This was as showdown between old school and new-school football philosophies. On one sideline, Bruce Arians, Harold Goodwin (and assistant head coach Tom Moore) with their high-flying Cardinals, and on the other, Chuck Pagano, Pep Hamilton and their run and try to stop the run Colts.
Things were a bit lopsided. Running and stopping the run is all well and good, but when a focus becomes a weakness, the best football coaches adjust and find ways to maximize what strengths their teams do have. One can only hope Indianapolis’s popular coach will do just that, and very soon.
At some point, this team simply has to show up better prepared to take on their opponent. Making second half comebacks every week is not something they simply cannot sustain. At some point, the losses come, as this one did, and with them, the questions. Pagano is an inspiring personality who can motivate anyone. He’s also smart enough to know how quickly things can change if losses like this one begin to pile up. Expect Indy to come out ready to play next week at home.
And on to the game:
Today’s dismal trip to the desert began the way many games have for Indianapolis this year. The Cardinals’ first drive looked distressingly easy as their backs bounced runs to the outside for big gains while Carson Palmer played pitch and catch with his receivers.
With Arizona up 7-0, the Colts needed to answer with a solid drive. They answered instead with a three and out. The Cardinals, as everyone expected, worked on taking Andrew Luck’s top target, T.Y. Hilton away and had him blanketed on the first play.
On second and ten, Luck handed off to Trent Richardson. A hole opened up to his left, but he was wrapped up from behind as he plodded indecisively toward Samson Satele’s back side.
That set up a third and eight. Arizona had a jailbreak to the quarterback on which Luck miraculously avoided the sack, saw that no one was open, and scrambled for three yards.
Those first two drives were a microcosm of the rest of the game. Everything that went right was cancelled out by something much, much worse.
After Sergio Brown blocked what would have been a 28-yard field goal, the Colts put together a decent drive on offense, aided by an aggressive 8-yard run from the aforementioned Richardson and a pass interference call on Patrick Peterson. Peterson basically tackled T.Y. Hilton to avoid a long touchdown play (although the ball may have been a bit overthrown).
They could not convert from nine yards out, however, and settled for a field goal, their first score in the opening quarter since they played the Broncos at home on October 20th. It would also be their only score until the fourth quarter. Richardson’s 8-yard run on the drive accounted for nearly all of his rushing yards, as he went into the fourth quarter with just nine and finished with 15.
Arizona quickly fired back with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald making it 14-3 Cardinals. Following another Colts three and out, the defense finally held them to a field goal after Robert Mathis came up with a strip sack (Cardinals recovered), moving his season total to 14.5. They almost allowed Arizona to convert on the next play, and then Mathis saved the day again with a lightning fast stop on third and one.
On the second play of the next drive, Luck threw a pick six to Karlos Dansby on a pass intended to Coby Fleener. Right guard Mike McGlynn was beaten so badly and with such alacrity that Luck may have been better off simply taking the sack.
With that another field goal, Bruce Arians and the Cardinals took a 27-3 lead into the second half. Luck was 6/15 for 42 yards, the interception, and a 20.1 QB rating. Donald Brown, one of the heroes of Thursday’s win, barely saw the field and had two carries for one yard.
Luck came out firing on all cylinders to start the second half, as Pep Hamilton suddenly remembered that his quarterback is very good at running the no huddle offense. He guided the them to the Arizona 36 despite an injury to T.Y. Hilton, but then two straight passes to David Reed (one overthrown) fell incomplete before LaVon Brazill couldn’t get open on fourth and four. (Are these guys both better than Da’Rick Rogers? I sure hope so.)
The Cardinals quickly worked to squash any remaining hope with another touchdown, a 5-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall for a 34-3 lead early in the third quarter.
With Luck continually running for his life in the backfield, the offense finally managed a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, a beautiful 17-yard pass to Coby Fleener in the endzone. Pagano, understanding the need to be aggressive when your team is down a-lot-to-not-very-much, elected to go for two, and Luck hit Darrius Heyward-Bey to make the score 34-11.
There was no electrifying end to the game, or even a flourish of scoring and ball movement to make the final score look better.
This coaching staff has some great motivators and some bright minds, but if their team continues to come into games so poorly prepared, regardless of injuries or roster deficiencies, the losses will mount. The honeymoon will end. And the questions will begin.
Just as with the Rams beat down, this was only one of sixteen games. Next week, the Colts will face the Tennessee Titans in beautiful downtown Indianapolis, and a win would move them to 8-4 and in very good shape in the up and down AFC. If that is going to happen, however, Pagano and his staff will need to have their team ready and firing on all cylinders right out of the gate. It may not look like it after today’s loss, but it’s certainly possible.
Some quick notes in no particular order:
– T.Y. Hilton had 5 catches on 9 targets, but for only 38 yards (7.6 per catch). Arizona knew what they needed to do, and they locked onto the speedy Hilton.
– At one point, Luck had four straight incompletions, then a deflected pass went into the hands of center Samson Satele…
– Boom Herron looked solid in garbage time again, gaining 33 yards on 4 carries to lead the team. The Cardinals were looking pass all the way, but Herron still made the most of the space he had to run through.
– Last week, Pagano intelligently went with the hot hand, playing Donald Brown over Richardson in several situations, then spent the week denying that it had anything to do with Richardson’s play. This week, Brown had two carries – bad ones no doubt, while Richardson stayed on the field for most of the game and netted 15 yards on 7 runs.
– Carson Palmer has one heck of a mustache. Very impressive. That thing could win a game on its own. Way to win at "Movember," buddy.
– Luck’s escape acts in the face of intense pressure are exciting, but do you know what’s REALLY exciting? Good blocking.
– Da’Rick Rogers was inactive in favor of David Reed. Chris Rainey, the kick returner signed to the open roster spot created by Erik Walden’s suspension, was also inactive.
– Ricky Jean-Francois had a very good game with 5 tackles, 3 QB hits, 2 sacks, and a pass deflection, but that dance after a sack while down 34-3……I don’t think he’ll do that again.