Monday, December 28

So How Does This Help You Win A Super Bowl?

The Colts lost to the New York Jets 24-15 yesterday to snap a slew of Colts winning streaks and ending any chance of a perfect season. This would not be a big issue or as big an issue if it had not been for the manner in which it occured. Much like the Belichik 4th and 2 decision, the decision to pull the Colts starters midway through the 3rd quarter will elicit a wide variety of responses from the media nd from fans. In my eyes, I saw a team quit in the middle of a well-contested game which they were controlling on the defensive side. Aside from allowing a franchise record kick-off return to Brad Smith, the Colts had the Jets offense completely in check. Sanchez was sacked twice on plays where Dwight Freeney was not even blocked. The return brought the Jets to a 10-9 lead, but in came the offensive starters, led by probable MVP winner Peyton Manning. The Colts marched 81-yards and scored the go-ahead TD. They inexplicably tried to run in the 2-point conversion from a bunch set and led 15-10. That is when the Colts made their move, or threw in the towel depending how you look at it.

The whole complection of the game turned on its head. Curtis Painter, who had never taken an NFL snap was now trotting out to play against one of the leagues top defenses statistically who were fighting for their playoff life. The result was a sack and forced fumble for a touchdown. After that, the Colts defense packed in it and the Jets offense poured it on. The hometown fans rained boos on their AFC number 1 seed team. They had every right to.

The most cringeworthy moment of this whole fiasco came right after the Jets scored their defensive TD to take a 16-15 lead. As fans booed the Colts and Curtis Painter walked listlessly to receive a quick lesson from Colts OC Tom Moore, head coach Jim Caldwell challenged the fumble on the play. The replay left no doubt that it was a fumble. Caldwell was throwing a timeout away. I am not sure if this was a "hey I still care" attempt or if he was just having a brainlock but it made him look, for the first time all year, like a coach who inherited a good system with good players.

The Colts stated from the moment a 16-0 regular season came into the discussion that they were going to rest starters. Perfection was not a concern, winning the Super Bowl was. This was not simply resting the starters however, this was stopping midstream in a competitive ballgame. A switch was turned off on the team and it will be expected to be turned back on 3 weeks from now when they face a primed playoff team, whoever it may be.

It was obvious on the sidelines that the players were upset. Peyton had that look on his face, a look I have seen a few times before. It was the look he had when he had been ousted from the playoffs. Peyton wanted this game, and he wanted next week's game. He is a winner, and he wants to win. He is competitive and wants the ball with the game no the line. He more than any other player on the team needs to be healthy for the playoffs. He was sacked 0 times yesterday, and has been sacked 22 times in the last two years. The Jets saw their blitzes were not effective and were not getting close to Peyton, the ball was already gone when they got there.

Dallas Clark was hanging his head well before the final second ticked off the clock. The players prepared to play, played hard through the first 35 minutes, and then were told to sit there and watch while their team had it's first loss handed to them. Now they face the joyous prospect of answering questions about this game for 3 weeks while they safely practice inside their bubble, safe from harm.

This was the quote from team president Bill Polian:

"Football logic has to come into play, and that logic is it makes no sense to have guys out there with the potential for injuries. We played for 16 weeks, sharp as any team in football. The good thing is that none of this mattered in the standings."

I do not know if this strategy can be called logic. First off, they players were in there for over half the game, what about there potential for injury then? Why not sit them the whole game? Have Peyton take the first snap to preserve the streak and then plop them down on the sidelines.

Is there not a philosophy in football that says you cannot play afraid of getting hurt? Because you will play tentative, and that leads to a higher chance you do get hurt? Unless you are Bob Sanders, then you just get hurt no matter what. The Colts game into the game unleashing their players full bore, and now they are saying relax and take it easy.

Yes Bill, your team played sharp for 16 weeks, but will that matter in the playoffs? How did your team become so sharp? Because it prepared and played out its scheme out on the field, not resting and practicing situations no the practice field. Going undefeated may not matter but keeping the team sharp does. Particularly when your offense depends so much on rhythm. You did not softly apply the breaks to the offensive machine, you slammed the breaks while doing 80.

Finally I will offer this, the Colts employed this strategy two times before when they were having great regular seasons and secured a first-round bye, 2005 and 2007. In 2005, the Colts started 13-0, then lost to the Chargers and cruised the final two games, resting their starters. Their divisional round game was a 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh, which was only close because Jerome Bettis fumbled going into the endzone in the 4th. In 2007, the Colts again went 13-3 and rested going into the playoffs. The Chargers came into Indy in the divisional round banged up but having played its way into the playoffs and through the Wildcard round. San Diego won going away 28-24.

The one time the Colts did win the Super Bowl, 2006, was a season in which they started slow, but battled to a 12-4 record and won their wildcard game at home, won at a strong Baltimore team and then beat their arch-rival Patriots at home to get to the Super Bowl. This theory does not stretch across the NFL but it seems to apply to the system that the Colts run. During their success this decade the only thing seemingly stopping them from getting to the Super Bowl is "resting" their starters or having to play in Foxboro against the Pats in their prime.

Colts fans scoff at the comparisons they get as being the Atlanta Braves on the NFL, but with only one title during their historic run this decade the counter-arguments are wearing thin. The Colts strategy may pay off, but the manner in which it was executed and recent history for this team suggest otherwise. The next three weeks will be filled with questions for the players and the coaching staff about why they shut it down when they had their 15th opponent beat and were facing a horrible team with an interim coach as their 16th. Then they will face a team that has been playing weeks straight and coming off a hard-fought playoff game the previous week. The Colts have things they way the coaches and front-office want it, but I doubt it will help them win a Super Bowl.

The Indianapolis Colts Are Smarter Than You [TBL]
Tedy Bruschi's Take [ESPN]

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