WMD: 1998 Colts vs 2010 Rams

This segment of WMD (Weller’s Musing and Divination) came via a suggestion from Bryan, which he mentioned in this post. The suggestion was to compare the 1998 Colts team with the 2010 Rams team. The ’98 season was Peyton Manning’s rookie year with the Colts and this 2010 season is obviously going to be Sam Bradford’s rookie year with the Rams. The Colts were coming off an abysmal 3-13 season that landed them the top pick in the 98 Draft. The Rams are coming off an abysmal 1-15 season that landed them the top pick in the 10 Draft. Colts top receiver, Marvin Harrison was entering his third season and had yet to really put together a great season. Rams top receiver, Donnie Avery is entering his third season and has yet to really put together a great season. It was Colts head coach, Jim Mora’s first year with the team. It’s Rams head coach, Steve Spagnuolo’s second year with the team. The Colts star running back, Marshall Faulk, who was easily the best player on the team, was entering his fifth season and was coming off a good season in which he was able to play in three more games than he had the previous year. The Rams star running back, Steven Jackson, who is easily the best player on the team, is entering his seventh season and is coming off a great season in which he was able to play in three more games than he had the previous year. The Colts had finished dead last in the worst division in the league the previous year. The Rams finished dead last in the worst division in the league last year. Also, when all else failed the Colts had the small bright spot that was their punter, Chris Gardocki. And, when all else fails the Rams have the small bright spot that is their punter, Donnie Jones.

The similarities are most definitely there so what I plan on doing (and I’m sure Bryan will remind me to do so) is a before and after picture so to speak. I will write this post comparing how the two teams looked going into the season and then when the season is over I will compare how the two teams did in their first year with their new quarterback. Should be fun, let’s get started:

Quarterbacks:

Colts: Peyton Manning, rookie, 1st overall pick out of Tennessee

Rams: Sam Bradford, rookie, 1st overall pick out of Oklahoma

I’m going to compare Manning’s ’97 season at Tennessee to Bradford’s ’08 season at Oklahoma. I’m using Bradford’s ’08 season because he was injured for basically all of the ’09 season.

In 1997 Peyton had an impressive, Heisman-caliber year leading his Vols to a season with only one regular season loss (which was to their main division rival) and went on to win the SEC Championship but suffered a disappointing loss to a Big 12 school in their bowl game, which would have resulted in a National Championship. The Colts drafted him first overall with the hope that he could save the franchise.

In 2008 Bradford had an impressive, Heisman-caliber year leading his Sooners to a season with only one regular season loss (which was to their main division rival) and went on to win the Big 12 Championship but suffered a disappointing loss to a SEC school in their bowl game, which would have resulted in a National Championship. The Rams drafted him first overall with the hope that he could save the franchise.

Is anybody else creeped out yet?

Manning had a good rookie year. He had all but one of the Colts passing attempts that season (Torrance Small had an attempt on a trick play that didn’t work). The Colts managed three wins, and seven of their losses were by seven points or less. Two more losses were by eight and nine points and they were only truly blown out in three games that year and two of those games were in the first three weeks.

Manning had the most passing attempts in the league that year with 575, which is something I think the Rams should try to avoid with Bradford. Let’s take a look at the rest of Manning’s rookie numbers as well as the average stats of rookie quarterbacks from the past three years with 250 or more pass attempts.

Player Comp Att Pct Att/G Yds Avg Yds/G TD Int Long 20+ 40+ Sack Rate
Peyton Manning 326 575 56.7 35.9 3739 6.5 233.7 26 28 78 42 8 22 71.2
07-09 Avg Rookie 204.7 360.3 56.5 28.6 2434.5 6.7 189.8 12.0 14.8 65.3 31.3 6.5 21.8 70.4

With this information I think Rams fans should be hoping for Bradford’s stats to lead to something like a 56.5 completion percentage, around 6.5 yards per attempt, 15 to 20 TDs, 15 to 20 picks, while getting sacked less than 25 times and have a passer rating over 70. So let’s say an optimistic 250 of 400 for 2600 yards, 18 TDs and 16 INTs. That would be a passer rating of 79.58, and would be pretty similar to Joe Flacco’s rookie year, but with a worse supporting cast.

