Prelude to Steelers vs Colts
The big story going into the Pittsburgh Steelers game with the Indianapolis Colts involved injuries. There were questions whether James Conner could play after injuring his shoulder. Then, we learned that Benny Snell would miss several weeks due to a knee injury. The question resolved itself when the Steelers released Donte Moncrief over the weekend. The move preserves a supplemental 3rd round pick and gave recently signed RB Tony Brooks-James a roster spot.
A secondary story was Anthony Chickillo apologizing for causing a distraction. Officials dropped all charges in an incident involving his girlfriend. The NFL removed him from the Commissioner’s Exempt List. As a result, the Steelers cut Jayrone Elliott from the roster.
The Steelers Forecast
Steelers Depot gives us specific things we should look for during the game. I always read these articles prior to kickoff:
Matthew Marczi described what we should watch for in the game against the Colts. Matt said to watch how and when Pittsburgh deploys deep passes. He ties that to the run game with Jaylen Samuels but expects to see 4- and 5- receiver sets. Matt believes the offensive line should be able to control the Colts defensive front with B.J. Finney’s presence causing little drop off. On defense, the Colts will be a tougher test, watch how T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward & Bud Dupree handle their matchups. Jacoby Brissett likely to target TE Eric Ebron more with T.Y. Hilton inactive. Finally, let’s see if the Steelers defense continues to force turnovers.
Tom Mead identified a key matchup to watch. This week, Tom directed us to Colts DB Rock Ya-Sin vs the Steelers WR’s. Isolating Ya-Sin may give the Steelers opportunities to make a splash play or two.
Alex Kozora forecast what would happen in his Steelers versus Colts prediction. Alex saw a Steelers win if someone other than JuJu Smith-Schuster stepped up (does Minkah Fitzpatrick count?), if the defense could protect the seam, and Jaylen Samuels blocked well on passing downs. He foresaw a Steelers loss if the defense didn’t create turnovers, specials teams allowed a big return, & Matt Feiler struggled in his blocking assignments. Alex predicted the Colts winning 24-20. Thankfully, not even Alex is always perfect.
Dave Bryan identified the 7 keys to a Steelers victory. First, the Steelers defense must stop RB Marlon Mack on the ground. Second, the defensive scheme must neutralize TE Eric Ebron. Next, the offensive line must handle DE Justin Houston. On offense, Mason Rudolph should exploit rookie DB Rock Ya-Sin. Fifth, play-action passes out of heavy formations to take advantage of the Colts stacking the box. The Steelers need Watt to penetrate a talented offensive line to strip sack Brissett at least once. Finally, Mason Rudolph should progress and complete more deep passes without turning the ball over.
You can compare these pregame guides to Alex Kozora’s analysis of the game’s winners and losers which came out within minutes of the final whistle. How does his analysis compare with your view of the game?
The Steelers only had four possessions in the first half. Mason Rudolph completing passes to JuJu and Jaylen Samuels looked promising on the first drive. Then on 3rd & 13, Rudolph’s deep pass to the left bounced off JuJu’s hands and the Colts intercepted the ball.
The Steelers second drive took the team all the way to the 6-inch line. Trey Edmunds started the drive with a 45-yard run around the right tackle. James Washington’s clutch catch on 3rd & 7 gave the Steelers a 1st down at the Colts 18-yard line. A few plays later, Jaylen Samuels almost scored. I know many say the television showed that it was a touchdown, but the replays they showed in the stadium looked like his knee was down with the ball just short. Instead of a quarterback sneak the Steelers try to run the ball and lose yardage. I am confident that more quarterback injuries occur when they drop back to pass than on sneaks despite Patrick Mahomes’s freak injury. I find it ludicrous that the Steelers refuse to employ such a basic short yardage play. End result is a field goal to tie the game instead of taking the lead after a 2nd & 6-inch play.
