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Tale of the Tape: Colts and Steelers

Our Tale of the Tape this week is taking a deeper look into the Colts nearly pulling off a major upset over the Steelers in Week 10.

Andy Lyons | Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – At one point in Sunday’s second half, the Colts were beating the spread by more than 24 points.

The Colts ended up covering in Week 10 (they were a double-digit underdog), but the marquee win that has been so elusive all season long will haunt them throughout the upcoming bye week.

Leading 17-3 early in the third quarter, Chuck Pagano’s Colts could not sustain things for four quarters.

What was observed in the Colts losing to the Steelers, 20-17, in Week 10?


Better Team Wins Out

Over the course of 60 minutes (or however long the game is), the better team wins out.

That saying in sports could not more accurately apply to the 2017 Colts.

No one expected the Colts to have a 14-point, second half lead on Sunday.

And no one could have honestly expected them to hold on, once they took their 8th second half lead of the season.

Eventually, the Steelers---one of the best teams in the league---made enough plays, and the Colts showed once again why they now enter the bye week at 3-7 on the year.

“You have to take it out of everybody else’s hands,” head coach Chuck Pagano said after the 20-17 loss. “You can’t rely on anybody but yourself to win football games.

“They have a really good football team, a bunch of great players that have played a ton of football and have a ton of experience and that showed late in that game. Until we figure out a way to eliminate foolish penalties in critical situations, a costly turnover, those kinds of things, we are going to be talking about the same thing, week-in-and-week-out.”

In the game’s most critical moments, the Colts are failing continually to make the big play.

When Chester Rogers scored from 61 yards out on Sunday, the lead was 17-3 for the home team, with 11:52 left in the third quarter.

The offense went into neutral, and even some moments of reverse, the rest of the way. The unit produced 2 first downs on its final 5 drives. They totaled just 19 net yards in 20 plays, over those final 5 series.

Pittsburgh dialed up the pressure, attacked the Colts and the Indy offense had zero answers in moving the football over the game’s final 25 minutes.

Also, you had the boneheaded penalties (look no further than S-T.J. Green, and a huge penalty late in the fourth quarter on OL-Kyle Kalis, more on him below) and a critical turnover.

Jack Doyle has been extremely reliable the last few weeks, but he has to corral that ball when in the shadow of your own goal line.

Defensively, the unit did enough to win the game.

But even that side of the ball was vanilla in the 4th quarter.

Big Ben used nearly six seconds of time in the pocket, against a three-man rush, to find Vance McDonald for the game-tying touchdown.

Then on the game’s eventual winning field goal drive, the Colts allowed Pittsburgh to rather easily convert a 2nd-and-17 from their own 18-yard line with 1:26 remaining.

The Colts have now been outscored 110-28 in fourth quarters this year.

They haven’t ‘won’ a single fourth quarter this year and have lost 9 of them. A 0-0 final quarter against the Jaguars (a game the Colts were shutout in) is the only non-losing fourth quarter the Colts have had in 2017.


Quieting the B’s

Anyone affiliated with the Colts would have signed up immediately for these numbers going into Week 10.

-Pittsburgh scores 20 points.

-Antonio Brown: 3 catches for 47 yards on 7 targets.

-Le’Veon Bell: 3.1 yards per carry on 26 rushes.

Some major props should be handed out to defensive coordinator Ted Monachino and his patched together defense.

This coaching staff better have put in longer hours than normal in prepping for the Steelers during the offseason.

If they did indeed do that, it showed on Sunday.

The Colts did a tremendous job in limiting Brown (thanks to Rashaan Melvin shadowing him and the Colts providing help over the top) and Bell (the Indy defensive front held the point of attack all afternoon long).

Of course, Brown’s lone second half target was a backbreaking 32-yard catch and run to put Pittsburgh in field goal range.

But this defense still held Brown and Bell to 67 yards short of their combined game average (226.8 yards per game).

The rare numbers didn’t stop there for the defense.

Shockingly, the Colts actually sacked Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter (the first sack in 113 straight pass attempts against him) and picked off the future Hall of Famer (after not recording an INT in their previous 109 pass attempts versus Big Ben).

Again, credit to this coaching staff and the players for successfully quieting down an offense that has shredded the Colts in three consecutive meetings.


Brissett Enters Concussion Protocol

Let’s analyze the four steps the Colts sent out about Jacoby Brissett entering the concussion protocol after Sunday’s loss.

-STEP 1 (Colts): Jacoby Brissett was evaluated for a concussion in the third quarter of (Sunday’s) Colts – Steelers game.

Analysis: On a third-down scramble late in the third quarter Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt struck Brissett in the head with his helmet. The hit did not appear particularly violent, but still a hit to the head, is a hit to the head. Brissett initially grabbed at his head with his left hand, as he lay motionless on the turf for a couple of seconds. As the Colts athletic training staff started to trot out to Brissett, the quarterback hopped up and jogged off the field.

-STEP 2 (Colts): Colts team doctors administered a concussion evaluation, which Brissett passed and he was returned to the bench, but was not returned to the game.

Analysis: Because cornerback Kenny Moore was already dealing with a concussion, the “unaffiliated neurological consultant” was not initially available when Brissett first headed into the medical tent. After a brief period in the tent, Brissett exited, headed back to the bench and met with quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer. It appeared crisis averted for Brissett, and the Colts.

-STEP 3 (Colts): When the unaffiliated neurological consultant was available, he was returned to the tent and again passed a concussion evaluation.