Running Backs:

Colts: Marshall Faulk, 5th year, 2-time Pro Bowler (at that point)

Rams: Steven Jackson, 7th year, 2-time Pro Bowler

We all know that Faulk went on to have a phenomenal career (with the Rams coincidentally enough) and already had two Pro Bowl appearances under his belt in just four years. In that 1998 season the Colts frequently used him as a receiver out of the back field. He had 86 receptions, which is a ton for a running back, and in fact it was the third most in the league that year at any position. If the Rams are smart they will do the same thing with Steven Jackson. This creates a lot of short, easy passes for the rookie quarterback. This helps a ton, especially when you don’t have any truly proven options at wide receiver, just as the Colts didn’t then and the Rams don’t now.

Faulk finished that year with 2,227 all-purpose yards that year, which was second most in the league and had the fourth most touches with 410. Don’t be surprised if Jackson is also near the top of both of those lists this year. Here’s a look at Faulk’s numbers from ’08 along with the averages from running backs entering their seventh season from 07-09 with 200 or more rushing attempts.

Player Att Att/G Yds Avg Yds/G TD Lng 20+ 40+ FUM Rec Yds Avg TD
Marshall Faulk 324 20.2 1319 4.1 82.4 6 68 5 3 3 86 908 10.56 4
07-09 Avg 7th year 296.7 19.2 1299.0 4.3 84.0 11.0 39.7 10.3 0.7 1.3 47.3 365.0 7.7 2.7

I think expectations for Jackson should be high this year. In fact, I think he should be able to eclipse almost all of the numbers from both Faulk and the averages. He managed to stay on the field last year which is something he needs to duplicate this year. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry and should be able to find similar success again. I look for him to surpass 350 attempts for the first time in his career, exceed the 1500 yard mark for the second time in his career, and have at least 70 receptions. I’m going to go with a bold 380 attempts for 1,650 yards, eight TDs and with less than five fumbles. In addition to the ground game, I’d say 80 receptions for 800 yards and four TDs.

Wide Receivers:

Colts:

1. Marvin Harrison, 3rd year

2. Jerome Pathon, Rookie

3. Torrance Small, 7th year

Rams:

1. Donnie Avery, 3rd year

2. Mardy Gilyard, Rookie

3. Laurent Robinson, 4th year

Similar to Faulk, we all know that Harrison went on to have a Hall of Fame-worthy career. But in 1998 he had yet to really prove himself and Avery is in the same boat. Both teams also had rookie wide receivers that they had drafted, I’m not entirely sure how the Rams receiving corp is going to shake out but for the sake of having as many parallels between these two teams as I can find, I’m going with Gilyard as their #2 option. Bryan’s pretty convinced that it’s going to be Robinson, either way you have a primary receiver entering their third year, still pretty young and looking to prove themselves, and then a rookie and a guy who’s been in the league for a few years that’s from a smaller school (Alcorn State and Illinois State) and is relatively new to this team.

It’s going to be a bit trickier when looking at Harrison’s stats because he only played in 12 games during that ’98 season. We can look at his averages though and he had about 5 catches per game, 13.2 yards per reception and 64.7 yards per game as well as 0.6 TDs per game. I don’t think similar numbers are completely out of the question for Avery but I also don’t think they’re likely. Let’s take a look at the numbers from those three Colt receivers:

Player G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Lng R/G Y/G
Marvin Harrison 12 12 59 776 13.2 7 61 4.9 64.7
Jerome Pathon 16 15 50 511 10.2 1 45 3.1 31.9
Torrance Small 16 4 45 681 15.1 7 53 2.8 42.6
Totals: 44 31 154 1968 12.78 15 61 3.5 44.73

It would be a remarkable improvement for Avery if he put up similar numbers to Harrison, even if he did it with a full 16 games instead of 12. Last year Robinson was only able to play in two full games for the Rams before having a season ending injury in the first half of their week three matchup. While it’s not a very good sample size, Robinson did average 5.5 receptions and 70.5 yards in those two games, and had 12.2 yards per catch and a touchdown to boot. Those two games were against the Seahawks and Redksins and I doubt he’d have those numbers for an entire year, but it at least gives us something to work with. So instead of looking at this as a player-by-player comparison, I’m going to compare the units as a whole. For the sake of being thorough I feel the need to add that the Colts fourth receiver that year was a rookie named E.G. Green out of Florida State and he had 15 receptions for 177 yards and a touchdown. Beyond that nobody did anything really worth mentioning.

