The Indianapolis Colts lost in terrible fashion Sunday afternoon as they blew a 17 point lead en route to a 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The loss is rightfully frustrating but I was completely surprised to see the blame shifted to the Colts’ offense after the game. While that side of the ball went anemic in the second half, they were going against a top tier defense while down to their fourth and fifth (and even sixth!) string offensive tackles.
The most surprising thing was how many, including a lot in the Indianapolis media, shifted the blame to the Colts getting away from the running game.
While the Colts were rolling on the ground in the first half, they were also doing that through the air. Philip Rivers averaged over 12 yards per pass in the first half while the running game sat at just under four yards per carry. For the game, Rivers still finished with 7.7 yards per attempt to the running games’ 4.5 yards per carry.
Today, I am going to look at each situation in the second half and talk about why there weren’t really many options to “run the damn ball” in the second half and why Pittsburgh’s adjustments proved to be too much against an injury-plagued Colts’ offensive line.
Looking at the context
Colts’ Head Coach Frank Reich said today when talking to the media that he simply didn’t think there were many times that the team could run the ball in the second half. While you may disagree with him, he is absolutely right.
After the first drive of the second half, the Colts’ offense had just two drives before the Steelers had cut the lead from 24-7 to 24-21. The first of those two drives, the Colts started back on their own one-yard line. They tried to run the ball on first down which resulted in a loss of a yard. The next two plays were an incomplete pass and then a short completion to gain room for the punt.
On the second drive, the Colts fell victim to a quick sack on first down which led to that drive also stalling and resulting in a quick three and out punt. Outside of running it on this first down, which it is hard to blame the pass call with the offense averaging over 12 yards per pass at this point, there really weren’t many opportunities to run the ball before the Steelers were right back in the game.
Then at that point with the Steelers down just three in the fourth quarter, why would you go to the running game that was averaging under four yards a carry in the first half when you could try to throw the ball to regain momentum? The issue with the offense lies mostly with the fact that the Colts had their practice squad offensive tackles in (against a top tier pass rushing unit) and the fact that they didn’t attack more in the short and intermediate game.
To me, I just don’t see many opportunities to run the ball in the second half and that is without even looking at the film context we are about to breakdown.
Looking at the film and it paints yet another reason why the Colts couldn’t run the ball in the second half. The Steelers essentially shifted their defense to attack the Colts’ poor tackles and stuff the running game. They switched almost primarily to their base defense and loaded the box with seven or eight players. On the outside, they pressed and got up close on Colts’ receivers. They were basically daring the Colts to try and beat them up front with their diminished offensive line and the strategy worked. The Colts should have tried more rub routes and underneath plays but they weren’t running against these looks.
It is a lot to ask a player like Mark Glowinski to win one-on-one against a defensive tackle like Stephon Tuitt all game long because Glow is an average offensive lineman and Tuitt is one of the best defensive tackles in football. When it is just one major mismatch like that though, an offense can work around it. Now when you throw in three to four major mismatches, it isn’t going to be pretty for the offense. The Steelers crowding the box in the second half led to more single blocks where the Colts’ depleted offensive line just couldn’t get a push.
After the first drive of the second half, the Steelers essentially loaded up the box and pressed on the outside and dared the Colts to throw with their shitty backup tackles out there. Nothing Indy could really do and great adjustment by Pitt. You can't run against this box here: pic.twitter.com/vbmP7K18t9— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 28, 2020
In the heat of the moment and watching the game live, I also thought that it was a bit odd that the Colts went away from the running game so quickly in the second half. When you take a second to look at the film and game flow, it really does make sense why it happened. The Steelers adjusted well to the run in the second half and responded by stacking the box as much as possible and dictating play on defense.
There are many reasons why the Colts lost this game. You could look at the untimely (and a bit controversial) penalty calls in the second half. You could look at the turnover differential where the Steelers had two takeaways and the Colts’ defense dropped a few easy interceptions. You could even look at the main issue which was the fact that the Colts’ defense allowed the Steelers’ offense (an offense that failed to score 20+ points in over a month coming in) to score three touchdowns in just 10:00 minutes of game time.
These are logical things to be upset about and look at for why the Colts lost this one. I do not think the run/pass split though was an issue at all in this game. The Colts ran well when dictating play in the first half but the Steelers committed to taking away that aspect of the offense and forced the Colts to throw the ball with an undermanned offensive line. There really isn’t much you can do with that.
Overall this was a disappointing loss and it is totally fine to be upset and irrational about it. The Colts need some help in Week 17 but regardless this has been a fun and successful season to follow this team. If they can clean up some inconsistencies and get key players back on the field (need Braden Smith and Anthony Castonzo to return) then this team should be fine going forward if they do make the playoffs.