Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
05 Nov 2007
Compiled by Doug Farrar
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2008. Games are chosen based on our own personal viewing preferences, and are going to reflect the teams we support and the cities where we live.
We don't usually do two different Audibles columns in one day, but the importance of this game, and the nature of much of the discussion surrounding it, led us to believe that replacing the Irrational Pats-Colts Armageddon Thread with a special Game of the Century Audibles would be the appropriate next step. We're hoping it doesn't get too irrational, but we're not counting on it. Please keep all commentary relating to this game and any "ancillary concerns" right here.
Ned Macey: The problem with the pass interference rule is that it is just so uncertain. Great half of football, but even as a fan of the Colts, that's still the first thing I'm thinking of. If I were voting, I'd have called it on Asante Samuel but not on Ellis Hobbs, although I want a longer look at Hobbs' because he did run under Reggie Wayne. I'm not even sure that's a penalty though. In a split second, however, they are impossible calls to make, so I fear we'll have to live with the inconsistency. The Colts only got three points out of it, and there's no saying they wouldn't have scored a field goal anyway, so hopefully it isn't the difference.
The Pats are leaving their tackles one-on-one a fair amount. Wouldn't be surprised to see them go to some max protect and start making plays 15 to 20 yards down the field in front of the safeties.
Is Bob Sanders lining up in Evansville? The only time I've seen him was when he correctly diagnosed the odd-looking draw to Faulk but overran it.
(That was after the first half... this next part came once the game was over...)
It is hard to know what to make of this game. The two teams have played a number of close regular season games over the years, so it is hard to tell if they truly are two amazing teams. I guess I would vote that the Colts are a much better football team then they were several years ago. Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden just make the defense so much better. Really a shame for Jackson to get beat on the game-clincher because he was outstanding up to that point.
The Patriots offense appears to only be stoppable when you get pressure. In the first half, the Colts got pressure. In the fourth quarter, they didn't. Antoine Bethea was late on both the big plays, but Bethea is solid in coverage, and that, to me, is just a case of "outstanding" being better than "very good."
As a Colts fan, it is hard to be too disappointed. They played without two starting linebackers, their No. 1 or No. 1A receiver, and what proved to be most important, their left tackle. Charlie Johnson should take this tape and the tape of last year's Super Bowl and petition the NFL to classify him as a right tackle. His biggest contribution was picking up a fumble after he got beat for an earlier sack.
When Anthony Gonzalez went down that also hurt, as Aaron Moorehead should not be on the field every down. Also, it makes Dallas Clark a little easier to defend when Moorehead is the only other threat. Was Adalius Thomas on Clark as suspected?
On NFL Countdown, Tom Jackson picked the Colts and then later said the game was going to be won with special teams. Let's just say that was a highly unlikely outcome, and I wouldn't be surprised if DVOA saw this game pretty even in offense and defense, with an ENORMOUS advantage to the Pats on special teams. The Colts only started one drive past their own 24, and that was the Gary Brackett pick. Pats started one drive inside their own 24. I could be wrong because the Colts were also helped by penalties, beyond pass interference, that don't show up, but I know I'm not wrong that the Pats had a huge advantage there.
Vince Verhei: If I woke up tomorrow as the commissioner of the NFL, the first thing I would do would be to limit pass interference penalties to 15 yards. No more 50-yard penalties on questionable fouls. I think in the end each team got burned with a big penalty, so they never decided the game, but nothing annoys me more than seeing a team move halfway down the field without actually accomplishing anything.
I knew Indianapolis would, for the most part, take away the big plays from the New England offense. What I did not expect was the way their pass rush dominated the Patriots' offensive line in the first half. Don't know where that pass rush went in quarters three and four, though.
Bill Barnwell:Two things on this: The Law of Unintended Consequences comes into play. Anytime a defensive back was in a bad spot 40 yards downfield, he'd just shove the receiver down and take the 15-yard penalty. It would kill deep plays.
Also, when a defender commits pass interference, the offense HAS accomplished something. If it weren't for the defense committing a foul, by the nature of the penalty and the law itself, the pass would have been completed.
