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Box score Callin 'em Out Week 6 grades Defense, A+: 54 plays, 135 yards (that's 2.5 yards/play), 8 first downs (5 passing, 1 rushing, 2 from penalty), 1/13 on third down, 0/1 on fourth down, 0/1 in the red zone, 0 turnovers, 0 points; first shutout since 2008, and that was an end of season game with starters on the bench I'm not even going to waste anyone's time by breaking this down by unit, like I usually do. Let's just set the record straight: I don't think our defense has ever played a game like this. Maybe the Chiefs game in the 2006 playoffs, but really, just complete domination for four quarters. Practically no yards for most of the game. They didn't come close to threatening to score until that 4th quarter possession, and that took an incredible catch from Sanu, between double coverage. Then, when they got down into the red zone, our guys made it very clear that this game would NOT be put up for grabs. The 4th and goal play saw immediate pressure on Dalton, and the only throw he had a chance at was well short of the end zone, with two guys making sure the ball wouldn't be caught. We hit their receivers all game long -- high, low, when the ball arrived, after the ball arrived, etc. Basically no yards after the catch. A ton of pressures, with four sacks and several more jarring hits. There was no run game. The run fits were pretty good, with some misses, but the linebackers and safeties cleaned those up with little trouble. I'm sure the long week helped (compared to the Bengals, who had a long overtime game on the road, then had to travel to Indy), but they were nothing short of outstanding, all game long. The only negative was Walden being ejected, but his replacement played well, so big deal. The defense gave no quarter, not even to the refs. Offense, B+: 78 plays, 506 yards, 27 first downs (15 passing, 11 rushing, 1 from penalty), 5/13 on third down (none in the first half), 2/4 in the red zone, 2 turnovers, 27 points; nice, balanced performance, but we struggled on third down for a lot of the game, and still gave the ball up QB: Not as sharp as he'd been in recent weeks, with some over/underthrows, some late throws, some hesitation to pull the trigger, late decisions to run or scramble, etc. One red zone play, he completely missed Richardson, who was wide open on the backside of the play for a TD (and if this play wasn't designed specifically to get Richardson open, then I don't understand the play; if it was, then I don't understand why Luck never even looked at him). Almost threw a really bad interception on a throw that made no sense in the red zone. And he was still incredibly productive. He dashed the Bengals, a typically capable defense, to pieces, despite leaving nearly a dozen plays on the field. Had 27 completions, several nice checkdowns, sliced up some zone coverage on intermediate throws, and made sure to get at least one deep one to Hilton, just in case anyone missed last week's highlight reel performance. Also, he knocked one of the most physical -- and dirtiest -- linebackers out of the game for a bit on an open field collision (that happens to be the play where he missed Richardson). B-, shows how good he is when he's on top of his game Backs / receivers / tight ends, B+: Running game: Really good game by both guys, and then Boom came in and finished it off. Richardson had a couple carries that looked like he didn't know what to do, and I blame him for the fumble, but the majority of his performance was very good. He hit the hole hard, got around the corner when it was time to do so, shook some guys with ease, and finished strong. Bradshaw did the same, and looked quicker this week than he has recently. I think the long week did him a lot of good. Bad fumble, again, but I get the feeling he'll straighten that out. And Boom was up to the second level in a flash almost every time he got the ball. B+, strong game, we probably should have run more; I hate fumbles Passing game: Dropped passes were not good to see. A couple of them were on Reggie, and after rewatching, it was pretty obvious that his arm was bothering him. Other than that, guys were getting open, making good catches, shrugging off defenders and picking up extra yardage in chunks, including Allen's big TD run. The backs did a great job of turning upfield after getting dumpoffs; Richardson undressed a couple of guys in the open field. Overall, we had 217 yards afer the catch, which is a testament to how hard guys were running with the ball. Great job by everyone. B+, let's fix the drops OL / blocking: There were some mistakes in protection, and it seemed like every one of them led to a QB hit. But there weren't that many issues pass blocking. Luck usually had more than enough time to throw. And the run blocking was on point as well. Again, some lost battles, which happens to even the best line, but we got push up the middle, sealed the outside so the backs could patiently wait for the play to develop, created running lanes... The pull blocking was very good, where it had been sloppy in the past. And my goodness, the counter blocking was