Jerrell Freeman Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Colts Notebook: Pocket Passers Pose New Challenge for Jerrell Freeman & the Defense

Three of the Colts’ first five opponents (four if you count Ryan Tannehill, who can run as well) have featured dual threat quarterbacks who can cause headaches for a defense by extending plays, improvising, or turning a sure sack into a 15-yard scramble. 

For a month, Indy’s defense has had to deal with QB’s who bring an extra dimension – a sometimes-demoralizing one – to the game.  Here’s a quick run-oriented look at the signal callers the Colts have faced this season (excluding beleaguered pocket passer Blaine Gabbert):

 

40 Time

Carries

Yards

Yards/Carry

Terrelle Pryor

4.38-4.42

37

229

5.1

Ryan Tannehill

4.59-4.65

17

65

3.8 (4.3 in 2012)

Colin Kaepernick

4.43-4.65

27

154

5.7

Russell Wilson

4.48-4.64

40

233

5.8

“We have had a long string of them, huh?” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said of the early barrage of passers with running back-like skills in the open field.  However, a glance at the Colts’ next four games (San Diego, Denver, Houston, and St. Louis), reveals a big shift in the type of quarterback for which the defense must prepare. 

The team now turns their attention toward less mobile pocket passers – Rivers, Manning Schaub, Bradford, Fitzpatrick (unless Jake Locker returns in time), Palmer, Dalton, and Alex Smith.  They aren’t as likely to beat anyone with their legs, but at times when some previous opponents may have tucked the ball and run (most likely right into Freeman), these quarterbacks will generally stand in the pocket a little longer, keeping their eyes downfield, checking their second, third, fourth reads, and finding an open man. 

Traditional pocket passers – successful ones – pose a challenge to the Colts defense that they haven’t seen as much of yet this season, and it starts will the strong armed Philip Rivers, who, despite a 2-3 record, is off to one of the best statistical starts of his career with 1,610 yds, 13 TD’s, 5 INT’s, and a 110.6 QB rating. 

I asked the Colts’ inside linebacker about preparing for the first in a series of pocket passers.  “Rivers presents his own problems, man,” Freeman said. “He is a gun-slinger. You can see it. I grew up watching him and Antonio (Gates) going back and forth with each other. He definitely can sling that rock.” 

Rivers isn’t just a gunslinger though.  He has even been considerably more accurate than the quarterback Freeman grew up watching, posting a career high 73.7% completion rate through five games, (his career average is still solid at 64.1%). 

“He puts the ball where he wants it,” Freeman said, quick to point out Rivers’s effectiveness. “Have to play a lot tighter coverage. He just brings a lot of knowledge of the game, try to hide stuff.” 

Not that it’s ever unimportant, but he pass rush will be paramount in the coming weeks, around the edges, and along the interior of the line.  Pressure up the middle can be devastating for traditional quarterbacks, but teams have to be careful bringing that pressure with a blitz.  Sending extra rushers unsuccessfully can leave a quarterback like Rivers with multiple favorable matchups downfield, but if it does work, it can leave him with nowhere to go. 

We got a nice little string of quarterbacks we’re going to play here that do the same thing,” Freeman said. “So we’re definitely going to have to be on our P’s and Q’s about disguising things and not letting him see what we’re doing.”

The Colts aren’t perfect, but at 4-1, and having beaten both San Francisco and Seattle, they’re certainly up to the task. 

 

Fun Stats and Things Gleaned from the Colts Weekly Release

Okay, so one’s perception of fun is relative and its definition fluid, but here we go:

- Starting in 2005, Indianapolis has faced the Chargers in six games, owning the better record going into in every contest, but has gone just 1-5 during that stretch. 

- Andrew Luck, now 21 regular season games into his NFL career, is tied with Bert Jones with 7 career 300-yard games.  One more will move him to third place in franchise history. 

- Indy currently leads the NFl in 10-play drives with 15. 

- 17: the number of punts by Indianapolis, fourth least in the NFL. 

- 17 (again): the number of penalties committed by the Colts thus far, tied for the least in the NFL. 

- Indy has outscored their opponents 35-7 in the fourth quarter through 5 games (sorry for the repeat – I am savoring that difficult to sustain statistic).  The 7 fourth quarter points allowed is, you guessed it, number one in the league. 

- The Colts are enjoying their best average time of possession (31:54) since 1997, when they weirdly held the ball for an average of 32:56 per game but went 3-13. A quick aside: That team went 2-7 in one score games, counting an 8-point victory.  Winning close games is important. 

- Indy is in the top ten in both scoring (6th) and points allowed (5th).  With some tough offenses on the docket, that defensive number may change, but through five games, it’s certainly been impressive – and fun to watch. 

As always, all quotes are courtesy of the Colts PR Department.


Marcus Dugan

About Marcus Dugan

Marcus is a husband, dad, twitter geek, and all around average guy who covers news, game recaps, and additional material for The Colts Authority, while working even harder as an Indy area real estate broker. He's been known to overuse parentheses while editorializing (but who doesn't?)

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