Taking the Colts on a ride

Pro football: Offensive coordinator Tom Moore has put the giddyap into an offense that's lengths ahead of the field.

Pro Football

December 17, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Everyone knows Peyton Manning, the 28-year-old quarterback who is just three touchdown passes from eclipsing Dan Marino's single-season NFL record.

Yet almost no one outside football knows Tom Moore, the 66-year-old offensive coordinator and self-described curmudgeon who molded Manning and gave the Indianapolis Colts' prolific offense his unique stamp.

"He's the man behind the curtain," said Craig Kelley, the team's vice president for public relations, finding an apt allegory in The Wizard of Oz cinema classic.

Indeed, Moore has worked wonders behind the scenes all 28 years of his NFL career, coaching quarterbacks and receivers, most valuable players and record-breakers.

He had Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rich Gannon and Cris Carter with the Minnesota Vikings, Barry Sanders and Herman Moore with the Detroit Lions.

And for the past seven years in Indianapolis, he has coached Manning and Marvin Harrison in an ever-expanding cast of all-stars.

Along the way, Moore has earned the respect of his peers for moving his O's into positions the X's couldn't defend.

"He's about as creative and flexible and visionary as anybody I've ever been around," Colts president Bill Polian said.

With Manning at the throttle, running back Edgerrin James fully recovered from 2001 knee surgery, and Moore drawing up game plans, the Colts are threatening several prominent records in their pursuit of the Super Bowl.

Manning could match or surpass Marino's record of 48 touchdown passes Sunday night when the Colts meet the Ravens at the RCA Dome.

The Colts' 454 points scored are on pace to break the Vikings' 1998 record of 556 points. Their 59 touchdowns are on pace to topple the Miami Dolphins' 1984 record of 70.

"It's the combination of a lot of things," Moore said. "It's the combination of another year's experience with the system, and I think the fact we have more people [healthy] than we had last year. Edgerrin is coming off another year of rehabilitation on his knee and has played exceptionally well."

It's the culmination of a seven-year project that Polian launched when he made Manning the first pick in the 1998 draft ahead of Ryan Leaf and brought him together with Moore.

"The offense is entirely his creation," Polian said of Moore. "It's as original as the no-huddle was Teddy Marchibroda's creation [in Buffalo]. It's evolved because in Tom's incredible vision, he can see what Peyton's capable of."

When Moore put Manning through a pre-draft workout in 1998, Polian saw a quarterback with no limits. Manning quickly dispelled the mediocre-arm rap attached to his resume.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, we saw he had an exceptionally strong arm and was exceptionally accurate," Polian said. "His arm was stronger than Leaf's. Tom worked him out and Peyton astounded us.

"Knowing what we had, Tom was free to construct an offense that would maximize Peyton's talents, which means he can make every throw."

It is an offense that traced its roots to the Steelers' two-back system under Chuck Noll, and to the Lions' one-back attack under Wayne Fontes.

"You try to get your best people on the field and make sure you take those people into account," Moore said. "At Detroit, I had [running back] Barry Sanders and I had three good receivers - Johnnie Morton, Brett Perriman and Herman Moore. We drafted a tight end and went exclusively to one back and tried to adapt stuff to what these guys did. Through the course of years, it evolved."

The Lions made the playoffs two of Tom Moore's three seasons and in 1995, Herman Moore set a league record with 123 catches.

Seven years later in Indianapolis, in a refined version of Tom Moore's offense, Harrison shattered the record with 143 catches.

In that offense, Manning is the league's only quarterback with five consecutive 4,000-yard seasons (soon to be six) and Harrison the only receiver with four consecutive 100-catch seasons.

The Colts have gained more than 5,000 total yards six years in a row and last season scored a franchise-record 447 points.

To be certain, Moore has a lot of talent to work with. The Colts have five first-round draft picks in the starting lineup and a sixth who's made a significant impact (tight end Dallas Clark has five touchdown catches).

Manning is the one who makes it all work. His passer rating of 126.3 leads the NFL - it would crush Steve Young's existing mark of 112.8 - and he has thrown only nine interceptions.

His work ethic and film study are legendary already, and his ability to communicate with receivers at the line of scrimmage is uncanny.

"A lot of it's unsaid, because these guys have been together quite a while now," Moore said. "Some of it's false communication, too, and [the defense] can't determine which it is. Then there's some communication that goes on that's kind of a sixth sense."

Brandon Stokley, the Colts' slot receiver and a former Raven, said the communication factor is big because it negates crowd noise on the road.

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