The Steelers turned the ball over on downs on the third drive. The Steelers started on their own 14-yard line following a special team penalty. Washington picked up another first down, this time a 16-yard pass from Rudolph. One of Jaylen Samuels receptions was a 9-yard gain to set up 2nd & short which Washington converted to a first down on the next play. His third first down catch. Trey Edmunds ran 5 hard yards for a first down. But then, the referees called Diontae Johnson for a false start creating 1st & 15 at the Colts 48-yard line. The Steelers got to the Colts 35-yard line and it was 4th & 2. A field goal attempt would be right around Chris Boswell’s career long. They went for it instead, Rudolph shoveling the pass to JuJu, but he was stuffed for no gain.
The last offensive drive of the half got some fans booing the Steelers. Starting at their own 20-yard line with 37 seconds on the clock, Rudolph completed four short passes and had to scramble once. The booing started after the Steelers used their final timeout and the first four plays had netted them 20 yards. Rudolph completed a pass to Vance McDonald for 5 yards and they were just over midfield with the final 7 seconds ticking away. Darius Leonard was called for unnecessary roughness. The flag stopped the clock and the extra 15 penalty yards allowed Boswell to kick a 51-yard field goal to end the half.
The offense squandered a red zone opportunity and scored just six points. But the Steelers were still in a close game thanks to the defense. 13-16.
— Ken S (@KenSterner) November 3, 2019
The offense started their first possession of the half near midfield thanks to a defensive strip-sack that the Steelers recovered. Jaylen Samuels ran nine yards to convert a 3rd and 4 into a first down. Another penalty on Darius Leonard for unnecessary roughness resulted in a first down on the Colt 19-yard line. Jaylen Samuels caught a pass for 7 yards to set up first and goal from the 7. Rudolph completed a pass to McDonald who was right at the goal line for the touchdown and their first lead of the game. Steelers 20, Colts 16. That is Mason’s tenth career passing touchdown. Only 23 Steelers quarterbacks have more over their 87-year history as an NFL franchise.
The next drive was not so successful. After the Colts downed a punt at the one-yard line, Trey Edmunds gave the offense some breathing room with a 7-yard run. On 3rd & 3, Rudolph dropped back into the end zone and was stripped of the ball. Luckily Alejandro Villanueva recovered the ball and the Colts scored a safety instead of a touchdown. The offense got the ball back by recovering a fumble on the ensuing safety kick. Unfortunately, even though they started the drive at the 17-yard line, the Steelers had to settle for a field goal after being pushed out of the red zone. With the 4th quarter just started, the Steelers had a 5-point, 23-18 lead.
Jaylen fumbled the ball on his 13th reception of the game to give the ball right back to Indianapolis at the 30-yard line. The Colts respond with a touchdown and a one-point lead after the two-point conversion failed. Down by one point, the Steelers respond with a scoring drive of their own.
The first play of the drive was a Mason Rudolph 40-yard completion to James Washington who was covered by Rock Ya-Sin. Now in Colts territory, Rudolph threw deep to Diontae Johnson. The pass was incomplete but defensive pass interference was called and upheld setting up 1st & goal from the 7. The Steelers needed a touchdown. Instead Rudolph passed to Nick Vannett in the end zone, but it was just too high. Jaylen Samuels was stopped for a one-yard loss. Then Mason Rudolph threw desperately to McDonald as he was being hit. The pass was incomplete, but McDonald would have been short of the goal line any way. Steelers have to settle for another red zone field goal.
The Steelers get the ball back with a 2-point lead with 3:58 left in the game. Two runs to try and eat time plus an incomplete pass attempting to convert 3rd & 8. A three and out leaving 2:28 on the clock after the punt. Had the Colts made their final field goal attempt, the Steelers offense would have had a little over a minute with no timeouts to drive for another field goal. As it turned out, that 1:11 was spent in the victory formation.
Wrap it up, we’ll take it.
Impact Offensive Play of Game
For me, the key offensive play was James Washington’s 40-yard reception. It took the Steelers from their own 25-yard line into Colts territory with just a few yards needed to be within Boswell’s range who eventually did kick the game winning field goal on that drive.
