to Berrian. Everybody kept talking about how they would hit a big one, but they never did. They got nothing over the top, and that's a credit to the Colts defense. Simms was convinced Berrian was open on the Sander INT, and while it was a bad throw, I'm not sure Sanders wouldn't have broken it up no matter what. Grossman has one skill -- throwing the deep ball. It was rarely open, and so he did as told, checking down. The Colts tackled well underneath. The dropped snaps are a different issue.
I sort of was pulling for the Rhodes as MVP, but do people really think it wasn't Manning? The next time the Bears put an eighth guy in the box is the first. Addai caught all sorts of passes, but he was never covered, and he also dropped the handoff when Anderson came free. Manning absolutely controlled this game for the middle two quarters. Credit to the Bears red zone defense, but they were getting eaten up in the middle of the field.
This whole postseason has been about explaining the Colts defense. Nobody understands what went on, and at this point it defies explanation. They just had their fourth straight game of presumably better than -20% DVOA.
Finally, the Colts had probably a -14 on special teams (Hester TD, field goal after return and personal foul, missed FG, bad snap extra point) but Terrence Wilkins actually had a really nice game. The Colts were getting good field position on both punt and kick returns. And Hunter Smith, holding issues aside, had a nice game.
Super finally, the weather sucked. Not to be a non-purist, but watching power running is only fun for so long.
Michael David Smith: I think Manning deserved MVP. Rhodes and Addai were effective because the Bears' linebackers were totally focused on stopping the passing game.
Taking a quick look around online, I clearly saw this game a lot differently than most people. I thought Manning was great aside from the first possession and that the game was entertaining all-around. I can't even imagine how anyone other than a Steelers fan could say last year's Super Bowl was a better game than this year's, but I've already seen two non-Steelers fans say that.
Aaron Schatz: I'm happy that I live in a country where a young African-American child can dream that one day, he too will grow up and coach a team that loses the Super Bowl because his white quarterback isn't very good.
First things first. Last year, all we could talk about was the officiating. All year long in Audibles, we've been complaining about the officiating every week. We've complained about calls that went against our teams, in favor of our teams, and in games that had nothing to do with our teams. Before the game, everyone at Ian's house (in Braintree MA) agreed, nobody was really rooting for one team or the other, all we wanted was for the officiating not to suck. I think the most valuable player in this game was Tony Corrente, along with his crew, for not screwing up any call except for the Harrison sidelines catch, which got properly overturned on replay because it wasn't out of bounds. There haven't been many games this clean all year, and if you are going to have a well-called game, it should be the most important one.
I guess Manning was a default MVP choice since there really was no standout. I thought Sanders was great all game, I would have voted for Rhodes perhaps, and I think Peyton Manning has enough cars and really should give the truck to Kelvin Hayden. He's a lower-round rookie, I'm sure he could use a nice truck. He came through on that interception, although, what the hell was Grossman thinking? Why on earth did he throw that ball? Were the Colts using the Madden "lame duck" cheat? Egads. I think at the end of all this Lovie Smith has to look in the mirror and ask himself how on earth he stuck with this guy all year.
They had the pass to Berrian. It was a weak spot in the defense, it was the right play call. Grossman underthrew it, but Berrian was open on the ball that Sanders intercepted. He had to come back to the ball because Grossman just didn't get enough into it, but if he throws it slightly deeper and to the right, that's a touchdown. The Muhammad TD was a bad pass too, to be honest, into some TIGHT coverage. Nick Harper was about two inches away from slapping that sucker out and a foot away from intercepting it. And the pass to Desmond Clark that he should not have thrown, that Jason David almost intercepted...
Although, the Bears defense has to look in the mirror too. To win with a shaky quarterback, the defense has to shut the other team down. That's what the Ravens did to the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. But tonight, time and time again, the Bears played a loose zone on third-and-short or third-and-medium, giving the Colts easy underneath first downs so they could just march down the field. By the third quarter, they really needed to start taking some chances. I'm not talking about blitzing -- just changing the coverage a little might have helped.
Speaking of coverage, another Manning who deserves the MVP for the Colts is Danieal Manning, who unfortunately plays for the Bears. That was one astonishing blown coverage on the Reggie Wayne touchdown. Dude, if your job in the Cover-2 is the deep left half, stay in the deep left half!
