Colts @ Steelers—The Acceptable, the Unacceptable, and the Appalling
The third preseason game, the only one in which the players on the field look anything like the eventual roster, and that only for a portion of the game, is in the books. It represents the first loss of the preseason, which perhaps could be viewed as not encouraging. But let’s dig into what actually happened to find out if this is true or not.
We’ve heard a great deal from training camp and various sources as to how unstoppable the offense looks, and from what we saw in the first couple of series, that isn’t exactly true. Apparently the Colts’ strategy was to use unrelenting pressure to disrupt the offense from falling into a rhythm. (Thank you, Captain Obvious! Isn’t that what every defense wants to do?) It worked pretty well, eventually. The Steelers were driving nicely down the field, until, at the Colts’ 38 yard line, Al Villanueva, nice new contract and all, allowed a rusher to get around him for a strip/sack that Ben never saw, and the ball now belonged to the Colts.
The first team offense was also on the field for their next chance, and it didn’t take long for the Steelers to reach the Colts’ 19-yard line, despite a false start call on Maurkice Pouncey, who I’m happy to say was able to play, except for that false start. (Pass to AB, +13. Pass to Eli Rogers, +13. Pass to Bryant, +9. Pass to AB, +14, Pass to Eli, +15. You can eat up a lot of yards that way.)
But the Colts’ D stiffened up, and the next three plays were a handoff to Davis for +1, pass intended for Jesse James, knocked down, pass to Jesse James again, caught but knocked out. Field goal, making the score 7-3, IND.
As an aside, Knile Davis was doing all the first-team running, as Toussaint had left the game and was not expected back.
The second team was out on the next series, although I think the first team O-line stayed in for a bit longer. Landry Jones was in at quarterback, led the team to two three-and-outs, which wasn’t terribly encouraging for sure.
However, he seemed to “knock the rust off,” as they like to say in the booth, and looked considerably better in the ensuing drives, which encompassed the rest of the game, essentially. He moved the Steelers downfield far enough for another field goal, which after all was as well as Ben did with AB to assist. (While Bryant stayed on the field the whole game, as he needed the reps, AB only played the first two series, and rightly so.)
The Steelers seemingly dodged a bullet as JuJu Smith-Schuster caught his first pass in the game and took a wicked shot to the knee for his trouble. He limped off the field, but returned to the game later. Whew!
During the second half the second and third teamers were in, and some of them looked more impressive than the guys they replaced, although I suppose the level of competition from the opposing defense has to be considered. Two of the running backs in particular impressed, and even if you’ve heard nothing about the game you could figure out who they were by looking at last week’s game recap. Yes, James Conner still looks like a stud, and Terrell Watson still looks like the return of smash-mouth Pittsburgh football.
The lower-down-the-depth-chart receivers were another story, which I will elucidate later.
Some of the backup offensive linemen impressed, and Matt Feiler in particular seems to be making a name for himself.
Perhaps the less said the better. It was good to see Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, and Cam Sutton on the field. And there were some good moments for the defense in general.
And to be fair, after the first drive they held the Colts to field goals for most of the game. But the Colts never had particularly good field position, other than after the turnovers, and were never playing with their top quarterback or top receiver. So there’s that.
Once again they looked quite good, especially in defending, and appear to be improved from last season, although I suppose we still have to reserve judgement on this until we see what they’ve got after the cut-down.
Trey Williams looked mortal this week, but I have to commend him — he’s never before returned punts, only kickoffs, and he’s done a great job in tracking and catching the ball, which isn’t easy. On the other hand, Knile Davis did not particularly impress, and made at least one poor decision to take out one well into the endzone. You’re almost never going to get more than 25 yards, so why risk injury to yourself and everyone else? Which was of course the whole point of moving the touchback line to the 25 in the first place…
Okay, “acceptable” is perhaps a bit too unenthusiastic, but I’m tired of “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” which everyone does. Besides, this gives it a British understated sensibility…
Cameron Sutton burst onto the scene with a number of big plays in his limited action. You might perhaps argue that this was against players well down the depth chart, and you would be correct, but given that he had never seen any NFL action, I was impressed.
James Conner and Terrell Watson deserve another mention for some great running. Watson also caught a couple of balls as if it were no big deal. I don’t know where there’s a place for him on the roster, but I would be very sorry to see him go.
And while on the subject of backs, I have to note that Knile Davis looked much better as a runner this week. His blocking was also key in one play, although I can’t find it in my notes.
Xavier Grimble had some great plays—the TD catch, of course, but also some good blocks.
Landry Jones looked more decisive and confident than I ever recall seeing him, and made some tough throws with about a million people around him. It makes me feel just the tiniest bit better about not having Ben for a game or two, which we, frankly, should expect.
Eli Rogers was most impressive, I thought. He’s not going to give up that slot job without quite a fight. And what does it say that one doesn’t even need to mention Antonio Brown anymore, as the assumption was that he was terrific?
In defense of the defense, there were some great individual plays. Tyler Matakevich and Vince Williams were all over the place. Ryan Shazier had an interception. TJ Watt deflected a pass, although ironically the receiver might not have been able to get to it had he not. But you want to see that.
And honestly, I suspect a lot of the problem with the defense in general is that the “starters” have done very little playing together, at least in the front seven.
I’m sure there are others, but that’s all I can remember at the moment.
The wide receivers on the bubble—that would be Justin Hunter, Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, in my estimation, didn’t do much to help their cause, at least on offense.
Cobi Hamilton had two passes thrown his way, one of which was knocked away (fair enough) and one which should have been a very long gain, except that he dropped it. His hopes for a roster spot grow ever more tenuous. Justin Hunter had a few balls thrown his way, and they weren’t perhaps the easiest passes in the world, but he probably should have caught them. Sammie Coates also had some issues and although he had a few catches he didn’t do much with them.
The advantage that Coates and Heybey have over the competition is that they are valuable special teamers. Heybey had a big stop in a kick return. I don’t know whether the other two ever play special teams, but I’ve certainly never heard their names called if they do.
The secondary struggled. Burns had some good moments and a hard-luck PI call. Cockrell is fighting for his life at the moment, and was pretty uneven. Robert Golden actually managed to knock the tackler off of a receiver when he came to lay down a big hit, and the receiver escaped and gained 55 yards. They miss Mike Mitchell.
Sean Davis had a few nice plays. As mentioned, Cameron Sutton impressed in his first action. But there’s a ways to go in the back 40…
Really, DDC? David DeCastro had his second “illegal man downfield” penalty in as many games.
Occasionally the defense looked like the Keystone Cops.
The offense, too. That one really hurt, as there was some major miscommunication that allowed the Landry Jones interception in the endzone and probably lost the game.
There’s probably more of these as well, but I don’t like to linger on such things. Feel free to add anything that really cheesed you off in the comments.