The Indianapolis Colts are sitting at a solid 5-2 as they enter the toughest part of their schedule. The first team up is the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday. The Ravens are coming off a tough loss to the Steelers but did put up a great fight with one of the league’s best teams.
One aspect I want to look at going into this game is the Ravens’ tendency to blitz. The Ravens currently blitz on 44.9% of opponents’ pass attempts, which is the highest percentage in the league in that stat. They get after opposing quarterbacks and for the most part they have had success doing this the past two seasons.
Now on the other hand, Colts QB Philip Rivers has been outstanding when pressured this year. He has a league high quarterback rating of 109.4 when under pressure and has completed 78.7% of his passes while under pressure (according to Pro Football Focus). Rivers also gets the ball out of his hands in 2.35 seconds on average which is the fourth highest in the league.
So in this Scouting Journal, I wanted to focus on this topic and see how Rivers is productive against the blitz. Also, since this is a Scouting Journal, we are going to focus on an individual player and look at Denico Autry’s strong hands at the end of the article.
Rivers vs the Blitz
Like I mentioned above, the Ravens blitz more than any team in the league and Rivers is the best quarterback this season when under pressure. So something has to give in this matchup on Sunday. A little factoid that is interesting is that the Colts have only faced one team this year that is in the top 15 in terms of blitz percentage (New York Jets). So Rivers is killing teams for blitzing this year despite not seeing too many looks of it.
The beauty of having a veteran quarterback like Rivers who is nearing two decades in this league is that very few things catch him off guard or surprise him. He is very adept at reading which defenders are coming on blitzes and making the right audible to set the offense up for success.
Look at this play for example. Rivers sees the slot cornerback creeping up on the blitz. When he sees this, he kills the play they are set to run and audibles to a bubble screen to the slot receiver who is going to be uncovered. This allows for Rivers to throw at the blitz, which you are supposed to do, and get an easy completion to a receiver who doesn’t have a defender within ten yards of him. This works out to perfection as DeMichael Harris is able to turn up field and get a quick first down on the play.
The Colts are going to have to handle the blitz this week vs the Ravens. Luckily, Philip Rivers has been one of the best QBs in the NFL against the blitz this year. Example why:— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 5, 2020
Sees the slot CB on the blitz and hot reads to a bubble behind the blitz. Result is 13 yards. pic.twitter.com/g8lCU6KymV
On top of being able to diagnose and throw at a blitz, a quarterback has to be able to find their hot read or check down in these situations. Very rarely will a quarterback facing a blitz have time in the pocket to read a defense or let the routes develop. Rivers has been in this league long enough to know the value of the check down. That is one running backs in his past like LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead, and Austin Ekeler have all had career years playing with him.
Here he sees the blitz coming on the interior and without hesitation works back to his running back and dumps it off for a positive gain. This is what is going to be big for offensive success on Sunday. Can Rivers make these reads against the most aggressive defense in football? He has shown all year that the check down is your best friend when facing a blitz.
Having a veteran like Philip Rivers is such an asset against the blitz. He doesn't try to stick with his reads with pressure closing in. He knows when to get to his checkdown. This is a quick look downfield before coming to the running back out of the balckfield for a good gain pic.twitter.com/OsYdXWKTj3— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 5, 2020
There are times though when taking the check down doesn’t make a ton of sense. Like on a third and long for instance. Yes taking the check down would be quicker but to pick up the first down you have to hang in there and deliver a pass under fire. Again this has been an area where the Colts have had success under Rivers as he has shown the poise to hang in the pocket and make tough throws and the smarts to diagnose which matchup he wants to attack in man coverage.
This play in week one is the best example of that. The Jaguars are only bringing four on this play but get immediate pressure up the middle with Josh Allen. Rivers can’t step into this throw like he wants to but is still able to fire a perfect strike to Parris Campbell outside the numbers for a first down.
Rivers has also been very poised and accurate when facing pressure. This is just a four man rush but he has pressure in his face right away. Still, he is able to launch a perfect pass outside the numbers for a first down. pic.twitter.com/NcREySdy8l— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 5, 2020
Overall, the way to beat the Colts’ passing game this year has been to win by rushing four and play zone coverage behind the pressure. So this game will be interesting to see how much success a heavy blitz defense can have against this Colts’ offense. Expect a lot of quick throws and rub routes to get the Colts good looks against this aggressive defense.
Denico Autry’s Hands
To finish this piece off, let’s look at Denico Autry for a second. While not having an elite year by any means, he has been quietly productive behind the dominance of DeForest Buckner. Sunday may have been one of his best games as a Colt as he logged four hurries and two sacks in just 27 pass rushing snaps.
One of the best traits that Autry has and what makes him such a good player is how good he is with his hands. He isn’t the quickest player and has always been undersized when playing inside (and a bit oversized and slow playing on the end). Where he has always won though is with his hands. Whether he is swimming around linemen or tossing them aside on a bull rush, he has always been disruptive. This is a video I made last year with some of his successful rushes against Roger Saffold of the Titans last year.
Colts DT Denico Autry had a good bit of success against Titans LG Rodger Saffold in 2019. He had three sacks and a few hurries lined up primarily over Saffold in the two games.— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) August 9, 2020
Autry's hands have to be among some of the best in the league for DT's. Insanely strong. pic.twitter.com/dnC53t8Mkw
On Sunday however, he was on another level. He was insanely disruptive all game long whether he lined up at end or tackle. He was also splitting time with Tyquan Lewis (who also had two sacks) which makes it even more impressive. Autry will be a big part of the game plan against Lamar Jackson this week as the key to beating Jackson is getting instant pressure and containing him in the pocket. Autry’s hands and ability to shed blocks quickly allows him to get into the opponent’s backfield in a hurry. He will need to be on his A game along with the rest of the Colts’ defense to slow down the former league MVP on Sunday.
Denico Autry had one of his best games as a Colt on Sunday. He really disruptive as a pass rusher and showcased those quick and powerful hands we all know and love. Splitting snaps with Tyquan Lewis could be a good idea down the stretch to keep Autry fresh like this pic.twitter.com/oXgMAykDHa— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 5, 2020