devastating. Oh, and no snap issues from Harrison. This was a good outing for the line, against a good defensive front. A Special teams: Let out a 40 yard kickoff return, where McAfee probably should have been putting the ball out of the back of the end zone. And still very little return game of our own. Other than that, special teams was on it. AV was perfect, including a 50 yarder for the oldest player in the NFL. McAfee punted the heck out of the ball, and when I thought he had easily outkicked his coverage, the coverage busted their humps to get down the field and cover. Longest punt return was 8 yards. Pat continues to set the tone (had a tackle, for good measure), and special teams continues to get the job done. A- Coaching / playcalling / game management, A: I loved the safety blitzes, corner blitzes, the freedom for the secondary to play up on short passes, etc. Manusky is doing a good job of manufacturing our pass rush. Well-run and well-coached scrape/gap exchang on the read option. A, I hope the guys can continue to make these gameplans look good The offensive attack was very good. I thought we could have run more, but the passing schemes were excellent. More play action, which I love. Not enough rollouts, but that's okay. I especially like that Luck has a bit more freedom to make sight adjustments and throw the smoke route. B+, could use more run plays The game management was right on. No issue with use of timeouts. I wouldn't have thrown the challenge flag, but Pagano was right to do so. You never know when a botched snap, penalty or fumble might happen, and the play was fixed as a result of the challenge, so good for him. A Game ball: Vontae Davis He helped set the tone with the big hit on Bernard early in the game, played tight coverage for four quarters, knocked out several balls, including one that would have been a TD, and just terrorized the Bengals receivers from start to finish. Seven targets, two catches, 21 yards, no TDs. I hope he can keep playing like this. Next up, at Pittsburgh. It's the first Luck / Roethlisberger matchup. And Reggie might not play. Going to be a tough game, I think. GO COLTS!!!
No words. On to the grades... Box score Offense, B: 71 plays, 334 yards, 19 first downs (11 passing, 5 rushing, 3 from penalty), 5/17 on third down, 3/4 in the red zone, 1 turnover, 37 points; slow start, but capitalized on opportunities after the safety to create just enough distance QB: This was mostly the best of Andrew Luck. He's shown an ability to rise to the occasion and make big plays, both with his arm and his legs. While there were some errant throws, which are frustrating at times (none more frustrating than the missed throw to Reggie, of course), he was mostly on the mark. The biggest thing he did, over and over again, was standing tall in the pocket, dodging defenders to extend plays, and running with the ball just enough. I'd like to see us take more shots downfield. More on that in coaching, but the timing between Luck and Hilton is going to have to improve. B+ Backs / receivers / tight ends: Richardson is having a tough go of it, but the run blocking struggled all game long. Just no rhythm. Some hard fought yards in there from time to time, but not a lot on the ground. The fumble is irritating. The receivers played hard, fought coverage, and made up for the drops last week against the Chargers (sort of). Kind of shocked to see Fleener only had 38 yards, because he seemed big in this game. The backs got involved in the passing game also, and while Havili had the drop on the screen play, he came back with the touchdown later on. My heart hurts for Reggie. Gonna need the other guys to step up. B OL / blocking: Seemed to me like Luck was on the run the whole game. Even when he had a nice pocket, it didn't last. No time to throw, with lots of penetration up the middle. Cherilus did a nice job pass blocking, kind of shut Von Miller down every time he faced him. But with the injuries and all the shuffling, the line struggled. Take out Luck's scrambles and DHB's big gain, and we averaged 2/4 yards/carry, with six tackles for loss. Failed on 3rd and short almost every time. Not gonna cut it. Replacing Satele with McGlynn didn't help either. The line was making incremental improvement, but the injuries aren't helping. C Defense, A: 73 plays, 429 yards, 23 first downs (19 passing, 2 rushing, 2 from penalty), 5/16 on third down, 1/1 on fourth down, 3/5 in the red zone, three turnovers, 33 points (the Broncos were averaging 44 points a game coming in) Defensive front: The Broncos aren't a really good run team, but they run well situationally, usually converting in short yardage. We shut them down in short yardage, and stopped them for one yard, zero gain or a loss 9 times, by my count. Flew to the ball in the flats, and tackled much better after the catch than I expected after last week. Very disciplined against the run. Pass rush wasn't consistent, but it was timely. The sack/safety was right on time. And we got pressure without sending extra guys. Someone said we only blitzed four times in nearly 60 called pass plays, but we came up with 4 sacks and