Coming into this game against the Green Bay Packers, the Colts knew they had to put up points to have a chance to win. While the Colts defense has been outstanding this season, there is only so much you can do to slow down Aaron Rodgers. While the Packers’ defense has mostly been susceptible to the ground game this year, the Colts coaching staff knew they could also take advantage through the air.
Despite not having right tackle Braden Smith in pass protection in this game, Philip Rivers was able to have a phenomenal game and propel the Colts to victory over a tough opponent. He finished the day with 288 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air. Today we are going to look at how the Colts attacked this Packers’ defense and also some of the incredible plays and throws that Rivers made in this win.
One thing we have seen a lot with the Colts offense this year is that they are not afraid to attack underneath and give their pass catchers chances to run after the catch. If defenses want to sit back in zone all game then Rivers and this offense will take the underneath option and force them to make those tackles. That is the advantage of having a veteran like Rivers as he understands the value of the check down and run after catch ability.
This third and long is a great example. The Colts are running a levels concept with DeMichael Harris clearing out from the slot. While the ideal target is Zach Pascal beyond the sticks, Rivers notices that the entire defense has dropped too deep in their coverage. This allows him to calmly hit T.Y. Hilton just before the first down marker and allow him to run up field to get the first.
Colts were perfectly fine with attacking the Packers' soft zone on Sunday. 3rd and 12 here and the Colts use a levels concept at the sticks. Every Packers defender drops past the marker and Rivers is perfectly fine with getting the ball to Hilton on the run for the first pic.twitter.com/R3smfItHNg— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 24, 2020
This is even more apparent with how the Colts have used Michael Pittman Jr. the last two weeks. The Colts know they have a physical freak on their hands with Pittman Jr. as he is a violent runner with excellent burst for a player of his size. If defenses are going to sit back in zone, Rivers will gladly get the ball underneath to this rookie star. Pittman Jr. had two catches for 61 yards and a touchdown on drag routes on Sunday.
Not sure how it is happening but teams have simply decided to not cover Michael Pittman Jr on crossers and drag routes the last two weeks. Maybe they should do that going forward or something pic.twitter.com/5QfBV1qeTb— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 24, 2020
Utilizing mismatches with TEs and RBs
Looking closely at the tight end and running back groups on the Colts, there are actually a lot of parallels between them. Both positions feature three talented players who can make plays when given the opportunity. This allows for the Colts offense to be diverse in how they attack defenses because all six of these players are skilled enough pass catchers to win individual match-ups. If Rivers or the offensive coaching staff catches one mismatch with these players, they won’t be afraid to exploit it.
On the touchdown to Trey Burton, that is exactly what happened. Rivers clearly sees something that indicates that Burton will be matched up in man with defensive end Preston Smith in coverage. So Rivers immediately wants to space out and isolate that mismatch. He motions Nyheim Hines to the boundary to take away the outside corner. At the snap, he looks off the deep safety which gives Burton all the room he needs to win his match up. With how deep these two position groups are for the Colts, they have to just find that one match-up they like to exploit a defense.
The Colts ability to use their TEs and RBs in the passing game has been a huge advantage this year. Rivers reads that he'll have Trey Burton matched with Preston Smith here. He spaces the field by motioning Hines out and looks off the deep safety. Burton easily wins for the TD pic.twitter.com/2cUkpV0EoE— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 24, 2020
The Colts have isolated mismatches with Nyheim Hines for years now and it seems to always pay off for the team. Hines lines up wide on this play and has a match-up with a safety on the outside. Despite it being third and four, the safety gives eight yards of cushion on the speedy running back. This is one of the easiest reads Rivers will ever have to make as Hines breaks inside at the sticks for the easy first down.
Nyheim Hines with eight yards of cushion on a 3rd and 4 against a safety... may be the easiest read Rivers has had to make this year pic.twitter.com/2BQ0PYah2I— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 24, 2020
Let Rivers Cook?
Isolating match-ups and attacking underneath is great and all from a scheme perspective but it is all null if the quarterback can’t take advantage and make plays. We have seen this countless times from Rivers this season. Down 28-14 to an Aaron Rodgers led team and Rivers was unfazed in the comeback effort.
We have seen a lot of remarkable throws from Rivers this season but this may be one of the best. Great scissors concept frees up Hilton on the corner route against the trailing cornerback. Rivers, while unable to step up due to some pressure, drops a perfect pass in the bucket outside the hash for the big gain. Just pristine accuracy from the veteran quarterback on this pass.
This is a beautiful route combination with Pittman Jr and Hilton in the slot to create separation but look at this bucket throw by Philip Rivers. Drops an absolute dime on the corner route pic.twitter.com/Cvj9g1gvFE— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 24, 2020
Quarterbacks have to manipulate defenders with their eyes to create passing lanes, especially down in the red zone. Rivers showcases that ability on this touchdown pass to Jack Doyle. There is a slot safety playing a bit of a robber role where Rivers wants to fit this ball into the end zone. So what he ends up doing is looking off the safety by staring down the receiver to the defender’s right. This gives Rivers just enough room to fire a pass in there to Doyle for the touchdown. Also, not bad velocity for a “washed” veteran quarterback.
Rivers threading the needle here. Quickly looks off the underneath safety and zips it past for the touchdown pic.twitter.com/k9DeMxUxbO— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 24, 2020
The play calling was really good in this game and the skill position players for the Colts were excellent but Rivers really made this offense click on Sunday. He constantly bailed the team out and made some remarkable throws. This third down pass to Pascal is outstanding as he climbs in the pocket, keeps his eyes down the field, and delivers a perfect pass for the first. Great game from the veteran and it was exactly what the Colts needed to get this win.
Rivers was dealing against Green Bay. Climbs the pocket here and delivers a strike on the deep in route on third down. When Rivers is on, he has been a damn good QB this season pic.twitter.com/mTyBm4muD6— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 24, 2020
Despite some extremely sloppy penalties, some of which were a bit soft but I digress, the offense really stepped up in a big way against a top team in the league. I said prior to this November stretch of games that for the Colts to make the playoffs, they needed this offense to take advantage of the favorable defenses they would be facing. On Sunday they did just that.
I think we have see numerous times this year just how important Philip Rivers has been to this team. He is not elite by any means and has had some poor games but the Colts don’t win this game, the Bengals game, or the Lions game even without him at quarterback. He has been exactly what this team has needed at quarterback and hopefully can continue this high level of play for the rest of the season.