In trying to explain the poorly-conceived-and-executed-worse fake punt fiasco from Sunday night, Colts coach Chuck Pagano has failed almost as badly as the play did.
On Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick provided a far more cogent explanation of the situation.
“I think the play was a version of the swinging gate play,” Belichick told reporters. “I don’t know exactly how it was supposed to work. That’s something you’d have to ask them about. They brought the gunner in to snap the ball so he would’ve been an eligible receiver, so we had to cover him. I think basically you want to try to, on punt formations . . . it’s just a numbers game. You want to have enough guys to match to the smaller numbers, and as many guys as you can to match to the larger number where they were over-shifted. . . . So it’s just kind of everybody making sure that they take care of their responsibility on the shift and make sure that we can defend the formation and know who is eligible. I think it’s something that every special teams coach goes over.”
Although Pagano has insisted that the plan was to catch the Patriots with 12 men on the field or to call a timeout, Belichick’s assessment meshes with punter Pat McAfee’s explanation that “[i]t’s a play where you try to take advantage of numbers. You try to confuse the defense and hopefully get an edge numbers wise.”
In other words, there was (in theory) a situation in which center/receiver Griff Whalen would have snapped the ball to quarterback/safety Colt Anderson as the other nine Indianapolis players were aligned on the other side of the field. Which leads to this question: What numbers advantage would have resulted in Anderson actually running the play in the hopes it would succeed?
Obviously, two against five wasn’t the plan. Two against four or three likewise wouldn’t have worked. Two against two would have been, essentially, an Oklahoma drill with a second defender.
The other curiosity was the decision to have Anderson under center. It gave him no chance to do anything; even if there was only one defender across from Whalen, the five-eleven, 190-pound wideout would have been in the middle of a three-man scrum, trying to keep the defender from bringing Anderson down. And this assumes that the other 10 Patriots players would have been so intrigued by the presence of nine guys lined up wide to the right to ignore that the other two guys were with the football
If Anderson had been lined up in the shotgun and if a pair of Patriots had pursued him at the snap, Anderson could have hot potato’d the ball to Whalen, who was (as Belichick noted) an eligible receiver. With Anderson under center, however, that never was going to happen.
Although, as Rodney Harrison said during Monday’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, the players are responsible for the execution, Pagano is responsible for designing the play and calling it in that situation. Although the Colts had practiced the play successfully in practice, they weren’t ready to use it during a game — and the results showed.
On that point, the fact that the Colts had actually practiced the play means that it was about more than catching the defense with 12 men on the field. They actually had a set of circumstances in which they believed that play would work against, of all teams, the Patriots. The inability of Pagano to provide a explanation that makes objective sense proves that it never should have been drawn up, and it never should have been used.