With the big news today that Colts franchise quarterback Andrew Luck is in the concussion protocol, it looks very likely that he won’t be able to go on Thursday night for the team’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With the steps of the protocol set and a player having to pass multiple phases before he’s cleared to return to the playing field, it’s a tall order for Luck to be able to clear it in time to play on a short week. So it’s best to assume that Luck will not play on Thursday night, because anything otherwise would be a stunner.
So that means that it looks like Scott Tolzien is in line to make his first start for the Colts on Thursday night... on primetime... on Thanksgiving night... against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yeah, good luck buddy.
The eyes of the football world will be on Indianapolis as they host their first ever Thanksgiving game, and the team will be honoring Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison at halftime by presenting them with their Hall of Fame rings, but they’ll likely be starting Scott Tolzien. That puts the pressure on Tolzien to help guide the offense to a high-scoring output, as the Steelers will certainly put up quite a few. The Colts have faced the Steelers just twice in the Pagano/Luck era, but neither time has gone well: the Steelers have put up an average of 48 points per game in those two contests and have won by 17 points and 35 points, respectively. In those games, Ben Roethlisberger has completed 72.7% of his passes and has averaged 443 yards and five touchdowns per game with zero interceptions. Averaged.
The Colts had to play the Steelers without Luck last year, and things went about as you’d expect: the Colts were crushed, 45-10. Led by a very beat-up Matt Hasselbeck, the Colts managed just 240 yards and ten points while turning the football over three times in Pittsburgh, which led to a dominating performance by the home team.
It’s hard to really expect anything different this year, as the defense isn’t improved (if anything it’s worse) and Scott Tolzien doesn’t appear to be an upgrade over Hasselbeck (if anything he’s worse). So can Frank Gore carry the way offensively, enough so to outscore the Steelers? Unlikely. Can the Colts defense slow down the Steelers enough to keep it within reach? Again unlikely.
The Colts are confident in Tolzien’s ability, however, and that goes back to their decision to sign him this past offseason. With Hasselbeck retired/not re-signed, the Colts went after Tolzien as their backup at the position. Tolzien has completed 56 of 91 passes (61.5%) for 721 yards (7.9 yards per attempt), one touchdown, and five picks for a passer rating of 67.1 in six career games (two starts), while also rushing for 52 yards and a touchdown. He began his career with the San Francisco 49ers and then later was the backup to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
"With Scott, when we went out and looked at the guys that were out there and the guys that were available – this guy has got good tape out there,” head coach Chuck Pagano said this past spring on the decision to sign Tolzien. “He’s an athletic guy. He’s got a really strong arm. He’s got a quick release. He’s a smart guy. He’s wired the right way. He’s a perfect fit in that room. He continues to get better every day and make progress. If need be, the guy can go in and play good football for you.”
It’s clear that the Colts are confident in Tolzien’s ability, as that’s why they signed him in the first place and that’s also why they kept him as the backup quarterback despite Stephen Morris outplaying him in training camp and preseason. That confidence in Tolzien will be tested this Thursday, however, in a very tough situation. The Colts are 5-5 and are still trying to play catch-up to the Houston Texans, meaning that the final six games are all very important. Having Scott Tolzien start a primetime Thanksgiving game against a good opponent that will score quite a few points? Yeah, that’s not ideal.