What happened on Thursday night in Indianapolis?
Aside from the statistically irrelevant trends, like that the Saints' poor record on prime time, the fact that the franchise has never won three openers in the road, that the last time the two teams played in 2003 Manning had a perfect passer rating and 6 TD's.
At this point we'd be more willing to hang this loss on coaches than players.
CB Jason David was beaten three times by Wayne or Harrison on back-of-the-end-zone routes. David isn't the fastest corner in the league, but there are few cornerbacks who can hang with Wayne and Harrison, one-on-one, while Peyton Manning is quarterback. Manning is a master at play action, looking off safeties and manipulating the minds of defensive backs.
Yet, the only accepted way to slow down Peyton Manning is to pressure him, not to drop 10 men into coverage. Gary Gibbs' tactic was what many have tried - to blitz, and he did. The Saints frequently overloaded the left side of the line where rookie Tony Ugoh was starting at left tackle.
It worked at first, with Will Smith regularly dumping Manning as or after he passed. Ugoh jumped early and if not for a number of uncalled holding penalties would have been wearing blue and yellow by halftime. Manning completed only 7 of 16 passes at halftime and found only 10 points against the Saints. Roman Harper and Scott Fujita each had a great pass breakup, made possible because Manning delivered late.
When Addai gashed the Saints, Gibbs had no choice but to bring a safety forward. This is when the Colts are most dangerous - when their offensive line can beat you in the running game. A disappointment for the Saints was Addai's ability to pick up five or six yards at will, but it forced the Saints up. It's no surprise that Manning was able to beat a secondary over the top, and when a run-weary secondary is looking into the backfield and biting on play action, it's too easy for Wayne and Harrison to get open.
In the second half, Manning found whatever timing or edge he lacked in the first. Manning threw only three incompletions in the second half. Much of what he found was set up by Joseph Addai's excellent running, pushing the eyes of the Saints' secondary into the backfield and drawing safeties up to the line.
DE Will Smith and others on the defensive line overran the play, running right past Addai after a Manning's play action prowess confused linemen even on running plays. Smith's upfield motion carried him right past Addai in the backfield on more than one occasion.
Free safety Josh Bullocks has the speed to help cornerbacks deep, but strong safety Harper doesn't. The Saints will be playing a lot of Cover 3 and Bullocks must keep the game in front of him.
Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita are not Cover 2 linebackers. They do not have the speed to maintain air supremacy in the intermediate zone when cornerbacks and safeties drop back.
In all fairness, it's easy to criticize a defense against the Colts. Individual matchups were lost by the Saints all over the field, whether it was David covering Wayne or Shanle covering Dallas Clark. Future opponents will look at this film and find mismatches to pursue and the Saints must support scheme away from them.
Lets save judgment on the Saints defense over the measure of multiple games against quarterbacks who aren't headed to the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile though, it should provide a wake-up call to a unit that may have become complacent.
The Saints failed at exactly what the Colts mastered. Without a running game, the Colts were able to play deep zones, with safeties Bethea and Sanders helping cornerbacks Hayden and Jackson blanket downfield routes. Speedy linebacker Freddy Keiaho had a lot to do with intermediate routes closing down on his side of the field, leaving Brees with nothing but dumpoffs and quick strikes.
When the run wasn't setting up play action, the Saints tried delayed runs and draws to slow down the Colt pass rush and stall defensive backs. The delayed end around that Aaron Stecker run was a brilliant piece of innovation by Payton, and worked well for a 13-yard gain. Draws try to pull the defense upfield then sneak a runningback through the gaps to take advantage of the speed differential. Bush and McAllister found most of their yardage here.
Much of what Payton calls is setting up plays later in the series. Faked end arounds set up real ones, and vice versa. Draws slow down the pass rush. But when Payton tried to cash in on setups, it just wasn't there. Downfield was not opening up for Drew Brees, contact lens or not, and a fast defensive line was smothering edge attacks.
Two surprising drops by Reggie Bush indicated the offense's level of frustration, and Bush was looking much like his early rookie games by hesitating and trying to force big plays.
Give credit for Sean Payton's refusal to abandon the run.
The referees called a very lax game, erring on the side of "letting them play" more often than not. Ugoh was called once for holding in the fourth quarter, but the Saints declined after an incompletion on third down. That was the only subjective penalty called on the day.
The other 10 penalties accepted in the game five were false starts, 12 men on the field, illegal touching of a forward pass on Jamar Nesbit, neutral zone infraction, two delays of game. Two penalties for defensive offsides were declined. All of these penalties were clear and simple, the refs did not throw any flags on judgment calls.
Remarkable that the referees found no penalties in the secondary and only one penalty in the entire game after the snap, which was declined.