[Author's note: I started writing this before I knew what Vega was going to post. It's not that we're piling on here; this just struck both of us as an interesting question, and we took slightly different approaches, so I'm posting my version, too. --M]
In the days since it became definite that Peyton Manning would not be under center on September 11, a couple different narratives have taken shape. The first was the position that, without Manning, the Texans have a very, very good chance to win the game Sunday. This seemed very logical; after all the Colts' offense centers on Manning's preternatural ability to read defenses, change the play at the line, and get rid of the ball with his laser-rocket arm. His talents mask problems such as not having a running game1 or not having a solid O-line. And, because the Colts' defense is built to play with a lead, the loss of Manning could even affect that unit negatively.
In the last couple days, however, a counter-narrative has gained traction --- that the Colts might not be as explosive without Manning, but they will still be a good team because Collins is a good, veteran QB who can run the offense and surprise some teams. At the risk of understating things, I'll say that this seemed less logical. The Colts' offense doesn't run on a "solid, veteran QB." It centers on the mutant abilities of one of the five best QBs of all time, and it is so exquisitely tailored to his skill set, you could call it a bespoke offense, were you so inclined.
So, presented with these two different stories, I figured it might be worth looking at history to see which theory made more sense. As you might recall, back in early August, when Manning still had 24 separate vertebrae, we took a look at what Wade Phillips had done in his first years with the various teams on his resume. I enjoy posts like that because, even acknowledging that what happened in the past does not dictate what will happen in the future, the overarching trends can roughly sketch in the best- and worst-case scenarios. Sure, there's no guarantee that this team will play at a level similar to past Phillips defenses, but when has anything ever been guaranteed?2 Well, other than Joe Willie Namath's famous guarantee, I suppose.
With that in mind, and with the question of how the Colts -- sans Fivehead -- will fare, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at Wade's track record, both against Kerry Collins and against the Colts with Manning. After all, that's the big question mark in all of this, right? How will Kerry Collins fare against a new-look Texans defense? Does his track record against Wade Phillips, even adjusted for talent around him, look similar enough to Manning's record against Phillips that we can honestly think that the Colts will be (more or less) fine?
Just a reminder, as is relevant to this post, The Wade Phillips Experience tour schedule has looked like this:
- 1995-2000 --- Buffalo Bills
- 2002-2003 --- Atlanta Falcons
- 2004-2006 --- San Diego Superchargers
- 2007-2010 --- South Oklahoma Cowboys
Over that time, Kerry Collins appeared in 10 games against a Wade Phillips defense, starting nine of them and compiling a less-than-stellar 1-8 record in those starts. His game-by-game performance breaks down thusly:
You'll forgive me if Collins' track record against Phillips' defenses doesn't exactly leave me afeared3. Only once has he put up 2 TDs in a game, whereas he's been blanked in that department four times. Only once has he been INT-free, and he's thrown more than 1 INT in three contests.
And that's not entirely because of a lack of talent around him. Sure, the cupboard of offensive talent was pretty bare for the 1998 Saints, but the 1999 Giants had two WRs (Ike Hilliard and Amani Toomer) with over 70 catches, a TE (Pete Mitchell) with 58, and a RB (Tiki Barber) with 66. The 2002 Giants were even better, with Toomer catching 82 balls for 1,343 yards, Barber catching 69 for 597 and adding 1,387 rushing yards, and Jeremy Shockey also hauling in 74 catches. The 2003 Giants had all of those same parts. Heck, even the 2005 Raiders had Jerry Porter (76 catches), Randy Moss (60 for 1,005 and 8 TDs), and LaMont Jordan (70 catches for 563 plus 1,025 rushing yards). Yet, despite having a decent amount of talent around him, Collins has scratched out only one win in nine starts against the Phillips-led Bills, Falcons, and Chargers.
Likewise, since Manning entered the league in 1998, Wade's teams have squared off against the Colts 10 times,4 going 5-5. Manning's lines in those games look like this:
Manning has gotten his yardage over the last seven years, but he's also split those four games. Which is to say that, even in a best-case scenario for the Colts (i.e., avec Manning), they've still only broken even against Phillips. Worse still, at least from Indy's standpoint, they've dropped the last two to Phillips' defense.
What does all this mean? Maybe nothing --- it could be that there's some as-yet-undiagnosed hole in the Texans' version of Wade's defense that will render all of this history more or less moot. All the same, unless and until the Colts prove otherwise, it would seem that changing from Manning to Collins against Wade Phillips' defense represents a huge downgrade, both in talent and in the Colts' likelihood of winning.
1 Fun fact: Joseph Addai has two runs of 35 yards or greater ... in his entire career. Fun fact #2: Joseph Addai has 2 100-yard games in his last 43, dating back to 2007. The idea that Collins will be able to rely on the running game to take pressure off of him seems questionable at best and nuttier than squirrel turds at worst.
2 Also, how do you know the guarantee fairy isn't a crazy glue sniffer? "Building model airplanes" says the little fairy; well, we're not buying it. He sneaks into your house once, that's all it takes. The next thing you know, there's money missing off the dresser, and your daughter's knocked up. I seen it a hundred times.
4 I'm fudging a tiny bit here. Wade was fired before the Cowboys played the Colts last year. However, the Cowboys did not change their defensive style appreciably once Wade left, so this seemed like a valid game to include.