Five Plays in Free Agency – Pierre Garcon Edition

Ben Savage breaks down five plays over the course of veteran free agent Pierre Garcon’s career in Indianapolis. These are some plays that should be in your minds when you’re thinking about re-signing the young veteran receiver.

 

I had desired a ‘Best of the Playoffs’ Five Plays series from here on in, and requests from readers had indicated the same desire. Unfortunately, due to blackout restrictions on the medium which I use to do Five Plays, that isn’t going to be possible.

Instead, I’ve decided to begin the off-season with a focus on players who may not be here next year. In order to provide a true snapshot of their capabilities minus awful QB play, I’ve chosen plays from the 2009 season up until the present day. 3 seasons is enough to get a great wealth of different plays, and I hope to provide them in this series. I’ll assess the strengths and weaknesses of upcoming free agents in order of importance – today I’ve chosen Pierre Garcon, because I think he should be our highest priority.

Thanks to all the readers and commenters from last week, putting the finishing touches on a grim season for Colts fans. There’s been a certain resilience to large elements of the Colts support this year, and I think we should be proud. We’ve been through purgatory (last night’s LSU-Alabama clash being the zenith) and we can now look forward to either Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck – as light at the end of the tunnel goes, that’s a reasonable result for me.

Reader warning – there will be positives and negatives in the following piece, and the major negative I’ve chosen to highlight comes from Superbowl XLIV. I wouldn’t want to be surprised with stills from that awful event, so I’m giving you a heads up now. Probably the most painful play I’ve broken down to date, although in a couple of weeks in my Reggie Wayne piece I’ll buy some rope and a chair for that play.

And so, we begin.

Play #1 – 2009 Week 3 – Colts @ Cardinals.

In the summer upon the consummation of the Kevin Kolb deal to the Cardinals, I hailed the move and thought it was fair in terms of compensation and reward. I only really felt Kolb was worth a high second rounder, though in contrast the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the equation added little. That assessment was based primarily upon the Colts-Cardinals encounter in Week 3 of 2009, where DRC was absolutely torn to pieces by Peyton Manning and co. A willingness to gamble against the best QBs in the league, an overreliance on the physical tools which made him a first rounder, and bad tackling to boot? Not my type of corner.

The Colts line up in the 3WR, 1TE, 1RB set for which the entire offensive system was tailored under Peyton Manning – Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie out left, Dallas Clark in-line to the right, Garcon out wide right. Regular as clockwork. The basic purpose of the play is to test the Cardinals deep coverage, something which the Colts had been doing regularly up until that point in the game, with emphasis on Rodgers-Cromartie. Peyton must have seen something on tape and really liked what he saw in order to go after him so regularly, but the approach worked.

Peyton pump-fakes on the slant route to Garcon, which does enough to call into question DRC’s limited read-and-react abilities. Instead of focusing on Garcon, DRC is watching Peyton at all times, and it comes back to burn him.

Peyton releases the ball in textbook fashion, aided and abetted by excellent pass protection from the offensive line. Peyton’s prototypical physical tools for the position are highlighted here, as he’s able to throw the ball from a high release against the 6’8 DE Calais Campbell.

Rodgers-Cromartie is one of the fastest players in the NFL, and his reliance on physical tools becomes clear here. Having lost a step on the pump fake, he’s unable to catch up with one of the faster WRs in the league, namely Garcon. The ability to create separation against corners as quick as DRC is a valuable commodity, and is one of the reasons we should be prioritizing the re-signing of Garcon.

DRC fully extends his 6’2 frame with his freakishly long arms, but the ball placement from Peyton is simply perfect. With excellent concentration, Garcon reels it in and the Colts go 21-3 up.

No Pierre, I can’t believe it either.

You can really see from this angle the balance of Rodgers-Cromartie. He’s leaning back in the prescribed fashion to backpedal and track Garcon, with his eyes on the QB.

With a subtle shift in weight and balance, he’s now leaning forward to potentially jump the in-cutting route. Garcon remains at full speed, aiming to blow past the ailing DRC.

Quick acceleration and a serious top speed would normally help DRC out against receivers in such a situation. Unfortunately for him, the raw speed of Garcon is sufficient to create separation.

It all comes together beautifully for a long bomb touchdown. Beautiful throw, consistent route-running, blazing speed. Always a good combination.

Play #2 – 2009 Divisional Round – Ravens @ Colts.

