In the weeks and months after the Colts signed Gardner Minshew as a free agent in March, we heard plenty of folks around the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center mention: If we need him to play, we think he can play well.
The Colts' Week 2 win over the Houston Texans was proof of concept: Minshew went 19/23 for 171 yards with a touchdown, propelling the Colts to a 31-20 win at NRG Stadium. He stepped in for Richardson in the second quarter with the Colts leading 14-7; midway through the third quarter, the Colts' lead ballooned to 31-10.
Minshew now will make his first start with the Colts on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, with Richardson on Friday ruled out with a concussion. The Colts will also be without center Ryan Kelly, who was also ruled out with a concussion, with second-year center Wesley French stepping in there.
The Colts have plenty of trust in Minshew heading into the weekend, and will fly to Baltimore after a full week of practice with the fifth-year veteran taking all the first-team snaps in practice.
"It is like talking to another coach," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "Gardner has watched all the tape. You can say, 'Hey Gardner, did you see that blitz?' I'll just make something up, 'Did you see that blitz in the Pittsburgh game?' And he's, 'Oh yeah they brought this, and did this and I think we can do that to it, I think I can see that.' Things like that."
How Minshew handles an aggressive Ravens defense, then, will be critical on Sunday. The Ravens are not only one of the NFL's most blitz-happy defenses, but they're one of the league's most effective when sending extra pass rushers or simulated pressures (four pass rushers, but usually with linebackers rushing and defensive linemen dropping into coverage):
|Ravens when blitzing||Stats||NFL rank|
|Yards per play||3.7||7th|
|Explosive plays (15+ yards) allowed||3||8th|
Since his NFL debut in 2019, Minshew owns the 11th-highest PFF passing grade against the blitz (82.5) in the NFL. He's made "big time throws" – a stat PFF tracks – on 7 percent of his dropbacks against the blitz, the second-highest rate among quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks. His average of 8.0 yards per pass attempt vs. blitzes is tied for 10th with Jalen Hurts, and it's not necessarily because he taken short completions – Minshew's average depth of target is third-highest (9.5 yards) in the same span, tied with Buffalo's Josh Allen. And he's put the ball into harm's way with a "turnover-worthy play" on just 2.4 percent of his plays against the blitz, tied with the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes for 13th-lowest; the 19 sacks he's taken are seventh-lowest.
The short version: Minshew has a history of handling blitzes well.
"The way he processes the game and gets the ball out so fast (is why he's had success)," head coach Shane Steichen said. "And he sees it and understands coverages behind the blitzes and where to go with the football, I think that's big.
Also: Through two games, the Colts' offensive line has the highest PFF pass block grade (86.7) against the 28 blitzes they've faced, which is seventh-highest in the NFL. The Colts' O-line has been tagged with allowing pressure on 3.6 percent of the blitzes they've faced, second-lowest behind only the Chiefs.
(In 2022, the Colts' offensive line allowed pressure on 32.3 percent of blitzes, the second-highest rate in the NFL.)
"The communication up front will be big with French and Gardner and the rest of the crew to make sure we're on the same page," Steichen said. "Obviously we put a lot of work in this week and given them different looks to make sure we're on the same page."
Meanwhile, to drive this home: Since Mike Macdonald took over as the Ravens' defensive coordinator in 2022, Baltimore has sent double-digit blitzes in 17 of 19 games (the only two single-digit blitz games were against the Cincinnati Bengals last year).
But Minshew's combination of knowing where to go with the football and his general chill-vibes-only mentality have meant he doesn't get rattled by extra pressure, and keep the other 10 guys on the field calm when facing heat from an opponent.
"He's one of the chillest dudes you'll ever meet," wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. "For him, I kind of get a California vibe mixed with like a Midwest vibe. He's just so chill. He's just the ultimate chill dude. He's prepared for everything. Composed, calm. He never gets too high, never gets too low. He's just been a rock for us and we know that we can count on him whenever called upon."