The Indianapolis Colts came into this game as underdogs. In the first half it appeared that everyone had overestimated the Pittsburgh Steelers, or greatly underestimated the Colts. Either way, the first and second half differences continue for our Colts, but it seems the days of great second half play might have passed these Colts by.
Losing both starting tackles just days before the game was a challenge most fans could understand. Most teams would struggle on offense with that kind of hardship against the NFL’s most productive pass rushing unit. What ended up happening was far less about losing two starters and far more about many other things.
It looked so good in the beginning
The Colts DB's playing tight at the line is an interesting development. 3 and out for the defense on the first drive of the game. #ForTheShoe#Colts#HereWeGo#Steelers#INDvsPIT pic.twitter.com/s9pJCz6gU3— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) December 27, 2020
The first drive of the game the Steelers just ran three slants in a row. None of them were effective and the Colts offense came on to the field early.
I knew there would be problems
Coming into the game Philip Rivers had been sacked just 14 times, the lowest of any NFL starting quarterback. Today Rivers was sacked five times. We can pretend this didn’t impact his play, we can pretend this didn’t impact play calling from both the Colts offense and the Steelers defense, we can pretend those things didn’t effect the game, but we would just be pretending.
Regardless the first drive ended with a TD
Jonathan Taylor had another very good game. This was the first of his two rushing touchdowns, to go along with his 74 rushing yards on 18 carries. We’re going to talk more about Taylor later in the first half and then you’ll notice he doesn’t really get a mention until the Final Thoughts section.
Everyone was happy
I saw a few rerun episodes of Soul Train as a kid, it always seemed like everyone was having a blast.
The Steelers started to try to counter what the D was giving them
Bunch formations create problems for the kind of tight man coverage the Colts were employing and the Steelers struggled with early in the game. It was a slow burn but the Steelers coaches were doing everything they could to counter what they were being given.
They had no answer for the Colts front seven
The Steelers finished the game with 14 rushing attempts for 20 total rushing yards. A good day for the run defense.
I don’t have much to say about this play but I can’t wait to see what it looked like from the end zone angle.
The next drive started well
Khari Willis would leave this game after an awkward (but huge) hit on a punt return. I’m not 100% if the Colts ever said what the injury was but I know he made contact with his head and it did not appear to be any kind of neck injury.
This was a well timed blitz and Willis made a great tackle on a guy who is notoriously difficult to bring down.
The problems up front, continued
Like all things in life this wasn’t the fault of a single person. It wasn’t all on Chaz Green. It wasn’t all on Mark Glowinski. it wasn’t all on Philip Rivers. It wasn’t all on Will Holden. It wasn’t all on the receivers. It wasn’t all on Frank Reich’s play call.
See all of these things contributed to this play. Green lost his block. Glow got pushed backwards into Rivers lap, who probably should have made sure he got the ball out of his hand quicker, Holden wasn’t engaged with his defender and Rivers ran right into him, his receivers didn’t immediately win their routes and a play action pass with no easy, obvious check down options and three slow developing routes against an aggressive blitz from the defense, proved to be a very poorly timed play call.
There was a lot that happened here and if you read that last paragraph and come away saying “well you can’t really blame ‘X’ because...” then you and I are in the same boat because while some guys on this play are more at fault (Green and Glow) no group was completely blameless. This was ultimately a total team failure.
Passing Raymond Berry
T.Y. Hilton caught three passes for 60 yards and was the victim of at least one big missed PI call late in the game. This catch moved him passed Raymond Berry’s receiving yards in Colts history. Given the Colts history at the position this was truly a huge achievement for the long time Colt.
Taylor, impressive again
This wasn’t a 60 yard run, it’s not going to make any top-10 lists for the week but this was an amazing run from Jonathan Taylor. He’s turned into a highly impressive young back and no matter how this season wraps up, Taylor is someone the Colts will look to heavily for years to come.
My caption was correct
What a play from Philip Rivers. If he keeps doing this, with the team around him, if everyone stays/gets healthy... other than the Chiefs, who beats them?#ForTheShoe#Colts#HereWeGo#Steelers#INDvsPIT pic.twitter.com/JlrcUuLtf7— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) December 27, 2020
There were many issues in this game, but when these Colts are at their best in all three phases of the game, I don’t believe there is anyone who can beat these Colts consistently. The problem isn’t getting this team to play at a high level, it’s getting them to play at a high level for four quarters.