The defense had to defend a short field early in a game once again. This time following an interception, the Colts started their first drive at the Steelers 35-yard line. A Zach Pascal reception and 4 straight Marlon Mack runs for the Colts to the 7-yard line. Vince Williams then stuffed Jacoby Brissett for a 3-yard loss and Bud Dupree sacked him for another 4 yards setting up a 3rd & 14 that the Colts failed to convert. Steelers fans were relieved that only 3 points were given up.
Though, not much success on the next drive. This time the Colts started on their half of the field at the 37 after rookie Parris Campbell’s 38-yard kick return. The Colts entered Steeler territory on a deep Brissett pass to Pascal who was tackled by Joe Haden after an 18-yard gain. Parris Campbell then took a short pass and gained 27 yards to set up first & goal from the 7. Brissett was knocked out of the game during this drive by a knee injury when Cam Heyward bulled a lineman into the quarterback. Brian Hoyer’s first pass is lofted to Jack Doyle on a 3rd & 11 play for a touchdown.
After the Steelers gave up the ball on downs, the Colts tried running the ball. Campbell went 22 yards on a run around the left end. Then Mack gained 16 yards on three carries. On 3rd & 6, Hoyer connected with Eric Ebron to set up 1st & 10 at the Steelers 20. Hoyer’s next target was Jack Doyle but Minkah Fitzpatrick leaped and intercepted the ball running 96 yards for a pick-6 (I thought he had intercepted in the end zone).
The joy was short-lived as Hoyer chopped up the Steelers defense to respond with a touchdown. He completed a pass for 21 yards and referees tacked on an additional 15 calling T.J. Watt for roughing the passer. The replay really got the fans in the stadium riled up. Hoyer completed three more short passes and a run for 7 set up a 1st & 10 from the 14. Hoyer passed to Pascal for an all too easy touchdown to make it 16-10. The extra point was blocked.
The Colts moved the ball on their opening drive of the half from their own 35-yard line as far as the Steelers 35. Watt and Mark Barron combined to sack Hoyer for an 8-yard loss. But on 3rd & 19, Hoyer completed a 17-yard pass to Pascal who was covered by Steve Nelson. Marlon Mack then converted a 4th & 2 into a first down with a 5-yard run. The Colts tried to convert another 4th down but with Hoyer passing with four yards to go. Bud Dupree strip-sacked Hoyer and recovered his own forced fumble. The Steelers offense was able to exploit this turnover for a touchdown.
Marlon Mack ran for 24 yards to take the Colts into Steelers territory at the 35 on the next drive. However, consecutive penalties pushed the Colts back 15 yards forcing the Colts to punt from the 49. The next defensive series began early in the fourth quarter with the Steelers leading 23-18. The Steelers forced a three and out to start.
However, Samuel’s fumble gave the Colts a short field. Three Marlon Mack runs drove the Colts from the 30 to 1st & 10 at the Steelers 12. On 3rd & 8 Hoyer eluded several tacklers including Cam Heyward to gain 6 yards instead of being caught behind the line of scrimmage. On 4th & 2 he passed to Chester Rogers, but the 2-point conversion failed. The Colts now led by one.
The Steelers retook the lead with a field goal. The defense stifled one Colts drive with consecutive sacks by Mike Hilton and TJ Watt. Hilton really timed his blitz perfectly. The final Colts dive was marred by officials calling Steve Nelson for pass interference after Nelson and Pascal appeared to get their legs tangled with the ball well beyond the receivers reach. The back judge signaled an incomplete pass and after a moments hesitation the side judge threw his flag. Mike Tomlin challenged the call, but it was upheld. It appeared that Nelson did touch Pascal’s back with his hand but there was no definitive push. My issue with this type of call is that anytime a receiver wants to induce a flag on an overthrown ball, he can just slow up to draw the defender into contact and then fall to the ground.
In any case, Pascal caught a 19-yard pass on the sideline. Tomlin challenged for possible offensive pass interference, but the reception was upheld. He was looking for a make-up call. But he burned a second timeout and they were already in field goal range. They got even closer on three more Mack runs that ate time and forced the final Steeler timeout with 1:14 left in the game. Dupree stopping Mack for a 3 yard loss on 3rd & 1 was a key play.
