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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: 4th Quarter Comeback Lifts Pittsburgh Over Indy

GAME PRELUDE

The Steelers come into Monday night’s game following a tough loss to Cincinnati. That loss all but guaranteed Pittsburgh not making the playoffs. Lesser teams would begin tanking to increase the value of their picks in next year’s draft. I believe the Steelers will continue to try winning games to further develop young players like Kenny Pickett and George Pickens.

But Indianapolis is a tough opponent despite a 4-6-1 record. The Colts beat Kansas City in week three and just lost 17-16 to the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles last week. Jonathan Taylor is a wrecking ball, averaging 91.8 rushing yards a game. Jeff Saturday the Colts interim coach criticized for lack of experience. But the team rallying behind him.

On paper, this should be a low scoring game. The Colts have scored more than 25 points just once this season. Plus, the Colts have given up 40 sacks compared to Pittsburgh’s 29. Can the defense take advantage?

STEELERS OFFENSE

For the second consecutive game, the Steelers offense scored points on four of five possessions in the first half. They punted three times in the second half. But score the come-from-behind touchdown to win the game.

Four Scoring Drives in First Half

The Steelers received ball after the Colts won coin toss and deferred. Najee Harris started strong with an eight yard run on the first play. Then Kenny Pickett connected with Diontae Johnson for 11 yards. Pickett threw again to Diontae for 11 yards to enter Colts territory. Another strong seven-yard run by Najee on first down. Steve Sims converts on a third down pass. But Dan Moore’s holding penalty makes it first and 20. Pickett scrambles for eight. Then hit Pat Freiermuth for 10. But Steelers failed to convert third and two. Matt Wright hits a 45 yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

The Steelers got the ball back at the Colts 38 after an interception. But fail to exploit the takeaway. Pickett reaches the 24 on a nine-yard scramble. Then Yannick Ngakoue sacks him twice pushing the ball back to the 38 where the drive began. Harvin punts.

The third Steelers drive starts at 39 after Colts punt. Pickett throws to George Pickens for a nine-yard first down. Then Anthony McFarland gains 14 around the left end. McFarland loses a yard on consecutive plays. Pickett dumps off to Najee for four on third and 12. Wright hits a 52-yard field goal that caroms off the left goalpost. 6-0 at start of second quarter.

The Steelers get ball at 21 for their fourth possession. Pickett throws deep right, and George Pickens makes a beautiful catch at the sideline for 35 yards.

Then Najee for five. Then three straight Benny Snell runs for 10 yards. Then on second and five, Pickett to Freiermuth for 12 yards and into the red zone at the 17. Pickett gains nine on a keeper. McFarland for three and a first and goal at the six. Najee barrels it in for the touchdown. Steelers up 13-0.

Steelers Respond to Colts Score

The Colts put three on the board and time for Steelers to respond. Pickett starts with 12 yard pass to McFarland. Then nine yards to Diontae. McFarland up the middle for five and the first down. Then Benny Snell rumbles for 16 yards after initially running to his right then shifting left. On second and four, Pickett scrambles for five. Najee for two yards. I think this is the play he is hurt and leaves game. Pickett to Diontae for the first down and he goes out of bounds. First and goal at the ten. Pickett tries to hit Freiermuth, but he can’t come up with the ball at the goal line. Pickett tries a keeper but just three yards. On third down incomplete pass intended for Pickens. Wright hits from 25 to match Colts score. The Steelers lead 16-3.

Offense Punts Thrice but Scores Game Winner

The Colts shocked the Steelers to open the second half. With score now 16-10, Steelers start at their 25. McFarland gains nine on second down. On third and one, Steelers in shotgun. McFarland gains nothing trying to go up the middle from deep in the backfield. Steelers punt.

The Colts were on verge of scoring when a muffed handoff recovered at the seven. Snell gains eight on first down. The Steelers ran again but gained nothing. On third and two, Pickett throws incomplete to Pickens. Steelers punt again.

