Five Takeaways as Steelers Edge Colts 26-24
After a 1-4 start, the Steelers have reeled off three straight wins. The latest victory over the now 5-3 Colts team was more than necessary if the Steelers plan on making a push for the postseason.
It definitely was not a pretty win. The Steelers struggled to move the ball down the field on offense. The play-calling was conservative again and Rudolph seemed a but hesitant to throw the ball down the field. He didn't seem to get through his progressions quickly enough and checked down the ball a lot. Running back Jaylen Samuels led the Steelers with 13 catches.
Defensively, it was a bit of an up and down game. They took the ball away three times and sacked the quarterback five times. They also got gashed on the ground, giving up 139 yards by the Colts on the ground. Despite Jacoby Brissett leaving the game in the 1st quarter with an injury, the Steelers allowed short underneath passes throughout the game.
As we look at the moments that mattered, obviously more plays tended to fall the Steelers way more times than not. It was a gutsy win. It felt a lot like the losses against Seattle or Baltimore, eventually there would be a boulder that would crush the Steelers' chances.
Fortunately, that never happened and the Steelers held on to move back to .500 on the season. Pittsburgh will need to clean up several things before the Rams visit Heinz Field next week.
As for Sunday's win over the Colts, here are the five moments that stood out.
When Jacoby Brissett was replaced by Brian Hoyer, it seemed as if the Steelers' chances for victory went up. However, it didn't take long for Hoyer to make an impact.
Devin Bush was turned inside out by Jack Doyle on the route, but Minkah Fitzpatrick also leaned away from the middle of the field, leaving it Bush with no help.
Like the veteran Hoyer is, it's not surprising that he would challenge the young safety again. Looking to extend their 10-3 lead, Hoyer tried to find Doyle again, but Fitzpatrick wasn't going to be fooled twice.
Fitzpatrick's instincts are second-to-none. He read what Hoyer was doing from the very beginning and made the play of the game in the process. It was a potential 14-point swing that catipulted the Steelers back into the game.
Big Bud Dupree
Bud Dupree bet on himself this past offseason by not agreeing to any contract extension. He took the chance that he could out-perform expectations and earn a new contract in free agency after the 2019 season. So far, he made the right decision.
Dupree has been stellar for the Steelers this season. Without Tuitt in the lineup now, he's making a case for being the second-most impactful player in the Steelers' defensive front behind T.J. Watt.
The fifth-year linebacker out of Kentucky had a few plays worth mentioning, but the most impactful was a strip-sack of Hoyer on 4th down for the Colts.
Sure, the play happened on 4th down, but not only did it force the Colts to turn the ball over, it also gave the Steelers better field position for the ensuing possession. Mason Rudolph led the offense down the field afterward, eventually connecting with Vance McDonald for a go-ahead touchdown.
Splash Play on Special Teams
The Colts were forced to punt after the Steelers took a 20-16 lead on McDonald's touchdown catch. However, Indianapolis downed the ball at the Steelers' 1-yard line.
Despite a good 1st down run by Trey Edmunds, Mason Rudolph was sacked in the end zone for a safety on 3rd down. Rudolph actually fumbled the ball on the sack, but thankfully Al Villanueva recovered the ball, keeping five extra points off the board and protecting the Steelers' lead.
On the ensuing free kick, Ola Adeniyi forced a fumble on Chester Rogers and the Steelers managed to recover the ball at the Indianapolis 17-yard line. Unfortunately, the offense couldn't get the ball in the end zone and had to settle for a field goal.
Regardless, plays like this is the biggest difference between the 2018 and 2019 version of the Steelers. Pittsburgh's ability to take the ball away a season ago was virtually non-existent. 2019 is a huge turnaround for the defense and special teams. And by now, we all know how important splash plays are to Mike Tomlin.
Pass Interference Strikes Again
Protecting a two-point lead, the Steelers forced the Colts to a 3rd-and-10 situation. Hoyer went deep for Zach Pascal and the ball fell incomplete. And then the flags flew in.
This seemed to be the dagger. The same dagger the Steelers suffered earlier this season against Seattle. The Steelers are clinging to a slim lead late in the game. A deep pass on third down ends up getting called for pass interference, giving the opposing team new life.
Mike Tomlin challenged the play, mainly on the basis that the ball was severely overthrown. The ball landed at least 10 yards, if not more, past where Steven Nelson and Pascal got tangled up. Al Riveron and the NFL officials quickly upheld the call.
Two plays later, Pascal made a very nice sideline catch. Mike Tomlin decided to challenge this one as well, which was a bit more ill-advised than the first one. Pascal hardly touched Nelson in coverage and made a beautiful sideline catch.
These two plays cost the Steelers two crucial timeouts. In case the Colts took the lead, those timeouts would have been very valuable to have. What happened at the end of this Colts possession was going to determine just how much those two lost challenges could hurt the Steelers.
The Laces Were In!
"Laces out, Dan."
Anyone familiar with the 1994 film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective understand this reference. The Colts were eventually stopped on 4th down and the Steelers took their final timeout with 1:11 remaining in the game. The Colts sent out the ageless Adam Vinatieri to kick a go-ahead 43-yard field goal.
Vinatieri horrible shanked the field goal attempt, giving the ball back to Pittsburgh. The Colts only had one timeout remaining, so the Steelers were able to kneel down to run the clock out.
As stated before, this was a gutsy win for Pittsburgh. It wasn't pretty. There were a lot of mistake. But they did enough good things to earn a victory today. And that victory against a fellow AFC team is all the more important for playoff scenarios going forward.
The Steelers' playoff chances are still slim. However, after they host the Rams next week, their schedule takes a delightful turn to less competent opponents. The Steelers did what they needed to do against the Colts. They did enough to win. At the end of the day, that's all that matters. And finally, the Steelers are no longer a team with a losing record.