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The go-to-guy: why Patriots "4th and 2" is like Manning's SB interception

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Peyton Manning's Super Bowl XLIV interception with 3:22 left in the 4th quarter wasn't the only thing that lost the biggest sporting event of the year.  But it WAS pretty disastrous.  I've watched that over and over again to get a sense of what happened, but more on that later.

There is a theme to soundly winning a game, which is exactly what the Saints did.  It's common for the losing fanbase to outline what their team did wrong, what they could've done to win the game.  That typically leaves out one of the more obvious points: the other team was in complete and utter control.

As much as Colts fans would prefer not to admit it, Indy was managed by Sean Payton.  The Saints were in control of that game and dictated how it played out, much the same as our 38-17 drumming at the hands of New Orleans.  Payton and his coaching staff masterfully designed a game plan that would keep the Colts on their toes, constantly guessing.

The film of that fateful interception is very revealing.

First, Manning is pressured by a rush from the outside.  The MLB angles left, tying up 2 offensive linemen.  The linebacker on the left crosses to the right behind him, but allows the right linebacker to cross in front of him and tie up #29 Joseph Addai.  0:33 seconds into the video, you can see 4 Colts OL's piled up in the middle.  Saints' #58, OLB Scott Shanle, then shoots the hole, adding more pressure.

With 3 defenders closing in on Manning, he had nothing else to do but toss the ball to his go-to-guy, Reggie Wayne.  This is muscle memory for Manning.  It's bread and butter.  And it's almost ALWAYS successful.  So what went wrong?  There were 3 possible scenarios as I see it (there could be more, but I'll leave that to you):

  1. Reggie Wayne - Before turning in on his route, Wayne stutter stepped.  It appears he should've cut sharper and cut off CB Tracy Porter.
  2. Peyton Manning - #18 never tried to misdirect the backfield.  His helmet never went anywhere else but left.  He locked onto the left side of the field, where Wayne was, like a lased smart bomb.  Tracy Porter, like all good CB's, saw this and correctly predicted Manning was going to Wayne.
  3. Manning was managed - The Saints knew Manning would use one of his top targets when he got in trouble and that target was Reggie Wayne all along.  Most times, blitzing Manning is a recipe for disaster; he has an incredibly fast release and picks up blitzes all day long.  Not this time.  Watching the linebacker dance outlined above was very eye opening.  They weren't just sitting back waiting for things to happen, they were dictating how things would play out.  They owned the offensive line and made sure Manning had no time to make a decision.

The go-to-play turned out to be an Achilles Heal.  The Saints forced Manning into going with that play and Indy paid the price.  But they're not the only ones who fell victim to this.  I give you... THE 4TH AND 2!!

Melvin Bullitt had this to say about the play:

"We were alerted earlier in the week by defensive backs coach (Alan Williams), if it came down to it, third down, fourth down, and short, look to (Wes) Welker, look to Faulk. Those are the two guys it’s going to go to. Those are the go-to guys, and rightfully so," Bullitt said. ‘‘I mean, they’ve made so many big plays on third-and-fourth downs. You just have to expect it."

Preparation.  Bullitt knew Kevin Faulk was a likely target, a go-to-guy for Tom Brady and he correctly read that play.  Argue all you want about whether or not that was a legit first down (it was), but that was good preparation on Bullitt's part.

If a team is smart and the coaching staff correctly analyzes an opponent's tendencies, they can maneuver that opposing team into using their tried-and-true plays, the ones easily prepared for.  Such is the case with Manning's interception and our fourth and 2.