The first bad call that took points from the Colts
Mark Glowinski had a really tough job today. The Steelers defensive line is really good and he was playing with a 4th string tackle next to him all day. Like I said, it was a tough job. There were some rough downs from the guy and this play was called back due to a block in the back flag that he drew.
This wasn’t a block in the back at all.
Glow contacted the linebacker at his left shoulder, clearly in front of the defender.
Glowinski appears at the blue line of scrimmage marker making contact with Steelers defender.
After making contact with the defender, the defender turns and presents his back to Glowinski:
The defender continues to turn...
The defender realizes he can’t get to Nyheim Hines, he tries to dip under Glowinski and starts to lose his balance as the momentum was carrying both men away from Hines.
Difficult to show in pictures, but while falling to the turf the defender actually elevates up and out toward Hines, he jumped. As much as Mark Glowinski would like to be able to throw a Steelers linebacker this far, he’s unable to. The defender dove.
If you’re thinking “what was the point of these pictures, he clearly blocked him in the back” then you would be correct, he did block him in the back but only after engaging the block on the front side of the defender. If the defender turns after you start your block, that’s on the defender. Otherwise that would be a great way to get block in the back flags on literally every play. This was not a foul.
The Colts had at least three points taken off the board due to this flag.
The second half started out, much like the first
The Colts were blending runs and passes and things were going really well.
More protection issues
Sucks that this sack stops the drive and the Colts have to take 3, but I'm glad Rivers took the sack instead of throwing a dangerous ball. #ForTheShoe#Colts#HereWeGo#Steelers#INDvsPIT pic.twitter.com/cY9dFhsx7O— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) December 27, 2020
Glow ended up one on one and it didn’t work out. J’Marcus Webb did a good enough job riding T.J. Watt up the arch. He ended up getting to Rivers but had Glowinski given Rivers anywhere to go, Watt would have been way out of the play.
Either way this drive ends with a field goal, despite its strong start.
The Steelers showed life
Halfway through the third quarter Ben Roethlisberger suddenly came back to life. In the first half he was struggling to throw accurate passes 7-12 yards down field. In the second half, Ben found whatever it was he was missing before and started pushing the ball down the field.
Goal line stand
This drive ended with the Colts defense coming up huge once again. The Steelers seemed to know they couldn’t run on this front seven so they just kept trying to throw into the end zone and T.J. Carrie, who had been beaten earlier in the drive, capped off the stand with this nice pass break up.
Khari Willis was injured the play before this
Literally never could have seen this coming. After what we've seen from him all day, a perfect deep ball didn't seem like a possibility. #ForTheShoe#Colts#HereWeGo#Steelers#INDvsPIT pic.twitter.com/bfyL0jaVHu— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) December 27, 2020
In a football story as old as time, the Steelers saw that the Colts starting safety (Khari Willis) left the game following the punt return on the play just before this one. Testing the guy who replaced the starter in coverage is a classic move, everyone does it and the Steelers decided to test Khari Willis’ backup with disastrous results for the Colts.
The Colts gave up a first down sack on the next drive and proceeded to go three and out. They punted the ball back to the Steelers who were able to move the ball on the backs of some highly questionable penalties.
Jon Ledyard is a good guy to follow on Twitter if you’re into football and the NFL Draft. That said he’s not a Colts fan, at all.
The Steelers threw the ball Eric Ebron (who acted like he didn’t literally quit on the Colts last season, after the score) who fell into the end zone for six.
Questionable decisions were made
There’s a lot to be said for a coach who is aggressive and is willing to go for the win. When it works he’s a genius for bucking the conventional conservative ways from the old guard of NFL coaches the game has passed by. If it fails, the coach is a moron who didn’t run the ball when other coaches would have.
That’s the reality of being a NFL play caller. No matter what you do you’re going to be criticized if the team doesn’t win, no matter what decision you make.
Having said that, in this instance, there is merit to the complaint, that Reich didn’t run the ball. The Colts were averaging 4.5 yards per carry. They had the lead. The Steelers defense appeared to be back, expecting the pass.
