No Fluke

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The reader will kindly forgive a happy Saints fan two posts in a row about football...

The more I learn about New Orleans coach Sean Payton, the more I like him. Yesterday, I linked to an analysis by NFL writer, Bucky Brooks, of Payton and company's second-half coaching adjustments. As ingenious as they were comprehensive, that analysis still turns out not to tell the whole story of how well-thought-out this victory was, or how well-prepared the team.

Remember this play? (HT: Amit Ghate) It is an example of the motto, "Fortune favors the prepared mind."

This is one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time getting burned as he tries to execute one of his favorite plays. New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter even makes it look easy, but it wasn't. As sports writer Charles Robinson notes, Manning "was ultimately thwarted by the kind of film study and diligence that has so often delivered him to victory."
That's how Porter was able to recognize the pivotal route late in Sunday's game, as the Colts lined up with 3:24 remaining, trailing 24-17. Indianapolis came to the line of scrimmage in a three-wide look, with rookie wideout Austin Collie on the outside and [Reggie] Wayne next to him in the slot. Porter was across from Wayne, and he remembered from film study that the Colts rarely ran plays with Collie on the outside, in what was essentially the No. 1 receiver spot. He knew if Collie went in motion, which he eventually did, that Indianapolis would "stack" the rookie behind Wayne, snapping the ball at the exact moment that Collie and Wayne were only feet apart, in hopes of confusing the opposing coverage.


Porter had the play diagramed [sic] in his head, and the moment Wayne crossed the first-down marker and began to put a foot in the ground, Porter devoured the space between them, stepping in front of Wayne to snatch Manning's pass.

"It didn’t surprise me at all," Wayne said of Porter jumping the route. "That's kind of how they were playing a little bit throughout the game. They kind of were squatting a little bit [on routes]. ... We've run [that play] quite a few times. We ran it earlier in the game and Peyton went backside with it. I think [Porter] kind of had a feeling it was coming. It was the same formation. He did a good job of recognizing it." [links dropped]
His players being this well-prepared thus enabled Payton's staff to realize a huge payoff on what was actually something of a gamble: the decision to send six men after Manning on that play in the first place.

This story at the last link even explains the sound rationale behind Payton's decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal, a move whose lack of a score I was afraid would be bad for the Saints' morale:
With 1:55 to go in the first half, down 10-3, Payton went for it on fourth-and-goal at the Indianapolis one. The safe play is to take the three points and cut the lead, but that also means kicking off and giving Peyton Manning the ball with two timeouts and possibly decent field position. The gamble looked like a loser when Pierre Thomas was stopped for no gain by Gary Brackett and Clint Session.

But with the Colts backed up against their own end zone, Manning had to be careful and kept the ball on the ground. The Saints called time before a third-and-one with fifty-one seconds to play, stuffed Mike Hart, called another timeout, and got the ball back with enough time for four plays followed by the field goal they'd passed up two minutes earlier. [bold added]
The field goal would normally be the safe play, but Payton saw that in his context, it was actually a boneheaded play. Prepare well, keep the big picture in sight, keep your opponent guessing, and deprive him of his most potent weapon.

To move from Payton's big picture approach to his general outlook, I'll borrow from another sports writer: "The Saints played to win, and the Colts played not to lose. " Bob Kravitz then correctly notes that the coaching philosophies of the two sides in that game corresponded directly with those each exhibited in the final three games of the season, when each team still had a perfect season record within reach.
[I]t felt like an extension of the way both teams approached the final weeks of the regular season, the way the Saints looked at perfection and said, "Let's go for it," and the Colts said, "Um, we have other goals, thank you very much, and if you don't like it, too bad."

When the big moments came Sunday, the Saints were willing to walk way out there on the tightrope with no safety net. They dared to be great. And even after a fourth-and-goal at the Colts 1 got stuffed, they still got their field goal, still got to go into the locker room with all the momentum.
I don't know where I read it, but I agree that this game will go down as one of the best-coached Super Bowl victories. The Saints exuded confidence and discipline the whole time. If they didn't win, their loss was going to be nothing to be ashamed of.

I'll close by quoting Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle, whom I mildly picked on yesterday for predicting an Indy win:
Payton ... takes crazy chances, does things others wouldn't.

But maybe that nuttiness is part of his magic.
Justice also notes that Payton, "knows every button to push and seemed to love it that the world picked the Colts. He seemed to think this made the game easier."

That's my kind of coach.

Thanks again, New Orleans Saints and Mr. Payton, for your inspiring performance Sunday.

-- CAV


Joseph Kellard said...

"But with the Colts backed up against their own end zone, Manning had to be careful and kept the ball on the ground."
I think the final three drives of the second quarter encapsulate this Super Bowl best. When Sean Payton went for it on 4 & goal at the one, he said I’m playing to win the game. After the Colts stuffed them, on the next drive as the clock was winding down, Indianapolis played it conservative -- when all season they took every opportunity with less than 2 minutes to try to score, no matter their field position! Yet, in the Super Bowl, they basically sat on the ball. Then the Saints got the ball back and kicked a field goal. In short, the Saints played to win and the Colts played not to lose.
This reminds me of the Super Bowl between the Saint Louis Rams and the New England Patriots in 2002. Near the end of the game, right before the Patriots then young, inexperienced quarterback Tom Brady got the ball and drove his offense down the field, TV announcer and former head coach John Madden said something to the effect that the Patriots should kneel on the ball and play for overtime. But Patriots coach Bill Belichick took the risk, with the game on the line, and allowed his green quarterback to drive the team into field goal range. Adam Vinatieri then kicked the game winning field goal. The Patriots played to win, and so did the Saints on Sunday. And both are Super Bowl champions.

Gus Van Horn said...

I find it fascinating that, in both games, not only was individual heroism on display, but a concretization of the benevolent universe premise, for those who know where to look for it.

Mom said...

Geaux, Saints!

Gus Van Horn said...

Wish we could have all been together for that one...

I texted Number 3: "Well, hell! I guess we've seen it all, now!"