It seems to me that Bill Polian's criticism of his team's play in the Super Bowl left out some key factors.
Polian essentially threw his offensive line and special teams under the bus for the loss, but I think he's ignoring some key factors.
No question the onsides kick was a big momentum switch, but the team regained the lead after that fact. In my mind there were other issues that cost them the game.
I know a lot of this is not timely, seeing as how the game is now a few days old, but in light of Polian's comments I wanted to point out what I thought were some egregious mistakes that can't be overlooked in the loss.
Pierre Garcon's drops — Lest we forget that in addition to the second-quarter drop that Garcon had that might have cost his team three or seven points, he also couldn't come up with a catchable pass on the first drive that might have turned three points into seven. That play came on 3rd-and-5 from the Saints' 20-yard line. It was very early in the game, but a touchdown would have been a big statement on the opening drive, more so than three points.
Mike Hart twice from inside 10-yard line — I understand the Colts' thinking, wanting to run out the clock. But if they truly believe Peyton Manning is the best QB in the world, why are they not giving him a chance to throw with almost two minutes remaining and two timeouts. The Saints had all three timeouts left, so running the ball on first down — a four-yard run by Hart — to give the Colts room to operate and force the Saints to burn one is great. In fact, it works towards the Colts' strategy of stopping time after a run play. Now let Manning go to work. Instead, they give it once to Addai for five yards and once more to Hart for no gain. Since when are you wanting Hart (at fullback, no less) to handle the ball? A real head-scratcher that cost the Colts three points when the Saints came down and scored right before the half, shifting the momentum back in their hands before ...
The onsides kick — Enough has been said about this. Everyone knows how big this was, Polian included. For your sake, we'll assume you know all about it and move on.
Colts' pass defense and DL play — Part of it was unavoidable, as Dwight Freeney and Jerraud Powers clearly weren't healthy. But the Colts had to know not to expect four full quarters from either guy, and yet they played a super-soft defensive scheme and had no answers for the Saints' passing attack. The corners played way off and had few chances to make plays on the ball. But I think that not enough has been said about the failures of the defensive line. The starting group of Freeney, Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir and Robert Mathis combined to make only four tackles and the one sack, courtesy of Freeney's incredible effort in the red zone. The entire DL group combined for only eight of the team's 45 tackles, and though part of that was because the Saints threw so much, it's still inexcusable. It also combined for no other hits on Drew Brees, no real pressures in the second half and no batted passes. Mathis registered zeroes across the board. It was a major factor in the loss, hurting the play of the banged-up and shorthanded secondary.
The possession at the end of the third, start of the fourth quarter — I didn't like it from the start when Chad Simpson decided to take the ball out of the end zone from four yards deep in his end zone, only getting to the 11. He cost his team critical field position. Manning got into a groove, though, hitting Austin Collie twice and Reggie Wayne twice for his biggest impact on the game, including the 14-yard catch on 4th-and-2. But the short pass to Collie for a three-yard loss was a curious play call, and the third-down call struck me as even worse. Even though Collie had a chance to catch the ball on the post pattern towards the end zone, with the Saints probably playing the defense Manning wanted (Vilma in deep coverage), I would have had Manning look for something shorter in the middle of the field. A coach has to decide whether he's kicking a field goal before the third-down play, and Collie's route cleared out a lot of space underneath. Even if you don't get the 11 yards needed for the first down, you put yourself in much better field position to kick a field-goal attempt in Matt Stover's range or possibly go for it on fourth down again. Either way, it didn't happen and Stover was left to attempt a 50-50 kick at best.
Manning, Wayne on interception — I have written about this already, and I blame Wayne for running a sloppy, lazy route. Let's not take anything away from Tracy Porter here; he made a great read on the ball on one of the Colts' favorite plays, one they had run earlier in the game. But Wayne needs to cross Porter's face and at least have a chance to knock the ball down if it's not catchable. He didn't, and the interception — which Polian didn't think was as much of a game-changer as the onsides kick — ended up being the final nail in the coffin, even if there was a slim chance of tying the game up.
Red-zone possession on final drive — Manning gamely drove his Colts into scoring range, in large part because of a gorgeous toss over Malcolm Jenkins to Collie for 40 yards. I forgot how much time was left when I looked back this morning, but the Colts had a 1st-and-goal on the 3-yard line with 1:26 remaining. If they score on the next play or two, they have two timeouts and a minute left if they can recover the ensuing onsides kick. Hey, even though the Saints would know it was coming (and that they practiced against it all week long), you just never know how the ball is going to bounce. Instead, Garcon finished off his terrible game (even with his TD catch) with an offensive interference call in the endzone, pushing the ball back to the 13. And on third down, the Colts made the oddest call of them all: a draw to Addai. This one stunned me. Even if the Saints were playing pass 100 percent, there had to be a better option. A Manning throw not only stops the clock if it doesn't work, but in my mind it gives them a chance to score easier. Instead, the run play went for a loss, and Wayne dropped the fourth-down pass in the endzone. Game, set, match.
Maybe I am not putting enough of the blame on the Colts' O-line here, but maybe Polian is putting too much on that group. I don't know. But I do know these other factors appeared to be far more troublesome.
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