Michael David Smith: I really think both this game and the seemingly inevitable rematch come down to this: Which team's left tackle has the better game? Early today when Freeney was getting the better of Light, it looked like the Colts had a good chance of winning the game, but once Freeney ran out of steam and Johnson started doing just an absolutely horrible job protecting Peyton Manning, that switched the momentum.
Ryan Wilson: This is an oversimplification, obviously, but the Colts pressured Tom Brady and were physical with the receivers. That was why they were in this game until the last two minutes. I don't think the Pats expected the physicality, and for most of the game, they looked out of sorts. The problem for other teams on their schedule is generating a four-man pass rush. If you can't do that, it'll be a long day. If nothing else, though, we can put to rest all the talk about how this team can't be beat. They won, sure, but I don't think anybody expected the Pats to be trailing for 28 minutes. And the Colts were without four starters.
Doug Farrar: Is it just me, or is Rosevelt Colvin having an outstanding year? It seems that every time I watch the Patriots, he does something that just blows my mind. He did this ridiculous leaping stunt thing on Chris Samuels last week that I'd never seen before.
Bill Moore: Colvin IS having a stellar year. Last year was his first at 100 percent since his hip injury, and this year just builds on that. He admitted that last year he was just getting used to playing at full speed again. This year is probably the first year in a while that he doesn't have to think about it at all. Keep in mind that his free agent signing was as big in 2003 as the Thomas signing was this year.
Mike Tanier: Tanier, with Aaron to my left in the Lincoln Financial Field press box, chiming in with some stuff. First, on the Colts pass interference penalties in the first half, I am OK with both calls. The second one (the Wayne one) had some people howling in the bar we were at, but that call is made all the time in the NFL. If a cornerback runs under the receiver, lets the receiver back into him, then starts easing up, they throw the flag. It's a judgment call, because you can argue that the corner was playing the ball, but if the ref thinks he's just slowing the receiver down he makes the call. I see it all the time.
In the first half, the Colts' front four were just beating the Patriots' front five. The big difference in the second half, in addition to Matt Light and Nick Kaczur doing a better job on Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, is that Brady started running more quick slants to Randy Moss. They hooked up three of four times on quick ones and it neutralized the pressure somewhat.
Another late adjustment was running the flat route to Wes Welker against man coverage. Two major plays late in the game were flat throws where Welker in the slot was matched up on either Bob Sanders or Marlin Jackson, and Donte Stallworth or Randy Moss cleared out as the split end.
Bill Moore: Well, all week people asked me what I expected from this game. I said it all came down to defenses. I was right, but for the wrong reasons. I expected it would be the defense that made one or two stops that would win the game. However, the effective play of both defenses had solid games.
Light, who has had mixed success against Freeney in the past, was totally dominated. At one point, he threwa reckless leg whip just to try and contain him. Mathis had almost as much success against Kaczur on the other side. The Pats countered with lots of draws or fake draws that were only semi-effective. Brady had the least amount of time in the pocket of any game this season. On the other hand, the Indy O-line was more effective at containing the Pats' rush. But for the end of the game, Manning had lots of time on many downs. In the second half, the Patriots finally realized that Light and Kaczur were getting beat, and were giving them help -- and that seemed to make a lot of difference.
The Patriots' complete lapse of concentration at the end of the first half should be embarrassing to them. At the same time, it was a very heads-up play by Joseph Addai. In the AFC Championship game, the Patriots had no answer for Dallas Clark. Today, they held the answer on Clark, but forgot to bring one for Addai. He had a very impressive game -- even without the huge play at the end of the first half.
Brady came into the game with two interceptions. He had two today. The first across-the-field lob to Stallworth was just a dumb play. The second was an absolutely amazing catch by Brackett.
I felt that New England got the short end of the penalty stick. This is the third big game in three years that Ellis Hobbs has gotten called for pass interference on very good coverage on an important deep ball. I was very surprised at Moss' offensive pass interference. I admit that Moss pushes off quite a bit, I just didn't think it happened on that play.
Overall, the Colts played a marginally better game for three quarters, and the Patriots stayed close long enough to have a shot. The drive charts are a great chronicle of the game:
NE:First half: Punt, touchdown, interception.
Third quarter: Punt, punt, field goal, interception.
