Monday, February 8, 2010

Upon Further Review

Ok, I will admit that I was pretty bummed out about the Superbowl last night. I just really didn't see the Saints beating the Colts, and definitely not in such a resounding fashion. Then to make matters worse I hear the talking heads after the game spewing all manner of hyperbole about the game that I knew even at first glance was BS. So I figured I would watch the game again and post about what actually happened and why.

Here goes.

First of all, if I had a vote for the MVP of this game it wouldn't go to Drew Brees, although he played one helluva game. No, my MVP would have to be Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Over the years I have heard both offensive and defensive coordinators hyped up to unrealistic levels so I generally take it all with a grain of salt. But after watching the game a second time there is no doubt that Williams came out on top of his chess match with Peyton Manning. So that is where I will start this discussion.

The Saints began the game with a true 3-4 defensive alignment and personnel. That means they had one less defensive lineman than usual, and one more linebacker than normal. They inserted linebacker Kevin Mitchell into the line up and for the first quarter or so they stayed with it when the Colts came out with their two wide receiver packages. Now anybody will tell you that switching from a 4-3 defense to a true 3-4 in a matter of two weeks is almost impossible. This wasn't the Saints just going with a 3 man rush. They also had their outside linebackers, guys who were used to playing 5 yards off the ball most plays, up on the line and either pass rushing outside or covering the Colts tight end Dallas Clark and being physical with him.

When the Colts went to their 3 wide receiver sets, then the extra linebacker would go out and a defensive back would come in. The defensive back would then play over the slot receiver while both outside guys still lined up on the line which left Johnathan Vilma as the only inside linebacker in the box.

Maybe the most interesting and important note though is that the Saints decided to play a lot of man to man defense against the Colts. Whether it was 2 man under, Cover 1 or some form of matchup Cover 3, the Saints weren't afraid at all to get up on the Colts receivers and challenge them at the line of scrimmage. The Saints played 2 man in particular a large part of the game and its the main reason why Reggie Wayne didn't have a big day. They tried to funnel him outside and then roll Darren Sharper over the top of him and it worked most of the game.

Of course Peyton Manning is no slouch either so as the game went on he started to make adjustments too. It became apparent that when the Saints went to their nickel version of the 3-4 and Vilma was all alone in the middle that the Colts would be able to run the ball against that set up. So Manning started leaning on Joseph Addai and Donald Brown when he saw the Saints lined up that way. And when the Colts got their running game going then they were able to make the Saints respect their play action pass. On the touchdown to Pierre Garcon the Saints were in some form of Cover 2 or 2 man but Peyton noticed that the safety Roman Harper was rolled up closer to the line of scrimmage than normal. Once Garcon got inside the cornerback it was just a foot race between he and Harper and it was obvious who would win that one. Peyton puts the ball on the money and the Colts have a touchdown.

At that point Coach Williams makes an adjustment. Instead of having Vilma in the middle by himself when they run their 3-4 look with the nickel back in, he pulls one of the outside rushers back off the line with him, in most cases Scott Fujita, and he leaves the backside of the Colts formation open run fit wise. To be honest with you, the adjustment wasn't fundamentally sound at all. I mean eventually Williams made a little tweak and rolled down the safety to open side of the formation, but the truth is had the Colts noticed or been able to predict when the Saints would go with that defensive alignment, they could have gotten the corner on running plays with ease for big runs. But alas it didn't happen and Williams was able to get away with it. Its part of the reason why the Saints had more success against the run in the second half.

Its important to note here that even with all the personnel and alignment adjustments, Gregg Williams was still blitzing the hell out of Peyton. They didn't sack him and they didn't get any of the big hits he talked about before the game, but I did think a few time he had to rush some throws and maybe not put it where he would have liked.

Having said that Peyton was still masterful most of the game. One one drive he noticed that the Saints were in 2 man a lot and he ended up featuring Dallas Clark the whole way down the field. That is when they scored their second and final touchdown to go up 17-13 and things were still looking up for them.

Another thing the Saints did was go to their base 4-3 defense when the Colts were backed up or in the red zone. That is partly the reason why the Colts were unable to convert on 3rd and 1 before halftime because the Saints had their 4 man line plus a linebacker walked up and they were really stout against the run there. Of course running a fullback dive probably wasn't the best call in that situation either.
The Saints were also great at changing up their coverages at odd times and throwing Peyton some curve balls. He just about threw a pick right to Tracy Porter on an out route to Wayne when Porter, who was lined up on the slot receiver inside of Wayne at the snap, buzzed underneath the Wayne and ened up directly in the throwing lane. If that ball wasn't low and outside the Saints would have had two picks last night instead of one.

Now on the play that sealed the deal for the Saints I have to say that was the worst decision of the night for Manning. The Colts were down at that point 24-17 and driving to tie the score up. The Colts had Collie and Reggie Wayne on the same side with Collie out wide. For whatever reason they decided to motion Collie inside and have both he and Wayne run slant routes. Williams decided to send all 3 linebackers and rush Peyton with 6 guys. What that meant is that there were 5 guys left to defend the pass and the Colts had 3 wideouts and their tight end all out on routes. In theory this was Cover 1 where the two corners, the nickelback and a safety were in man to man with one safety back deep helping on go routes. In reality the one deep safety, Darren Sharper, actually came up to jump the slant route by Collie. Now the reason the decision for Manning to throw the ball to Wayne was a bad one is two fold.

