The Colts offensive line has not been playing up to their standards recently, and Sunday’s game was no exception. Center Ryan Kelly suffered a burner early in the game, so his absence must have surely been felt, but that is no excuse for how bad Castonzo and Smith were against T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. The Steelers talented edge duo racked up a combined 3.5 sacks and 6 quarterback hits, and dominated the Colts tackles all game long. Smith has been struggling recently, but he has now been tasked to guard an elite pass rusher for the third straight overall week (J.J. Watt, Von Miller, T.J. Watt). Castonzo had been playing well, but he had an off day against the insanely athletic Dupree.
Kenny Moore II Vs. JuJu Smith-Schuster
After he got burned time after time versus Courtland Sutton, Reich wisely decided not to have Rock Ya-Sin shadow the opposing team’s #1 receiver, instead, he asked Kenny Moore to do so. Even though the Colts logically did not leave Moore to cover JuJu 1-on-1 on most plays, the Valdosta State cornerback did an outstanding job against one of the game’s top receivers, limiting Smith-Schuster to just 3 catches and 16 yards.
Darius Leonard Vs. Jaylen Samuels
Leonard had perhaps the worst game in his young career, not only making dumb mistakes that cost the Colts points, but also struggling to keep up against Jaylen Samuels in the passing game, where the back caught 13 of 13 targets (!), for 73 yards. There were several times where the Steelers could not get anything going on the ground or on the passing game but Samuels just kept getting open for short 6-7 yard gains that kept the offense moving. The Colts defense needs Leonard playing like a Maniac again.
Justin Houston Vs. Alejandro Villanueva
After facing backup tackles for the past two weeks, and dominating them, Houston had perhaps his toughest matchup of the season against elite left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Logically, Houston was not as effective or disruptive as the past weeks, but he provided one of the best plays of the game, stripping Rudolph of the ball in the end zone and forcing a safety. Had the Colts capitalized on the play, and not fumbled the ensuing punt return, the result would have been different.
Field Goal Unit Vs. Heinz Field
Heinz Field is a very tough place to kick, not only because of the amazing atmosphere but also because of the howling winds in the Stadium. The Colts field goal unit as a whole was definitely not up to par on Sunday, as has been the trend this season. After the Colts’ second touchdown of the game, Vinatieri kicked the PAT way too low and it got blocked by Cam Heyward. We all know by now what happened in the last minute of the game, where Rhodes (the long snapper) did not snap the ball well, resulting in a bad hold by Rigo, where the laces pointed at the kicker, and a shanked kick by Vinatieri, who kicked the grass before even making contact with the ball. Something to take into account: Vinatieri had his 3 worst games of the season versus the Chargers, Titans and Steelers, all of whom play on natural grass. We may have found his kryptonite.
Frank Reich Vs. Injuries
Reich, in my (perhaps biased) opinion, should without a doubt win Coach of the Year. What other coach in the NFL faced more challenges than Reich, and still managed to win games? With his franchise quarterback retiring just 3 weeks before the season, losing his #2 receiver on Week 1, losing his best two defensive players for a month, now losing his star receiver for 3-4 weeks, Vinatieri suddenly becoming maddeningly inconsistent, his new franchise quarterback out with an MCL sprain... Yet, somehow, the Colts are still in the playoff picture. Against Pittsburgh, Reich had to deal with his quarterback and center going down in the first quarter of the game, and he delivered, putting backup Brian Hoyer consistently in positions to succeed and giving him easy quick reads.