I was going to post more stats about the Colts field position woes in the playoffs (I will run them at a later date). Then after a day of reading more about Caldwell's timeout and a new wave of attacks against Manning by both Peter King and Jason Whitlock, it dawned on me.
We are all missing the point.
King and Whitlock tried to pile on Manning for his final throw of the night. A designed roll out to Blair White. Both argued that Manning made a bad toss, which denied the Colts a final first down and left time for the Jets. It's an amazing argument, really. Now a quarterback is not only responsible for putting his team in position for a game winning field goal, but should be blamed if he leaves one minute on the clock for a weak offensive club to respond.
Beyond that, both men are completely incorrect about the play itself. The entire play is designed to leave no chance for a turnover. Manning's pass is low, yes, but it's clearly thrown exactly where he wanted it. I watched five times yesterday (ugh, was that painful). Manning hits White in the hands with the pass. It's a difficult catch to make, a low sliding grab. However, it was not a Hall of Fame caliber catch either. Instead of marveling that with the game on the line Manning had to throw to an undrafted rookie who couldn't haul in his final pass, both King and Whitlock used it as ammunition against Manning. Whitlock, ignoring that the play was called in a timeout and was a new play installed this year, argued that it showed some kind of hubris by Manning. He said Manning needs to have some guru like John Gruden (author of 6 winning seasons in 11 years as a head coach). Manning was asked to throw a pass with a 0.0% chance of getting picked off. It was such a safe throw, with such a low chance of being completed that you wonder why they didn't just run the football and drain the clock. Instead, the COACHES split the difference during a timeout and came up with something that neither worked nor ran the clock.
My instinct was to write a FJM style take down of Whitlock, but that would be missing the point as badly as he did.
Both King, Whitlock, Twitter, Kravitz, and most of the western world lined up to take shots at Caldwell for his timeout, as if alone cost Indy the game. I would like to point out the massive assumptions going into the bile being spewed:
1. People assume that if the Jets had run the ball again, Indy would have stopped it for no gain. Indy stopped the previous run for 2 yards and gave up 4.4 YPC on the night. The odds are strong that the Jets were going to kick from inside the 30 yard line. Field goals from that distance are hit at about a 70% clip, but that's an all weather stat. This was in a covered stadium. Even if the Jets had gotten no gain on a run, their odds were north of 60%. From where they ended up kicking, the odds were about 80%. Most likely the completed pass bumped the liklihood of the Jets hitting the kick by about 15%...not 50%.
2. People assume Nick Folk would have missed a longer kick. Citing stats like "this year Nick Folk is 5/11 from beyond 40 yards", they say Caldwell is an idiot for not letting the Jets kick. Of course, this ignores the fact that Folk is
20/24 (Note: Folk's career stats on PFR were incomplete, lacking 2009 data. He's 25 for 36) for his career from 40-49 yards. The truth is that wrapped up in that stat are things like a blocked 61 yard FG and two misses on a windy day in Cleveland. The truth is that the odds are good that the game was ALREADY LOST by the time Caldwell called timeout. Trying to force the Jets into a mistake may or may not have been a better option than letting them attempt a 45-47 yard field goal (it almost certainly wouldn't have been 49), but it certainly wasn't the massive brain lock it is being made out to be. Folk's odds of hitting the kick from where the Jets already were are being severely underestimated.
The reason it irks me to spend so much time arguing about Manning 'underperforming' and Caldwell's timeout is that neither thing had much of anything to do with why the Colts lost the game. WE ARE MISSING THE POINT.
For the fourth straight year, the Indianapolis defense has blown a fourth quarter lead.
In the last four second halves of playoff losses, the Colts defense has allowed 55 points. In the first halves of those games, they allowed 27.
The Colts absolutely and without question have got to fix this defense. King and Whitlock act like it's a slur that the 2006 Colts won with defense. That year, they faced the top three defenses in the NFL in consecutive weeks. Guess what? The offense struggled at times, but the team won. That's how it's supposed to happen.
I'm done defending Manning. You know what? If you are too stupid to see that a quarterback with a rating of 110 played well, then I can't help you. He played flipping incredible (again).
If you want to obsess about a timeout but not talk about why the defense couldn't get a sack on the play or why Edwards was so open or why the Jets were already in position to win, go right ahead. Caldwell coached a terrible game that night, but turning that timeout into a microcosm of the night misses the point. The timeout was an aggressive call. Right or wrong, it was a aggressive. Let's talk about why on that third down to White, Manning was asked to throw a safe, low percentage pass. Let's talk about kick the field goal down 14-10. Let's talk about the end of the first half.
Picking on him for the one active, aggressive move of the night is silly. Jim Caldwell wanted the Jets to pass again. The Jets did what he wanted. They gave the Colts a chance to knock them OUT of field goal range. He thought it was his team's best chance to win.
The point is: his team couldn't make that play, or almost any plays in the second half of that or any of the recent losses.
The Colts defense has failed thanks to a fatal mix of injuries (Freeney was hurt in two of them, Brackett in a third, and 3/4 of the secondary in the fourth) and bad luck (the two fumbles they did force in '08 and this year bounced right back to the receiver).
More to the point, it simply wasn't good enough. The Colts' defense has not been good enough to beat Phil Rivers and Drew Brees. It couldn't stop the run well enough to beat the Jets. Moala has made strides, but the Colts' tackles are weak in general. The linebackers haven't made enough plays. The last really great interception on a play by a cornerback that comes to mind was Hayden's pick of Rivers in the first quarter of the 2007 game.
We can argue all night about the wisdom of a strategy that builds a team on a few key components and relies on interchangeable replacement parts to do the rest.
We can argue about whether the Colts have underprerfomed on the whole over this era as well. I would argue they haven't relative to the strength of the team and their seed. Mathematically, one title is basically what you'd calculate. People who think they have a right to see three or four championships have no idea how rare that is.
But there is NO question, none, that relative to where the Colts were in the last four postseason losses, they've underperformed. This team's defense has collapsed every year down the stretch and that simply has to stop. Blowing four fourth quarter leads in a row is an embarrassment, regardless of who was hurt or who played.
Caldwell's timeout is not the issue, though his coaching was.
Peyton Manning is without question not the issue.
The Colts must get better on defense. They have to stop the bleeding. If it takes spending every draft pick for the next two years, Polian must do it. If signing a big name free agent (whose initials are N.A.) is what it takes, then DO IT.
I can't take another blown fourth quarter lead.
I can't take it anymore.