Tape Study: Bringing the Blitz

My tape studies are largely focusing on the Indy defense for a reason. Without Peyton Manning, it’s impossible to say anything about the offense.  Instead, I’m choosing to focus on the aspect of the team that is less affected by the absence of 18.

Pressure was a big part of what kept the Colts in a dogfight with the Steelers last Sunday. How much of that pressure was due to blitzing? Let’s go to the tape to find out:

First Quarter:

Indy blitzed just two times, on the second and fourth Steelers drives.

3-7-IND 40 (6:45) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete short right to 17-M.Wallace

Indy brings 6, but the blitz gets nowhere near Ben Roethlisberger who has a nice pocket. Fortunately for the Colts, Mike Wallace fails to read the blitz, and doesn’t stop for the back-shoulder throw. Roethlisberger’s pass falls harmlessly to the ground behind the receiver. The blitz doesn’t come close to landing, but does confuse the Steelers enough to get the D off the field.

1-10-PIT 19 (1:49) (Run formation) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to 85-D.Johnson to PIT 22 for 3 yards (51-P.Angerer; 50-P.Wheeler).

One of the linebackers comes crashing in, and Roethlisberger goes to his hot read. He throws a little slant which is snuffed out by Pat Angerer who played the best game by an Indy linebacker in all phases of the game in a long time. The blitz worked and forced a short completion, but man oh man is Pat Angerer a force of nature.

Second Quarter:

Indy doesn’t blitz.

Third Quarter:

Just one third quarter blitz

3-6-IND 20 (5:08) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to 82-W.Saunders to IND 18 for 2 yards (23-T.Johnson).

Indy brings six and gets no pressure. Saunders is WIDE open just at the first down line, and Roethlisberger hits him in the hands. The ball bounces up in the air, and Saunders makes the play, but gives up four yards in doing so. The Steelers settle for a field goal attempt. The blitz technically worked, but functionally failed. This was just a mistake by the Steelers, an unforced error.

Fourth Quarter:

After three blitzes in three quarters, Coyer brings the pressure full on in the fourth with five blitzes.

2-9-IND 27 (12:24) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete short right to 84-A.Brown. PIT-64-D.Legursky was injured during the play. His return is Doubtful.

Another big blitz. Coyer brings 6, and this time the pressure lands. Roethlisberger is hit as he throws.

3-9-IND 27 (12:19) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete short left to 88-E.Sanders (25-J.Powers).

Six men again. Roethlisberger is clearly rattled by the pressure, the noise, all of it. He tries to throw a quick out which is jumped by Powers who nearly makes the play of the night. His diving attempt at an interception comes up just short, however, and the Steelers tie the game with a field goal attempt. To this point in the game, Roethlisberger is 2/5 for 5 yards passing against the Indy blitz.

3-8-IND 31 (10:03) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 82-W.Saunders to IND 27 for 4 yards (35-J.Lefeged). PENALTY on PIT-72-J.Scott, Illegal Formation, 5 yards, enforced at IND 31 – No Play.

Five men come after Roethlisberger who throws for a short gain. It’s eventually wiped out by penalty, but again, he’s rattled by the blitz.

1-10-PIT 20 (2:09) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 17-M.Wallace to PIT 26 for 6 yards (23-T.Johnson).

The first play of the game winning drive was an effective blitz. No real pressure from the five man rush, but Roethilsberger checks down for a 6 yard gain in-bounds. You’ll take that in a two minute drill every time.

To this point, the blitz has been devastatingly effective. It’s not actually landing most of the time, but Roehtlisberger, who looked worse on tape than he even did live, was panicky and quick to check down. He held the ball too long against the four man rush, and threw it to quickly against the blitz. He was awful on Sunday night. The numbers for him were good, but his actual play was atrocious.

2-10-PIT 37 (1:31) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 21-M.Moore pushed ob at IND 41 for 22 yards (35-J.Lefeged).

The last Indy blitz of the night ended in disaster. The Steelers were finally ready for it. The Colts brought six, but the Steelers sent Moore out of the backfield. He was to be covered by Bethea. The Steelers ran a rub route right in front of Bethea who got caught in the wash, bumping into Lacey. Moore had just the gap he needed. Roethlisberger tossed the ball over the incoming rushers, and Moore rambled down to the 41. It was a great play call by the Steelers.

Conclusions and other notes:

Coyer called a great game in terms of blitzes. Even withholding credit for the one bobble that saved a first down, the Colts blitzed effectively. I don’t know that another quarterback wouldn’t have torched them, however. All the blitzes were declared early. That seemed like part of the strategy. They knew if they showed pressure, Roethlisberger would panic. And he did panic. A lot. 

As much heat as Coyer deserves for the weird stunts he called with Mathis, overall it’s hard to deny that his defense is playing well. He largely won the chess game on Sunday night. The Colts still desperately need help at safety, because when the pressure from the front four didn’t land, there were gaping holes in the Indy zone. Again, I can’t over emphasize how bad Roehtlisberger was. He made the throws fine, but his decision making was terrible.

Pat Angerer and Drake Nevis were every bit as good as advertised. Anyone saying the Colts are bereft of young talent from the draft either has an agenda or hasn’t been paying attention. Both players are every bit as good as anyone Indy has had at linebacker and DT in the past 10 years. This defense hits and hits hard. It was the hardest hitting I’ve seen from an Indy D since ’96.