INDIANAPOLIS – Playing only one good quarter on Monday night has the Colts one step closer to being eliminated from the playoffs.
The Colts (4-7-1) started, and finished, slow against the Steelers (4-7), losing a third straight home game.
Here is what was learned from the Colts losing in primetime to the Steelers, 24-17:
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Matt Ryan Showing His Age: You could argue what looks older—watching the Colts try to move the football or their quarterback playing the position. Against the NFL’s 31st ranked passing defense, the Colts passing offense continues to look broken. At times on Monday, Matt Ryan looked like a guy with little gas left in that right arm of his (is that shoulder still bothering him?). Often, when the pocket starts to fold a bit, Ryan succumbs to the pressure, unable to progress through reads or identify the hot route when free rushers emerge. Like has been the case for the majority of this season, the Colts aren’t supporting Ryan enough around the QB. Pass catchers struggle to create separation, the offensive line continues to have breakdowns and Ryan’s lack of arm strength all leads to a passing attack with no real threat downfield. Jeff Saturday said after Monday’s game the Colts will be sticking with Ryan. This comes after it took the Colts a quarter and a half to complete their first pass of the night. It comes after another head-scratching Ryan interception with some clear miscommunication between him and Michael Pittman on the INT. Monday’s root of the loss starts with zero vertical passing game threat. It’s been a storyline all year long. Teams are daring the Colts to challenge them down the field and Indianapolis doesn’t have the personnel capable of accomplishing that.
2. Jeff Saturday Feels Coaching Intensity: Jim Irsay said he was glad Jeff Saturday didn’t have coaching experience upon taking this interim challenge. Well that inexperience showed late on Monday night. With the Colts trying to drive late for a game-tying touchdown, the Colts inexplicably ran just 2 plays in a 1:02 stretch, which ended with the Colts failing on a 4th-and-3. Instead of taking a timeout following a strip/sack against Matt Ryan, or a long scramble by the veteran QB, Saturday elected to keep an offensive unit with 2 rookies, the youngest play caller in the NFL and a running back not used to 2-minute situations on the field to react in chaos. The result was Steelers edge rusher Alex Highsmith saying after the game he knew full well what was coming when he beat rookie Jelani Woods to the inside for a 3rd-down tackle for loss of Jonathan Taylor in what set-up the game-sealing 4th down. Even if the Colts converted on the 4th down, they still would have been fighting the clock for the potential game-tying score. It was a mistake by Saturday, and those in the booth offering him advice, in that situation. NFL games too often come down to these decisions and the Colts made the wrong one in those moment. Big picture, is the Saturday jolt over? Unlike the first two games of the Saturday era, the effort on Monday didn’t see the early-game spark that had been there against the Raiders and Eagles. It was the same slow start that’s been so consistent for the Colts in 2022.. It was probably a good thing Peyton Manning decided not to do his Manningcast for this Colts game (or the Monday nighter coming after Christmas against the Chargers). Imagine what Manning would have said about this Colts offense, or the late-game management.
3. Third Quarter Spark Not Enough: Leave it to an undrafted free agent from Pittsburg State to spark the Colts best quarter of the night. Entering halftime on Monday, the Colts had played their worst 30-minute stretch, combining both sides of the ball, since being shut out in Week 2 to the Jaguars. With an offense unable to move the football, the Colts were beyond desperate for some spark. It came from undrafted free agent Dallis Flowers, who has yet to play a defensive snap this season and had touched the ball once this season (on a Week 5 punt return in Denver). Flowers fielded a deep kickoff and had no hesitation in bringing the ball out, taking off for an 89-yard return. From there, the Colts played a tremendous third quarter to take their first lead of the game. It was a quarter filled with some offensive tempo, getting Jonathan Taylor going (and overcoming another inexcusable JT fumble on the doorstep of a touchdown), which helped keep the Pittsburgh pass rush quiet. The Colts controlled field position, with rookie tight end Jelani Woods bouncing back really nicely from an early drop. Yes, one good quarter wasn’t enough on Monday, but credit to an unsung Colt for getting the home team back into this one.
4. Defense Takes Step Back: At times, it feels a bit much to critique the Indy defense. But that performance in Monday’s first half was not good, particularly against a rookie quarterback. Kenny Pickett largely controlled things in the first half, with routine on-target throws with little pass rush and minimal contesting on the back end. He made some plays with his legs. And the Steelers run game achieved tremendous balance in the opening half with 116 rushing yards (to go along with 116 passing yards). Even when the Colts defense has been sound this year, they are still missing out on creating turnover type chances. They don’t disrupt the quarterback enough and don’t challenge enough passes in the air. Yes, the unit has easily been superior to the Indy offense this year, but Monday was a disappointing effort. Also, it was easily the poorest the Colts have tackled this season. Giving up 24 points to the 28th ranked scoring offense is not a good performance.
5. Draft Pick Watch Now On? You know that ‘in the hunt’ part of playoff graphics this time of year? Yeah, it’s time to remove the 4-7-1 Colts. They are firmly in the hunt for a top-10 pick, and that’s where the majority of the fan base’s attention will be in December, which is a sad reality to admit after all the expectations entering this season. But it’s true. The Colts are now on the road in 3 of their next 4, playing 4 teams all currently in the playoffs. They’ll close the season then with the Texans at home. It would take a miracle beyond miracles for the Colts to somehow get into the postseason. Honestly, even bringing up such a thought after a third straight home loss, and with the toughest part of the schedule upcoming, is a bit ridiculous. And that means the Colts are staring in the face a 6th year of missing the playoffs in 8 years, which was the last time they won the feeble AFC South. For those curious, the Colts sit 14th in the current 2023 draft order, a slot that should rise with the Cowboys coming up and then a bye the next week (which gives other teams a chance at another win to push Indy further up the draft board). Welcome to where the 2022 Colts are at with 5 games to go.
-Injury Report: The following Colts were INACTIVE on Sunday: DE-Kwity Paye (ankle), TE-Kylen Granson (illness), QB-Nick Foles, WR-Keke Coutee, OL-Wesley French, DE-Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE-Khalid Kareem. These Colts got hurt on Sunday and did not return: CB-Kenny Moore (shin)
–Key Stat: The Colts didn’t complete their first pass of the game until the 7:05 mark of the second quarter. It was the longest stretch to start a game without a completed pass since Denver in 2020 (when the Broncos started a WR at quarterback, during the 2020 COVID season).
–What’s Next: The Colts (4-7-1) have one more game remaining before the latest bye week in the NFL. It’ll be a Sunday Night Football matchup with Cowboys (8-3) in Week 13.
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Trackside with Curt Cavin & Kevin Lee