Analysis: During the change from the third quarter to the fourth (in which the extra time between quarters clearly benefited the Colts), Brissett went back into the medical tent to meet with the independent neurologist. With 14:14 left in the fourth quarter, after a defensive stop by the Colts, Scott Tolzien ran out with the starting offense, as Brissett had not yet been cleared by the ‘UNC.’ Once Brissett was cleared, he jogged out of the tent, found his helmet, and headed straight into the offensive huddle, not missing a snap. In total, just 2:30 of game time passed from the original Tuitt hit, to Brissett re-entering the game. But more than 5 minutes of real time allowed for Brissett to be checked twice and still not miss any action.

-STEP 4 (Colts): After the game in the locker room for several minutes, Brissett developed symptoms and is now in the concussion protocol.

Analysis: As the post-game clock ticked and ticked, there was no sign of Brissett coming into the media room. That’s when the Colts announced that Brissett had been placed into the concussion protocol because of concussion-like symptoms. Brissett was 12-of-18 for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns before the hit from Tuitt. He was 2-of-6 for 13 yards in the final quarter, with the pass rush humming down on the young quarterback.

When looking into the clearance of Brissett, I really don’t have an issue with the Colts.

They handled things correctly and really benefited from the extra time between the third and fourth quarters.

This is more of an NFL problem in trying to correctly evaluate a player, while also doing it in an efficient manner.

Is a tent right behind the bench inside of a stadium with 60,000 people really the best environment to make this assessment?

The independent neurologist cleared Brissett, so no harm in him going back into the game. I just have more of an issue with the actual process.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of great answers in how to fix it.

Nonetheless, the 82 quarterback hits and the 39 sacks that the Colts have allowed this season---both NFL highs---have now contributed to another banged up quarterback.


Blitz Issues Everywhere

The 2017 Steelers are a 7-2 football team because of their top-five defense, and not an explosive offensive attack.

It took a while on Sunday, but we eventually saw the dominance on that side of the ball.

The pressure suffocated the Colts in the final quarter and change, with Jacoby Brissett constantly under duress.

Issues in handling the pressure started with misidentifying the free rushers, not finding quick hot routes and then a few breakdowns in one-on-one blocks.

Undrafted free agent right guard Kyle Kalis was terrible.

Kalis allowed a sack, and committed three penalties, including a massive holding call late in the fourth quarter.

Overall, the Colts have to do a better job pre-snap in reading where the pressure is coming from and then trying to make the Steelers pay for it.

“We have to be cleaner on our blitz pickup,” left tackle Anthony Castonzo said after the loss.

This offensive line doesn’t have enough physical talent to afford these blown mental assignments.


Random Thoughts

  • On the blocked extra point, Pittsburgh holder/punter Jordan Berry did a tremendous job immediately taking an angle to hopefully force Colts safety Matthias Farley back to the middle of the field. Berry’s angle allowed for tight end Jesse James to eventually make the tackle on a tired Farley, who played every defensive snap on Sunday. It was a huge play and certainly one that influenced late-game play calling.
  • The Colts caught a major break on the Frank Gore forward progress/fumble with 5:19 to go in the third quarter. The play was not reviewable, but Gore was clearly still trying to fight for more yards when the ball was stripped.
  • Chalk T.J. Green up for 23 yards of penalties on one third quarter drive. That “cost your job” type of stuff from the wild safety.
  • What a beautiful (subtle) pump fake by Jacoby Brissett, and an equally as impressive stutter route from Donte Moncrief. Cornerback Artie Burns was playing 11 yards off of Moncrief at the line of scrimmage, but the combination of pump/route allowed for the biggest pass play given up all year by Pittsburgh (60 yards).
  • You have to continue to be impressed by the leadership of Jacoby Brissett. The guy is a starting caliber quarterback in this league. His fire after the touchdowns to Moncrief and Rogers and was awesome.
  • Just 23 receiving yards on 2 catches for T.Y. Hilton against Pittsburgh. “Lot of eyes,” Hilton said of the attention to him on Sunday. “They took away a lot of things that we normally do for me. They did a good job.”
  • Was Hilton (groin, limited in practice on Thursday and Friday) on a bit of a pitch count Sunday? Donte Moncrief actually out-snapped Hilton 51-to-49.
  • Frank Gore and Marlon Mack were dodging free rushers in the backfield all afternoon long. Gore played 34 snaps (17 carries for 54 yards) and Mack logged 25 snaps (7 carries for 7 yards).
  • At safety, in place of Malik Hooker, Darius Butler continues to earn more playing time (51 snaps) than T.J. Green (29 snaps). Although, Green is starting in the base defense.
  • The Colts have led in the second half 8 of 10 games this year. They are 3-5 in those contests.
  • Jacoby Brissett has five completions of 60-plus yards this year. That’s the most in the NFL. Pretty amazing stat for everything Brissett has gone through in 2017.
  • On Hassan Ridgway’s sack, the Colts also had DL-Joey Mbu and ILB-Darnell Sankey rushing the quarterback. Can’t imagine too many fans recognize those names.
  • Did we really have a 4th-and-34 on Sunday? The Steelers lost 22 yards after back-to-back holding penalties. Talk about a tired punt coverage unit.
  • Could the Steelers have been more confused on the two-point conversion attempt? First, a timeout. Then, a delay of game. It looked like a personnel issue for Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, the Steelers still converted from the 7-yard line.
The Colts worked out kickers on Tuesday, preparing in case Adam Vinatieri can’t go in Week Eight. Who are the options to kick on Sunday afternoon?
For weeks, Frank Reich has been stressing the need for more support in the run game. That came in a big, big way during Sunday’s dominant victory over the Bills.
Adam Vinatieri hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2009, but his status for Week Eight is in jeopardy after an MRI revealed a right groin injury for the Hall of Fame kicker.
Let’s take a look at the good and the bad from the Colts thrashing the Bills, 37-5, in Week Seven.
What should not be lost in the tremendous rushing performance on Sunday, was a very efficient afternoon for Andrew Luck and the passing game.