Sunday, January 9, 2011

Paging Jim Caldwell

Collie was sorely missed last night.
My expectations as a Colts fan had never been lower going into last night's playoff game against the Jets. I thought the Colts had a good chance to beat the Jets, but any claim that the Colts could make a run was lunacy. A Colts team with ten DBs on IR (And a safety knocked out midway through the game makes 11 out of commission), two of their three best offensive weapons on IR, 2/3 of their starting LB core (from the beginning of the season) hurt, and a dismal O-Line, had no business even being in the playoffs. They surely weren't good enough to make it through Pittsburgh and New England. That being said, the loss last night was shockingly similar to the Super Bowl last year and almost as frustrating. 

Just like the Super Bowl, this game came down to the defense's inability to get off the field and bizarre/insane coaching decisions. 

In the last two playoff games, the Colts have had a grand total of six possessions in the second half. Technically, the pick six in the Super Bowl would make it seven, but it was effectively the same drive since the  offense came right back on the field. 

In the Super Bowl, the injuries to the secondary and Freeney were to blame for the Saints mounting long drives and eating up the clock. They were starting  their 4th and 5th string CBs and Freeney's injury killed the pass rush against a dominant passing team. That in itself is a recipe for disaster. Although, you could also point to Larry Coyer's refusal to play anything but vanilla Cover 2 when it was obviously not going to work. With no pass rush and bad corners, Cover 2 would let Mark Sanchez look like a Hall of Fame QB.

In the Jets game last night, the Colts gave up back-to-back touchdown drives that totaled 27 plays. TWENTY SEVEN.  While injuries ravaged the secondary, there was no excuse for getting completely gashed by the run. What happened to the run-stopping resurgence that occurred at the end of the season? The Colts were daring Sanchez to beat them by playing the run almost exclusively, and they STILL failed to hold LT and Shonn Greene in check. If a team can't load the box and stop the run, they are either poorly coached or lack talent. Either way, the best recipe for beating a Peyton Manning offense is to keep them off the field. In the last two playoff games, the Colts defense has allowed that recipe to be used with shocking success. To put it in perspective, the Colts scored on four of their last five drives, and they let the clock run down to end the half with the fifth drive. I don't know what more you can ask against a Rex Ryan coached defense. 

Then you have the famous (to Colts fans) Jim Caldwell mental meltdown. The guy seems to be a cardboard cutout on the sidelines until it comes time to make a stupid decision. Then he jumps into action like Rex Ryan at Golden Corral. His decisions in the Super Bowl last year were inexcusable. That trend continued through this season and culminated in last night's game. One would hope that Caldwell would learn his lesson about playing ultra-conservative after he cost the Colts points at the end of the first half in the Super Bowl. Instead, he does the same thing at the end of the first half last night. You have the best QB on the planet. Let him make plays. That brings me to one of the most inexcusable coaching decisions I have ever seen. With the game on the line, Caldwell transformed into a blinking human being just in time to call a dumbfounding timeout. As Gregg Doyel writes here, the Jets were setting up to kick a 50-yard FG.........until Caldwell called a timeout for them. That timeout let the Jets come up with a new plan. They decided to bypass the long FG in order to take a shot to Braylon Edwards. The end result was that Nick Folk was able to kick from 31 yards instead of 50, which is huge considering Folks was converting 50 yard FGs at a 40% clip coming into the game. Does anyone truly believe Folks makes that kick? The worst part may have been Caldwell's reasoning for calling the timeout.
"I didn't care [if they were]," Caldwell said. "I was going to make sure they couldn't. Make them snap the ball. They were in field goal range."
"They were in field goal range," he was saying. "So we wanted to try to make them snap the ball as many times as they possibly could. Wasn't going to let them just sit there and take [the clock] down. So [we] used a timeout in that situation."
Can anyone interpret that? I don't speak nonsense.

Which brings me to a point that at least needs to be brought up. Should Caldwell be fired? Supporters will bring up his record, but how tough is it to win games with Peyton Manning? He's not a defensive coach, so his only responsibility, with regards to the game, is to not make stupid decisions that hurt the team. Well.......

I will admit that I don't know what Caldwell does behind the scenes. Nor can I offer a rebuttal to everyone who points to how well the Colts responded to a season filled with crushing injuries. It's a very valid point. All I know is that when Caldwell makes a crucial decision, it seems to almost always be a poor one. Nate Dunlevy from makes the good point that Caldwell just needs to mirror Tony Dungy's progression to being less conservative. The problem is that Peyton Manning isn't getting any younger, and there's no guarantee that Caldwell learns from his mistakes. The Colts don't have the luxury of hoping that their coach makes the necessary adjustments. Personally, I want Larry Coyer to be fired, and I wouldn't be opposed to Caldwell being replaced either. Best case scenario involves the Colts finding a coach with a defensive pedigree with an ego small enough to let Peyton run the show on offense. Whether that coach exists is another discussion altogether. Here's an article that takes a much closer look at this topic.

Naturally, the media will point to Peyton Manning's playoff record as a slight against him. Anyone with a brain should realize the problem with using W-L records as a measure of a QB's individual performance. Are we really going to slight Peyton Manning for carrying a team to the playoffs that was decimated by injuries and has no business being there in the first place? Is it somehow better to miss the playoffs than to make it with that kind of team and lose? If you use W-L record it is. Put it this way, Mark Sanchez is 3-1 in the playoffs. Does he deserve to get credit for the win when the most important thing he did all night was to stop throwing and start handing the ball off? All it takes is watching last night's game tape. Sanchez was so bad that he single-handedly kept the Colts in the game in the first half. Tom Brady or Drew Brees throw four or five TDs if they were in Sanchez's position. That's how many wide open receivers he missed last night. But hey, he got the win and is now 3-1 in the playoffs. Hall of Fame, here he comes. 

I'll wrap up this article by giving you a record that Peyton Manning set last night. With last night's 108.7 passer rating, Peyton Manning set the NFL record for most playoff losses with a rating over 90 with four. He also added on to his NFL record for most playoff losses with a rating over 80 with six. Take from that what you will.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article. I agree 100% & would like nothing more than to have Gruden or Cowher replace Jim Caldwell.

    Does Caldwell makes smart decisions to put his team in the best position to win? Stupid timeouts, Stover's long FG attempt in the SB which gave the Saints a short field, etc.

    Does Caldwell & his Special Teams staff get the players properly prepared & motivated? Onside kick, roughing the punter, killer long KO return as 1st round bust Jerry Hughes shows off his "ole" tackling technique.

    Does Caldwell & his Defensive staff make good halftime adjustments? Saints had only 3 second half possessions: TD, FG, TD. Jets had only 4 second half possessions: TD, TD, punt, FG.

    Does Caldwell & his Offensive staff come up with clever ways to convert those all-important 3rd & 1's? Obviously not, this year & in many past playoff losses too.

    Does Jim Caldwell have the mental capacity to learn from past mistakes? Obviously not.

    Does Jim Caldwell man up & admit his mistakes (or at the very least that his decisions didn't work out as hoped) like Peyton has done after bad games? No, maybe Jim Caldwell is a coward.

    Is Jim Caldwell the best man for the job & will he lead the Colts to a championship? No & not a chance-- even if they have a healthy roster plus #18.