Reggie Wayne had a career day against the Packers. (Mike De Sisti/MCT/ABACAUSA.COM)
After his team lost an overtime heartbreaker in Week 4, Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline said, "Losing isn't fun, but there are games where you just get beat."
To some extent, that's what happened to the Packers on Sunday in Indianapolis. Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne ripped a victory out of Green Bay's hands, combining for 13 completions and 212 yards, plus the game-winning touchdown in the closing moments.
Green Bay did not help itself during a second half that saw Indianapolis win the scoring battle 27-6 -- an Aaron Rodgers interception helped set up the Colts' first second-half TD, and the Packers appeared to have a couple miscommunications on defense (we'll get there). But the Packers still would have pulled out a victory if not for Luck and Wayne doing some incredible things down the stretch.
We can blame Green Bay's lack of a pass rush or failure to adjust its coverages, and, certainly, those played a role.
Wayne, though, had one catch on Indianapolis' final drive against this coverage:
And he had a second that looked like this:
The Packers are there in both cases; Wayne simply made the plays.
There were some issues for Green Bay, however, especially when Wayne ran routes over the middle -- Indianapolis wisely took advantage of the gaps in Green Bay's defense. It started early, too.
Luck's second completion of the game came on a 3rd-and-4. The Colts utilized a quick three-step drop for Luck, who fired a strike to Wayne on a slant route. Wayne made an inside move to get cornerback Tramon Williams on his back hip, and safety Morgan Burnett was late closing.
Those were themes that repeated themselves throughout the day: Wayne creating just enough space for Luck to get him the ball, and the Packers' help coverage coming a split-second later than it needed to.
Another example of both above: To open a field-goal drive in the second quarter, Luck and Wayne hooked up for a 29-yard completion that moved the Colts into Green Bay territory.
This was a slow-developing deep flag route for Wayne -- he started lined up in the slot with Charles Woodson over top of him, but Woodson blitzed, leaving Wayne streaking up the middle of the field against Jerron McMillan.
When Wayne finally broke to the sideline, McMillan found himself turned around enough for Wayne to create separation, as safety Morgan Burnett tried to close.
Was Wayne wide open here? No. Far from it.
But he had plenty of room between himself and the sidelines for Luck to comfortably fit the ball in without the Packers' defenders impeding.
Arguably, the biggest problem for the Packers' defense in the second half -- and one of the reasons the Indianapolis offense had so much success -- was that the Green Bay pass rush consistently failed to get home. It's important to note that B.J. Raji exited Sunday's game with an ankle injury in the first quarter, depriving that Green Bay front of a key cog.
Still, the Packers could have made their lives a lot easier in the third and fourth quarters by pressing Luck a bit more.
Take a look at the protection Luck enjoyed on an 18-yard strike to Wayne in the third quarter, which occurred on the snap after Rodgers' interception.
Luck could have stayed in the pocket long enough to call Peyton Manning and ask him how his day was going. What makes the lack of Green Bay pressure on this particular play even more baffling is that it was a very slow setup by Indianapolis.
The Colts brought T.Y. Hilton in motion prior to the snap and Luck, out of the shotgun, faked an end-around handoff to him. Meanwhile, Wayne (circled at the top of the photo below) streaked all the way across the field -- he didn't catch Luck's pass until he was almost to the numbers on the far side -- as Donnie Avery cleared space long.
The Packers could not get home with their rush and, again, the coverage was a step or two slower than the Luck-Wayne connection ...
Indianapolis was able to get its run game rolling the second half, especially when Donald Brown turned the corner outside the tackles. That run-pass balance cranked up the difficulty level for Green Bay's defense -- and helped Indianapolis keep the Packers' D-line honest and at bay.
Compare that play above, when Luck had all the time in the world to set and throw, to this one below, which resulted in a Casey Hayward interception.
Luck was not running for his life, but you can see Mike Neal (No. 96) clearing from the carnage to his right and starting to come clean on Luck. That forced the Indianapolis QB to fire his deep pass attempt to Wayne before Wayne created an opening.
Hayward stayed with Wayne and picked off the pass. A couple notes here:
1. This was one of very few routes that Wayne did not run somewhere over the middle of the field. His ability to get open in space between the numbers is more prolific than his straight-line speed.
2. The QB pressure. Luck didn't even take a hit on the play, but you can see how a couple hands in his face changed the approach. As a defensive coordinator, you can ask a member of your secondary to cover a guy like Wayne for a second or two. Anything beyond that, and an elite receiver will get open.
All that said, the Packers also shot themselves in the foot with some curious decisions in the secondary.
Here's a shot from a Luck overthrow and incompletion, but you can see Wayne (circled) starting to run free. Three Packers converged on the middle receiver, forgetting about Indianapolis' top option.
Later, the Colts picked up a 3rd-and-9 as Luck and Wayne pulled off a 15-yard pass. Wayne was jammed at the line by Casey Hayward, who ran with Wayne for about five yards ... and then just dropped away in coverage for some reason.
Morgan Burnett picked Wayne up at that point, but by the time the Packers made that switch, Wayne had an opening. And you'll notice again that continuous Green Bay issue: No pressure on Luck ...
The Colts then moved into position for the game-winning touchdown by taking advantage of what looked like another screw-up in Green Bay's coverage. On 1st-and-10 from the Green Bay 32 late, Luck hit Wayne for 18 yards down the middle.
That's Hayward with an "X" on him in the photo below and, for the life of me, I can't figure out what he was doing on that play.
Green Bay had a lot of moving parts pre-snap, but appeared to drop into a man-to-man Cover-1 package, as every receiver found himself with at least one defender on him, and Avery drew a double-team from Green Bay's safety deep.
Burnett dropped down onto Wayne (late) over the middle. Hayward ... just drifted back toward the corner of the end zone and finished the play with no receiver within 15 yards of him.
Was he supposed to be on Wayne? Was this a Cover-2 shifted toward Indianapolis' overloaded side, with Hayward just slow getting to his spot?
Whatever the case, the result was the same: Wayne with less defensive attention than he deserved and enough room to get open.
And, finally, the game-winning TD. It was a classic "rub" route with Wayne and Avery stacked against man-coverage. Avery broke to the deep corner, while Wayne slanted inside. There was not a huge opening, but Luck found it -- and the Packers were burned one last time by being too late and too light in their coverage.
Sunday saw a terrific effort by Luck and an incredible display of receiving skills from Wayne. But the Packers had myriad issues: no pass rush, miscommunications in the secondary, slow reactions and a failure to make adjustments. Add that all up, and you get a Colts win.