For one, all game the Saints corners had been playing inside of the Colts wide receivers when they took an outside release. Because of the design of the play Wayne stemmed outside first and then tried to slant across Tracy Porter's face. But Porter was already sitting inside of the route and the truth is it didn't really take much of a break for him to pick it off and take it to the house.

For two, and more importantly, on the other side of the formation Garcon had one on one coverage with a rolled up corner who had no safety help. He beat his guy off the line and he was wide open for the deep ball. Peyton's protection held up and he had the time to throw that ball up to Garcon for a big play if not a touchdown. Instead he made the blind throw to Wayne and that didn't work out so well for him.

Now when it comes to the Colts defense against Drew Brees and the Saints offense, all I can say is that it looked like somebody kidnapped Larry Coyer and the ghost of Ron Meeks was coaching the Colts D yesterday. I am probably being generous if I say the Colts blitzed five times the whole game yesterday. And on a couple of those blitzes the nickelback didn't even really rush Brees, but instead kind of got caught in no man's land. Half way into a rush and half way trying to stay back in coverage.

To make matters worse not only did the Colts not switch up their coverages much all game, but they also allowed the Saint's wide receivers and tight ends to get free releases for the overwhelming majority much of the game. It was as if they were so afraid of them that they were scared to touch them.

So they didn't send any pressure to try to disrupt Brees' rhythm AND they didn't chuck the receivers to try to disrupt their rhythm either.
Who the hell thought that was a good idea?!

It got so bad that after spending much of the first half keeping guys in to chip on the Colts' rushers and leak out late as well as putting in a back up tackle at tight end to help out on protections, in the 4th quarter the Saints started releasing 5 guys out into routes on a regular basis without even a hint of chipping. Aside from the one big sack by Dwight Freeney, the Colts didn't sniff Brees for most of the game. And I will tell you this much, if they ever hope to be able to win another Superbowl, they are going to have to get some inside guys who can pass rush.
Also it was embarrassing to see the Colts defense get caught not lined up and confused several times during the game. I mean its not like they were running anything new but yet and still the Saints were able to quick count them and get cheap first downs just because they couldn't get lined up correctly before the snap. And while I am on the subject starting outside linebacker Phillip Wheeler looked like confused damn near the whole game.
That's not about talent. That's poor coaching, plain and simple.

I don't want to take anything away from Brees' performance last night because it was truly awesome. But I bet you dollars to donuts that by the 4th quarter he had to be feeling like he was throwing against a scout team. He had plenty of time on most of his throws and he was hitting guys who were wide freaking open. Marques Colston was killing the Colts in the seams, especially when he lined up in the slot, but you never saw the Colts adjust and try to get physical with him at the line of scrimmage. In short the Colts defense made it too easy for a quarterback like Brees and an offensive mind like Saints head coach Sean Payton to march up and down the field.

Still even with the performance by the Saints offense, I would have to give my game ball to Coach Williams. The reasons are as follows.

1. Sean Payton called another silly ass end around that lost 8 yards and almost took his team out of scoring range. It ended up not being a big deal per se because they picked up a first down on the next play putting them on the 3 yard line. But from there they weren't able to get the ball in with 4 tries and had to turn the ball over on downs.

2. Even the folks who picked the Saints to win probably never could have imagined that they would hold the Colts to just 17 points. I know I didn't. Coach Williams' ability to adjust as the game went on was the deciding factor in the game in my opinion.

Now for all of the bullshit analysis you will hear over the next few days about how the Saints "dominated" the Colts and out played them for three quarters, lets be clear about a few things. For the overwhelming majority of the first 3 quarters the Colts were leading the game. In fact going into the 4th quarter the Colts were still up a point. And with a little over 5 minutes left they were driving to tie up the score at 24 all. In fact one play in particular in the 2nd quarter could have changed the whole complexion of the game. On 3rd and 2 the Saints blitzed Peyton again and played man to man but this time the Colts had the perfect play on. They ran a bunch of crossing routes and had Garcon run a crossing route in the opposite direction underneath them. He got off the line well and Peyton hit him in stride right in his hands. If he doesn't drop that ball he had nothing but green grass in front of him. Sharper, was going in the opposite direction trailing one of the deeper crossing routes and was in no position to make a play on him. It would have been a foot race at that point that would have ended in either a touchdown or a very long gain.

That didn't happen of course and instead of going up 17-3 or even 13-3 the Colts ended the half only up 10-6. And because of that the onside kick they recovered right out of the halftime took on a much bigger significance.

All in all it was a great game and the Saints went out and took that win. But don't be fooled by the chattering classes, that loss fell on more than just Peyton Manning for the Colts. I hope at some point someone asks Coyer what the rationale was for not blitzing Brees especially when his best pass rushing defensive lineman was less than 100%. It made no sense to me and contributed greatly to the Saints not only scoring but possessing the ball for long stretches of time.
On the flip side my hats off to Gregg Williams. On the biggest stage in the NFL going against one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it, he is the one who ended up with checkmate.

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis and it's fun to read. It is pretty weird how the Colts never blitzed, especially when you look at Bushrod having trouble all season.

    I'd give some serious consideration to Tracy Porter as MVP, too. He managed to shut down Wayne for most of the game and got the game-winning pick, although if - as you say - they did it mostly through safety help over the top that diminishes his play a bit.

    What I can't stand is how everyone is suddenly falling over themselves to criticize Peyton Manning after spending 2 weeks saying "Saints can't win, it's Peyton!"
    And Peyton didn't even play bad. He wasn't heroic, but he didn't lose them the game.