There is no doubt that the 2017 NFL season has been a major disappointment for the Indianapolis Colts franchise. Anything that can go wrong has gone wrong. In fact, in a strange way, nearly every loss the team has suffered in the second half of football games this season has been a one game representation of how the season has gone.
Consider that the Colts have undergone a major overhaul across their roster since 2016. There were 26 players on the roster to open the season who were not with the squad last year. After injuries, demotions, and players getting released - that number has grown even more. Despite all of these things, the Colts have given fans reasons to have some confidence in the future.
I have said throughout the season that this defense is not nearly as bad as the statistics represent. The second half offense in Indianapolis has been horrible. Like, historically bad. The play calling goes way too conservative and the team abandons what works in the first half.
In this game, the defense gave up a total of 100 yards to the Steelers offense in the first half. Antonio Brown, arguably the best receiver in the NFL, was held to two catches for 15 yards. Le’Veon Bell was held to 40 yards on the ground and one catch for 9 yards through the air. Frankly, you couldn’t have drawn it up any better and Colts fans couldn’t have dreamed of anything resembling that kind of first half performance.
For the game, the Colts held the Steelers to 316 total yards and held Bell to 3.1 yards per carry. Until the final drive of the game, Brown remained a non-factor. One completion to Brown went for 32 yards and put the Steelers in the spot to win the game. Bell and Brown went without touchdowns in the game and were not major factors. This was a tremendous defensive effort overall.
Consider the offense, where Jacoby Brissett had two long touchdowns that went to Donte Moncrief and Chester Rogers. He helped lead a drive down the field for a field goal. Frank Gore was effective running the football, gaining 54 yards at 3.2 yards per carry (which doesn’t do his day justice). While the unit wasn’t spectacular at any point in the game, they did what they needed to do for a half and one second half drive to maintain control.
What happened after the first drive of the second half is stunningly bad. When the Steelers were forced to become aggressive and bring pressure on Brissett; when the Steelers had to vacate the middle of the field and sell out to make defensive plays; the Colts offensive play-calling bailed them out.
The Colts got a first down on their second drive of the second half due to a defensive holding penalty. The offense went three-and-out on their next drive. The fourth drive led to a third and long desperation dump-off to an off-balance Jack Doyle — who was required to stay in too long to block. The ball bounced off of Doyle’s hands and into the hands of the Steelers to give them a first and goal from the ten yard line. Another three and out gave the ball back to the Steelers and their final drive netted their only first down that wasn’t the result of a penalty since their touchdown drive to start the half.
During that stretch in the second half, Jacoby Brissett was forced to scramble twice and took two sacks in a single set of downs. Routes that took too long to develop, no adjustments to slow down corner blitzes and pressure on the edges, no offensive creativity led to another second half collapse.
The players who deserve a great deal of credit include:
Jabaal Sheard who had six tackles, a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hit, and played an integral role in keeping Le’Veon Bell in check.
His counterpart at outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo also had a strong game that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. His one tackle and two passes defended played a big role in the defense keeping the Steelers from getting rolling.
Pierre Desir had another outstanding game, showcasing fantastic man coverage ability. He had an interception on the second play of the game, defended two other passes, and had 8 tackles — a fantastic number for a player who did so much to stop the ball from reaching receivers.
Even Matthias Farley had key plays in the game, breaking up a pass on a key third down with a big hit, making a big tackle for loss against the run, and had 5 total tackles.
While Jacoby Brissett deserves credit for continuing to learn the offense and developing as a player, he collapses late in games every week. He gets rattled under pressure and makes bad decisions with the football when he feels he needs to make something happen. It seems like every time Brissett is presented with one of those key moments, he chooses wrong.
It is worth noting that Donte Moncrief and Chester Rogers both had long touchdown receptions. It’s important that Indianapolis finds another receiver who will play a role in the team’s future. Moncrief has been a disappointment to this point in the season, while Rogers has missed much of the season with a nagging hamstring injury.
On the positive side, let’s face it. Few would have predicted that it would take a last second field goal for the Steelers to win this game. Even in one of the darkest seasons in recent Colts history, there are annoying bright spots that give fans the reason to believe that there might be something good in the franchise’s future.