INDIANAPOLIS – It occasionally happens over the course of a 60-70 play afternoon: the perfect storm.
Frank Reich dials up the right call at the right time against the right coverage. Philip Rivers stands poised in the shotgun, waiting for Ryan Kelly’s snap. Maybe his eyes widen a bit and his trigger finger starts to twitch because, well, he’s staring into a perfect-storm scenario.
The buzz inside the headsets of Reich, coordinator Nick Sirianni and other assistants intensifies.
“It’s funny, when you get the ideal look it’s kinda cool to hear the headsets,’’ Sirianni said Tuesday on a Zoom conference call. “Everybody would want to spend an afternoon on the headset. That could be a fantasy thing where, ‘Hey, spend a week on a headset.’
“But it’s cool because you’d hear everybody like, ‘Oh my god, we got the coverage we want. Here we go! Let’s go!’’’
The right play at the right time.
For the proper context, it was the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive play of the game from Sunday’s 27-20 win over the Houston Texans.
Game tied at 20. Two minutes, 29 seconds remaining. Second-and-20 at the Houston 44 thanks to rookie wideout Michael Pittman Jr. being penalized for a pick play on an incompletion to T.Y. Hilton.
So much of the time, the prudent option might have been to get something back on second down, giving Rivers a third-and-manageable on what could well have been the Colts’ final possession of the game.
This time, the aggressive tendencies of Reich and Sirianni took over.
“It was just a gut feeling that we had to make a play and had to take a shot,’’ Reich said after the game. “There was one thought to just try to get back in field-goal range, but I really was just trusting Philip, trusting T.Y.’’
Hey, let’s take the shot if it’s there.
“Let’s see if we can get the coverage we want and get T.Y. isolated like we wanted to, and if it’s there, let’s take it, and let’s not work underneath,’’ Reich said.
Rivers got the coverage he wanted, and everything – absolutely everything – worked perfectly.
It was, Sirianni noted, the play of the game from his side of the ball.
Video review is exhaustive and critical but always winds up with Sirianni saving the best clip for last.
“The last play we look at as an offense in the play of the game,’’ he said. “That was the play of the game.
“And I love when the play of the game equals all parts. It always takes all 11, as we know. That’s why it’s such an awesome team sport. If you get one guy not doing his job, chances are the play’s not going to work.
“On this play, everybody did their job.’’
The big-and-catch phase was impossible to miss.
Hilton, working out of the slot to the left, found himself single covered off the line by – wait for it – linebacker Tyrell Adams. Rivers, standing in the middle of the helmet horseshoe logo at midfield, delivered a perfect pass over Hilton’s right shoulder. Hilton was dragged down at the 3.
First-and-goal. Two plays later, Rivers found Zach Pascal to his left, and Pascal powered through cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and dove for the pylon. It was 27-20.
The defense would seal the deal with its own play of the game: Darius Leonard forcing a fumble by Keke Coutee as Coutee was about to cross the goal line with 19 seconds remaining. Bobby Okereke covered the loose ball for a touchback.
In an AFC South rematch with Houston the Colts absolutely had to have, consider the victory a convergence of bookend plays of the game.
Offensively, it doesn’t get much better than Reich and Sirianni waiting for the right situation, getting the right defensive look and the players executing.
The play worked because:
- tight end Mo Alie-Cox, lined up snug on the backside of the play – the right end of the line – ran a deep out that occupied safety A.J. Moore.
- Pittman, lined up to Hilton’s left, got the attention of safety Lonnie Johnson Jr. Zach Pascal, split out wide left, kept Hargreaves busy.
- Hilton blistered past Adams.
- the offensive line gave Hilton time to get deep and Rivers time to plant and throw with no one in his face. Tackles Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith kept the outside pressure away while the interior of Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Mark Glowinski negated J.J. Watt and Charles Omenihu.
“Philip threw an unbelievable pass,’’ Sirianni said. “Why was Philip able to throw an unbelievable pass? One, he’s a really good football player, and he has the capabilities of making that play.
“But the firmness of the pocket on the inside by Quenton, Ryan and Glow allowed him to step into the throw and make the play. I mean there’s no one in front of him.
“It’s just an all-around good team play.’’
Speaking of protection
Sunday’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field is one of those strength vs. strength collisions.
The Steelers lead the NFL with 47 sacks and have had at least one sack in 71 consecutive games, a league record.
The Colts’ pass protection has allowed just 16 sacks, which is 2nd-fewest in the league, behind the Steelers (12). Rivers has been sacked 14 times.
The fewest sacks Rivers has absorbed in his 15 years as a starter: 18 in 2017.
Sirianni credited Rivers’ quick decision-making and release for the lack of sacks but also pointed to his offensive line.
“These five guys in front of him are just phenomenal at protecting the quarterback,’’ he said. “They’re doing such a great job. I can’t say enough about how good the protection’s been.
“I feel like I come out of every game like, ‘Well, that’s the best protection I’ve been around in the NFL.’ I really do. I feel like I come out of a lot of games saying that, ‘Man, that was great protection.’’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.