Colts’ pass defense bracing for another shot at Roethlisberger
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 3, 2015) – Darius Butler was certain the Indianapolis Colts defense had been on the receiving end of one of those rare NFL events 11 months ago at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.
You know, a perfect game.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shredded the Colts’ pass defense early and often en route to a 51-24 bludgeoning: 40-of-49, 522 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Incredibly, the NFL’s complex passer rating system considered that very, very, very good. It was a 150.8 rating.
But it wasn’t a 158.3, which is the NFL’s version of a perfect game.
“That wasn’t (perfect)?’’ Butler asked with a puzzled look on his face. “Shoot. If that’s not, I don’t know what is.”
“All I know is, it felt like a perfect game.’’
One of the criteria for a perfect passer rating is a 12.5 per-attempt average.
Roethlisberger fell short in that regard (10.7), but it was the only “blemish’’ on what as one of the most dominant passing games in league history. The yards, touchdowns and completions were Steelers records. No quarterback had ever torched the Colts for as much yardage, and no offense had piled up as many total yards (639).
Will it be payback or more of the same Sunday night at Heinz Field?
In preparation for Roethlisberger and a Steelers offense that ranks No. 4 in total yards, No. 6 in passing and generated 30 points in a loss at Seattle last Sunday, the Colts pulled out the video of Oct. 26, 2014.
“You want to learn from your mistakes,’’ Butler said. “You want to learn from the big plays they did hit.’’
Roethlisberger delivered 10 completions that gained at least 17 yards. Three gobbled up at least 47 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown to mercurial Antonio Brown, who finished with 10 catches and 133 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Heath Miller had seven catches for 112 yards and one touchdown. Martavis Bryant turned five receptions into 83 yards and two TDs.
“You want to go back and see what happened,’’ Butler said. “How did they attack us? They’ve got most of the same players and so do we. There will be some different things, but we expect much of the same.”
“They had a lot of success last year, so we’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game.’’
An injury contributed to Roethlisberger’s massive day, and might be a factor again Sunday.
Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis was knocked from the game with a knee injury after 11 snaps in the first quarter, and Josh Gordy was an ineffective replacement.
Sunday, the Colts’ top three corners – Davis, Butler and Greg Toler – will be intact, but the status of Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams is uncertain. He saw limited action in Thursday’s practice and has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Until Adams returns, the safety tandem consists of veteran Dwight Lowery and rookie Clayton Geathers.
Also, Jerrell Freeman, the Colts’ most effective linebacker in coverage, probably won’t play because of a hamstring injury.
While most of the attention will focus on how the Colts’ pass defense matches up with Roethlisberger’s wealth of options – Brown, Bryant, Miller and Markus Wheaton – it’s imperative they find a way to pressure him.
The Steelers frequently used a maximum-protection scheme that gave Roethlisberger time to make his reads and do his damage. The Colts were credited with one pressure on his 49 attempts. One.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge trying to get him down on the ground,’’ said end Kendall Langford. “We got to get as many guys (as possible) to him, wrap up, roll, do whatever it takes because he somehow seems to shake guys off.
“He’s strong enough to throw the ball as he’s going down, which he’s done numerous times as everybody knows. You can’t assume that he’s down.’’
Minus a steady pass rush, it’s hard to imagine the Colts’ pass defense holding up.
Brown ranks No. 2 in receptions (85) and yards (1,192). Wheaton is averaging 19 yards on 25 receptions and Bryant 18.9 on 27. That trio has combined for 12 touchdowns.
“They’re probably the best receiving corps we’re going to face,’’ Davis said. “They’ve got different skill sets, but they’re all good.’’
Butler agreed, and the evidence jumped off the screen as he reviewed last season’s misadventure.
“All you’ve got to do is watch the film or watch their games,’’ he said. “They’ve got explosive players all over the field.’’
So much so, the numbers often become a blur. Listen to Toler.
“You can learn from last year,’’ he said. “We know we’re better than that. I think they scored 55 points on us.’’
No, he was corrected, it was 51.
“Fifty-one? Thanks,’’ he replied. “We’re better than that.’’