The inactive lists are out, and for the first time in seven billion years, none of them for the Steelers are starters. In fact, the only non-healthy scratch is James Harrison–technically–in spite of the fact that he has been doing squats with his supposedly injured back.
That means Marcus Gilbert is back at right tackle after missing the equivalent of about 75 percent of the first half. Stephon Tuitt is back after missing more than half of the season as well. Vance McDonald, who is possibly transitioning into the starting tight end role, is also back after his second injury of the season with a knee. and Mike Mitchell at safety has made his way back from an Achilles injury.
The Steelers got the opening kickoff (naturally for a touchback) to open the game after the Colts deferred. The first play of the game was a screen to Antonio Brown off the left side, with Xavier Grimble out in front blocking for five yards. Out of a five-wide set, Ben Roethlisberger immediately looked for Martavis Bryant down the field, picked off by Pierre Desir, throwing the ball up. Bryant didn’t do a very good job of locating the ball. Ugly early for the offense.
Frank Gore picked up five on first down, but was stuffed on second. The coverage and pressure forced Jacoby Brissett to scramble, but Mike Hilton was there to prevent him from converting, forcing a punt. Antonio Brown called for a fair catch, Joe Haden the left-side jammer on that punt.
Le’Veon Bell was stopped for no gain on both first and second down on the ensuing possession. Roethlisberger had no choice but to scramble for a short gain, setting up the Steelers’ first punt. The Colts got a short return on the punt up the right sideline.
Following a five-yard run, Gore was held to four to set up third and one. They were able to pick up the first on the ground to the left. From the 45, Brissett looked deep for T.Y. Hilton, incomplete. Sean Davis cut in on the run blitze to drop Marlon Mack for a loss of five. On third and 15, the defense forced the quarterback to throw underneath, with Hilton making the tackle for a three-yard gain, forcing another punt. Haden was called for a hold on the punt.
Bell just barely got tripped up racing out to the right edge for eight. His patient running style got the two yards needed to move the chains. A play-action screen busted and Roethlisbergre had to turf the football. On second down, Roethlisberger connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster on a nice out route for the first down, about 12 yards.
The Steelers tried a misdirection run to the right, but the Colts read it well and held Bell to a two-yard gain. Roethlisberger checked down to Bell on second down, who was able to pick up about 10. Out of play action from 22 personnel, Roethlisberger was sacked with pressure up the middle for a loss of eight. His pass on second down was delivered out of bounds. Now third and 18, a draw run to Bell only picked up a few yards. Kameron Canaday was called for a hold on the punt, negating a good one. This time it was Davis called for a hold, forcing another rekick. On fourth and 34, Arthur Moats made the tackle at the 32. The original punt was fielded at the eight.
Gore was held to three on first down, tackled by Ryan Shazier. Haden was injured on the play with a left leg injury, possibly a knee. About the last thing the Steelers could possibly afford. Coty Sensabaugh replaced Haden and immediately was asked to tackle after Gore escaped for about eight yards to end the first quarter.
While Haden did some jogging on the sideline, he was taken back to the locker room, likely for further examination, before a possible return.
After a false start, Artie Burns got burned coming in on a go route by Donte Moncrief for a long, long touchdown reception. It was only a matter of time before Burns would get burned on one of those this season, a problem that had been lurking all year.
Smith-Schuster returned the ensuing kickoff out to the 30, but Vance McDonald was rolled up on into the back of his legs by James Conner on the return and walked off very slowly.
After a penalty put the all on the 42, Bell finally found some room for a 15-yard gain. Roethlisberger had Brown open down the field, but Brown couldn’t make the over-the-shoulder catch for a big gain. Now second down, Bell picked up about four yards to set up third and six. Out of pressure, Roethlisberger tried to flick a shovel pass to Jesse James, who was clearly not prepared for it, incomplete, settling for a punt from the 38. The punt was caught by Hilton inside the 10.
And yet Gore of course picked up eight yards on first down. And three on second down. So much for that field position. After a false start, Shazier had Mack dead to rights deep in the backfield, but made him miss instead for an eight-yard gain. Davis this time showed him how to tackle, coming off the edge for no gain. On third and seven, Chester Rogers stopped at the chains for the first down.
T.Y. Hilton caught his first pass of the game for a first down. Vince Williams had the tackle for loss on the following play, but T.J. Watt was flagged for illegal hands to the face. Bud Dupree had the initial pressure with Watt cleaning up the tackle for no gain on the following play. Jack Doyle gained about six. On third and four, both Willliam Gay and Shazier missed tackles to allow the third-down conversion, second on the drive.
Now in field goal range, an incompletion gave way to yet another false start. Brissett’s second-down pass was dropped. On third and 15, Hilton caught a short pass for six yards, setting up a Vinatieri field goal from 48 yards out, the Colts taking a 10-0 lead.
A jet sweep for Bryant lost a stunning nine yards on first down. Bell was limited to a few on the ground on second down. Now third and long, Roethlisberger was under pressure and threw errant, only failing to throw an interception because it wasn’t deep enough. At least Davis made a nice special teams tackle at about the 22 on the ensuing punt, so final a positive play there.
Gore picked up five yards on first down to the 26. Hilton on the run blitz made the stop after a short gain. Now third and four, Brissett escaped pressure and checked down to Mack for nine and a first down.
Stephon Tuitt got his name called for the first time today, dropping Gore for a loss leading into the two-minute warning. Pressure forced a throwaway on second down. Now third and 12, Dupree got initial pressure and the team ultimately recorded the sack.
Taking over at the 38-yard line with two timeouts, Roethlisberger hit McDonald for nine yards, out of bounds. Smith-Schuster caught the ball for 15. After an incompletion to Brown over the middle, a low pass under pressure, Roethlisberger threw a screen to Bryant, who showed good explosiveness for 13 yards.
With 50 seconds remaining at the 25, naturally, Roethlisberger bobbled the snap and had to eat it, losing eight yards and forcing the Steelers to use their last timeout. His second-down pass looking for Bryant over the middle was batted down. On third and 18, a short pass set up a 41-yard field goal. Chris Boswell finally got the Steelers on the board with 30 seconds remaining in the half, 10-3.