In a game that is a matter of split seconds, the powerful Baltimore running attack actually gives Unitas about .4 second more in which to throw the ball, and that is all that he needs.
"We got a guy who times our pass patterns and our throws with a stopwatch," says Gary Cuozzo, who is only in his second year as a quarterback with the Colts but could one day approach the stature of Unitas.
"It takes 1.6 seconds to get back and set up," Cuozzo said. "After that, you got about another second and a half to get rid of the ball. Any time you go over four seconds from the snapback to the pass, you're in trouble. Last year we had less time to throw, because the defensive lines were firing out. They didn't have to wait or hesitate trying to read a run—they just came after the quarterback. Now they have to hesitate, and that hesitation gives us the extra time."
The new potency of the Baltimore running game is pointed up in the comparison between offensive statistics last year and this. In 1963 Unitas, with no running attack to speak of, had to depend almost entirely on his passing. The air offense led the ground by a ratio of two to one; this season, through the first four games, the Colts had gained 787 yards through the air to 549 on the ground. The Colts are scoring more, too; after four games in 1963 they had nine fewer touchdowns than this year and only 71 points compared to 132. The time-eating ground offense has another helpful aspect: the Baltimore defense spends more time on the bench and, in consequence, is rested and ready when called upon.
Another important factor in the Colts' move into contention for the Western Division championship is Cuozzo, the young quarterback from Virginia who came to the club almost by accident. Because he was unable to move an inferior college team, Cuozzo was virtually unknown. He was overlooked in the draft and was signed by Baltimore as a free agent. Weeb Ewbank, coaching an All-Star postseason game, needed an extra quarterback. He had a choice of Cuozzo or another quarterback, who had been drafted by an American Football League team. Ewbank decided on Cuozzo because he did not want to give the AFL any unnecessary publicity, and Cuozzo impressed him so much that he signed the youngster as a free agent. Cuozzo is still with Baltimore, but Ewbank has gone into the AFL himself as coach of the New York Jets. No one gave Cuozzo much chance to stick with the club when he reported as a rookie last year, but he had a strong, accurate arm and he was quick to learn.
"The best thing about him is that he is so smart," says Raymond Berry, the longtime Colt end. "When he came up, he was a little slow releasing the ball. I don't mean that his release was slow. He's got a quick arm. But like most college quarterbacks he waited too long for a receiver to break clear. I told him about it and we worked on it in practice, and now he throws the way Johnny does, anticipating the pattern and throwing ahead of where you are."
The Colt running attack has given receivers like Berry and Jimmy Orr a little more time for fakes, too.
"Last year I didn't bother with any deep fakes," Berry said. "We didn't have time. So you faked off the line and there was the ball. Now we have time for a little more."
Although Unitas throws less this year, he throws for longer gains, averaging better than three yards more per pass attempt than any other quarterback in the league. Cuozzo has played in only one game—against the Bears—but he was two for two, including a touchdown pass.
"The touchdown pass was on a pick play," he recalled after the game. "When I came out of the huddle I was surprised that the Bears weren't in a goal-line defense, but I figured the pick would work anyway, and it did." A pick play in football is almost exactly the same as a pick-off in basketball. The pass routes are designed so that one receiver picks off the defender assigned to another, not by blocking him, which would be illegal, but by getting in his way, which is or is not illegal, depending upon the judgment of the officials.