Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Happened to Marvin?

As I was writing the previous article, I was planning on combining two ideas into one post. Well, not surprisingly, I finished the stats padding portion and had no room for anything else.

The inspiration for both articles came from watching the Patriots eviscerate the Bears in Chicago last weekend. How many people were pumped for some NFL football in a blizzard? I was definitely one. To make a long story short, it was a rout from the very beginning, and I ended up getting a lot more studying done for my Constitutional Law exam (Tom, my grades thank you). Right before I gave up on the game, the announcers dropped a stat that shocked me. The Patriots were 10-0 under Bill Belichick in the snow (11-0 now).
 Wait, the "tuck rule" doesn't fit
in this article's theme? 

It dawned on me that Bill Belichick has to be considered the best poor weather coach in NFL history. How many times have the Patriots blown out an opponent in terrible conditions? Every time, it seems like the Patriots are better prepared and have much more mental toughness. I know all of my newfound enemies in New England are simultaneously screaming BRADY!!!!, but it's so much more than that. Sure, Brady is a very good QB in the snow, but the major damage in the Chicago game came from the defense and special teams. It's not a coincidence that you see opposing teams fumbling and struggling with the elements while the Patriots protect the football and take advantage of those mistakes. The only explanation for the Patriots' decade of snow dominance is great coaching.

Naturally, my immediate reaction was to think of the Colts and their playoff struggles in New England. The Patriots under Bill Belichick have the biggest home-field advantage in the NFL as long as the weather cooperates, so is it really a surprise that a dome team would lose at New England in a blizzard? That being said, I hope the Colts slip into the playoffs and get some Foxboro revenge this year.

Now that I'm done praising Bill Belichick (and have taken a shower to get rid of that dirty feeling), I'll move into the main part of the article.

Maybe it was coincidence, but no more than a few hours after I began thinking about the Colts playoff struggles, I stumbled onto this astonishing set of statistics.

Credit to Scott Kacsmar from Pro-football-reference.com for compiling these playoff stats

Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison: 62/123 (50.4%), 811 yards, 6.59 YPA, 2 TDs, 8 INTs, 49.9 PR

Peyton Manning to everyone else (98-08): 286/442 (64.7%), 3397 yards, 7.69 YPA, 20 TDs, 9 INTs, 94.6 PR

Peyton Manning to everyone else including 2009 (after Harrison retired): 373/569 (65.6%), 4353 yards, 7.65 YPA, 26 TDs, 11 INTs, 95.8 PR

Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison (During 2006 Super Bowl run): 15/33 (45.5%), 193 yards, 5.85 YPA, 0 TDs, 5 INTs, 24.7 PR

Manning to anyone except Marvin (During 2006 Super Bowl run)*: 82/119 (68.9%), 841 yards, 7.07 YPA, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 90.4 PR
*Minus 1 spike vs. Chiefs

As you can see from those stats, Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning were horrible together in the playoffs, but let's go through the possible explanations.

Peyton has been bad in the postseason and Harrison's stats were just evidence of that.
It's pretty obvious that this isn't true. All you have to do is look at the stats. Notice that taking Harrison out of the equation, Peyton's career stats have been better in the playoffs than in the regular season, across the board. Pretty amazing.

Harrison and Manning just weren't on the same page in the playoffs. 
This one is very unlikely considering the great chemistry they had shown throughout their careers in the regular season. I don't have the regular season stats for Manning to Harrison, but the fact that they hold the NFL record for most career TDs by a QB-WR combo speaks for itself. 

Peyton was just forcing too many balls to Harrison
This definitely had at least a role in the struggles. Harrison was the #1, and he was going to get his targets. There is no doubt that Peyton made some bad throws to Marvin that were intercepted, but it's hard to explain how he was his normal self when throwing to everyone else. 

Harrison was the #1 WR, and defenses in the playoffs tend to focus on taking them out of the game.
Well sure, defenses do TRY to take every team's #1 WR out of the game. That's always their strategy. The difference with Harrison is that they almost completely succeeded over his career. To prove that recent #1 WRs have had plenty of success in the playoffs, take a look at these stats. 

Brady to Branch - 41/65 for 629 yards, 2 TDs, 105.2 PR

Roethlisberger to Ward - 46/71 for 691 yards, 4 TDs, INT, 109.5 PR

Obviously, the other QBs have been able to trust their top guys in the playoffs, and those receivers aren't first-ballot Hall of Famers like Harrison. 

Harrison either never showed up or was over-matched in the playoffs.
To me, this seems to be the most likely explanation. Harrison was a small guy who relied on his precision in route running to get open. When the playoffs rolled around, the best defenses in the league focused on being physical with him at the line to negate his route running skills. On the other hand, teams didn't just start doing this in the playoffs. Harrison was dominant during the regular season even though teams always focused on him and knew that they needed to disrupt his route running. So what changed at playoff time? 

Any serious Colts fan noticed his disappearance in almost every playoff game of his career, but these stats are a surprise to even me. As much as I don't like taking shots at Marvin Harrison, his performances in the playoffs were truly awful. While Harrison was one of the best regular season WRs ever, he somehow didn't take that ability into the playoffs.   Your guess is as good as mine as to why that might be, but it's safe to say that the Colts struggles in the playoffs were far from being just Peyton Manning's fault. When your best (and future Hall of Fame) weapon constantly disappears, it's a lot harder to carry over the regular season success to the playoffs.

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