The following play really shows elements of Garcon’s game which are worthy of high praise. A consistent motor combined with a real passion for run blocking and hustle plays are rare in a receiver. He’s shown himself to be one of the better run-blocking WRs in the league this year, but it is this hustle play which I hold up as the highest evidence of his character.

The Colts line up in the 3WR, 1TE, 1RB set (surprise!), and the play is a play-action throw deep to Garcon on the sideline. It doesn’t quite work as planned.

Initial signs look good, the Ravens back off slightly to deal with the potential run threat and there is room in the pocket.

Peyton releases the ball on a high trajectory, as is customary.

In many situations, I wouldn’t be too concerned at this point in the play. Garcon is a favorite for the ball against most DBs in the NFL, so, it’s nothing to worry about. If someone however tells me that the lurking player next to Garcon is Ed Reed, I’d be very worried. Very worried indeed.

Reed steps in front of the pass as is his desire, and begins to run the ball back in his unique fashion.

Garcon tracks him, and it’s a testament to the ageing Reed’s speed that he doesn’t immediately catch up with him.

Youth does however begin to show its benefits, and Garcon closes the gap.

And with a monumental effort, he jumps and dislodges the ball from Reed’s grasp from behind.

Dallas Clark recovers the ball, and instead of a potential 7-point game and a huge momentum swing, the Colts get the ball back and retain their 14 point lead. Absolutely monumental.

Ed Reed is an inexperienced ball carrier, with his penchant for return touchdowns from both interceptions and fumbles, not even including his punt blocking and returning prowess in previous years. However, he still remains susceptible to the usual defensive issues when carrying the football, and it’s too loose when you have a man like Garcon chasing you down from behind.

Nothing short of brilliance from Garcon. Fantastic effort, superior execution.

Play #3 – Superbowl XLIV – Saints @ Colts.

As I alluded to earlier, the following play was rather painful to have to repeatedly watch and listen to as I grabbed the relevant stills. It’s important to highlight that with Pierre it hasn’t always been smiles and sunshine, and I guess the following drop is the most poignant example of it.

The Colts line up in the 3WR, 1TE, 1RB formation again, and Garcon is on a stop-start route where he fakes the fly-route down the field, comes back and heads diagonally upfield. Dallas Clark runs straight up the field on a clearout route for Garcon, and the stage is set. 3rd down halfway through the second quarter, and a chance to really stick the fork in.

The Saints bring a heavy blitz which leaves man coverage on the outside. The protection initially stands up to examination, with the interior line successfully condensing the A-gap blitz from the Saints.

The ball is delivered on-time and into the perfect area for Garcon. Look at the space in front of him – Darren Sharper at the top of the still is off-balance and at this point fairly slow on the field, so a catch means some huge YAC, and the potential for a long touchdown. At the worst, it’s a first down which should propel the Colts into Saints territory.

You can see Sharper move inside to deal with the threat of Clark over the top, and in doing so he takes himself out of the play if Garcon were to catch it. It’s an awful, awful drop which may well have cost us another Superbowl.

He sets the route up very well indeed, with emphasis placed on his seeming desire to get downfield against Jabari Greer.

His breakdown to transition into the inside route is about as clean as can be expected in the circumstances, and he gains a step on Greer in the process.

The ball bounces off his fingertips, and the Colts have to punt.

You can see here how he tries to make the catch one-handed with a clear gap between his hands. I’m not going to lecture an NFL WR on how to run his routes and make catches, but putting your hands together is surely a better method to deal with balls in this area.

For me, there were 2 plays in the game crucial to the defeat in SBXLIV. The onside kick which was inadequately corralled by Hank Baskett was clearly pivotal in the retention of momentum (and more importantly, keeping the ball away from Peyton Manning). The Garcon drop however isn’t referred to as frequently and seems to be forgotten by some sections of the fanbase. I haven’t forgotten, and I won’t. Really, really poor.

Play #4 – 2010 Week 6 – Colts @ Redskins.

From the terrible to the terrific, the following play will undoubtedly stick in my memory for entirely different reasons. Exhibiting the athleticism and the penchant for ridiculous plays which Pierre seems to possess, the following was simply the most obscene catch of the year.

The Colts line up in the 3-1-1 with the usual personnel on the field in their customary positions. It’s 2nd and 10 with a few minutes to go before the half, and the Colts are trying to extend a 7-point lead.