Instead of trying to get some momentum going on the ground, the Colts put the game in Philip Rivers hands and even though, that’s been a good place for the Colts to be this season, today it wasn’t enough.
The Steelers defense locked the Colts receivers down and came away with another sack on the day.
Bad officiating continued
Rock Ya-Sin broke on this ball and would have most likely scored a touchdown after intercepting this ball had the Steelers receiver not literally thrown a block to knock the DB off balance and out of the way of getting the pick. A bad no call.
Instead this gets called for illegal contact downfield
The quarterback had already begun his throwing motion to the other side of the field, this contact had no impact on the play. None. I’m not going to argue that he didn’t make contact beyond five yards, he did, but if this isn’t a flag that was getting thrown both ways.
The Steelers drive was bailed out and then they threw this pass
I don’t have much to say here.
Then this happened
Ultimately it was first and 10 and Rivers launched the ball deep to a receiver who had three defenders in his vicinity. I appreciate that he was being aggressive, I like it a lot actually, but I would have been elated with a creative run concept behind Quenton Nelson.
Missed ineligible receiver downfield call
Despite what I said on Twitter, the offensive lineman was only three yards down field, which is absolutely a penalty. You’re allowed two yards in the NFL. No flag.
I believed I was witnessing a miracle
DID THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS JUST GET A DRIVE SUSTAINING CALL?! I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD LIVE TO SEE THE DAY.— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) December 27, 2020
Thank you for the Christmas gift, @NFLOfficiating #ForTheShoe#Colts#HereWeGo#Steelers#INDvsPIT pic.twitter.com/xNOmZTGMtk
The Colts got a flag on a 4th down play. The drive continued down by four.
T.Y. coming up in a big spot
When the game is on the line, when the offense needs a play, Philip Rivers has started looking to T.Y. Hilton and regardless of what happens for the rest of the year, that’s a good thing if the team decides to bring both men back in 2021.
Then this happened
Hey @NFLOfficiating,— Chris Shepherd (@NFLscheme) December 27, 2020
It appears that the receivers path to the ball was impeded before the ball arrived.
Can you guys explain this no call?#ForTheShoe#Colts#HereWeGo#Steelers#INDvsPIT pic.twitter.com/vdeKY7WGSh
Please scroll back up to the illegal contact penalty called on Xaiver Rhodes and tell me which play is more deserving of a flag.
That no call gave the Colts 4th and 7 and they gave us this
Final Thoughts For The Week
I spent a huge chunk of this article criticizing the officiating and they deserve it. It was awful and amazingly one sided.
But, and there’s always a but, the Colts should have never even let the officials have any say in the outcome of this game. We could explore the depths of what happened, we could place simplistic blame on one party (Frank Reich will be a pretty big and deserving target) but this loss truly wasn’t just on the offense, or the defense or the special teams or the coaching or the roster construction... it was all of those things. It was a bad, bad loss in what has been a good season for our Colts.
So what do you do with a loss like this? A loss that the entire team created. A loss that saw so many bad flags and out of character mishaps. What do we make of this game?
As fans, I’m not sure we can get much of anything out of this. It was a loss and it sucks but I don’t think we learned much.
The Steelers, despite their recent run of bad football, started the season 11-0. They’re a good team with some real flaws. The Colts were outplayed and outcoached in the second half but if these two teams played 10 times, I really believe the Colts would win six or seven of those contests. It was a bad game, but the first half showed us what this Colts team could be.
What do the coaches and players do with this game?
I hope it keeps them up at night. I hope it eats at them. I hope they obsess over the mistakes they made and I hope this loss makes them better.
No matter who you think, the Colts have a very real chance to get to 11-5 next week against a bad Jacksonville Jaguars team and even though the Colts could miss the playoffs, 11-5 is a great way to follow up a 7-9 2019 season, most seasons 10 wins will get you into the playoffs.
Besides if the Colts go 11-5 and miss the playoffs they’ll have the 18th overall draft pick over teams like the Washington Football Team and the Chicago Bears, and possibly several other teams who finished with a worse record.
I realize it’s not much of a consolation prize, but I’m looking for any positivity I can find for an 11-5 team who, somehow, miss the playoffs.