Pickett Leads a Fourth Quarter Comeback

The Colts went up 17-16 after scoring from a short field. The Steelers start the fourth quarter with third and nine at their own 26. Can Kenny Pickett lead the team to a fourth quarter come-from-behind victory? Or will they punt for the third straight time in the second half? Pickett hits Pickens for 13 yards and the first down! NFL officials tack on 15 more for E.J. Speed slapping Pickett’s helmet. Gunner Olszewski gains nine around right end. On second and one, Snell gains 13 on the ground. A pathetic screen pass to Zach Gentry loses four. But then a pass to Diontae for eight. Another pass to Freiermuth for 17 and the first and goal at the three. On third and two, Snell runs left for the go-ahead touchdown. Two point conversion to Pickens makes it 24-17.

The Steelers final drive begins with 7:50 to play. Snell gains eight on first down. On third and one, Derek Watt made the first down to extend the drive. But Kenny Pickett was sacked on second down. Pickett throws to Snell for six on third and 13. So, Harvin punts with four minutes to play.

The Steelers stopped the Colts, and the Steelers offense ended the game with a kneel down with 24 seconds left to play.

STEELERS DEFENSE

The Steelers defense played solidly in the first half. Gave up two third quarter touchdowns. But finished strong in the fourth.

Defense Takeaway Ball and Allows Just Three points

The Steelers defense only on the field two plays on Colts first possession. Matt Ryan threw for Michael Pittman. But James Pierre jumped in front for the interception at the 38. A takeaway to start the game.

The defense comes back with 4:48 left in first quarter and still a 3-0 lead. Jonathan Taylor runs for six. But then stopped for one by Arthur Maulet. On third and three, Terrell Edmunds sacks Ryan on a safety blitz. Colts punt.

The Steelers were up 6-0 and the defense was back on field at start of second quarter. Taylor gained six on second down. On third and four, Ryan threw incomplete. An offensive holding call declined as Colts punt on a second three and out.

Steelers go up 13-0. Colts start at 25 after touchback. Taylor ten yards on first down. Levi Wallace defends a pass intended for Pittman. Taylor for nine. Then seven more on the third and one. Ryan connects with Pittman for ten. Taylor gains four more. But on third down, Ryan threw incomplete. Chase McLaughlin hits a 51 yard field goal to make it 13-3.

The Steelers defense comes back with 56 seconds to play after Steelers extend lead to 16-3. A 45 yard kickoff return from deep in end zone starts play at Colts 41. A normally immobile Matt Ryan scrambles for six on second and four entering Pittsburgh territory. Indianapolis penalized for ineligible man downfield. A penalty Pittsburgh fans familiar with. On third and 13, Ryann to Jelani Woods for nine yards. McLaughlin lines up for a 59 yard field goal attempt. Isaiahh Loudermilk blocks it to preserve the 16-3 lead.

Putrid Third Quarter but Finish Strong in Fourth

Dallis Flowers returned the second half kickoff 89 yards from deep in end zone. Connor Heyward tackled him to prevent a score. However, the damage was done. Taylor runs twice for nine yards. On third and one, Parris Campbell catches an eight-yard catch with Cam Sutton in coverage. Taylor runs up the middle for a two yard touchdown. Suddenly it was 16-10 and the second half just started.

Colts start at their 12 after a big Harvin punt. Taylor ran six times for 28 yards on this drive. Matt Ryan completed two first down passes to Jelani Woods to jumpstart the drive. Taylor picks up the third on a 13-yard run. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Myles Jack stopped Parris Campbell just short of a first down. Edmunds stops Taylor for no gain. But Matt Ryan leaps over the line on fourth and one. Then Ryan connects with Mo Alie-Cox for 11. On third and seven, T.J. Watt and Devin Bush prevented a first down by Jelani Woods. But on fourth and one, Cam Sutton caught offsides. First and goal. On third and six, Minkah called for pass interference. Set up first down at the one. Ryan muffs handoff to Taylor. Chris Wormley recovers at seven. Whew!

But Steelers punt and Colts get ball at their own 45. On third and six, Ryan completes 28 yard pass to Woods who is tackled at the seven. Matt Ryan to Pittman for the touchdown. The Steelers trailed 17-16 going into the fourth quarter.