Adam Vinatieri missed the 43-yard attempt and instead of the offense trying to get into field goal range with just over a minute with no timeouts, they were in the victory formation.
Impact Defensive Play of Game
Minkah Fitzpatrick’s 96-yard pick-6 caused a 14-point swing in the game. Instead of a 10-10 tie game, it could have been 17-3 in the Colts favor. Bud Dupree had a big game, but this single play changed the tenor of the game.
Special teams play can be broken down into six phases: Field goals & blocking field goals, punts, punt returns, kickoffs, & kickoff returns. I’ll also include points after touchdowns and the safety kick for this game.
Chris Boswell went 4 for 4 in field goals today. His long kick was a 51 yarder to end the first half. Adam Vinatieri was 1 for 2. Critically, he missed the 43-yarder with a little over a minute to go to put the Steelers in the victory formation instead of desperately trying to get within field goal range themselves with no timeouts left. Advantage Pittsburgh.
Jordan Berry punted once for 48 yards. It was a high beauty that placed the Colts at their 15-yard line for their final drive. Rigoberto Sanchez punted three times averaging 45 yards a punt. One of the Colt’s punts was downed at the one later resulted in a safety. Ryan Switzer did not signal fair catch on the third punt and was clobbered. However, it was a helmet to helmet hit and the 15-yard penalty gave Sanchez just a net 29 yards on his 44-yard punt. Advantage Colts.
Boswell kicked off five times. His first kick was returned 38 yards. Jordan Dangerfield forced a fumble, but the Colts recovered the ball. He had two other kickoffs returned. One for 26 yards and the other for 24. The Colts worst starting position from a kickoff was their own 24, while the best was the 37-yard line. Sanchez also kicked off five times. Three were touchbacks. Ryan Switzer fielded two at the two-yard line. He returned one 22 yards, but Dangerfield was caught holding which pushed the Steelers to the 14. He returned the other 18 yards but went down at the very first contact forcing the Steelers to start at the 20. The Steelers best starting position was after touchbacks at the 25. Advantage Colts.
Still looking for that long Steelers punt or kick return. Other teams are managing to do it. Come on Danny Smith, make it happen.
The Steelers made both extra points after their two touchdowns. The Colts made their first extra point. But Cam Heyward blocked the second attempt. The Colts attempted a two-point conversion which failed after their last touchdown in the 4th quarter. Those three missing points prove critical in a game decided by two points. Advantage Pittsburgh.
Finally, the safety kick. Jordan Berry kicked the ball from his own 20 and it travelled 67 yards to the 13-yard line. Chester Rogers returned the ball 4 yards before Trey Edmunds and Ola Adeniyi stopped him. Adeniyi is credited with forcing he fumble that Johnny Holton recovered. It led to a Boswell field goal and a 23-18 Steeler lead. Huge special teams play.
Impact Special Teams Play of Game
Chris Boswell’s 51-yard field goal to end the first half kept the Steelers right in a game when they were not performing that well on either side of the ball. It was good to score knowing that the Colts would start with the ball in the second half. The fumble recovery on the safety kick and Heyward’s block of the extra point are honorable mentions.
Your Hot Takes During the Game
First Half Reader Comments
Steelers Depot readers commented 909 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Just below the 1000 comment standard and bucking the trend of having more comments when things are not going so well.
Tom – Steelers all the way! Encouraged & admonished early on, “Let’s do this boys!! This could put us at .500!! Mason don’t get happy feet when you are in the pocket!! And for the love of God, don’t hold onto it for so darn long!! LOL”
Brian Martin had the lead comment which followed Minkah Fitzpatrick’s pick-6: “Idiots who said it was a bad idea to give up a 1st to get Fitz…” BurghBoy412 expanded on this theme, “At this rate when Fitzpatrick retires they’ll say the #1 pick wasn’t enough” Steelers D added, “Take your 1st rounder!!!! We have best FS in NFL.”
