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Phillip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, Sam Ellinger, Anthony Richardson, Gardner Minshew. Seven quarterbacks have thrown a pass to Michael Pittman Jr. in his 4-year tenure in the NFL, and if all goes according to plan, the Colts are hoping Anthony Richardson is the last name on that list.

 

The Colts standout receiver is scheduled to hit the open market this spring, and there already is plenty of speculation as to where he might play in 2024. 

 

Every rumor, media appearance, Instagram comment, etc. will continue to be dissected and debated until March 13. That is unless the Indianapolis Colts elect to use its franchise tag on Pittman Jr., a selective window that opens tomorrow February 20th, and closes on March 5th.

 

While the speculation and passion among fans is what makes the NFL so great, fans in Indianapolis know all too well how calculated every move is during contract negotiations. So instead of doing that, we’re going to dissect the one thing that matters: the film. 

 

A TRUE WIDE RECEIVER 1

 

Don’t forget, and I know Michael Pittman has not, that up until the 2023 campaign, there was the narrative that “Pittman hasn’t proved himself as a true No.1 receiver”.

 

While I never really understood that debate, nobody is arguing that now.

 



 

100+ catches in an NFL season is no stat to take lightly. Most receivers are lucky to get 100 targets, let alone receptions. 

 

While 100+ catches are impressive, it’s not what makes Michael Pittman Jr. a No. 1 receiver.

 

He can make the offense right even when they’re wrong, and the capacity to still make plays when the defense knows you’re getting the ball.

 

THE BEST FIT FOR SHANE STEICHEN’S OFFENSE

 

The Steichen offense has been different everywhere he’s been. But it does have its core principles. 

 

First and foremost, tempo.




Indianapolis, coincidentally, has been a no huddle team for a long time. Peyton Manning’s offenses in Indianapolis were notorious for going no-huddle. So were Rob Chudinski’s offenses and Frank Reich’s, who ran the K-Gun in Buffalo as a player.

 

Peyton Manning even took the no-huddle approach to Denver with his offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

 

McCoy has more influence on this offense than anyone else. He worked with Shane Steichen in San Diego, Cam Turner in Arizona, and Jim Bob Cooter most recently in Jacksonville.

 

The history lesson, while it seems irrelevant to Pittman, actually plays a role in what these offenses ask of their receivers. 

 

You have to be sharp in a no-huddle offense. If Steichen sees the defense get into a look he likes, he’s hurrying up. Equally important, you have to be tough. Maximum effort on every play. If you’re blocking on the perimeter, you’re expected not to take the playoff. Admittedly, I think the effort on tape could be more consistent, but when it’s on it’s on.

 

Secondly, whether by coincidence or design, every Steichen offense has had a physical WR with a large frame. A size mismatch.

 

In Cleveland, it was Josh Gordon. In San Diego, it was Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Antonio Gates. In Philadelphia, it was AJ Brown and Dallas Goedert. Now in Indianapolis, it’s Michael Pittman Jr..

 

He doesn’t have the speed of Tyreek Hill, the route-running ability of Davante Adams, or the YAC ability of Deebo Samuel. But what he does have is versatility. 

 

He is a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of-a-few because it is not none. 

 

THE RUN-PASS OPTION

 

The Colts in 2023 ranked 28th in dropback passes, according to SIS. The main reason for that, if I had to guess, was because of the personnel that Indy had.

 

RPOs are so popular in the NFL because it’s an easy way to put stress on a defense. Another advantage, that’s less talked about, is that they also give the QBs easy reads and simple footwork while keeping the offense on schedule. They are especially effective when you have the successful run game that Indy has. 

 

Pittman just so happens to be a perfect receiver to fit this style of offense. Let me explain.

 

After the bye week, Shane Steichen started to sprinkle in an RPO concept that Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa and HC Mike McDaniel have popularized over the past two seasons. The Post-Wheel-Flat.

 

Early in the Week 12 matchup vs. Tampa Bay, Stiechen dials up that RPO vs. a premiere look: Single High Defense

 

 

The play starts with the motion from Alec Pierce. The goal is to create a horizontal stretch on the defense because they have to “bump” their DBs over to account for an extra receiver now on that side of the formation.

 

Gardner will then read the DE who is the unblocked “conflict” defender. If he can’t tackle the back then Gardner will hand it off to JT. But if he can tackle the back, this is when the play comes to life. 

 

TE Will Mallory is coming across on a slide route. His job is to fake like he’s going to execute a slice block on the unblocked end but then slide into the flat. So, in essence, the Colts started in a 3×1 formation with the passing strength to the right, and by the time the play developed, it was a 3×1 formation on the opposite side of the field.