But the offense scored to go ahead 24-17. It’s up to the defense to preserve the lead. The Colts tried returning from deep in the end zone but only reached 25 this time. Arthur Maulet sacks Ryan on second down. On third and 14 Ryan hit Pittman for just four yards. Colts punt.

Steelers Final Stand

The Steelers defense began their final stand with 3:52 to play. Ryan to Pittman with Wallace in coverage. The play gains 28 yards. Taylor gained four. Then back to the air to Woods for 17. Colts at Pittsburgh 44 now with 2:49 left. Taylor runs for four. On third and six, Pittman gains three on a short pass setting up fourth and three at the two minute warning. Pittman catches another for a first down at the 33.

But then the defense asserts itself. Alex Highsmith strip-sacks Ryan on first down. Colts recovered but it’s second and 17. Unbelievably, “Matty Ice” normally frozen in place scrambles 14 yards to the 26. Taylor runs on third and three, but Highsmith stops him for no gain. On fourth and three, Ryan throws to Campbell but Sutton defends the pass. Game over except for the victory formation.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams are an underappreciated facet of the game where one big play can shift momentum or even decide the game winner.

I break special teams into three phases: Kickoffs, punting, and field goals including extra point attempts. Here is an overview of the special teams play during the game:

KICKOFFS

Matthew Wright kicked off six times. He reached the end zone on all but one kickoff. However, the Colts returned five kickoffs. Isaiah Rodgers returned three for 33, 29, and 45 yards. The third came at end of first half and put Colts in position to score with less than a minute to play. Dallis Flowers opened the second half with an 89-yard return that began eight yards deep in the end zone. Connor Heyward tackled him to prevent a score. But the Colts scored anyway a few plays later. That really shifted the momentum in the third quarter. Flowers returned the last kickoff after the Steelers go-ahead score 29 yards to the 25. Maulet made four of his tackles on Colt returners. Overall, the Colts averaged 45 yards per return. Either an issue with Wright’s hangtime, a coverage unit missing Myles Boykin, or a combination of the two. Needs fixing!

Chase McLaughlin kicked off four times. All were touchbacks.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Matthew Wright 6 5 1 0 0 0 IND 39.3
Chase McLaughlin 4 0 4 0 0 0 PGH 25.0

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Stephen Sims 0 0 0.0 0 0 0
Isaiah Rodgers 3 107 35.7 45 0 0
Dallis Flowers 2 118 59.0 89 0 0

 

Advantage Colts.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted four times averaging 45.5 yards. None were returned. The first touched back but almost kept inbounds.  His second went 54 yards out of bounds giving the Colts a start at their 12-yard line. The third only went 40 yards to the Indy 45 that was a fair catch. Long snapper Christian Kuntz downed his final punt at the Indy 17. Overall, a good night punting for Harvin who put the Colts behind the 20 on two punts and almost a third.

Matt Haack punted three times, averaging 50 yards a punt. Steven Sims returned the first 59 yard punt 18 yard to the Steelers 39. Haack shortened up his punts to give his coverage unit more time. Sims tried to return them but were immediately stopped. .

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 4 45.5 40.5 1 2 2 0 54
Matt Haack 3 50.0 44.0 0 0 0 0 59

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Stephen Sims 3 18 6.0 0 0 18 0
Dallis Flowers 0 0 0.0 1 0 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Wright converted a PAT. He added three field goals. His 52 yarder caromed off the goalpost but it still counts. The Steelers added a two point conversion caught by Pickens.

