Well, that was an embarrassment.
The Indianapolis Colts were rolling in Pittsburgh in the first half. The Steelers looked like a team that had no identity and entirely lost, both on the field and on the sidelines. The odds of scoring three second-half touchdowns against a defense that has been dominant in the second halves of football games felt like zero.
Enter Frank Reich and the Colts offense, or lack thereof. Let’s be fair, Matt Eberflus gets accolades in the first half as a head coaching candidate and also comes out in the second half and gets gashed.
The Colts started the game by imposing their will on the offensive line, an incredible accomplishment given that Braden Smith and Anthony Castonzo were both out of the game. They did so by primarily keeping the focus on small, short passes and utilizing running backs who heavily exposed a Steelers defense without answers. Jonathan Taylor looked like the breakout player he has been for weeks, well on his way to another 80+ yard rushing performance.
In the first half, Taylor rushed 13 times for 49 yards and two rushing touchdowns. In the second half, Taylor rushed five times for 25 yards. Three of those five carries came on the first offensive drive for the Colts – which resulted in a field goal. Those rushes went for 25 yards.
He had two total carries in the final five offensive possessions and was targeted only once through the air.
Nyheim Hines had six first-half rushes for 27 yards and caught his only passing target for no gain. In the second half? Hines had two total carries in six offensive possessions.
The efficient short-game in the first half set up a couple of deep shots and kept the Steelers defense off-balance. It culminated in a 42-yard bomb to Zach Pascal for a first-half score. This was the Colts offense at its best, establishing a rhythm it would need to maintain as it was grinding its way into the playoffs. A rhythm predicated on winning in the trenches and running the ball efficiently.
All of that? Gone in the second half.
After the Steelers scored an early second-half touchdown to cut the lead to 10 points, Indianapolis and its offense came onto the field with a chance to keep things going. Rather than stick with what was working, Frank Reich dialed up a quick-strike pass-heavy game plan, including a second down deep passing strike that led to a sack and put the Colts behind the chains. The result? A three-and-out and immediately giving the Steelers the ball back with the offense starting to gain some momentum.
On queue, Pittsburgh charged down the field and scored again, cutting the lead to just three points. The Colts would punt on their next two offensive drives, including a three-and-out and a five-play drive that netted a grand total of 20 offensive yards. With their back against the wall in the fourth quarter, Philip Rivers threw an interception that all but sealed the game.
The defense started the second half by giving up three straight touchdown drives. These drives included pass interference calls on Xavier Rhodes. A bad pass interference call on Kenny Moore was huge for the Steelers. A pass interference call on T.J. Carrie that set up the Steelers with a 1st and goal. Add another penalty on Xavier Rhodes for illegal contact.
On a punt coverage play, starting safety Khari Willis was shaken up and taken back to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion. His loss didn’t make life any easier for the secondary. Rock Ya-Sin was torched one-on-one for a deep pass to Diontae Johnson who got going after that big play.
The Colts had no pass rush to speak of throughout the entire game. The only sack was created by blitzing safety Khari Willis. Roethlisberger was hit only twice the entire game. Blitzing became too risky in the second half after Roethlisberger got going.
Remember the illegal block in the back call near the end of the first half? This is when the game was starting to get out of hand. Magically, a falling defender who was contacted by Mark Glowinski as he was going to the ground elicits a flag for an illegal block in the back. This took away a huge gain for Nyheim Hines that would have put the Colts offense in business to score yet again in the first half. Instead, that play was followed by a delay of game and led to second and 20.
It’s funny when horrible calls are made in games they seem like they’re not a big deal at the time. The Colts were rolling and the Steelers looked like garbage. Who cares if the officials made a bad call, right? This is why it matters. This game is too close for an official to shit the bed on national television in a game that had major implications for both franchises.
If you don’t think that call is bad, let’s go back to a Colts offensive drive or two prior when Chaz Green was seen front and center absolutely mugging T.J. Watt with his arms wrapped around the shoulder and neck area, grabbing for dear life to keep Philip Rivers clean. This obvious hold was not called. An obviously nonsensical block in the back call is later called to keep the game close (it’s obvious NFL) and it ended up being the first in a line of calls that went Pittsburgh’s way that helped the Colts embarrass themselves in front of much of the NFL fan community.
Frank Reich should be embarrassed. Matt Eberflus should be embarrassed. The players should be embarrassed. The officials and NFL should be embarrassed for an ongoing garbage fest each week for their part-time officiating crews.
The Colts are absolutely in a MUST-WIN situation at home against Jacksonville next week and they need help to get in.
I think I’m going to get sick.