How the Broncos Win: Stopping Colts WR Zach Pascal

What will it take for the Broncos to stop the Colts' dynamic wideout?
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When former star quarterback Andrew Luck shockingly retired from the NFL just a week before the start of the 2019 season, plenty of people questioned the chances of the 2019 version of the Indianapolis Colts.

That has proved to be foolish, as Jacoby Brissett has revealed himself to be quite capable of leading the Colts’ high-powered attack under head coach Frank Reich. Currently, Brissett leads the NFL in touchdown passes per game (2.3) and has the Colts clicking on all cylinders.

A lot of Brissett’s success has to do with the rapport he’s developed with wide receiver Zach Pascal, who has found a home in Indianapolis and is starting to really develop into a strong No. 2 weapon for the Colts opposite T.Y. Hilton.

Coming out of Old Dominion for the 2017 NFL Draft, Pascal — who hauled in nearly 193 passes for 2,664 yards and 24 touchdowns for the Monarchs from 2014-16 — went undrafted and caught on with the Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans as a practice squad player. That long, winding road led to an opportunity with the Colts on June 15, 2018, when the Colts claimed him off waivers, which led to Pascal winning a spot on the 53-man roster as a special teams ace.

During that time, Pascal worked at his craft, developed serious chemistry with Brissett, and has taken advantage of the opportunity presented in 2019 with the retirement of Luck and the early injury to Devin Funchess.

A Slot Threat

At 6-foot-2, 214 pounds, Pascal doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of today’s modern slot receiver. He’s not quick, nor fast, but he’s physical, knows how to get open, and has a high compete level.

Here against the Houston Texans in Week 7, Pascal is working out of the slot in the bunch formation. Right off the line, Houston linebacker Benardrick McKinney puts a real shot on Pascal, stunning the Colts receiver.

Credit to Pascal though, who doesn’t fall to the ground, instead collecting himself and slipping behind McKinney in coverage for a massive 34-yard gain in a tight contest.

Against the Oakland Raiders in Week 4, Pascal again works out of the slot and sells the go route well, causing hesitation and retreat from Oakland’s Lamarcus Joyner, an elite-level safety in today’s NFL.

By successfully selling the go route, Pascal is able to get Joyner off-balance, allowing Pascal to stop on a dime for the 15-yard completion. Look at the separation created at the top of his stem. That’s terrific.

Working Within the Scheme

One thing the Colts do really, really well is scheming players open under Reich, who thrived in Philadelphia and [then] San Diego with the Eagles and Chargers. Here against the Texans, Reich struck again, running what seemingly is a staple in today’s NFL: the fake bubble screen with a wheel route built-in for the blocker.

The key here is Pascal selling that he’s attempting to block the slot corner. Once he sells it and the defender commits downhill to try and play the bubble, Pascal is able to slip free on the wheel for the touchdown from Brissett.

What has really helped Pascal break out is a real want-to attitude. He rarely gives up on routes, believing he can get open no matter what. That attitude has allowed him to make plays as the pocket collapses around Brissett, giving the young signal-caller an outlet to get rid of the football.

Here against the Texans again, Pascal doesn’t quit on this over route, continuing to work across the field against man coverage. It appears as though Pascal is the third option on the play, but thanks to his determination to finish his route and draw attention, he’s able to create ample separation from the defender and give Brissett a window to fire into.

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No Fear

One thing that’s stood out consistently throughout Colts tape when it comes to Pascal is that he’s not afraid to go across the middle and sacrifice his body to make plays.

Lined up as the boundary receiver to the left of Brissett here against the Raiders, I love the way Pascal gets off the line here with a stutter and burst inside to avoid press coverage from the Oakland cornerback.

From there, Pascal is running a post route. He has to bail out Brissett here on a bad throw, but I love the determination to get to this football, and then the wherewithal to get up after the catch and pick up additional yardage.

How Denver Stops Pascal

For the Broncos to slow down Pascal on Sunday, they’ll have to throw the book at the No. 2 option for the Colts.

Chris Harris, Jr. is going to shadow Hilton throughout the game, and rightfully so. Taking one of the top receivers in the game out of the equation levels the playing field some for the Broncos.

However, the real issue with Denver is the lack of a true No. 2 corner with De’Vante Bausby on IR, and Isaac Yiadom really struggling in year two.

Yiadom and third-year corner Duke Dawson, Jr. will have their hands full with Pascal on the boundary and in the slot. For Denver to give those two young guys as much help as possible, they’ll likely have to rotate a safety over the top of Pascal, or assign a linebacker underneath to take away the middle of the field and the quick throws.

That said, doing that would open the field even more for guys like Chester Rogers, Parris Campbell, Eric Ebron, Mo Alie-Cox, and Jack Doyle.

The Broncos pretty much have to pick their poison on Sunday. With the way Pascal has played over the last month, it’d be wise to take him away from Brissett, forcing another Colts weapon or two to beat them Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Follow Josh on Twitter @JCarney_Sports and @MileHighHuddle