Good news first. Peyton Manning leads all quarterbacks in passing yards with 1,645 and is also averaging and gaudy 9.1 yards per attempt with a passer rating of 114.1, which represents one of the best starts to a season of his storied career.
It's impressive that the Colts and Manning have accomplished this level of production without starting receiver Anthony Gonzalez, who was injured in the first quarter of Week 1 and has yet to return.
What is more impressive is how well young receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie have stepped up given that Indianapolis does not have a safety net in place if they fail — Taj Smith and Sam Giguere are the only other options at receiver and they're both on the practice squad, so Collie and Garcon could have tanked or not given maximum effort and still retained their roster spots.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the transition to the post-Marvin Harrison/non-Anthony Gonzalez era has been Dallas Clark, who leads the team in receptions and is second in targets and yards to Reggie Wayne, who has fully established himself as the alpha dog of this group. Given that Collie, Garcon, and Clark have stepped up, it is possible that Gonzalez may find himself out of a job by the time he gets back, especially considering the strides that Collie has made so far in his rookie campaign.
But, regardless of whether Gonzalez retains his spot in the starting lineup or not, Indianapolis is going to need to throw an awful lot — they currently rank seventh in the league in total pass attempts — in order to get everyone the balls and targets that they have become accustomed to.
What's interesting is that this is the third-most passing attempts that Manning has had in his career through the first five games. The only occasions where he had more than his current 181 attempts were 2000 and 2008. It's interesting to note, though, that the fourth-most attempts he made through the first five games was in 2006, when the Colts went on to win the Super Bowl.
However, personal and team success during the regular season seems to be tied to fewer pass attempts by Manning — as he only attempted 497 passes in his historic 2004 season, 453 passes in 2005 and 515 passes in 2007, which were the two most recent 13-3 seasons of his career.
The common thread in regular and postseason success seems to be balance, which Indianapolis has not found yet this season.
If the seven carries for minus-three yards by Manning are taken out of the equation, the Colts have run the ball only 111 times for an average of 3.6 yards, numbers that rank 28th and 28th, respectively.
Joseph Addai leads Colts in carries with 62 and has averaged only 3.4 yards per carry with three touchdowns, but rookie Donald Brown has not fared much better, with 44 carries for a 3.5 average and two touchdowns. The two backs will likely split time throughout the rest of the season, with Brown slowly gaining more and more carries as the year rolls on in order to keep Addai fresh for the postseason.
The issue with the running game so far this season has not only been the distribution of pass plays versus run plays — it currently stands at 61.9 percent passes and 38.1 percent rushes — it breaks down to a particular point of consternation from last season, being that Indianapolis could not gain two yards on third and two in the Wild Card Round of last year's playoffs. The fact that the Colts have held considerable leads in the second halves of the last three games makes the run-pass numbers that much more difficult to swallow.
It makes no sense to run the ball instead of throwing it when you are averaging 9.1 yards per pass attempt — really to all levels, there is no part of the field and no depth to which Indianapolis has been stopped consistently — and averaging 3.3 yards per rush attempt, but, later in the season, it will make a difference. As the yards become harder to gain, the competition becomes stiffer, and it becomes necessary to gain three yards on third and tow, the running game will become more and more critical.
In October and even November, there is very little to worry about. By the time December, January, and, hopefully, February roll around, balance will be key, just like it was in 2006.
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