Trying to go beyond 49? Colts boldly take aim
Manning, offense want to surpass record TD total
By Mike Chappell
Any chance Peyton Manning would allow even a shred of complacency to slip in after fashioning the greatest season by a quarterback in NFL history vanished during an early-morning March film session with Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore and quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell.
The tape, one of more than a dozen "cut-ups" designed to review Manning's 2004 season and lay the groundwork for '05, consisted not of his league-record 49 touchdowns, but of the missed opportunities.
"We counted 17 legitimate misses," Manning said, smiling sheepishly. "You say we threw a lot of touchdowns, but we should have thrown even more."
Well, at least more than 49.
Tight end Marcus Pollard dropped a no-doubt touchdown against Tennessee. Brandon Stokley muffed one against Oakland and, while running alone through the heart of Green Bay's secondary, saw a potential 72-yard touchdown ricochet off his facemask. In a loss at Kansas City, Manning passed for five touchdowns but could have had eight; three times in the first half he overthrew a wide-open Marvin Harrison.
"Let's be realistic," Moore said. "You're always going to leave some (touchdowns) on the field. But why can't we be better? We've got to be better."
That has been the explicit theme as Manning, Moore and Caldwell have met at 7:15 so many mornings during the offseason. Yes, 2004 was a fantasy football fan's wildest dream. The 49 touchdown passes. The 121.1 passer rating, another single-season NFL record. That eight-game stretch during which Manning passed for at least three touchdowns, including five consecutive games with at least four.
Manning conceded the Colts set the bar for passing excellence "pretty high" in 2004, and that exceeding it and satisfying a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? public will be a major challenge.
"I'm getting that a little bit in airports," Manning said. "You know, 'How many you going to throw (in '05)?' You can tell in their tone of voice if you don't throw over 50, it's going to be (a disappointment)."
Better every year
Manning said he isn't obsessed by such external expectations. He is obsessed, as always, with taking his game to another level, which he has a history of doing.
Since enduring a difficult 2001 campaign -- 26 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, an 84.1 passer rating -- Manning has elevated his game each season, being named league Most Valuable Player in 2003 and '04. His touchdown output has bounced from 27 to 29 to 49; the interceptions have dipped from 19 in 2002 to 10 each of the past two seasons. His completion percentage has improved in each of his first seven seasons, from 56.7 as a rookie in 1998 to the club-record 67.6 last year.
"He didn't do very much wrong last year," said Caldwell, who's worked with Manning since 2002. "But he challenges himself to be even better."
That's the basis for the early-morning video sessions. The cut-ups run the gamut: touchdown passes, interceptions, sacks allowed, the missed touchdowns, throws to the left, throws to the right, plays out of the shotgun formation, play-action, first down, third down, specific routes.
One cut-up might reveal that on a certain pass pattern, Manning completed 15-of-20 passes for seven TDs. Moore's reaction?
"We didn't call that play enough."
Even though Manning has suffered only 20 interceptions the past two seasons, coach Tony Dungy said there's room for improvement there. Of last season's 10, six occurred in the red zone.
That's the reason the offensive brain trust makes certain to discuss what went wrong as well as what went right.
"I'm very cognizant of both," Manning said. "If you go in there and say, 'OK, what did we do wrong?' you come out and feel like you beat yourself up.
"At the same time, you say, 'Hey, these are things we're doing really well. Let's keep this.' "
History indicates encores after huge quarterbacking seasons aren't easy. After establishing Manning's target number with 48 touchdowns in 1984, Miami's Dan Marino had 30 the next season. San Francisco's Steve Young set the NFL mark with a 112.8 passer rating in 1994, but he slipped to 92.3 in '95.
No quarterback has posted consecutive 40-touchdown seasons, but Moore isn't betting against Manning.
Fifty, or more?
"Why not?" Moore asked. "Nobody had 49 until last year."
Two reasons for optimism: Manning's banner year came despite him attempting a career-low 497 passes and playing the equivalent of 141/2 games. (He took only three snaps in the regular-season finale against Denver because it didn't affect playoff position, and he sat out the fourth quarter of two other games because the Colts were so far ahead.)
Plus, with the exception of Pollard, who relocated to Detroit in March, Manning's playmaking options return intact: wide receivers Harrison, Stokley and Reggie Wayne, running back Edgerrin James and tight end Dallas Clark.
Then there's the continuity of consultants: Caldwell, Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Moore and Mudd have been coaching cornerstones since Manning's arrival in 1998.
"Stability, experience and continuity are great factors," Moore said. "And Peyton's a great quarterback. Hands down, he's special.
"There's no reason we can't be more productive. We've still got a long ways to go. We're never satisfied."
In 2005, Peyton Manning will try to improve upon the best season in NFL history by a quarterback. A year ago, he broke Dan Marino's NFL record with 49 touchdown passes and smashed Steve Young's league mark with a 121.1 rating. Here's a look at how those two followed up their record-breaking seasons:
Dan Marino Steve Young P. Manning Season 1984 1985 1994 1995 2004 Games/starts 16/16 16/16 16/16 11/11 16/16 Team record 14-2 12-4 13-3 11-5 12-4 Completions 362 336 324 299 336 Attempts 564 567 461 447 497 Pct. 64.2 59.3 70.3 66.9 67.6 Yards 5,084 4,137 3,969 3,200 4,557 Touchdowns 48 30 35 20 49 Interceptions 17 21 10 11 10 Rating 108.9 84.1 112.8 92.3 121.1
Note: Regular-season statistics
Call Star reporter Mike Chappell at (317) 444-6830.
This was in RATS a few days ago. Thought I'd post it.