I was blown away when -- after I had written about how the Bears never switch their cornerbacks -- the Bears switched their cornerbacks and had Vasher on Harrison and Tillman on Wayne all day. Honestly, it didn't matter. Those guys did a good job, and the linebackers really did shut down the TE just like the FO numbers predicted, but Manning was getting lots of passes to Addai and the Wayne TD wasn't the fault of the cornerbacks.
Did anybody else notice the Bears spell the linebacker's name in the intros "Lance Brigss"?
Some other stuff to congratulate:
And a few random thoughts:
Finally, history. This was a year where a lot of "no team has ever..." rules got broken. I'll say it again: probability is not certainty. But that also doesn't mean that because something happens, we should expect it to happen all the time. The Colts are a dramatic outlier in the history of NFL champions. The odds are still strong that a team that gives up 5 yards per run won't win a title, that a dome team won't win outside in the cold, that you can't give up 22.5 points per game and expect to take home the Lombardi Trophy.
The Colts really have been one of the top 4-5 franchises of the decade, and while it is odd for this year's team to win the title, it isn't odd for them to win the title considering how well they've played year after year. However, this team does have significant flaws on defense and special teams and it is a testament to Peyton Manning as a quarterback that the offense is SO GOOD that it can overcome them. He really is great. There are people who have written about Peyton Manning as a choking loser over and over, and honestly, those people are going to need some new story ideas now. I'm proud to say that I never staked my reputation as a sportswriter on the absurd idea that Peyton Manning was not one of the best players in football.
It's a copycat league, but you can't copy the Colts and expect to win a Super Bowl. This is really an uncopyable blueprint. How many quarterbacks are as good as Peyton Manning? How often will you find not just one but two wide receivers as talented as Harrison and Wayne, and a tight end who can succeed as a receiver like Dallas Clark? How often will you play crap defense for 16 games and suddenly play good defense in the postseason? (And, to be honest, how often do you get to play the Super Bowl against a team with a colossal gaping black hole at the most important position on the field?) No, you can't plan for any of this. The Patriots, Bucs, Steelers, there was a blueprint there. There's no blueprint here. Honestly, it's part of what makes the Colts special.
Mike, the Eagles go on that list of best franchises of the decade too. And I think Donovan will get his one day.
Russell Levine: On the MVP, I think I might have cast my lot for the whole Indy offensive line. I felt they dominated the game, opened some huge holes for Rhodes/Addai and kept Peyton nearly clean throughout. Not that Manning was undeserving, he was just unspectacular. But I do think the rain had a lot to do with Indy's approach -- particularly once it became obvious that we were seeing Bad Rex today.
As a Bucs fan, I've seen that Indy approach before -- it used to be called "Buc Ball." Dungy is nothing if not consistent. With the way his defense was playing, there was no way he was going to start taking risks in the red zone in a downpour. And even though it meant it took Indy a while longer to officially salt the game away, you can't argue with any of his decision making. Particularly with the way Indy was able to run the ball throughout.
Did Chicago end up falling into the same trap as KC and Baltimore against the Indy defense? I don't know, but it sure looked early on like they were trying to win the game without putting it in Rex's hands. Then again, they barely had the ball the first three quarters.
Bill Moore: See, I don't buy into the argument that Manning deserved the MVP because his modestly above average play was driven by defenses designed to stop the pass - even if it were true. If the roles were reversed, and the Colts focused on taking away the run, yet Thomas Jones pulled off 80 yards and 1 TD anyway, would he have gotten an MVP over a passing game that picked up the slack.
Manning, without the Bears defense brain fart of a Reggie Wayne TD pass that only Reche Caldwell could have missed, is 24-38 with less than 200 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and an official fumble (even if you think it was Addai's fault).
His award was reputational only, in the same way that someone like Rhodes never could have won it.
Russell Levine: The fact that the fans get 20% of the MVP vote is a joke. Give them a vote, fine, but make it like 5%, not such a significant chunk.
Ned Macey: I guess there's not a lot to say about this game given the Colts dominated, won handily, and the officiating was good. But, since it is the first title by an Indianapolis team in my lifetime, I'll go on some more.
Good work by Charlie Johnson, a rookie thrust into action at right tackle against the Bears in the Super Bowl. The one sack came from Glenn's side, and the Colts running game obviously didn't miss a beat.
Second, the game was almost over by then, but what about Marlin Jackson getting hurt forcing Giordano, a safety, in as the nickel back only to see Giordano break up the fourth down pass to Desmond Clark.
