A Blowout, Yes, but Certainly No Walk in the Park
Yesterday, Indianapolis rolled into San Francisco as 10.5-point underdogs and left as dominant victors. Any given Sunday, right? The 49ers were stunned, incredulous, and certainly dismayed after such an unexpected and total defeat at home.
The Colts, well, you would have thought they eked it out on a last second field goal. According to Pagano, this blowout was no easy task. “That was a 15-round slugfest,” the Colts coach said after their 27-7 win. “That was exactly what we thought it was going to be. It’s what we prepared for. I’m going to give credit to them. That’s one heck of a football team as we know. What a great football game. It was a hard fought football game.
“To be able to run the ball like we ran the ball, move the chains, get first downs, it was tough sledding. We had pep talks about body punches. A 1-yard game, a 2-yard game a 3-yard game, don’t get discouraged. As long as we are not taking negative plays and getting behind the sticks and are staying on schedule, we’ll be fine. In the first half, both sides, third down, it was tough. Points and yards were tough to come by.”
And that was just the offense. The real surprise stars of this game were the defensive players. “The job that our defense did,” Pagano said, “coach [Greg] Manusky and the rest of the defensive staff and those players, to hold this crew to seven points, to travel as far as we traveled and play on the road against an unbelievable offense and offensive line and the weapons that they had.
“They had a couple, early on during their second drive, of runs get out but it was just a phenomenal effort. It is one of those games that you look back and say, maybe five, six years down the road, you say that was a signature win – maybe one of those wins that propel you to do great things.”
How ‘bout that O-line?
Another thing many people may not have expected was the solid play of the Colts’ patchwork offensive line. With Mike McGlynn, a right guard, filling in at center for the injured Samson Satele, rookie guard Hugh Thornton filling in for the injured Donald Thomas, and all-purpose backup Jeff Linkenbach subbing for McGlynn at right guard, the o-line managed to hold up against a very good defense.
Pro Football Focus gave positive blocking grades to Hugh Thornton, Gosder Cherilus, and Joe Reitz (who was only in for 13 plays), but the one who stole the show was Anthony Castonzo. For the second week in a row, the Colts third year left tackle looked the part of an elite blind side protector (and big-time, punishing, second level run blocker), neutralizing San Francisco’s top pass rusher Aldon Smith.
“He’s a heck of a player” Castonzo said of Smith. “It was a good battle. I was just working my butt off. That’s what I do. When you’re going against a great player like that, you can’t take any plays off. You have to be working every second of every play. And that’s what I have to do.”
Castonzo also liked the communication on the field for the surprisingly cohesive patchwork unit. “We were on the same page,” he said. “Mike did a great job today. He kept us on the same page and Hugh does a great job of keeping communication going. He’s very alert about what’s going on. Everybody did a good job of staying on the same page and it worked for us.”
Castonzo was aware of the accomplishment of winning an away game against an elite team, but he, like any true professional, isn’t about to dwell on it for too long. “Against a Super Bowl team from last year on the road, it’s a big win for us,” said Castonzo. “It’s a great win. But as of tomorrow afternoon, this one’s over and we move on to the next one.”
For those who are curious about how PFF graded the offensive line overall, RT Gosder Cherilus: +1.0, RG Jeff Linkenbach: -3.6. C Mike McGlynn: -1.3, (an improvement over last week, and not terrible outside of allowing a sack). LG Hugh Thornton: +1.4, Joe Reitz, who played in the 6 linemen sets, received a +1.7, and Anthony Castonzo, who may have drawn his toughest assignment of this young season, graded out at +4.0 (he was +4.6 last week as well).
Overall, it was a good day for the Colts’ offensive line against a formidable front seven.
Defense! Defense! Defense!
The Colts held the 49ers to 187 yards before San Francisco’s final, futile, desperation drive with 2:55 left padded the final number to 254. Fittingly, that drive ended on a great play from Cory Redding, who had a tremendous game, deflecting a pass into the waiting hands of Cassius Vaughn.
It was a microcosm of what the Colts defense was able to do the whole game, frustrating 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, thus taking their most dynamic and important player out of the game. The Colts had a great defensive game plan, and they executed it beautifully (and by beautifully, I mean it was downright nasty).
“Job one was taking away Kaepernick and one B was taking away Gore,” OLB Robert Mathis said of the Colt’s defensive strategy. “We were missing [S] LaRon Landry today, our big striker and it was going to be who wanted it more.”
When a mobile QB faces someone like Robert Mathis, he tends to expect a relentless up field rush on nearly every play, allowing a lane to open up on the outside, or between the guard and tackle, for a big run. On some occasions, Kaepernick looked up to see Mathis working as a “spy,” staying back and virtually daring the QB to take off and run. “Sometimes yeah,” Mathis said about whether he spied the QB on some plays. “You have to keep him bottled up. He can make plays outside the pocket, so that is why we tried to keep him inside the pocket.”
Taking away the one constant a quarterback expects can be devastating, especially when the rest of the defense plays so well (You can’t spy the QB with your best pass rusher if the secondary can’t cover. They did well today). Discipline – staying with their assignments and trusting their teammates – was another key the Indy’s success against the 49ers.
“We just played assignment football,” said Cory Redding. “We played one play at a time, we didn’t judge, we knew they were going to make their plays and when they did, we just settled down, came together as a unit and said, ‘Just keep doing your job.’ As long as you keep doing your job and do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll make the plays when they come to you. And that’s what we did.”
Leftover Quotes: Was that a Quarterback Keeper? & Luck = Rocket Scientist
Andrew Luck on his touchdown run and whether it was a designed running play: “It was sort of an option on the play. We were running so hard so well, our guys do such a great job that they have to respect [RB] Ahmad [Bradshaw], [FB] Stanley Havilli. We were fortunate that [WR] T.Y. [Hilton] did a great job of getting the corner out of there.”
Jim Harbaugh, 49ers coach and former Colt Hero, on Andrew Luck and the Colts: “Very good. Very efficient. They did make the plays. They did make the plays when they needed to.”
Trent Richardson on playing with Andrew Luck: “Oh yeah, I love playing with Luck out there. He is a good person, a genius, and a rocket scientist out there. Playing beside him you must know your stuff.”
49ers CB Tarell Brown on the officiating: “Yean, it was a rough day. I think nine times out of 10 I would have got those calls or they would have gone my way. But I guess the referee saw something different. It happens. I’m going to play aggressive. I’m not going to change my style of play and I’m going to play aggressive. I’m going to get my hands on receivers and challenge every ball; it’s all I can do.”
Robert Mathis crediting the offensive line for turning a close game into a blowout: “I would blame our offensive line for that because they blew the game wide open. They imposed their will and that allowed us to get after the quarterback.”
Cory Redding giving some credit – but not too much credit – to the Colts’ secondary: “They played huge. They made a few plays. But it was our front seven. They were humming around and making plays.”
Ricky Jean Francois, summing things up: “This will lead us to bigger things. We just played one of the best teams in the NFL. Now we have to show what we can do against other teams. We have to be hungry. We can be happy for 24 hours but after that, we have to start worrying about Jacksonville.”
That’s all we have for today. Bring on Jacksonville, but in the meantime, as fans, let’s enjoy this one for a little while longer.