Colts’ Michael Pittman Jr. flourishing, especially on third down

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – It was one of 62 offensive snaps, but meant so much and spoke volumes of a budding quarterback-receiver partnership.

Third-and-7 at the Jacksonville 49. Two minutes, 56 seconds remaining. Indianapolis Colts attempting to add cushion to a 20-17 lead.

Carson Wentz took the shotgun snap and was immediately forced to vacate the pocket by pressure from Myles Jack. He rolled, rolled, rolled to the right. Just as he was being pulled down by Adam Gotsis, Wentz delivered a strike to Michael Pittman Jr.

“They brought a blitz that we hadn’t seen before,’’ he said after the game. “They did a good job on it and I just had to make a play.”

“Pitt did a great job sitting and scrambling, just trying to run to space. I was about a split-second from throwing it away until I saw him.’’

Pittman had lined up wide left in the formation and worked his way across the field to provide Wentz a viable option.

“Just flow with him,’’ he said.

Just flow, catch, toe-tap at the sideline. His 27-yard reception kept alive a drive that resulted in Michael Badgley’s 37-yard field goal and a 23-17 lead.

A misfire and even an aggressive Frank Reich probably would have punted. Instead of needing a touchdown on their final drive, the Jaguars only would have needed a field goal to force overtime.

“Yeah, it was just a great play by those two guys extending it,’’ Reich said.  

On the game’s opening drive, Wentz faced a third-and-6 at the Jaguars’ 30. He got 7 on a hookup with Pittman. Five plays later, Badgley knocked down a 24-yard field goal.

Pittman already has established himself as the Colts’ next No. 1 wideout. Last season’s top draft pick – round 2, 34th overall – has taken the baton from 32-year old T.Y. Hilton. He’s 9th in the NFL with 729 yards and tied for 11th with 55 receptions and five TDs. He’s had at least five receptions in seven games, at least 71 yards five times and cracked the 100-yard level twice.

For those keeping track at home, Pittman’s on pace for 94 catches and 1,239 yards.

“What I love about Pitt is he’s so stinking competitive,’’ Reich said. “He’s got such a beast mentality.”

“He can dominate versus anybody, but he’s a great team player.’’

Consistent throughout, Pittman’s been dominant on third down. In roughly eight months and without benefit of a full-blown offseason workout program or training camp with a quarterback acquired in a February trade, Pittman has developed a synergy with Wentz in the most pressurized situations.

“You guys see it every week,’’ Wentz said. “He comes up big play after big play. Super reliable, dependable, gets open, especially in moments like that.’’

Like third down, when it’s imperative to move the chains and keep a drive alive.

Wentz ranks 5th in the league on third down: 56-of-91 (61.5%), 723 yards, seven touchdowns, one interception, a 106.6 rating.

Credit his trust in Pittman to be where he’s supposed to be, or to improvise when necessary.

The 6-4, 223-pounder leads the NFL with 21 third-down receptions and is 2nd with 331 yards. His lone third-down TD showcased his size, strength and relentlessness.

With the Colts leading 23-18 and facing a third-and-10 at the San Francisco 28 with just under 3 minutes remaining in the driving rain at Levi’s Stadium, Wentz looked to Pittman.

“Carson just threw it up and gave him a chance and Pitt made an unbelievable play,’’ Reich said.

Pittman got open on the right side, high-pointed the pass from Wentz over cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, caught his balance by putting his left hand on the turf and dove into the end zone.

Ballgame.

“Trust is everything,’’ Pittman said. “Me and Carson put in lots of hours off the field. I’ve just been building up that trust with him. I feel like it’s really starting to show.’’

The Wentz-Pittman third-down impact since the Niners game is downright impressive. Their stat line over the last four games: 11-of-13, 209 yards, one TD, a 144.4 rating.

“I think that’s why they drafted me here,’’ Pittman said of his productivity, not only on third down, but throughout the course of a game. “Last year we couldn’t really get it going for whatever reason, but we brought in Carson and Carson just loves to throw it deep.

“I love it, too.’’

Wentz pointed to the trust factor with Pittman

 “In moments when it’s not necessarily open, you can give it to him,’’ he said. “He continuously shows up and makes big plays.”

“He earned my trust a long time ago and that’s when you’re seeing it out there on Sundays.’’

Coordinator Marcus Brady has watched as his new QB and second-year wideout have put in the necessary time. During practice. After practice. There also were casual throwing sessions involving Wentz and Pittman during the offseason.

“They’re just growing trust and confidence in each other,’’ Brady said. “Obviously (Pittman is) a guy you want to continue to get the ball. He’s either the primary or secondary read on most plays just depending on the coverage that we’re getting. Then when Wentz leaves the pocket, he does a great job of just continuing working, finding the open space.’’

Pittman’s knack for producing on third down?

“His will,’’ Brady said. “A lot of teams in those instances are playing man coverage and his ability to beat press-man to make the contested catches.

“Sometimes he’s covered, but he still makes the catch. That’s the beauty of that.’’

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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