several hurries, including the hit that caused the interception. Erik Walden showed more pass rush ability in this one. Let a few runs out for moderate gains, but that happens against a good offense. I was very pleased with the play of the front, including the gameplan, which I'll touch on later. To get to a QB like Manning four times, mostly with a four man rush, is very impressive. Mathis continues to destroy blockers and quarterbacks, no matter who they are, and is on his way to being the undisputed king of the strip sack (Jason Taylor has the same amount of strip sacks, but played 79 more games than Mathis has so far, so to me, Mathis is already the king). A Pass defense: If this grade were just for Vontae Davis, it would be an A+. But the other corners weren't nearly as good. Butler played a strong game, but he and Toler got beat a few times. I'm not mad at that; the Broncos have a really good passing game, really good receivers, a really good QB... The safeties were all over the place, covering and tackling. Bethea fell down on the Decker touchdown, but had a play on the ball. Then he got beat by a great throw and catch on the Julius Thomas touchdown (and a great play design, by the way; Collinsworth did a great job telestrating it). Landry hits, plain and simple. We've missed that on defense. And the linebackers did a significantly better job in coverage than they did against the Chargers. Freeman finally got some praise on national TV, and it was long overdue. Kind of weird to be giving out such high praise for a unit that gave up nearly 400 yards and 3 touchdowns, but the pass defense was really good, all things considered. I'm impressed. A- Special teams: It's sad that I got a little excited about a kick return that took the ball to the 26 yard line. We still don't have a return game, and I don't know what we can do about it. And I'm going to overlook the couple of kicks and punts that we didn't cover well, because Havili forced the big fumble (which should have been a touchdown), and because McAfee brought the pain like a boss. Vinatieri was perfect on the night, including a 52 yarder (I thought his leg was gone...?) Gotta tighten up the coverage, but this was a strong performance also. A- Coaching / playcalling, B+: Hamilton is still struggling to find an early balance between pass and run, and didn't do a good job of getting his playmakers involved early on. But he made adjustments, and for the second game in a row, used a gadget play for a big gain. The design of DHB's touchdown catch was borderline genius, and worked perfectly. I hesitate to blame the playcalling for the struggles running the ball, but as has been pointed out here often, some of our power runs are fairly predictable. That's fine, when you are converting, but we haven't been. Gonna have to do a better job of getting the run game established without forcing it and hurting the passing game. B- Manusky is starting to work it. He obviously had the same idea I had about defending the Broncos: play the best coverage you can play, and try your darndest to get pressure without bringing extra rushers. Good thing our front was able to play so well, and good thing our pass coverage was so good, and we still gave up a bunch of yards. Not a perfect effort here, but some ingenuity on some different coverages and pressures as the game went on, including a delayed blitz up the middle. Ditched the edge blitz after it got burned, and stuck with more conventional pressures. Pagano's defensive vision is starting to come together. A Game management deserves credit for the challenge, which was fairly obvious. Timeouts were never an issue. Might have gone for the 4th and 2 from the +49, but the defense was kind of on a roll at the time, and the punt was downed on the 2 yard line, so shut my mouth. B+ Game ball, offense: Reggie Wayne. The leader of the offense, the embodiment of the team over the last year and a half, and he hasn't missed a game since his rookie year. Still so glad he stayed, and I hope he gets the knee right and comes back ready to roll next season. I'd trade this win for Reggie being healthy, and this is a HUGE win. Watching him walk into the lockerroom was the most heartrending thing I've watched since March 2012. This one is for you, Reggie. Game ball, defense: Vontae Davis. He simply didn't allow anyone to do anything, on any spot of the field. He was physical, active, he frustrated every receiver that lined up across from him, he didn't make any mistakes... And against the best passing attack in the league. This is the kind of game that convinces you he can be a true shutdown corner. Keep it up, young man. Pagano gave the guys the bye week off. They deserve it. Come back ready to take care of business down in Houston.
Grades tomorrow hopefully, but what did everyone else think? Coaching / play calling -- Special teams -- Defensive front (run defense and pass rush) -- Pass defense -- Blocking -- Receivers / tight ends / backs -- Quarterback -- Game ball -- (does anyone even deserve one?) I'm dying to see what other people thought in this one. Such an underwhelming performance, but a win nonetheless.