 

Additionally, one of the reasons you would love to run this play vs. Cover 3 for example, is that the Apex defenders (the 2nd defender inside the outside corner) are going to carry their receivers from outside leverage to funnel their receiver into the middle of the field where their help is.

 

Well, those players are in a tough spot because they have run responsibilities and the Colts can easily make them pay for not honoring it.

 

So all in all, MPJ gets a free release, nobody is in the throwing window, and it results in one of the easier pitch-and-catches you’ll see all season.

 

At this point, I have to take a second and acknowledge that most of you probably think you just wasted your time. All this for a little history lesson and a wide-open catch. 

 

I showed you a play where everything goes right. Here’s what happens when it all goes wrong.

 

Colts are approaching the red zone again and dialing up the same play as last time. Most playcallers would even just to see if the defense came up with an answer. Todd Bowles was too good to fool twice.

 


This time the Buccaneers play Quarters coverage, which is not the look you want to throw to the post.

 

The Buccaneers “bump” over with the motion again which turns Devin White into a seam-flat player. He will come from inside leverage and wall off Pittman from getting inside before dropping to the flat.


Additionally, the Bucs adjust even further by having their DE take the TE fast to the flat instead of the MLB since he is better leveraged to do so.

 

This is a give-read in my opinion, or maybe you throw the wheel to Pierce back shoulder? Either way, the offense was wrong and Michael Pittman made them right. 

 

Pittman knows that he can’t let Devin White disrupt his route, because it screws with the timing of the play but also his landmark on the field. If he gets pushed too far outside, there won’t be a window for Gardner to throw. So he uses a rip move so White can’t land a clean jam. 

 

He then wastes no time getting his eyes to the QB knowing a potential throw could be coming in hot. Once he sees the ball is out, he shows impressive concentration to complete the catch knowing he could take a big hit afterwards. 

 

It’s good ball placement from Garder, no doubt, but the story of this play is Pittman.

 

MAKING THE BIG PLAY

 

Everyone’s favorite highlight from Pittman’s 2023 campaign was the 75-yard TD vs. Cleveland.

 

And for good reason. 

 

 

The Colts had called plenty of RPOs all day and Cleveland started to cheat down to play the quick throws. On a 2nd and 10 play, late in the fourth quarter, Shane Steichen dialed up a play-action pass to generate an explosive and punish Cleveland for cheating on the quick throw.

 

In Steichen terminology, this is a concept called ICE paired with an “In” route from Pittman.




Pittman sets up CB Greg Newsome II perfectly. Any great route vs. off-coverage starts by threatening the corner vertically. If the DB never believes you’ll run by him, he has every right to play flat-footed and break on anything underneath. 

 

Pittman creates the separation at the break phase of the route. In Cover 1 the DB is going to play M/M from outside leverage because he wants to funnel everything to the safety. But because of the timing of the play, he doesn’t have time for anything other than a quick speed cut to freeze the DB. 

 

The difference between a good route runner is the ability to get in and out of breaks. Pittman gets out of this break like he’s 5’11 190, not 6’4 220. He doesn’t lose speed throughout the break, he makes a sharp cut that doesn’t drift upfield, and he does it in minimal steps.

 

The most impressive part is what happens after. The ball is out again and Pittman has no problem adjusting to a ball thrown above his frame. But when he lands, he’s IMMEDIATELY a runner. Most receivers get tackled there because they don’t have the contact balance to be able to withstand that tackle. 

 

From there it’s a house call. 

 

PITTMAN’S FUTURE

 

Pittman, after doubts of whether or not he could be a bonafide “number one receiver”, absolutely proved he could serve that role for a team in the league.

 

But in my opinion, there is no better team for Michael Pittman Jr. than the Indianapolis Colts, and vice versa. 

 

Pittman deserves to test the market and get paid like a quality wideout, but I feel confident that the money he’s looking for will be waiting for him in Indianapolis.

 

Indy’s wide receiver core needs to improve heading into 2024. As a whole, it lacked speed and explosiveness. While Michael Pittman Jr. isn’t necessarily the answer to that problem, he gives you reliable hands and good size on the perimeter to win in the intermediate areas of the field. 

 

After years of cycling through QBs, coaches, play-callers, and teammates, I think 11 found the perfect match in 2023.

 

More from The Blue Stable:

Film Room: Colts QB Run Game

Senior Bowl Interview: Florida WR Ricky Pearsall

Senior Bowl Notebook: 7 Small School Prospects the Colts Could Target

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