The Rams’ preseason was only a few plays old when one of the team’s new defensive signings and one of their players on the bubble made their presence felt, as CJ Ah You pressured Colts backup quarterback into an looping throw that sailed over his intended receiver and into the hands of new free safety Quintin Mikell. Mikell grabs the highlight, but the play was the result of an exquisite rush designed by Spagnuolo and executed by a mix of starters, reserves, and new players.
At the Snap
The Rams’ starting defensive line on the day consisted of Chris Long (91), Fred Robbins (98), Ah You (99) and George Selvie (67). On this play, a 3rd and 8 from deep in the Colts’ end of the field, Spagnuolo jammed the box with two extra rushers, starting middle linebacker Jush Hull (56) and nickel defensive back Darian Stewart (20).
The Colts countered with a 3-WR, 2-RB setup with Painter in the shotgun. Mikell, not pictured here, was lined up in the deep left quadrant. The key plays on the rush were made by Ah You and Stewart, who I’ve highlighted in yellow.
Long and Selvie both rush vertically up the field, with Long’s rush the better one, drawing a double team and putting heat on Painter’s comfort zone deep in the pocket, and forcing him to step up. But step up into what? Robbins and Ah You have each executed a beautiful twist maneuver, swapping into each other’s lanes, with Ah You drawing a double-team and handling it nicely. Meanwhile, Josh Hull is rumbling into the open space between the two double-teams on Ah You and Long.
The key to the play at this point, though, is Stewart’s smart play. He breaks off his rush to completely take away the running back coming out of the backfield on the left side. You can see Painter looking that direction, but his security blanket play has been thwarted, forcing him to look downfield as he tries to navigate the mess that his pocket has become.
Both Ah You and Robbins spin away from their blockers and converge like pincers on Painter’s new position, with Ah You able to get his hands up and come near to batting Painter’s arm as he tries to deliver the pass.
Now, if this was Peyton Manning, maybe he’s able to shrug off the pressure and place a perfect throw to his intended receiver, slot man Austin Collie (17, not pictured), who has a small window of separation over Rams cornerback Justin King. Or maybe he throws the ball away rather than take a sack. But Painter does neither, throwing off his back foot and lofting a pass well over Collie and directly into Quintin Mikell’s hands.
After a nifty 25-yard runback, Sam Bradford and the Rams offense get their first possession of the day inside the red zone, and four plays later are up 7-0. And they’d never look back.
Editor’s Note: As originally published, I mistook new DT Justin Bannan for CJ Ah You. Bannan had been lined up as the right DT with the starting defense, but subbed out on third down for Ah You. Thanks to intrepid reader Tyson Langland for the correction.