Fourth Quarter: Touchdown, touchdown, kneel.
IND: First half: Missed field goal, field goal, field goal, touchdown.
Third quarter: Interception, punt, punt.
Fourth quarter: Touchdown, punt, fumble.
Bill Barnwell: I think the Colts had a really smart scheme that anticipated what the Patriots would do following their loss to the Colts in last year's postseason. They knew that the Patriots would overcompensate, to an extent, in their attempt to handle Dallas Clark, and without Mavin Harrison, they didn't have their top wideout, so they lined their receivers out wide expecting one-on-one man coverage, and ran curls over and over again for 12 yards at a time. That should lead to the Patriots getting out of two-deep zone coverage and giving safety support on the sides, opening up space over the middle for Clark and Ben Utecht, but the Patriots just stayed in the same scheme and simply got more pressure on Manning as the game went along. Manning was 95 percent of the quarterback he normally was. And that was some of the old awful Colts coverage units today. I think that was the difference more than anything that happened on offense or defense.
I really wonder whether Laurence Maroney's ever going to be the featured back for this team. It's pretty clear that Bill Belichick and company have no faith in him. His nicest run of the game was on a cutback, and it was almost entirely set up by a great block from Welker.
Aaron Schatz: I can't believe the Patriots won that game. They were clearly outplayed by the Colts for three quarters, and I was literally wringing my hands. You can ask Mike Tanier. Although some of the play in the first half seemed like sloppiness by one team rather than greatness by the other, I do think we can say that this was another great game between two great teams, two evenly matched teams, two teams that are far ahead of the rest of the league.
For a long time it looked like this game would be decided by three people. One was Addai, who was absolutely incredible in the first half, a game that would have gone down as one of the best of the year if Adrian Peterson wasn't having an even more stellar game on the same day. Like Peterson, he benefited from good tight end blocking -- the tight ends were totally taking out Tedy Bruschi in the cutback lane. The other two were Mathis and Kaczur. Mathis destroyed Kaczur. It was brutal. I honestly think Light had a much better time of it with Freeney than Kaczur had with Mathis. I don't think they really started giving Light and Kaczur more help in the second half, I just think they went to quicker developing pass plays.
The Pats sure did take an awful long time to change their offensive strategy, though. The word I kept using in the first half of this game was "hubris." The Pats came out doing the same stuff on offense that they've done against everyone else this year, and they took a long, long time to change it even though it was obvious from the beginning that this wasn't a winning strategy against the strengths of the Colts defense. They came out in the spread and the kept working the spread when it was clear Light and Kaczur needed help stopping the defensive ends. Even worse was that pass Brady just chucked up there, across his body, into the end zone. I'm sorry, but that stuff doesn't work against a well-coached Tony Dungy zone. Slowpoke McCrappypants from the Dolphins lets you get a touchdown on that play, but Bethea is going to intercept it nine times out of ten. Hubris.
I was also shocked by how little the Pats ran interesting blitzes with the 3-4. That had always been one of Manning's troubles with the 3-4 in the past, but the Pats nearly always sent just the three down linemen and one linebacker, except for when they were running a 4-2-5 and sent just four down linemen.
I think Colts fans have every right to say "the injuries were the biggest reason we didn't beat the Patriots today." Most Patriots fans would probably say that was whining, but not this Patriots fan. It is absolutely true. Ned mentioned Charlie Johnson, but I noticed Moorehead. There was a play at the beginning where Moorehead couldn't get his feet down in bounds. Harrison gets his feet down on that play. You could tell this guy really didn't belong out there playing an important role in a game of this magnitude, the same feeling I had about Eric Alexander in the AFC Championship last year.
Still, there's no doubt the Pats fixed their run defense in the second half and finally changed the offensive strategy, and they turned a switch on in the fourth quarter, and suddenly the Colts couldn't do anything right and the Pats somehow won this thing. Colts fans can say that they'll have Harrison and Ugoh next time. Pats fans can point out that next time is at their place. I mean no disrespect to the Steelers fans, but it would be a mind-blowing, 1996 Jacksonville-level shock if these teams did not play each other again in the AFC Championship.
330 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2007, 3:16am by DGL