Tom White remained optimistic despite the Colts leading this half, “If the other team messes up enough, I think we have a chance here.”
The GrumpyHighlander was perplexed, “The non-challenge wasn’t the problem. It was Edmund’s lack of vision on 2nd down that cost us the td.”
Of course, the state of Steelers coaching did not escape notice. Tom White noting, “Most coaches try and create mismatches for the opponent. Our coaches seem to create them for our own team.”
Matt Manzo observed that “Every Rudolph int, except one, has gone right through the receiver’s hands!”
Steelers down 13-16 at the half. What would the second half bring in terms of Steelers Depot reader’s commentary?
Second Half Reader Comments
A strong showing of 1478 comments in the 2nd half live discussion. I was at the game so did not contribute much to the conversation. But yinz carried the day.
Valyrian Steeler Jedi01 had the most liked comment of the game. “If you’re a Steeler fan and don’t appreciate Big Ben and what he brings on the field, watching the Steelers on offense since he’s out for the season SHOULD make you reconsider.”
Steelburg concluded that “We finally caught a break in one of these close games.” However, TonyAmos7 is down on the officiating, poor coaching, and execution. Many agree with him. “I’M REALLY STARTING TO HATE THE NFL.”
The Intense Camel had a question. “Before this season started who woulda thought Samuels would get more receptions in one game than Moncrief would in his entire Steelers career?”
Kevin Schwartz wondered “Duck was 15-20 for 132 yards, and two of his three throws for more than 10 yards were to RBs. Why do people think he would be slinging it downfield?”
The HoosierLawyerMounty summed it up with “In the immortal words of Bob Prince we had them all the way. Peyton Manning says idiot kicker!”
The Steelers needed to win. The difference between 4-4 and 3-5 at this point is huge. Especially since the Baltimore Ravens defeated the New England Patriots. Mason Rudolph is taking too long to process what is going on before his eyes. JuJu cannot allow passes to bounce off his hands. Remember how Donte Moncrief was crucified by fans for a similar misplay. The receivers must start making plays on a regular basis. Perhaps James Washington is showing the way. Terrell Edmunds runs hard with the ball. Jaylen Edmunds can catch out of the backfield. But the Steelers need a healthy James Conner back.
The defense came up with some big plays. But also allowed a journeyman quarterback to throw some uncontested touchdown passes. Bud Dupree played big. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the real deal. T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward can be dominant. Time to put this all together to really shut down some teams.
Some may say the Steelers did not “deserve” to win. During the game, a couple guys behind me were screaming how bad Tomlin sucks as a coach for most of the game. Strangely, they gave him no credit at the end of the game when the team had hung in there to win. I guess when the Steelers lose, it is poor coaching. When they win, it is great execution by the players. Don’t get me wrong. There were several bad coaching decisions during this game such as the last penalty challenged. But this coaching staff has kept a team losing their starting quarterback for the season, injuries to running backs, loss of a Stephon Tuitt etc. competitive. Not sure how the Steelers will end up this season. Just know they have to beat the 5-3 Los Angeles Rams who are coming into Pittsburgh as 4-point favorites.
It was a great weekend for me. I got to watch my alma mater, California University of Pennsylvania defeat Grove City in a rugby match. The 23-7 win propelled them to represent the 3 Rivers Rugby Conference in the National Small college Rugby Organization (NSCRO) Central Region Challenge Cup Playoffs in Columbia, Missouri next week. The Pittsburgh Forge rugby club defeated the Cleveland Crusaders and travel to Chicago to play the Wisconsin Rugby Club in the Midwest D2 championship. It was great to hook up with old Cal U teammates from the 1970’s. Big Barry accompanied me to the Steelers game and they managed to win.
Wrap it up, I’ll take it. Let’s go!
Your Music Selection
I always like to offer a music selection. Continuing with my country music kick. I love when musical genres mix. Kris Kristofferson wrote Me and Bobby McGee which several artists sang including Janis Joplin. It was one of the last songs she ever recorded before her untimely death due to an overdose.