Gold standard

Jason Cole
Yahoo! SportsOctober 31, 2007

Want to know just how precise Peyton Manning wants things to be?

In Manning's drive for constant perfection, he noticed one thing was amiss in the Colts office early in the offseason. The clocks – like those big, battery-operated ones that hang in most offices and schools around the country – were not good enough, Manning surmised.

Of course, Manning made this suggestion after the Colts had reached the summit with a victory in Super Bowl XLI over the Chicago Bears.

"We're close and the great thing about Peyton is that he's concerned about everything that happens in the organization but he also knows he has enough to handle," Colts owner Jim Irsay said at the NFL's fall meetings in Philadelphia last week. "But he just sent me a note and said, 'We need to get this system in the building where all the clocks are synchronized.' It's like I didn't even know there was such a thing. 'Yeah, it's so that they're synchronized in the locker room and the hallways and no one has an excuse for being late for a meeting.' It's like $10,000 so I said: 'Well, OK, we'll get it. I didn't know it existed, but we'll get it.'"

Over the span of Manning's 10-year career in Indianapolis, the goal has been consistent precision. It's obvious in the way he plays the role of maestro in the offense, signaling the horns and string and the brass sections. What Manning and the Colts have built is an offense that is the gold standard in terms of consistency in the NFL.

Since 1999, the Colts have ranked either No. 1 or 2 six times in net offense and haven't been lower than No. 5. Similarly, they have been in the top three of scoring seven times.

On Sunday, the Indianapolis offense will face off with the latest, greatest offensive attack as the 7-0 Colts play host to the 8-0 New England Patriots in what has become one of the most hyped regular-season games in NFL history. It's the latest point in the season ever in which two undefeated teams have ever faced off.

If their explosive offensive outputs continue, it could end up being a matchup of two of the greatest offenses ever. The Patriots are off to a staggering start to the season, having scored 331 points through the halfway point. They are on pace to break the NFL record of 556 points set in 1998 by Minnesota – with at least two full games left in the season. The Patriots have been a picture of precision the past three games, scoring 48, 49 and 52 points, respectively.

Still, when you ask most people around the NFL which offense they'd prefer to emulate, the Colts – third in the league with 31 points a game – are still the standard.

"When you talk about consistency, the Colts have been there at the top for the past five or six years now," Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson said. "What they have clearly done has been to keep certain people and then replace at other positions without dropping off. That's what we're all trying to do and it's hard. Extremely hard, but they've made it look so smooth."

The obvious key has been to keep Manning together with wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, maintaining the precision required in the passing game. A more subtle element is finding the right type of receivers to fit in the offense, general manager Bill Polian said.

"You need a certain type of receiver in this attack, someone who is quick and precise with their routes. Those big receivers that you see with some teams that just overpower defensive backs wouldn't fit what we do."

The latest example of that is rookie wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, the team's first-round NFL draft pick this year. Gonzalez doesn't possess overwhelming size or strength, but he fits the scheme.

"You can see that Gonzalez knows where to be," Manning said. "He has studied his playbook and he asks questions all the time, trying to figure out what I'm thinking about a certain play so that he can learn it."

While Gonzalez has only put up moderate numbers so far (14 catches for 194 yards), he has been enough of a factor that the Colts have continued to be effective while Harrison has been restricted the past three games because of a left knee injury.

The same has happened at running back. When the Colts decided to let running back Edgerrin James go after the 2005 season, they nabbed Joseph Addai in the draft's first round. Like James, Addai is a perfect fit with what the Colts like to do.

"In this offense, the running back can't be just anybody," Polian said. "You have to be smart so you know the protection and you have to be quick so that you can get to the edges and run the stretch plays that are so important to what we do."

The Colts running game is not a power style, instead depending on getting outside much of the time to take advantage of particular matchups. A staple play in their attack is the outside stretch, which is similar to a sweep but gives the running back more options on where to cut back.

And true to form, when Addai sat out in Week 5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, replacement Kenton Keith had 121 yards and two touchdowns.

Still, so much of what the Colts do revolves around Manning, his preparation and his dedication to exactness. Indianapolis is not so complex with their attack (they are often times in the same formation play after play while the Patriots will change formations constantly). However, they are just really good at figuring out how to execute the play each time.

"They probably only have four or five plays they run most of the time," Baltimore Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "It's just that Peyton is so good at knowing how you're going to defend them each time that he knows where to go depending on the defense."

Or as Dallas owner Jerry Jones put it: "Not to take anything away from Tom Brady, but I believe that you could put a player in (for Brady) and do what they do at New England and win some games better than you can plug another quarterback in what they do at Indianapolis."

"I personally believe I could make it for a game or two without Brady. But I think it would be a dramatic difference, a drop off, without Peyton Manning out there. It's how he gets out there and runs the checks and everything, gets them in the right plays."

And as Irsay has seen over the years, it's all about the preparation. Every game, Manning and his receivers warm up two hours before game time, throwing the entire tree of pass routes to make sure they're in synch.

Manning has done it since he was a rookie.

"I remember he was getting ready to play his rookie year and Bill Polian walked up to him and said, 'Don't throw any more balls, you're going to throw your arm out.' He was just so intense getting ready to go. He just works at it so much, it's ever-encompassing with him."

Right down to the minute.