INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Bruce Arians is as subtle as a jackhammer.
His modus operandi – as a person, coach or offensive mastermind – is widely accepted and understood because it’s spelled out.
As the Indianapolis Colts prepare for Sunday’s reunion with their former quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator/interim coach and his Arizona Cardinals, perhaps they should put down their defensive playbook long enough to pick up a copy of Arians’ book “The Quarterback Whisperer.’’
It speaks volumes of the task at hand, and doesn’t require burrowing too deeply into what is a very entertaining and insightful read.
The very first sentence of Chapter 1: I’ve always had a bit of a wild streak.
The closing sentence of the final chapter: I call plays and coach quarterbacks the same way: No risk it, no biscuit.
Still not convinced of how Arians’ is wired? Then consider a comment from one of those QBs who’s benefitted from his aggressive hand.
From Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger: Bruce is a gambler at heart, and he’s always thinking about how he can set up a defense to deliver that knockout punch. That’s why quarterbacks love playing for him: He takes as many shots down the field as any coach in the NFL. And he never – never – plays scared.
That’s Bruce Arians, B.A. to friends and colleagues. He’s not to averse running on occasion, even running a lot. David Johnson, who was placed on the injured reserve list after breaking his wrist in the season opener, finished seventh in the NFL with 1,239 yards a year ago and led the league with a franchise-record 16 rushing TDs.
Until Johnson returns, the Cardinals’ running game likely will revolve around Colts’ 2013 seventh-round pick Kerwynn Williams, Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson. They won’t allow themselves to be one-dimensional.
But remember: No risk it, no biscuit.
Few embrace the vertical passing game with more gusto than Arians. That’s been the case whether his QB was Peyton Manning, Tim Couch, Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck or, now, Carson Palmer.
The Cardinals were a smidgen less explosive last season as Johnson emerged as one of the NFL’s premier players – a league-best 2,118 yards from scrimmage – and Palmer dealt with protection issues and endured 40 sacks.
But in 2015, Palmer’s 8.7 yards per attempt led the NFL and his 35 TDs were second to Tom Brady’s 36. His receivers averaged a league-best 13.5 yards per reception.
Arizona endured a rocky start with a 35-23 loss at Detroit as Johnson went down in the third quarter with the wrist injury and Palmer suffered three interceptions and one sack. With the veracity of his running game in question, Arians might be more inclined to rely on Palmer and his array of receiving threats: Larry Fitzgerald, Jaron Brown, John Brown, J.J. Nelson and Jermaine Gresham.
If nothing else, the Colts seem prepared for what’s to come. Their secondary if rife with youth: rookie cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston; rookie safety Malik Hooker; and T.J. Green, in his second season but one month into a safety-to-corner transition. Corners Kenny Moore and Pierre Desir were acquired on waivers Sept. 3 and are expected to see more exposure as they get comfortable with the scheme.
The Colts also showed a vulnerability to gashing passing plays in last Sunday’s 46-9 loss at Los Angeles. Rams quarterback Jared Goff passed for a career-high 306 yards, and had seven completions that gained at least 21 yards. Rookie Cooper Kupp whipped Green for an 18-yard touchdown.
Will Arians stay in character and test the back end of the Colts’ defense?
“Oh, for sure,’’ coordinator Ted Monachino said Thursday. “That’s what he does, right? He runs the ball when he’s supposed to and throws it when he’s supposed to.’’
The Cardinals, he added, are ultra-aggressive on early downs, when defenses might be in base personnel.
“What you see with the Cardinals in they’re trying to go for your throat on first and second down,’’ Monachino said. “Third down, all they want to do is convert so they can get another chance to go for your throat, which is what they’ve done.’’
The key to at least limiting Arians’ aggressive tendencies is to contain his running game – the Colts allowed the Rams just 1.9 yards per attempt – and crank up the pressure on Palmer. The trouble with that? The Colts showed no ability to get in Goff’s face last week: 1 sack, four hits.
Monachino acknowledge he’s “not very comfortable’’ with his pass rush.
“We can’t be right now,’’ he said. “We’ve got to figure out ways to disrupt the protection, whether that’s with pressure or with alignment or with unusual or different rushers.
“We are not where we need to be there.’’
Which is right in Arians’ crosshairs.
Safety Darius Butler played under Arians in 2012 and faced him in ’13 when the Colts were throttled at Arizona 40-11. He’s bracing for Arians’ aggressive approach.
“(With) almost every team, you’re going to get tested on the back end,’’ he said. “We gave up some big plays last week, so of course we’re going to get tested, not only this week but the next few weeks.
“You know how this league is.’’
And everyone knows how Bruce Arians is.