DPIs not on Carson Wentz’s wristband, but have been factor in Colts’ offense

Sports

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (11) celebrates during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

INDIANAPOLIS – On any given Sunday, Carson Wentz stands in the huddle, scans the play-call wristband on his left forearm and decides OK, what’s next?

Which run? Which pass? Are we going to the left, the right? This formation or that formation?

His wristband has slots for 190 plays, and generally offers 150 options – 75 which are left-hash specific and 75 designed to the right.

What’s nowhere to be found on that wristband?

Let’s run the ol’ DPI.

“No,’’ Wentz relied with a smile when asked if throwing it deep and hoping for a defensive pass interference penalty was among his in-game options.

Perhaps Frank Reich should add that to the playlist.

Consider the Indianapolis Colts’ 30-18 win over the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night. The Wentz-led offense finished with a modest 295 total yards in the rain, but the damage was much more severe.

The Niners were guilty of five DPIs, three of which were accepted. The yield: 97 yards. A fourth was declined when Michael Pittman Jr. shrugged off Josh Norman’s interference and hauled in Wentz’s rainbow-through-the-rain 57-yard completion.

“Hidden yards,’’ Reich said.

But impactful yards.

Two of the DPIs – both drawn by Pittman – were instrumental in touchdown drives.

A 19-yard interference flag on Moseley in the second quarter resulted in a first-and-goal at the 1. Three plays later, Wentz scooted in for the TD. In the third quarter, Pittman enticed a 38-yard DPI against Jaquiski Tartt, giving the Colts a first-and-goal at the 5. Jonathan Taylor took care of the remaining yardage.

The third accepted DPI against K’Waun Williams – he mugged KeKe Coutee on third-and-10 late in the first quarter – gave the Colts 40 yards and a first down, but Wentz’s lost fumble kept them from fully capitalizing on the Niners’ defensive aggressiveness/carelessness.

Reich doesn’t plan on exploiting a cornerback who isn’t able to locate the football, is too grabby in coverage or fails to adjust to an underthrown pass. And Wentz doesn’t unleash a deep shot simply hoping for a yellow flag and more “hidden yards.’’

“We’re not trying to go get PIs,’’ coordinator Marcus Brady said. “We’re trying to complete the pass.’’

Failing that, the next-best alternative is forcing an indiscretion by a DB. The Colts have physical receivers capable of putting themselves in position to either make the catch or put the onus on a cornerback.

“It’s coached,’’ Brady said. “It came up earlier in the year where don’t keep running and let the ball be incomplete. Just fight through the DB and make him make a play. As you’re trying to make a play yourself, make him play through you.’’

Reich is one of the NFL’s more aggressive play-callers. He isn’t the least bit hesitant to put the football in Wentz’s right hand and see what happens.

Look for that to continue Sunday when the Colts entertain the Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium in an AFC South rematch that carries significant ramifications.

“A lot of times you say we throw the ball deep and there are a few things that can happen, and a lot of them are good for the offense,’’ Reich said. “What you hope is the percentage of interception is low because then your guy can play defender if he has to.

“We can get a reception. We can get a DPI. Hopefully, the worst thing that happens is an incompletion. But it takes an aggressive mindset and it takes a quarterback and a receiver who know how to make those plays. Right now, we’re making them. But again, no guarantees.

“There is an art and a skill to it. There’s an instinct.’’

At Baltimore, cornerback Anthony Averett was docked 9 yards for a DPI against Parris Campbell that helped set up Rodrigo Blankenship’s 37-yard field goal. Later in the game, Pittman ignored Averett’s interference for a 42-yard TD.

When the Colts lost to Tennessee in Nashville in week 3, the Titans offered assistance with four penalties – and first downs – in coverage. Three came on drives that led to field goals.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel undoubtedly recalls the defensive lapses in week 3, and clearly took notice of the Colts’ receivers drawing coverage flags against the Niners. He noted Wentz and his receivers are either connecting on chunk plays down the field or, more than a few times, enticing penalties.

“They hit a lot of those plays down the field,’’ Vrabel said. “They have gone and caught them whether that be Pittman or T.Y. A lot of it was the ball was underthrown.

“Sometimes when the ball is underthrown and you are not playing the football and the receiver does a nice job of going back and attacking the ball, they get those calls. That is something we have tried to follow. The trend around the league is trying to play the football, trying to understand where the ball is.

“There is a fine line, but our ability to play the football while it is in the air is something that has to continue to improve.’’

The Titans have been penalized six times for DPIs, and it’s cost them 125 yards.

While that’s not necessarily a part of Reich’s playbook, it nonetheless will be a factor as long as Wentz is throwing and Pittman, Hilton and others are catching.

“Carson trusts him a lot and Pitt continues to go up there and make plays,’’ said Hilton, who had a chance of returning for the Titans rematch after missing the Niners game with a quadriceps injury. “If I’m Carson, I keep throwing it up to him, too.’’

That apparently will be the case.

Since being rendered immobile by two sprained ankles in the week 3 loss to the Titans, Wentz gradually has regained his health and has limbered up his arm. He’s averaging 8.8 yards per attempt and 13 yards per completion over the last four games. He’s had 12 pass plays of at least 20 yards and five that have covered at least 40.

And, of course, a handful of DPIs.

The Colts will remain aggressive, Wentz said, “if there’s going to be a chance to push it down the field and whether our guy is going to come up with it usually, and if not, there might be a penalty. It’s not every time, but those plays are huge plays that can change the outcome of a game.

“For me, it just comes down to having confidence in the guys out there that I can throw it up to them, I can give them a shot and they’re going to either come down with it or draw a flag.’’

Frequently, the flag drops because a receiver adjusts to an underthrown Wentz pass and the oblivious DB runs through the receiver.

“A couple of those were definitely underthrown, not on purpose,’’ Wentz said with a laugh. “I would have loved to have completed those. You don’t underthrow them on purpose.

“Sometimes when guys get past the defense, those DBs are high motor trying to recover and sometimes those work out. By no means am I trying to underthrow them, but there’s definitely big plays to be had there.’’

Pittman has taken enormous strides in his second season and has quickly developed chemistry with Wentz. His approach is rather basic.

“I have got to catch them,’’ he said. “Carson really can throw it out there, so I just got to make sure that I’m the one that comes down with it.

“That’s why they drafted me here.’’

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You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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