The protection initially holds up reasonably. Joseph Addai is running a short wheel route as opposed to staying in on pass protection, and with a subpar QB this would likely be a disaster zone. Thankfully, Peyton Manning is under center and has not only the ‘mental clock’ for the pocket which franchise QBs must possess, he also seems to possess the unique ability to just know when rushers are behind him. You don’t tend to see him get blindsided despite the awful LT play of the past few years, and it’s a testament to his skillset. Brian Orakpo is coming hard from the blind side.

Peyton releases the ball just before the pocket collapses, preventing Orakpo from making a potential sack fumble attempt.

The ball initially appears to be released to a point which is unreachable for the 6’0 Garcon. However, he springs into the air and with his wrong hand considering the trajectory of the ball, gets contact.

He somehow reels the ball in and has the presence of mind to cover the ball up and maintain possession, given the predatory lurking of LaRon Landry, the mercurial yet oft-injured (familiar?) Redskins SS.

That contact should simply not be sufficient to maintain any sort of control on the football. Only with superior concentration and coordination can such a catch even be contemplated, and given Pierre’s issues with drops, this shouldn’t necessarily be his strong suit.

Even here after his initial contact, there’s little to stop the ball hitting the ground. Somehow he maintains a grip on the ball and manages to reel it in.

Here it is at full extension, to do the catch justice.

Absolutely astonishing catch. Nothing more to say.

Play #5 – 2010 Wildcard Game – Jets @ Colts.

Examining these plays has been a joy to do (SBXLIV aside), primarily because watching Peyton Manning after the year we’ve had is a treat for the eyes. The following play is no exception, and further displays the connection that Manning forges with his receivers, if he decides they’re good enough to be successful.

The Colts are running a different formation – 2WR, 2TE, 1RB. This is due to the injuries sustained throughout the year, with Austin Collie and Dallas Clark unavailable for the game. Pierre Garcon is running a deep-route across the middle of the field to try and challenge the blitz-heavy Jets.

At the play-fake, all seems well. The Jets LBs hang back to deal with the potential threat, and the pass protectors have avoided any great lapses.

The pocket holds up adequately despite pressure from the RT area, a familiar phenomenon in the past few years with Ryan Diem at the spot. Peyton steps into the throw and puts everything into it.

Brodney Pool diagnoses the danger when it is too late and tries to shift from base position, as his over-the-top coverage has been rolled to Reggie Wayne on the left side of the offense.

Manning segments Antonio Cromartie and Pool beautifully. Again, as with his cousin, Cromartie is one of the fastest players in the league. Garcon’s ability to outrun him when in off-coverage speaks volumes.

Touchdown, advantage Colts.

We can track Garcon’s route from the aerial view, with Cromartie circled in red and Pool in black.

Garcon, moving from the bunch formation on the line, manages to get inside leverage on Cromartie. As a result, Pool’s positioning on the play becomes absolutely crucial, given his deep centerfield responsibilities. The safe option for Pool is to retreat and move towards Garcon simultaneously, which requires a diagonal retreat.

Pool however moves laterally, ignoring the importance of his depth on the field. As a result, and as Manning has predicted, there is a gap behind him to exploit.

And with perfect placement, Manning drives an early dagger into the Jets and Rex Ryan. Injuries and an inadequate offensive line ultimately cost the Colts the game, but Peyton still showed his ability to diagnose and destroy any coverage scheme, no matter how complex.

Conclusions:

Pierre Garcon possesses superior physical attributes, primarily in his acceleration and top speed down the field. He possesses the will and mindset necessary to be an above-average run blocking WR, and he’s always a willing tackler on interception returns and the like, as evidenced by the Ed Reed fumble.

Up until 2011, questions remained about his hands and reliability – particularly considering the end of the 2009 season, in which he dropped a pivotal ball in the Superbowl. However, this year (and without fantastic QB play), he has stepped up and made tough catches in a variety of different situations, and proved his worth as the only WR on the Colts able to consistently manufacture separation in all areas of the field. He doesn’t possess the rapport with Peyton Manning of an Austin Collie or Marvin Harrison type, but Manning has consistently looked to Garcon in playoff situations and put the onus on Garcon to make plays. Whether it’s Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck under center, he must be re-signed.

I’d expect his demands to be in the $6m-$7m a year range, and I’d be happy for the Colts to sign him if that is the case. A 4 year, $25m deal is something I’d consider to be reasonable for both sides.

That’s enough from me though, what do you guys think?

Go Colts.

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