The Colts had their most complete and competitive outing this season against a Super Bowl contender in the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday. This was definitely the most fun game I’ve seen this season from this team and gave lots of reason to be encouraged about the potential they may have next season. For once I actually had to whittle down the list of winners. As always, there were plenty of losers to choose from.
Sheard continues his run of good play with a great effort against the Steelers. According to Pro Football Focus he had a QB hit, 2 QB hurries, and four stops in the run game. That impact was easily visible on film. Sheard has been improving with each week and he has been able to shine despite the absence of John Simon on the other side of the field. If that production can continue when Simon returns, the Colts’ defense will be all the better for it.
I don’t care what his stat line shows, the tape tells the truth. Frank Gore was an animal in this football game. The offensive line did a miserable job providing holes for him, but for much of the game, he kept finding room anyway. It is easy to look at his production on paper for this season and say he is out of gas or over the hill, but this guy looks as fresh as I’ve seen him in his time in Indianapolis. If he had a decent offensive line blocking for him he would have been killing teams all season, and this game was no exception.
Welcome back, Chester! This version of Chester Rogers was the one we watched with excitement during training camp. He caught all six of his targets and got himself 104 yards and a touchdown on the way there. The Colts have been in desperate need of a big impact by a receiver not named T.Y. Hilton since the beginning of the season, and Rogers shining against top-level competition was just the kind of encouraging sign they need to see more of.
Matthias Farley had a good showing with 5 combined tackles and a stuff for a 7-yard loss. He recovered a blocked field goal and rumbled all the way to the five-yard line with it before being run down by a tight end (come on Matthias!). But perhaps his most impressive play was dropping the hit of the game on JuJu Smith-Schuster on a third-down pass that would have resulted in a first down. Farley crushed him as soon as he got the ball and forced the incompletion which resulted in a punt. When used the right way, Farley has been a very good box safety for this team, and he was used well on Sunday.
Jack Doyle really struggled this week. He had 2 receptions for 9 yards. A lot of his production was lessened by the fact that the Colts offensive line simply could not deal with Pittsburgh’s blitzes. That meant that Doyle had to stay in to block often. However, it should also have meant the opportunity for him to get some nice little screen passes to beat the blitz and give those rushers some pause. Instead, he bobbled one of his few opportunities for such a pass and it ended with Ryan Shazier getting a pick. That then led to points for the Steelers. Doyle is one of my favorite Colts, but his season has been more down than up so far, and the Colts need him to return to form to have any kind of success.
What do you say about a guy who stands out as being especially bad amongst a group of offensive linemen who all played pretty poorly? You say, “Hi, Jeremy!” Vujnovich was absolutely manhandled all game. He was beaten by just about any and all moves the Steelers threw at him, which was part of the reason the running backs had to basically invent their own holes. As the game went on, Vujnovich’s play just got worse and worse, and between Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, there seemed to be a permanent member of the Steelers’ defense hanging out in the Colts’ backfield because of him. It is hard to do much of anything on either side of the ball when the defense is able to get immediate penetration into the backfield with regularity.
Why is this loser still on the team? Can anyone tell me? If I hear Pagano or Ballard say something about a unique trait or anything like that I might lose it. The only unique trait that Green possesses is the ability to make a yellow flag appear almost out of nowhere, which he did twice in short succession. Pagano said after the game that Green was “going to learn a hard lesson from that,” with regard to the penalties. If that lesson is not how to revise his resume, it is the wrong lesson.
Okay. So you are going to hear a lot about how awful the Colts’ offensive line is. That is true. Here is something else that is true: Jacoby Brissett is part of the problem. Don’t get me wrong, he is improving. His adjustments at the line for protection are getting better. He also throws a very nice deep ball. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to want to let the ball go and trust his arm unless he has a guy wide open. Look at his two deep touchdowns to Moncrief and Rogers. They were busted coverages where the receiver was as wide open as you could hope them to be. He has shown that he can make those throws physically, but to steal from Jim Irsay, I think his problem is between the ears.
Then there are his screen passes. I am not sure if I’ve ever seen a quarterback throw a worse screen pass than Jacoby Brissett. Brissett throws 60-yard bombs and 2-yard dump passes with essentially the same amount of zip. That is a pretty big deficiency when you realize the kind of weapon that Marlon Mack might be in space if you weren’t throwing the ball at him like he just insulted your mother. Mack is not off the hook for missing some of his catches, but if Brissett could throw a better touch pass, maybe there are more completions there. Maybe Doyle doesn’t bobble his pass that resulted in an interception. Maybes and ifs in the NFL are useless, but to be a viable option at the starting quarterback position, Brissett needs to improve in those areas.
The Colts have been totally consistent in one area this whole season: when T.Y. Hilton doesn’t show up, they lose. Hilton had 2 catches for 23 yards, and it hurt the team. That kind of production just is not enough. When the Colts needed to be able to close out the game, Hilton was nowhere to be found. This is not just his fault. The coaching staff did not take advantage of quick strikes to negate the blitz in the second half. They kept dialing up those routes that take time to develop and hoping for the best. The best that can be said for Hilton is that he allowed other receivers to get open by drawing coverage. Ultimately, the Colts need him to win his matchups as well to have any hope of winning. This offense just isn’t good enough for him to disappear.