There are ugly games and then there is the game the Colts played Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. From injuries to penalties, turnovers to missed kicks, this was a game the Colts did their best to lose. Even so, they were in a position to win the game with a field goal late, but Adam Vinatieri pulled the kick left and the Steelers escaped with an ugly win, but a win nonetheless.
For the second week in a row, the Colts played a really poor game, and unfortunately this time they couldn’t squeak out a win. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from this game.
I’m not sure anyone has done more for themselves this season than has Zach Pascal. Pascal started this game well and established himself as the guy who would do his best to replace T.Y. Hilton’s production. Pascal wasn’t just an asset in the passing game, he fell on a muffed kick by Parris Campbell late in the first quarter to save what would have been an early disaster. As a blocker and as a possession receiver, Pascal has really turned himself into a reliable target for the team, and he led the Colts with 5 receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown on the day. When Hilton and Funchess are back and healthy, Pascal should be a real asset as WR3.
Another day, another big game for Justin Houston. Houston has made himself into a big difference maker on the defense, and has made exactly the kind of impact plays that brought him in to make. His sack fumble in the end zone of Mason Rudolph to force a safety should have been an even bigger play had the special teams unit done their job, but more on that later. Houston also recovered a fumble forced by Marvell Tell that directly led to points in the 4th quarter. Through 8 games, Houston has 6 sacks, a forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and 10 QB hits. His acquisition looks like a big win for Chris Ballard.
In the absence of Pierre Desir from the field, the rookie cornerback got his most significant snaps of the season, and held his own fairly well. He had a pass break up, and most critically, forced a fumble in the 4th that Justin Houston recovered. The Steelers weren’t able to get much of anything going through the air, and that was in large part due to good coverage on the whole from the Colts’ defense. Tell getting on the field means yet another rookie defensive back playing a significant role on the defense. This team is very young and growth in those young players can be huge for this defense in the long term.
With the defensive backs banged up and rookie Rock Ya-Sin struggling in his rookie season, Kenny Moore came up big for the defense. He had a great day across the board, playing well against the run as always, and notching 8 tackles, an interception, and a pass defended. As one of their most reliable defensive players, Kenny Moore continues to be great this season.
On a day that wasn’t great for the team as a whole, Marlon Mack still put together a solid performance on the ground. He ran it 21 times for 89 yards on the day and consistently found running lanes even when there was very little room to maneuver. The patience and vision he has developed are truly impressive, and he uses his blockers to great effect. He is on pace to finish the season with 1,358 yards on the ground, which would be the most by a Colts running back since Edgerrin James in 2005. In a season where they’ve desperately needed a consistent weapon, Mack has provided one on the ground.
Jabaal Sheard - Sheard continues to be the team’s best run defender, and was in on several nice run stuffs.
Khari Willis - Willis made a big hit that could perhaps have been ruled a fumble, but was labeled as a forward pass. Regardless of the call, it was a solid play by Willis, who has been making them all year.
Ashton Dulin - Technically he wasn’t on offense, but Dulin made a great special teams play to pin the Steelers deep on a punt.
Rather than single out an individual it is best to just lump the group together, because they all struggled. Adam Vinatieri missed two more kicks, an extra point and a field goal on Sunday. Former punter Pat McAfee placed the blame squarely on long snapper Luke Rhodes, as Chris Shepherd said earlier in the week. Whoever is to blame, the Colts finished with fewer points than they should have because of kicking. Again.
Chester Rogers fumbled a safety punt after a great play by Justin Houston, and the recovery by the Steelers led to a field goal. That point difference won the game for the Steelers. That was the story of the day. The defense made plays to keep the team in the game, and the rest of the team did their best to undermine those contributions.
It isn’t often that he makes this list as a loser, but Darius Leonard looked like one on Sunday. With the Steelers in the red zone threatening a score, Leonard took a terrible angle on the ball and not only missed a chance to make a play on the ball, he was then out of position to prevent a score. It was not a good look.
Additionally, Leonard kept drives alive for the Steelers by way of two separate personal foul penalties. You can argue the validity of both, but the first was one where 3 Colts had the runner wrapped up, and Leonard arrived late to lay a hit on him. It was a call that is likely always going to be made, and it resulted in a field goal for the Steelers rather than a punt. When the game was decided by that margin, it was another example of sloppy play resulting in an eventual loss.
In a tough season, the Colts need Leonard to rebound in a big way, and with the Dolphins on the way, he’ll have a chance to do so.
Parris Campbell and Deon Cain
For all of us waiting for these two to make an impact, the wait continues. With T.Y. Hilton out for 3-4 weeks, the hope is that one or both of the young receivers would step up and help to fill Hilton’s role. Even as complementary options, neither has found a great deal of success, and this game was no different.
Deon Cain dropped the only two targets to go his way in this game, and while many have complained that Jacoby Brissett often doesn’t look his way, his continuing inability to make plays when the ball does come his way seem to spell why he gets overlooked. At this point perhaps the best move would be to give some snaps over to special teamer Ashton Dulin and see what he can do.
Campbell had a few moments of brilliance, but they were accented by problems. He muffed a kick early, and on a long run that would almost certainly have resulted in a touchdown, he tripped over his own feet and fumbled the ball. Fortunately it went out of bounds, but it perfectly encapsulates his impact this season. Ineffective with a hint of disaster.
This has not been a good year for Glowinski. He has almost certainly guaranteed that Chris Ballard will be drafting his replacement with his play so far this season. T.J. Watt had Glowinski so out of sorts in this game that he barely knew where he was. At one point he drew a hands to the face penalty and completely removed a player’s helmet, which was his second penalty on that drive. Against good pass rushers, Glowinski has been exposed this season, and this was a defense that brought consistent pressure. I’m not sure that even a solid back half of the season would be enough to secure Glowinski’s role.
Brian Hoyer – While he did a lot of things well, his pick six to Minkah Fitzpatrick was a pass he never should have thrown. He simply never saw Fitzpatrick. He also had a rough time sensing pressure. As a backup who missed camp, however, it seemed unfair to label him a full-on loser.
Anthony Castonzo – Castonzo struggled against Bud Dupree and in general did not have a great showing.
The Officials – They’re still just awful. So, so bad.