McLaughlin hit both PATs and a 51 yarder with ease. He lined up for a 59 yard attempt that Isaiahh Loudermilk blocked to end the first half.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Matthew Wright 1 1 3 3 52 1 1
Chase McLaughlin 2 2 1 2 51 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

Dave Bryan provided five keys for a Steelers victory. Here is how the Steelers performed them:

  1. Keep Jonathan Taylor well under 100 rushing yards. For some reason, the Colts did not run Taylor too much. He gained 86 yards on 20 carries scoring one touchdown. Mission Accomplished.
  2. Limit Colts offense to no more than three explosive plays. The Colts offense is anemic. But bolstered by a long kick return they opened up in the second half. But a pair of 28 yard passing plays in second half all they could muster. Mission Accomplished.
  3. Diontae Johnson has 100 receiving yards. Johnson targeted to start the game. However, he ran sideways on one play failing to turn up field for first down. He also dropped a pass in the end zone. Just 49 yards on five catches.  Mission Failure.
  4. Najee Harris at least 20 rushing attempts and successful on first downs. Najee gained 35 yards on ten carries. But he left the game with an abdominal strain just before the end of the first half. However, the running backs ran 28 times as a unit for 127 yards. On first down, ran seven successful plays in 13 attempts. Mission Accomplished.
  5. Defense sacks quarterback at least five times. The defense only sacked Matt Ryan three times. Mission Failure.

The Steelers accomplished only three of the five keys to victory.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us posted on the game’s first and second half Live Update and Discussion Threads. Steelers Depot respondents contributed  966 first half comments.  Respondents added  1367 more second half comments.  Here are the “best comments” of the game. I don’t know the algorithm used by Disqus but here is how they stacked it up:

The best first half comment addressed special teams play. Monkey’s Uncle exclaimed, “Boy do I like watching Sims return punts. Zero hesitation or fear.” This was after Sims returned a 59 yard punt 18 yards. He did not do as well on his next two returns.

Kenny Pickett looked sharp in the first half. Hmmmm observed, “I don’t see why people complain about Kenny’s arm strength.. He can zip it when he needs to….” But Matt Ryan did not. Mrwirez saying, “Matt Ryan looks scared. Atlanta looks like geniuses.”

Another poor start to the second half increased the commentary. Mateo K contributed the ‘best’ comment of the game with “Anyone still think Saturday isn’t qualified to coach? He’s made the adjustments.. our HC is just hanging out.” Dan6374 replied, “At a minimum, he has empowered his good coordinators to make adjustments.”

Reader783 added to the theme: “Mike Tomlin has done it: a 2nd half collapse the likes of which we’ve never seen. Outcoached by a guy who never coached before November 2022.”

But the Steelers weathered the storm and came back. Kenny Pickett leading with his passing. L Garou liked what he saw. “Damn good throw and catch.” CP72 concluded, “Best game for Kenny. Seeing incremental improvement.”

GrumpyHighlander confused why some folks unhappy with the win. “Why do so many people seem upset that we won?? C’mon guys!” BigDickSwangin explained that “A lot of folks are on this silly top 10 pick kick…I say remember 2005…s*it ain’t over till it’s over.”

CONCLUSIONS

Kenny Pickett stepped up and delivered some great passes. His decision making is improving. Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland played admirably especially after Najee Harris left game with an abdominal strain near end of first half. George Pickens makes incredible catches but can’t corral some seemingly easy passes. Diontae Johnson going sideways again instead of going for the first down. His drop in end zone also disappointing. Freiermuth is comforting. I thought the offensive line played well together. Pickett sacked three times but not sure those were all the fault of the line play.

The defense played a strong first half. Faded in third  quarter but made the big stop to preserve the come from behind victory. Kudos to Alex Highsmith who came up big at end of game. I’m guessing that T.J. Watt is not close to 100%. But he’s still a force other team’s cannot ignore. The secondary had some great plays like Pierre’s interceptions and sacks by Arthur Maulet and Terrell Edmunds. I like Sutton better in the slot. Levi Wallace played better breaking up some passes. Looking for more Minkah.

Special teams punting and the kick defense played well. But the kick coverage unit really missing Boykin. Also not sure if Matt Wright’s kickoffs are getting the hang time needed. Something needs fixed there. Overall, Wright showing his chops as a kicker.

Short week, then on to Atlanta. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers took care of the Colts on the road. Now they travel to Atlanta for another game on the road. Here is a twofer. First Canned Heat and On the Road Again. And since Pittsburgh heading south and just can’t wait to get on the road again, here is Willie Nelson and his On the Road Again.

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