“Players win games, coaches lose them”
This is one of the truest sayings in football, and perhaps in sports. The Colts received some tremendous performances against the 49ers; TY Hilton stepped up with a 177 yard performance, Jabaal Sheard had a fantastic game, and Marlon Mack broke out. Yet, despite the fantastic performances, Chuck Pagano nearly found a way to throw it all away. Again.
The game was full of blunders from the coaching staff. It all started in the 2nd quarter, when the Colts were returning a punt. The 49ers punted the ball deep in their own zone and the ball was returned by Quan Bray. Bray fielded the ball at their own 40 yard line and had room to run. Instead of taking the 7-8 free yards in front of him, he stopped, turned sideways, and threw a 30 yard backward pass across the field to Krishawn Hogan. A 49ers gunner was unblocked and he nearly made a play on the ball. Hogan made the catch, but was wrapped up and thrown backwards upon contact. He fumbled the ball, recovered it, and was stopped at the 25 yard line.
The crowd erupted into boos and rightfully so — a punt returned at their own 40 yard line, ended up at their own 25 yard line, a 15 yard loss. The play was unnecessary and it cost the Colts at least 15 yards. It was an extremely risky and entirely unnecessary call by Pagano and the coaching staff and it nearly gave the 49ers a free touchdown. He clearly did not learn from his blunder a couple of years ago against the Patriots. Chuck Pagano should’ve never attempted another unorthodox special teams play after that error.
The brunt of the issues, however, came in the 2nd half, specifically in the 4th quarter.
The Colts had a 14 point lead with 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter, and all they needed was a couple of stops from the defense. Like we’ve seen with many games under Pagano, the defense imploded late in the game, and they made Brian Hoyer look like Tom Brady. The 49ers came back and scored the game-tying touchdown on a 4th down with under a minute to go.
It’s not a coincidence. The Colts always go up in a conservative prevent defense when they have the lead in the 4th quarter. They reduce the amount of blitzers and they send more guys deep into coverage. This allows the quarterback time in the pocket to make his read and he’ll have enough space to work with over the short to intermediate portion of the field. That’s exactly what happened with Hoyer. Hoyer had plenty of time in the pocket and was able to expose the Colts secondary.
These Pagano-led defenses cannot seem to get a big stop when the game is on the line. We saw it numerous times last year (not to mention many times in the past 5 years) and we’ve seen it a few times this year.
On top of the disastrous performance from the defense in the 4th quarter, Pagano also demonstrated very poor time and game management skills. Late in the 4th quarter, with the 49ers down by 7 and in the red-zone, Pagano failed to leave any time on the clock for the Colts to drive down the field and potentially get a field goal to win in regulation. Pagano let the clock run down an additional 40 seconds, called a timeout, the 49ers scored and it left the Colts with no time to work with. They ended up taking a knee and had no chance to go down the field in regulation.
Even on the offensive side of the ball, the play calling was very bizarre in the latter portion of the game. While in field goal range late in overtime, the Colts attempted a pass that was nearly intercepted. The fact that they were attempting a pass in that situation was very perplexing and it should’ve been overruled by the head coach.
Pagano was lucky that they have the most clutch kicker in NFL history, because this game close to being tied.
It was another inept game from one of the worst coaches in the NFL. After a disastrous 2nd half last week, preceded by another near-collapse against the worst team in football, Pagano continues to find ways to ruin his reputation. Since writing my article on Pagano’s disastrous Week 1 match-up against the Rams, he has since managed to do some equally terrible things.
Pagano is a sixth year head coach who makes rookie mistakes almost every game. He takes unnecessary risks (as seen by the lateral on the punt on Sunday) and doesn’t know how to make second half adjustments. The Colts have been outscored 99-25 in the 2nd half of games this season. The Colts led going into halftime in 4 of the 5 games this season. These are horrendous numbers and indicates the poor 2nd half adjustments the coaching staff make.
Usually, Andrew Luck is able to bail Pagano out, but on Sunday Marlon Mack and Adam Vinatieri had the honor of doing that.