The Indianapolis Colts lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-10 on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
Maybe Matt Hasselbeck isn't the team's best option after all
To be fair, most of us didn't actually learn this on Sunday night, as we had said all along that when Andrew Luck was healthy he should be the team's starting quarterback. There were those who said otherwise, however, due to the fact that Hasselbeck was 4-0 as a starter. That perfect record is now gone, and with it should go any suggestion that the Colts are better off with Hasselbeck under center rather than Luck. I don't write this to overreact to one game or to suggest that Hasselbeck has been a disappointment. In fact, even though Sunday night was awful, Hasselbeck has still been phenomenal and has still helped to save the Colts' season. None of that is rendered untrue because of Sunday's performance. With that said, however, Hasselbeck was bad on Sunday. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions and a lost fumble, posting a passer rating of 61.2. To cap it all off, he suffered a neck and shoulder injury that has his status somewhat in question. He missed reads, missed open receivers, and just made some flat out bad decisions and passes. If you look at last year's loss to the Steelers and this year's loss to the Steelers, the defensive performance remained about the same. The offensive performance, however, saw a massive drop in production, as last year Andrew Luck kept them in the game going into the fourth quarter. Is that proof that the Colts are better off with Luck than with Hasselbeck? Absolutely not. But we saw on Sunday night what this Colts team looks like with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback while going up against a good team. We've seen the Andrew Luck-led Colts lay several stinkers as well this year, but we also saw them pull out a win against the Denver Broncos. It's that ability to turn it on for any given game - or even in the middle of any given game - that makes Andrew Luck so dangerous, and it's why he's the only option once he's healthy. Hasselbeck has been great this year, but nobody thought the Colts were going to make a comeback on Sunday - in large part because their quarterback wasn't playing well at all.
Pass Rush is still a major issue
Many of you might want to talk about the play of the secondary, but I think that was a secondary issue to the pass rush on Sunday (see what I did there?). Or, might I say, the pass rush that was supposedly out there somewhere, because we sure didn't see it when watching the game. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 40 times (throwing it 39 times and rushing once) and had all day to throw on most of those plays. In fact, the Colts recorded exactly zero quarterback hits and zero sacks on the night - matching their total from their loss to the Steelers the year before. Now, to be fair, a Trent Cole sack was wiped out due to a defensive holding penalty, but you get the idea: the pass rush was nonexistent on Sunday night, and that led to massive problems for the Colts' defense. It doesn't matter how good your cornerbacks are if you're leaving them in coverage for a long while. If you can't get pressure on the quarterback, you are going to have problems defensively. That has been an area of struggle for the Colts all season, but those woes are only magnified when facing a team equipped with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Whaton, DeAngelo Williams, and others. The Colts gave Roethlisberger time, and he in turn picked them apart. Robert Mathis was shut down. So was Trent Cole, who was rendered ineffective. Jonathan Newsome was too. Heck, Bjoern Werner - who was inactive - had as many quarterback hits as anyone else for the team. There are going to be times - like during the second half of the game against the Buccaneers - where the pass rush gets going, but overall this season it has been lacking. And when that issue happens against a very good offense, it allows us to see loud and clear how big of a deal it actually is.
The sky isn't falling yet for the Colts
We all know that the Colts stunk on Sunday, but their season isn't over yet by any means. Their final four games of the regular season are against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, and Tennessee Titans. No one is saying that those games will be easy, but they are games the Colts absolutely should be able to win. In fact, the Colts might very well be favored in each of them, and they have a 16-game win streak against the AFC South going. The road to 10-6 is still very possible, but it won't even take 10 wins to win the AFC South. If they simply defeat the Texans in Indianapolis in week 15 (Houston has never won in Indy in franchise history), the Colts are almost guaranteed to win the division, which would give them a home playoff game. And, while that home playoff game would be tough no matter who the opponent is, with Andrew Luck back the Colts would have a fighting chance (they'd just better hope that the wild card team that comes to Indy isn't the Steelers). It's easy to overreact to the loss and say that because the Colts lost to one of the league's best offenses on the road with a backup quarterback they won't be able to beat the Jaguars next week, but that's not true. The Colts' season is still very much alive, even with the loss on Sunday. It stings because it was on primetime television by 35 points, but it's not the end of the world for the Colts and they still have quite a bit of football left to be played - quite possibly even beyond week 17 of the regular season.