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Deconstructing a Whupping

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First, I'd like to thank Big Blue Shoe, from the fine Colts blog Stampede Blue, for participating in the cross-blogging. I enjoyed hearing about the game from an outsider's perspective, and I hope you did as well.

For the record, in case anybody is wondering, Indianapolis hasn't lost at home in the month of September since 2002. They haven't lost in September since 2004.

Still, we don't need any history lessons, advanced metrics or fancy colors to see that the Colts dominated the line of scrimmage last night:

Score Tot. Yds. Pass Off. Yds./Pass Rush Off. Yds./Rush TOP
Saints 10 293 187 4.6 106 4.1 31:45
Colts 41 452 288 9.6 164 5.7 28:15

The Colts won because they could run the ball and hit long passes (often at the expense of Jason David). Meanwhile, the Saints moved the ball early, but their offense seemed to turn after a dropped 3rd-down pass by Reggie Bush. The Colts outplayed the Saints on both sides of the ball. They outcoached the Saints. Peyton Manning dominated the commercial breaks. Their fans outcheered us. We all share in the blame for the Saints' loss. Even Kelly Clarkson had an off day (AND THAT NEVER HAPPENS).

At least one writer was happy to see the Saints lose. No, this article was not tongue-in-cheek. Perhaps he's right, perhaps we all needed a serving of humble pie.

Still, it's far too early to call this season a lost cause. And next week is not a "Must Win."

(I mean, I know it's a TV station, but will WWLTV let anybody write for them? If so, I need to get signed up for that.)

There are legitimate questions about the playcalling on both sides of the ball, the scheme that didn't provide Jammal Brown with much help and the run defense that allowed the Colts to gain yardage at will. The Saints won't face another passing offense like this for a while, but they must stop the run to survive in the NFC South. They must somehow re-fashion a competent, consistent running game (southernsaint suggests they use more than one of the five tight ends on the roster, give help where it is obviously needed and open-up the playbook a bit more; I'm inclined to agree) to open up the play action pass.

Moreover, they must solve these problems before they face another Tampa-2 defense next week against the eponymous division rival.

I think the prevailing reaction of Saints' Nation was one of shock. After an offseason of imagining a high-flying offense, then a preseason that only provided more hope, it was stunning to see the team perform so ineptly last night. Not only that, but the Saints seemed to have momentum for most of the second quarter, before the Colts stomped them.

Let's look a closer look at the first half. There were a few momentum shifts: the recovered fumble and subsequent return gave the Saints momentum on both sides of the ball (the Moore return helped). A dropped third-down pass by Bush forced the Saints to settle for a field goal instead of giving them 1st and goal inside the Colts' 15. The Colts executed a 2-minute drill at the end of the first half that got their offense on track.

Following a Colts drive that stalled ...

The Saints moved the ball reasonably well on their first drive, converting three 3rd-downs, but failing to gain a meaningful chunk of yardage after their final conversion. As the chart below shows, after the Saints converted a 3rd and 3 from the Colts' 30 on a Deuce McAllister run, their drive stalled. Following the McAllister conversion, on 1st-down Brees was pressured by Freeney and threw an incompletion intended for Henderson (my notes say Bush, but I defer to the gamelog). On 2nd-down McAllister got the call on a draw and gained four. And on 3rd and 6 the Saints came out in a bunch formation, handed the ball to Reggie, who was tackled for a three-yard-loss. Mare missed the 52-yard field goal wide right. At that point, he had missed four in a row, dating back to the preseason.

The Colts took over on their own 42 and marched down the field to score. Addai ran thrice for 14 yards and Manning threw four times for the remaining 45, including a 27-yard touchdown to Harrison that may have involved a miscommunication between David and Bullocks. [tangent] Let's not make excuses for Jason David, but it was his first professional game in a non-Tampa-2 defensive scheme. He has the physical tools to be a solid man-to-man corner, but he was given about as difficult challenge as there is last night in the duo of Wayne and Harrison.[end tangent] Anywho, the Colts marched 58 yards in 8 plays over 4:32 and in my notes I wrote the following:

This is the storm. Weather it.

Which the Saints did, to the tune of a three-and-out that included the rare Brees-to-Brees completion on third-down. If this was baseball, I think it would've been scored a 1-4-1, or something. Look, this is the NFL. We all would have liked to see the Saints score on the possession immediately following the Colts' score, but that's not always realistic. Instead, the Saints scored on the Colts' next possession.

And it's a good thing that Jason David stripped the ball from Reggie Wayne, because the Colts were marching toward another score. That drive began with 6 consecutive runs, covering 7,10,8,8,3 and 4 yards respectively. On 3rd and 3, from the Saints' 42, the Saints showed a blitz, so Manning completed a short pass to Reggie Wayne, who was stripped by David for the returned fumble.

Just like that, the momentum was in the Saints' grasp.

After the Saints' scored, Mare's kickoff bounced through the end-zone and the Colts took possession at their own 20. Manning began the drive by throwing deep to Wayne, who was effectively covered by David (huzzah!). On second-down, the Colts handed to Addai, who was gang tackled for a 2-yard-gain. On 3rd and 8 Manning is eventually pressured by Smith, and threw a long pass to Gonzalez that was incomplete. Mission accomplished, it was a three-and-out.

