During last Sunday night's Broncos vs. Steelers game (AKA, the triumphant return of Peyton Manning), Al Michaels mentioned that Manning was 7-1 all time against Dick LeBeau defenses. This got me wondering, what is Mike Nolan's record against Manning as a defensive coordinator?
Goose egg. That's right, a big ol' skunk run of 0-5. But take a look at the numbers and it's not as bad as it seems. Actually, it's 1-5. I missed that the Jets and Colts played twice in 2000, and the Jets won the second game at home. Still, not great. I've updated the chart and made some corrections to the numbers below.
|Year||Team||Opp||Result||Score||Comp||Att||Yds||TD||INT||Rush Att||Rush Yds||Rush TDs||FGs|
|1999||Redskins||Colts||Loss||21 - 24||23||27||298||2||1||23||88||1||1|
|2000||Jets||Colts||Loss||15 - 23||21||35||210||1||0||38||148||1||3|
|2000||Jets||Colts||Win||27 - 17||27||51||339||2||2||12||49||0||1|
|2002||Ravens||Colts||Loss||20 - 22||30||40||284||1||0||19||60||1||5|
|2004||Ravens||Colts||Loss||10 - 20||20||33||249||1||0||24||67||1||2|
|2009||Broncos||Colts||Loss||16 - 28||20||42||220||4||3||28||92||0||0|
I blanched at first, but look at the numbers. Manning's teams never scored more than 30 points on Nolan's defenses, and averaged a human-like 62% completion rate and 7.02 yards per attempt. Nolan's defenses bore down on the run, only allowing 100+ yards in one game and holding Manning's running backs to 3.5 yards per carry. And Nolan's teams also prevented touchdowns, forcing Manning and his Colts to kick 12 field goals in those games, including the weird 2002 Ravens-Colts game that had five FGs. In his one win against Manning, the Colts were horribly imbalanced, throwing 51 passes (completing 27) and only rushing 12 times.
This is why Falcons fans should feel a little more positive about this chart: look at the points scored by Nolan's teams: 21, 15, 27, 20, 10, and 16 points. The quarterbacks on those teams? Brad Johnson, 37-year old Vinny Testaverde, Chris Redman (!), Kyle Boller, and Kyle Orton. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Nolan will go into Monday night's game against Manning's Broncos with the best QB he's ever had on the other side of the ball.
I think we can expect Nolan to try to limit run plays to low-yardage gains, force Manning to make a lot of short yardage throws, and clamp down on his ability to score touchdowns once within field goal range. The Falcons defensive personnel is certainly not that of the '02 and '04 Ravens, but if they can even come close to executing past Nolan results, the suddenly exciting Atlanta offense has a decent chance at scoring enough points to send Manning and the Broncos home with a loss.