So if the Rams receivers combined for about 170 receptions, 2150 yards, and 16 TDs I think Rams fans would be ecstatic. I also don’t think there’s really much of a chance at all that the Rams receivers have that much productivity. Instead I’m going to give them about 150 catches, 1600 yards, and 10 TDs.

Tight Ends:

Colts: Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard, both fourth year players

Rams: I literally have no idea.

The Rams currently have six tight ends on their roster. Two of them are rookies (drafted in the fifth and sixth rounds) one is a second year player that hasn’t even seen an NFL snap, two of the remaining three have a combined 24 NFL receptions, and the last one has a stunning 28 all by himself. Daniel Fells is that last one, and I can only assume he’s the front runner. He’s a third year player and had 21 catches and three touchdowns last year. He’s a big tight end (6’4 – 272) so he provides a nice target in the red zone and I would presume adds a good boost to the blocking in the run game.

However, there is absolutely no chance of Fells or any of the other five (Darcy Johnson, Eric Butler, Billy Bajema, Fendi Onobun, and Michael Hoomanawanui) being anywhere near as productive as Dilger and Pollard. But just for good measure let’s look at their stats:

Player Rec Yds Y/R TD Lng R/G Y/G
Ken Dilger 31 303 9.8 1 27 1.9 18.9
Marcus Pollard 24 309 12.9 4 44 1.5 19.3
Totals: 55 612 11.1 5 44 3.4 38.3

Whichever players end up making the Rams 53-man roster as a tight end they won’t likely combine for those kinds of numbers. Fells is clearly a good target in the end zone so they will probably get a decent number of touchdown grabs though. I’ll give the Rams group of tight ends 20 receptions for 200 yards and 4 TDs.

Offensive Line:

Colts:

LT: Tarik Glenn, second year

LG: Steve McKinney, rookie

C:  Jay Leeuwenburg, seventh year

RG: Tony Mandarich, tenth year

RT: Adam Meadows, second year

Rams:

LT: Rodger Saffold, rookie

LG: Jacob Bell, eighth year

C: Jason Brown, seventh year

RG: Adam Goldberg, eighth year

RT: Jason Smith, second year

I don’t actually know which side Saffold and which side Smith will be starting on, but they should be the two starting tackles. Also the Colts had Larry Moore as their starting right guard for four games and he was a rookie, which means that for those games the Colts had a ridiculously young line. For the Rams right guard I’m not sure who will be starting;I think of Goldberg as more of a tackle but he certainly has the most experience. If it’s not him then it will probably be John Greco.

As everyone knows there aren’t a whole lot of stats for offensive linemen so I’m simply going to look at sacks, and yards per carry in the run game. The Colts ’98 o-line allowed 22 sacks and helped the ball carriers achieve 3.9 yards per carry. Last year the Rams gave up 44 sacks and had 4.3 yards per carry. I think the line will be improved this year, especially in pass blocking. If they can keep the sacks down around 20-25 rather than in the mid-40s and keep that yards per carry average up around 4.3 then that will be a huge step in the right direction and I don’t think it’s an unreasonable set of expectations to have.

Defense:

The Colts defense wasn’t exactly a group worth writing home about. They didn’t have a single starter that had ever been to a Pro Bowl, and only one of them ever even went on to achieve that accomplishment (Bertrand Berry made it in 2004). Amazingly, the Rams are also without a Pro Bowler on the defensive side of the ball now that they are without Leonard Little. Unlike the 98 Colts, however, the Rams have some young defensive players with a lot of promise. In fact 10 of their 11 projected starters were in the 05 rookie class or later.

Let’s take a look at how last year’s Rams defense did compared to that 98 Colts defense:

Team Pts Yds TD Pass Yds Pass TD Int Sacks Rush Yds Rush TD Y/A TO TO Diff
Colts 98 Defense 444 5836 47 3266 27 8 38 2570 20 4.7 19 -14
Rams 09 Defense 436 5965 46 3764 22 8 25 2201 24 4.4 20 -13

As you can see the teams were pretty similar defensively. The only stat with a significant difference was the Colts ability to get to the quarterback and create sacks, but it seems that they paid the price in how many touchdowns they allowed through the air. If the Rams defense manages to improve much at all from last year and generate a few more sacks (two things that are likely to happen with the young defense having one more year of experience) then they will be better than the Colts 98 defense.

