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Winnable game, just a couple of plays changed the outcome. Still kind of a sloppy game all around. Box score Snap counts Offense, C: 70 plays, 266 yards, 18 first downs (11 passing, 6 rushing, 1 penalty), 8/18 on third down, 1/2 red zone, 1 turnover (ouch), 13 points; better overall performance, but left a lot of plays out there and couldn't sustain potential scoring drives down the stretch QB: Considering the circumstances, this was a strong performance. Brissett's arm talent is obvious, he has poise in the pocket, responds well to pressure, knows when to run and when to dump it off, and in general plays a game that gives his team a chance to win. He was gun shy at times, I thought he had some chances to go downfield throughout the game, but he mostly didn't; on the double play action fake that resulted in a sack, he even had a dumpoff that he didn't come down to in enough time. On the second sack he had open receivers short, but didn't check down before the pressure got there. He was betrayed by receivers on a few plays, including a bad drop by Moncrief. He needs more touch on short throws, and his footwork is sloppy at times, leading to some bad throws on crossing routes. If they continue to deploy him like they did Sunday, and if the receivers show up, and he just speeds up his processing in the pocket, he'll be more than good enough until Luck comes back. C+, the pick was awful, but this was a respectable game Backs / receivers / TEs: The backs were pretty well bottled up all game, Gore had a 13 yarder up the middle, but other than that it was pretty dry. Mack got met in the backfield or cut off at the corner on almost every carry, and finished with negative yardage. The receivers were inconsistent, giving plenty of reasons to question their effort, which is problematic. I'm giving Moncrief a pass on the long throw that he apparently lost in the lights, but he short armed the deep crossing pattern that he should have just run through and might have had a big YAC gain. The TEs, led by Doyle, had a good game; the chemistry between Doyle and Brissett is impressive. The WRs were really the disappointment here -- 9/23 on targets to wide outs. C, need sharper play from the receivers OL / blocking: The pass pro was decent, there were some blown assignments and AC got beat a couple times, but in general the pass blocking gave the QB enough time and a clean enough pocket to go through his progressions and find receivers. The run blocking was very sloppy, at times with unblocked linemen getting a free release to the ball carrier, too much penetration on outside runs, too much penetration on those early screen plays, etc. And the receivers -- Moncrief, Bray and Aiken -- did a poor job blocking the edge on outside runs. I'm again disappointed in the effort from the WR group. Let's hope AC is just going through early season jitters and gets it together. I'm not too worried about the 4 sacks, I think the QB held the ball too long. More damaging were the drive-killing penalties and the blown blocks in the run game. C, lack of consistent lineups is hard to overcome Defense, B-: 65 plays, 389 yards, 17 first downs (14 passing, 2 rushing, 1 penalty), 6/15 on third down, 0/1 on fourth down, 0/3 red zone, 1 turnover, 16 points; still promising work up front, struggles in pass coverage Defensive front: Really good game up front, in both phases. The run defense speaks for itself, the Cardinals couldn't do anything positive most of the game, the fits and edge play got sloppy on a couple of plays (one got called back due to a ticky tack hold), but mostly positive. They did a good job rushing the passer also. While there wasn't an overabundance of pressure, the Cardinals used a 6th OL on 23% of their plays. Blitzes were mostly ineffective, and they hurt the pass coverage -- Palmer was 78% against the blitz with a passer rating of 149. The edge play was good, Sheard and Simon had strong performances, and the inside backers did a good job supporting the run, especially Jeremiah George, who picked up where he left off in preseason. More penetration up the middle would help. B+, tough, physical, disciplined -- all important when you don't have explosive playmakers in the front seven Pass defense: For all the talk about how bad Palmer was, he threw for 332 yards and a 9.2 average. The long TD was the most painful play, but the 3rd and 20 just before was when the damage started. There were a good 8-10 pass plays where he had receivers wide open in the second level, and they had 12 pass plays of 10+ yards. Pretty much every time we went zone, Palmer diced it up, and pretty much every time we sacrificed the integrity of the coverage with a blitz, he killed it. Melvin had a nice game, but still got beat a few times, and I believe he had a blown coverage on a second level TE catch. Wilson and Hairston are exciting, but they need a lot of coaching when it comes to outside technique, handling stacked releases, etc. We were a step late or a foot behind on several plays. Bostic was lost in coverage all game, as was Kenny Moore. I get the feeling the pass coverage will get incrementally better as the season goes on, but we still haven't faced a really good QB or a very talented receiver group yet. No need for Green at corner, but I don't think they've given up on him yet. Hooker's pick was a gift, really bad decision and bad throw by Palmer. C-, too many open receivers throughout the game Special teams: Solid game, Sanchez had one bad punt, but they were strategic with kickoffs and covered well. Moore's penalty was dumb, but he must have missed the fair catch signal, which happens when you're gunning. AV bounced back with a typical performance. Bray seems shaky on returns, and even put the ball on the ground. I get the feeling an onside kick is on the way... B Coaching / play calling / game management: The defensive gameplan was basically 'bend, don't break,' and that worked most of the game, with the exception of the TD drive and the INT drive. There was an interesting mix of blitzes and 8 man coverages, man vs zone, which worked a lot of the time, but there was about a 20-25 play stretch where the Cardinals figured out the coverage. B Chud had his hands full on offense, and did a reasonably good job of deploying his backup QB and keeping the offense in favorable situations. The penalties and drops hurt more than anything, especially the second half penalties that seemed to stall out good drives. The wildcat snap was interesting; Gore could have pitched it out to Brissett for a good gain, so I wonder if they'll continue to build on that package. Same with the read option stuff. The play calling right before the 2 minute warning was bad. I still don't like Chud's 3rd down play calling, a lot of it doesn't target the chains well enough. And the offensive coaches have to figure out how to run screen plays. B- I didn't mind the first quarter challenge; the Colts wanted to sustain drives, and there was a chance that Hilton had crossed the marker before he was touched. End of the day, the challenge didn't hurt anything. I didn't mind the late timeout before the FG, and when you freeze the kicker and it works, it's a good thing. Gonna ding the entire staff here for the late 12 man penalties (one avoided with a timeout, the other resulted in a penalty directly after a timeout, both inexcusable). C+ Callin 'em out: Anthony Castonzo -- Fail Malik Hooker -- Pass John Simon -- Pass Marlon Mack -- INC TJ Green -- INC Rob Chudzinski -- Pass Chuck Pagano -- Push Ted Monachino -- Pass Donte Moncrief -- Fail Jon Bostic -- Fail Game ball: n/a Next up, the Cleveland Browns, unbelievably favored on the road for the first time in like three years. Hilton all but guaranteed a win this week, and that worked out last year. Let's see if he and his receiver compadres bring a little more heart to this one.