The circumstances surrounding the Indianapolis Colts’ Week 7 matchup with the Tennessee Titans were that of a struggling, extremely injured roster with their coach on the hotseat, visiting a team with a very good running game as well as offensive and defensive lines primed to dominate the opposition. As we now know good and well, that was anything but what we saw in this AFC South meeting in Nashville.
The Colts made plays on both sides of the ball despite the narrative heading into the contest, and there were a couple of them which made lasting impacts in how this one ended in the boxscore. Typically, I go through a single-defining play that epitomized the game, but this week there were two — and maybe more — that had a major impact in the Colts bringing home a much needed victory with so much on the line. Let’s dig in.
38-yard Touchdown Pass from Luck to Hilton
One of the biggest issues with Andrew Luck having the time to get the ball to his playmakers in years past, has been the lack of sustained protection up front. This young group of linemen have had some bad days, however, they have also had stints of games with very good protection while giving Luck maneuverable pockets allowing him to get the ball downfield. This past Sunday was one of those days.
In our first play, Luck had a beautiful pocket to work with, in part because the Titans chose to rush only four defenders, but also because of the play design. Despite out-manning the Titans rushers, the offensive line did their job and gave Luck that 3-plus seconds to do what he does so well.
First, and foremost, we see the Titans were in a single-high safety look and Chester Rogers went in motion from left to right. The Titans’ defender followed him, which sent up a red flag to Luck that the secondary is largely in man coverage. The play action that followed allowed Luck an additional moment or two as the linebackers were slowed in any delayed blitz situations.
As the play continued, the underneath crossing route drew the attention of the safety and, in turn, delayed his fulfilling the responsibility of getting deeper than the deepest receiver. T.Y. Hilton had a couple steps on the corner, so the safety ultimately offered no help over the top, help that was supposed to be there. Hilton got completely behind both defenders and hauled in a beautiful throw from Luck, hitting Hilton directly in his outstretched hands as the cornerback attempted to recover and make a play on the ball.
T.Y. McGill Strip Sack of Marcus Mariota
The Colts had recently taken the lead late in the fourth quarter after a Jack Doyle touchdown reception, and their defense — a unit that has been consistently one of the league’s worst — was attempting to defend a four point lead inside of the two-minute warning.
With the Colts sitting back with eight in coverage and rushing only three (more legitimately two, as Robert Mathis dropped off after seeing a double team in his face), the last thing you may have expected to see is real pressure on the quarterback. As you already know, the Colts have really struggled getting any pressure on opposing quarterbacks, especially without some sort of a stunt or delayed blitz — so this was a welcomed sight for sure.
As Mariota took the snap, McGill and Erik Walden were the only two Colts’ defenders going hard to make a play on the quarterback. Despite having a couple different avenues to evade the only two areas of leakage in the line, Mariota stood in the pocket hoping to deliver a ball downfield while trusting his line to handle business. Despite McGill having to fight through a legit double team, he used his lower body power, and strong hand technique to split the defenders.
Instead of evading the pressure, Mariota maintained his platform, which gave McGill a stationary target to hunt. McGill managed to get his left arm free as he approached Mariota and he swiped at the ball, knocking it loose to the ground. Not being satisfied — and knowing the ball had already hit the turf — McGill completed his mission by taking Mariota to the ground. In doing so, the ball bounced off of McGill and Mariota as they went to the ground, and bounced to the side hopping up directly into Mathis’ hands.
Mathis did the rest, returning the ball for a touchdown that proved to be the defining score in the game, securing a Colts win to improve to 3-4.
Aside from the fact that it was nice to have a defensive play make the cut this week, it’s even more impressive to see a guy on the field like McGill, who can offer something the Colts have not had with any consistency in a long while — internal pressure.
The Colts host the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8 and will need both their deep passing attack and defensive pressure to be major parts of their attack if they hope to improve to .500 for the first time this season. If either takes a game off, it could be a long day for Colts’ fans.