Comparing the 2013 San Diego Chargers to the 2006 Indianapolis Colts

Andy Lyons

What started out as a thought exercise turned into a surprising comparison.

Our own Jason Peters came up with a great comparison on the similarities between the 2013 San Diego Chargers and the 2006 (Super Bowl Winning) Indianapolis Colts. I wanted to dig deeper and see just how similar the two teams are.

Let's start on the side of the ball that allowed both of these teams to even make the playoffs: offense. First off, let's compare the teams as a whole in the top 5 categories.

Statistic 2006 Colts 2013 Chargers
Offensive DVOA Rank 1 3
Adjusted Line Yards Rank 5 3
Adjusted Sack Rate Rank 1 8
Yards Per Play 5.8 5.9
Yards Per Drive 41.03 40.13

DVOA, Adjusted Line Yards, and Adjusted Sack Rate are stats courtesy of Football Outsiders.

Wow.

That Colts team had a lot of firepower, and I'll get into that in a little bit, but the two teams are shockingly similar. In short, Adjusted Line Yards a formula that attempts to take into account how many yards the Offensive Line is responsible for generating. Basically, both lines were very good at run blocking. (If you want to read more in depth about Adjusted Line Yards, head on over to Football Outsiders.)

Peyton Manning's pocket presence is as good as I've ever seen, so I'm not surprised to see the Colts ranked first in sack rate. Both teams were first in the league in their respective years in yards per drive. That to me speaks to the consistency of the offense, how consistently they can move the ball.

Then you have to account for pace, something "total yards" doesn't. When you think of those Colts teams led by Manning, you think of high–pace teams. In 2006, the Colts averaged 66 plays per game. This years Chargers? 65.7. The similarities speak for themselves, which leads me to the individual match–ups.

The Quarterback

I'll show you the numbers, but they won't paint the whole picture of what each quarterback means to their team's offense. Not only are the schemes comparable, but both offenses are built around getting to the line quickly and making adjustments based on what the pre–snap read tells you. By getting to the line, the quarterback can bluff the snap count, get the defense to show blitz, and audible out. See: Ladarius Green's touchdown on Sunday.

Statistic Manning Rivers
DYAR 1st 2nd
DVOA 1st 3rd
TD/INT 31/9 32/11
Net Yards per ATT 7.55 7.54
Completion % 65 69.5
Game Winning Drives 4 4

Simply put, DYAR is means a QB with more total value, while DVOA means a QB with more value per play. Football Outsiders does a better job of explaining DYAR and DVOA more fully if you want to learn more.

The only reason Rivers isn't number one is because Peyton is still playing. Net yards per attempt just takes away the sack yardage, which is fair. Both had special seasons and led their teams to 4 game–winning drives. You could argue Rivers would've had 6 had Marcus Gilchrist caught the interception versus the Titans and if the Chargers had gained just one yard versus Washington. But,  no need to dwell on the "what ifs."

Skill Players

The only thing I'll mention about the running backs, isn't the fact that they both went over 1,000 yards, but both Joseph Addai and Ryan Mathews are always nicked up. I just thought that was interesting in comparing both teams.

As for the receivers, Manning relied heavily on Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Those two guys accounted for exactly 50% of Manning's completions. Rivers has primarily relied on 3 targets this year: Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen, and Danny Woodhead. That trio have accounted for 59% of Rivers completions.

Going back to DVOA, both teams have top–5 WR's in this category too. In 2006 Wayne and Harrison were ranked 2nd and 4th respectively. This year, Eddie Royal and Keenan Allen are ranked 4th & 5th, respectively.

Defense

Onto the side of the ball that is the clear weakness for both teams.

Statistic 2006 Colts 2013 Chargers
Defensive DVOA Rank 25th 32nd
Adjusted Line Yards Rank 31st 32nd
Adjusted Sack Rate Rank 21st 15th
Yards Per Play 5.4 6.1
Yards Per Drive 33.77 36

In each of these five categories, both teams are in the bottom fourth of the league.

In yards per drive, the Colts were 32nd, and the Chargers are 30th. From a yards per play standpoint, Indianapolis was 25th, while the Chargers are 30th. The Colts weren't historically bad, but they weren't really good at anything. Sure, the Colts were 13th against the pass, but those numbers are highly skewed. Teams knew they could run all over the Colts, so they did. They also wanted to keep Manning off the field so they tried to win the time of possession.

So what changed? How did both teams get better at the end of the season on defense?

The Return of the Superstar

For the final four games of the season, both teams got back a superstar.

Bob Sanders, who went on the be the Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, returned week 14 of the 2006 season. In 3 of those 4 games, from a DVOA standpoint, the Colts played their 2nd, 3rd, & 8th best games.

Obviously, Melvin Ingram isn't a superstar around the league. For this specific group? Superstar doesn't do justice for what Ingram means to the Chargers defense.

Ingram's return goes beyond the numbers. When Ingram returned Week 14, he gave the team a spark. He gave the team athleticism is didn't have. Like Sanders, Ingram elevates the players around him. Do you think it's a coincidence Kendall Reyes has returned to last year's form in the last month? It's not.

In 4 of the 5 games since his return, the same Chargers defense that allowed 20 points in 9 of the 12 games previously, has allowed an average of 16 points per game. To put that into perspective, Carolina was 2nd in the NFL allowing 15 points per game. Yes, Ingram is a big deal.

In fact, the 2013 Chargers defense has been better than the 2006 Colts in their respective final four games (using DVOA as the metric).

What Does This Mean?

It means there's a chance. The Chargers defense was porous for 75% of the season. While it hasn't been great, we've seen slight improvement in the defense. It's 2014, defense no longer wins championships. You need timely stops. In the last month or so, the defense has done that.

If this trend continues, this team has a chance to keep the run up. This offense is that special. I'm not advocating they're going to win the Super Bowl like the 2006 Colts did, but I'm saying there are a lot of similarities to the style of play. These similarities lead to success. Jason hit the nail on the head with this comparison, this team has a chance to make a run.

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