Lance Briggs is a great player, and I can't believe the Bears won't franchise him. Urlacher is better, but the WLB is the most important linebacker in the Tampa-2. I hope Berrian someday gets a consistent quarterback.
I think the Bears defensive game plan was upset by the rain. They played the Colts with the Fisher/Schwartz strategy and it did keep the scoring down, but I think it would have been hard to throw the ball well down the field. They should have played more man coverage once the rain became obvious. Make Harrison and Wayne beat you when the weather sucks. The strategy makes sense from the standpoint that they were completely outplayed but only down 5 near the end, but the Bears have more physical talent than the Titans and didn't need to be in a game through luck.
Outside of the big run, Jones had 8 carries for 16 yards in the first half, including 2 for 6 yards on third down that left them short of a first down. I know the Chiefs game plan was weak. I know Jamal Lewis is washed up. I know the Patriots abandoned the run, but while impossible to predict, the run defense improved radically in the playoffs. They aren't the 2000 Titans, but you had to have a complete offense to beat the Colts in the playoffs. (Thank God the Chargers lost.) When it was believe one game or 16, two games or 16, three games or 16, then it was easy to believe the 16. At four in a row, this was a remarkable achievement.
That brings me to Dungy, who is the person I feel best for. Nobody with any intelligence really could have thought that Manning was incapable of winning a Super Bowl. Clearly inferior quarterbacks have won two dozen Super Bowls. With Dungy it was a different story. The whole mild-mannered thing, repeated playoff losses, the Tampa Super Bowl in 2002. I always thought (hoped?) he could do it, but it was reasonable to question his approach. What he did this year was impressive. Obviously he deserves some blame for what happened to the defense during the regular season, but he stayed patient and fixed the defense. I'm not too worried about where he gets the motivation to coach the way he does, but I have a great deal of respect for treating men like men, teaching, and most importantly, understanding football is not the be all and end all of our existence.
Finally, this is not the best Colts team of the Manning era, but hopefully the Super Bowl allows people to appreciate how successful that era has been. They are now 50-14 over the past four years. They have the most regular season wins this decade (and went 13-3 in 1999 so that's not cherry-picking their run). They have 76 while the Patriots and Eagles have 75. They have done it completely different than any other team. I don't just mean the all offense, no defense (or special teams) approach. I mean letting their QB call the plays, almost always lining their receivers up on the same side of the field, using almost no motion, playing the same defense the vast majority of the snaps. They have valued execution in a league that with the rise of Martz, Gruden, and Belichick has been all about these evil-genius coaches. At training camp this year they didn't really have any two-a-days because they had nothing to practice.
Furthermore, 21 of the 22 offensive and defensive players who started yesterday have never played for any team besides the Colts (and neither have Jackson or Hayden or Rhodes). Bill Polian is a great drafter and clearly one of the very top player personnel guys even if he is a prick. I'm glad he shook the loser tag because he has built two separate, extraordinary teams in very different environments. I don't think the Colts blueprint can be replicated, but hopefully it encourages teams to think outside the box. The more different ways people approach offense, defense, and roster construction, the more interesting the league is.
Aaron Schatz: Well, it's only fair to let our long-suffering Indianapolis native have the last word. Thanks to all of you for reading and supporting Football Outsiders again this year, for participating in the discussion threads, for buying our book, for wearing Football Outsiders t-shirts (still available!) and for everything else.
The off-season doesn't mean that Football Outsiders goes away, of course. We'll have The Week in Quotes and one more Scramble and Quick Reads. Four Downs, our off-season series, begins on Wednesday with the NFC West. The results of the 2006 Football Outsiders awards will be up in the next week or so, and we've got the fourth annual off-season Old Faces in New Places contest already up, your chance to win a copy of PFP 2007. There will be lots of draft coverage in April. Three or four of us are going to be in Titletown for the scouting combine in a couple of weeks. We'll have the usual off-season free agent and draft open discussion threads up as soon as we figure out if the new discussion board helped our server issues and other assorted technical details. You should also look for regular commentary on free agent moves on the FO FOX blog.
And behind the scenes, I'll be goofin' with the numbers, improving our stats, creating new formulas, and we'll all be writing the best possible Pro Football Prospectus for you all to enjoy.
Thanks, and good night. For Three Feet High and Rising, this is Don Newkirk.
296 comments, Last at 08 Feb 2007, 9:08pm by Sid