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Colts OC Jim Bob Cooter credits players for rising up when opportunity meets preparation

Michael Pittman Jr. is set to establish a single-season career-high in receptions and become the fourth Colts player to produce a 100-catch season, joining Dallas Clark, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts
Michael Pittman Jr. #11 of the Indianapolis Colts and Damontae Kazee #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers collide while going after a ball during the second quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium — December 16, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When Michael Pittman Jr. suffered a concussion following an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit by Steelers safety Damontae Kazee, head coach Shane Steichen and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter were forced to make an in-game adjustment on the fly, depending on reinforcements recently added from the practice squad.

“Our position coaches do such a great job of communicating with those guys in game with the substitutions, which is a big part of that,” Cooter told reporters during Tuesday’s zoom call. “For Shane (Steichen), I’ve called those plays and it can get pretty hectic when you’re switching personnel groups and you’re changing who the receiver is in a certain spot. Shane does such a great job managing that. It’s a challenge, but it’s a part of our deal, a part of our business.

Pittman ranks third in the NFL with 99 receptions, trailing Chargers’ Keenan Allen (108) and Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb (103). According to Pro Football Focus, Pittman has hauled in 13 contested catches, tied for the second-most in the league. Pittman is set to establish a single-season career-high in receptions and become the fourth Colts player to produce a 100-catch season, joining Dallas Clark, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.

Facing third down at midfield during the second quarter, Pittman’s 42-yard grab was the longest play from scrimmage in the Colts 30-13 win over the Steelers. Quarterback Gardner Minshew scrambled out of the pocket, directed him toward the sideline and launched a deep pass floating over the head of Steelers’ defensive back Trenton Thompson to set up the offense with first-&-goal.

Seven plays from scrimmage later – once the Colts scored and regained possession with an interception by safety Nick Cross – Pittman was taken out of the game once Kazee launched his helmet into Pittman trying to make a catch. Kazee was ejected from the game and the league later suspended him without pay for the rest of the 2023 season for repeatedly violating the league’s rules intended to protect the health and safety of players. Pittman remains in concussion protocol as of Wednesday.

NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan issued the suspension in a letter to Kazee.

“With 8:49 remaining in the second quarter, you were involved in a play that the League considers a serious violation of the playing rules. The video of the play shows that you delivered a forcible blow to the head/neck area of Colts’ receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who was in a defenseless posture. You had an unobstructed path to your opponent and the illegal contact could have been avoided. Your actions were flagrant, and as a result, you were disqualified from the game. When players violate the rules intended to protect player safety on a repeated basis, and particularly when the violations carry with them a significant risk of injury to an opposing player, it is appropriate to impose substantially greater penalties.”

D.J. Montgomery, who signed from the practice squad last Thursday, avenged a critical error to record his first NFL touchdown. After letting a potential touchdown in the end zone slip from his grasp on fourth-&-goal, Montgomery redeemed himself with a pair of significant catches on the ensuing possession. The second-year receiver dashed for a 34-yard catch-and-run to drive inside Steelers territory, followed by a 14-yard score to give the Colts a lead they would never relinquish.

“We were able to make adjustments as a coaching staff but really the players deserve the most credit,” Cooter said. “No matter how much we do our work, we prepare for what we need to do as a coaching staff but those guys sometimes never get that rep. Some of the great plays that you guys saw on Saturday, that guy might not have ever got that rep. Shoot, there’s a touchdown he got or there’s a big play he got. He was locked in in meetings when we taught the play, he was watching in walk-thru or he was watching in practice. Shoot, maybe he even ran that same route or same run play on the scout team but he was thinking, ‘Gosh, I’ve got to get that rep.’”

“That’s what this league does and I think a couple of guys said it after the game – when you’re trying to make your mark in this league, you’ve got to be ready to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. We had several guys that did exactly that on Saturday. I’m (really) proud of them, we’re looking for more out of them. Credit to those guys and credit to their position coaches – like I kind of always say, those guys probably don’t get enough credit. Those positions where we had an injury or two and maybe there were some different guys making plays out there, those position coaches deserve a lot of credit, they did a great job last week.”

The Colts are 15-2 in the all-time series against the Falcons, but are listed as +1 underdogs for the Week 16 road matchup on Christmas Eve.