The Indianapolis Colts‘ defense had a rough night against the New Orleans Saints. That Saints’ offense is a well-oiled machine with Drew Brees on the field, and still highly competent so long as Sean Payton is manning the Xbox controller. For a game that was advertised as a clash of Super Bowl contenders, the Colts’ defense looked like it was playing break-don’t-bend against a banged up Brees. They have a few things to figure out before they face the vengeful Denver Broncos (who may already be showing early signs of Super Bowl Loser’s Curse) in Week 1.
Without cornerback Greg Toler, the Colts likely would have missed even the opportunity to fall just short yet again at the end of a preseason game. To my untrained eye, he was crisp. He spent a fair bit of his time chasing Marquis Colston and making a beautiful nuisance of himself. He broke up multiple receptions, including a touchdown, even got in the face of the field goal kicker (as pictured above). Then, naturally, he limped off the field, though we’ve been assured that he’s fine.
At halftime, coach Chuck Pagano listed off his grievances.
“We’re just getting outplayed right now. They’re playing harder. They’re beating us at fundamental football. We’re giving up big plays on defense. We’re not tackling very well. They’re running the ball effectively. They’ve made big plays. We haven’t, and we haven’t been able to get off the field on third down.”
The first striking thing about that quote is the way it was delivered. Short, pointed sentences. Facts without embellishment. Easy to break down, easy to understand (for fans and for the team). As frustrating as it was to watch the offense, note that Pagano really harped on the defense’s performance. In that entire quote, the only comment aimed specifically at the offense was “We haven’t [made big plays].”
The fellas did get outplayed on defense. I didn’t see the Saints playing harder, at least not initially. Once things started to spiral and the Colts’ starters were one-by-one directed to the bench, there did seem to be an onset of defeatist fatigue. On the bright side, the Illegal Contact penalty situation was much improved. The third stringers got burned, but rookies Zach Kerr and Henoc Muamba (formerly of the Canadian Football League) both acquitted themselves well. Kerr should have a large, underground fan club firmly established by now, or at least a slot on Dancing with the Stars.
When Chuck said, “They’re beating us at fundamental football,” it seemed to translate to, “we’ve forgotten how to not miss tackles,” and then he reiterated his frustration with, “We’re not tackling very well” just to drive the point home. The main culprits here seemed to be newcomer D’Qwell Jackson and, maybe more importantly, Bjoern Werner, slated to be Robert Mathis‘ understudy during his four game suspension to start the season.
The funny thing was that, generally speaking, I thought the run defense looked better than in past seasons. Yes, there were some big breakdowns, especially featuring groan-inducing Luke McCown quarterback scrambles. But most of the time, the Saints were running for between two and three yards (the same as Trent Richardson‘s much derided average). It almost seemed like Payton was testing the Colts’ run defense, poking and prodding to see when (not if) it would break.
Unfortunately, we won’t know until thrown into the Mile-High fire how serious the issues are. As in years past, the defense is likely to provide some frustrating moments, but there will be smatterings of excitement, too.