It appears that Spagnuolo has confidence in this young unit and thinks that he’ll be able to teach them up just fine, this is evident to me because they spent only one of their first five draft picks this year on a defensive player, and that was when they took Jerome Murphy (CB, South Florida) in the third round. It looks to me as though they have seen teams, like the Colts, that have had success by building a high firepower offense while not spending too many high draft picks on defense, and are now trying to duplicate that process.

Special Teams:

Colts:

Kicker: Mike Vanderjagt, Rookie

Punter: Chris Gardocki, Eighth year

Return Man: Aaron Bailey, Fifth year

Rams:

Kicker: Josh Brown, Eighth year

Punter: Donnie Jones, Seventh year

Return Man: Mardy Gilyard, Rookie

As I mentioned before both teams are very happy with their punter. Vandgerjagt came in as a rookie and hit 27 of 31, and only missing once from within 50 yards and he made all 23 of his extra point attempts. Aaron Bailey was your basic, average return man. He averaged 9.3 yards on punt returns and 22.3 on kick returns, he had no touchdowns, his longest return was 44 yards, and he had two fumbles. Josh Brown is certainly capable of having a year similar to Vanderjagt’s rookie year, and I fully expect Gilyard to be better than Bailey in every statistical category, while Jones will continue to do some fine punting just as Gardocki did.

On the whole I think it’s incredible how similar these two teams are. Who knows, maybe in 2011 the Rams will go 13-3 just like the Colts did in 1999. Priority numero uno for this young Rams team is to stay healthy. If Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson are able to stay of the injury report then I believe they will give St Louis fans hope for the future.

****************************************************************

UPDATE:

I just looked at a projected Rams depth chart on the Turf Show Times and they have things shaking out in a slightly different way than what I used when writing this post and they certainly know a whole lot more about what’s going on in St Louis than I do. It’s nothing too significant and the parallels between the two teams still hold true but I figured for the sake of being accurate I would provide the link to their projected depth chart:

http://www.turfshowtimes.com/2010/4/25/1443183/taking-a-look-at-the-2010-depth


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16 Responses

  1. I like this post. Well done, Wellerman.

    • Thanks, Erin! It took a TON of research but it was really interesting so I didn’t notice how much time it took, lol.

  2. Great post!

  3. Awesome post man, this must’ve taken for ever!! I think I’ve put much less effort into my college papers!

    I hope for your sake he ends up being Peyton, but I won’t believe it for a few years! There’s a much higher chance he ends up being a Alex Smith or Joey Harrington…

    • Lord I hope not. While I don’t think he’s going to be as good as Peyton (I mean, who really predicts that someone will be better than the greatest QB ever), I think he’s going to be very good. I’ll take very good.

      Just no injuries, please.

  4. Yeah, no reason to get your hopes through the roof since nobody is Peyton! Hopefully he is pretty good for the Rams sake. If he’s not, you could be stuck like my raiders have been the last few years…

  5. Pretty cool article, one correction though. It’s going to be Jason Smith’s second year, not third.

    • I should have caught this…that’s my bad. I was trying to text him from work about this, so that’s my excuse.

  6. its only Jason Smith’s second year not third he was just drafted last year first round second pick

  7. Good catch, guys! I’ll fix it as soon as I leave this comment.

    • Heck that’s even one more thing the two teams had in common, and I still messed it up, lol.

  8. This is an amazing post! Kudos to Bryan for coming up with the idea and a big hats off to Weller for the time spent comparing these two teams. I think your nickname needs to be Statman Ross. Congrats on the props you are getting from other sports blogs, too. Great stuff, guys!

  9. [...] a striking resemblance to another Colts team, one with a freshly minted rookie QB in 1998. This post at Weller and Bryan’s Sports Blog, an absolute must read, takes a look at the 2010 Rams and 1998 Colts, seasons when each team took a [...]

  10. Excellent post Weller! Well researched, well constructed and quite intriguing – especially the uncanny similarities each team has with the other. I’ll be pulling for the Rams to weather 2010 and start a march toward a Super Bowl crown just like the Colts!

    Keep up the good gentlemen!

  11. [...] Louis Rams – The Rams do indeed have hope for the future, but I wouldn’t set the expectations too high for this season.  As indicated by the previous [...]

  12. Great Idea. Love it.

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