Momentum being the temptress that she is, Lance Moore fielded Hunter Smith's punt at the Saints' 18, slipped a tackle and returned it to the Saints' 48. Now may have been a good time for a shot toward the end zone. Instead, the Saints ran McAllister up the middle for 6, had an incompletion to Colston, then got a Stecker run for 13 -- on third-down. 1st and 10 from the Colts' 33, again, not a bad time for a shot toward the end zone. I mean, Stecker's just run for 13, the Saints were dictating the pace, and the Saints ran ... an end around to Colston for 3 yards. Well okay, maybe they were trying to set something up. Second down was a Bush run for 7 and the first-down at the Colts' 23. Short pass to Henderson made it second and 5 from the Colts' 18. Short run by McAllister made it third and 3 from the Colts' 16. This is the closest that the Saints got to the Indianapolis end zone.

Saints Offense on 3rd Down (Gold=Good)
Location To Gain Call Outcome Note
Drive 1 Saints 25 5 Throw to Colston Gain 9
Drive 1 Saints 44 1 Run Bush Gain 7 End Around
Drive 1 Colts 30 3 McAllister Run Gain 5
Drive 1 Colts 31 6 Bush Run Lose 3
Drive 2 Saints 28 3 Throw to Brees Gain 1.5 Deflected back to Brees
Drive 3 Colts 46 4 Stecker Run Gain 13
Drive 3 Colts 16 3 Swing Pass Bush Incomplete Drop
Drive 4 Own 45 5 Screen Bush Lose 6
END 1ST HALF END 1ST HALF
Drive 1 Own 40 3 Bootleg Pass Incomplete Batted Down
Drive 2 Own 18 12 Shotgun Pass Lose 5 False Start Brown
Drive 2 Own 13 17 Run Bush Gain 9 Draw Play
Drive 3 Own 47 IN Run Bush Gain 2 Broken Tackle
Drive 3 50 10 Throw to Johnson Lose 5 False Start Stinchcomb
Drive 3 Own 45 15 Pass INT
Drive 4 Own 25 5 Pass Gain 4 Brees Scrambles
Drive 6 Own 18 3 Run Bush Lose 1
Drive 6 Own 17 4 Throw to Johnson Gain 9 4th Down
Drive 6 Own 45 1 Run Bush Gain 2 Should have been more
END GAME END GAME END GAME

The fateful third-down play was a swing pass, one that would have allowed the Saints to convert the first, had Reggie held on. On the play, you may recall, there was some confusion on the Saints' part about where to line up. Instead of calling a timeout, Brees hiked the ball with about 4 seconds on the play clock. Would it have been different had Brees called a timeout? Possibly. Would it have been different if Reggie had caught the ball? Certainly. So the Saints settled for the 3, even though they had moved the ball reasonably well. The point is, before the drop, the Saints had the Colts on their heels. After the drop, the Colts began to find their rhythm.

The Saints' defense stopped the Colts following the field goal, with some nice plays made by Harper and Fujita to force incompletions. After Hunter Smith shanked his punt, it was 1st and 10 from the Saints' 40, with 4:31. Here was the sequence of plays:

  • 1st and 10 @ New Orleans 40: 5-yard penalty (false start).
  • 1st and 15 @ New Orleans 35: Toss-sweep left to Bush for gain of 3.
  • 2nd and 12 @ New Orleans 38: Play-action pass to Johnson for gain of 6.
  • 3rd and 6 @ New Orleans 44: Screen to Bush for loss of 6.

Poor execution and a bad penalty. The screen pass to Bush may not have been the best decision, but it was only a one-man screen -- a play that was probably intended for somebody else that Brees was forced to check down.

The Saints were forced to punt, which was fair caught at the Colts' 15.

The Colts moved 70 yards in 75 seconds to tie the score, and found their offensive momentum.

With 0:29 left in the half, Brees completed a 13-yard pass to Colston for a first down. The Saints' next first down came on a McAllister 2nd-down-run for 13 yards with 5:51 remaining in the 3rd quarter. By this time, the score was 24-10:

New Orleans' 2 drives: 6 plays, 7 yards, 2:42.
Indianapolis' 2 drives: 12 plays, 141 yards, 5:17, 2 touchdowns.

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If your glasses are tinted gold, you look at the half time score and say that the score was tied at ten, that the Saints were definitely in the game. If your glasses are tinted blue, you look at the half time stats and see that the Colts have outgained the Saints 195-111, that they already have 89 rushing yards, that the only time the Colts defense broke was when the offense turned over the ball and that the Colts just moved 70 yards in 75 seconds. The truth is, both viewpoints are probably correct.

The Saints had momentum on both offense and defense. As late as the two minute warning, the Saints had momentum on the defensive side of the ball. But the deciding drive of the game happened when the Colts went those 70 yards in 75 seconds going into halftime. Looking back, that was the point where the Colts' offense found its rhythm.

And that was the ballgame.