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.

The Defense

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.

Special Teams

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…

The Acceptable

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 Unacceptable

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…

The Appalling

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.


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    AV and the strip sack. There seemed to be some O-line confusion on that play and although AV looked to be the culprit, I wouldn’t be surprised if there had been some miscommunication between the o-linemen. I may be wrong (it happens far too often for my liking) but wasn’t Finney the center on that play?

    I thought the hit on Bryant when he was down on the turf was egregious. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a flag. Hopefully the league will review the play. The player in question seemed a bit chippy at other times.

    Rodgers did well though I cannot think of him as another more than a soft but reliable possession receiver.

    I thought Davis flashed at times but generally looked mediocre. I was more impressed by Conner and Watson but then again, the rookies were facing weaker competition and my expectations were lower as well. Expectations do play a role in how I evaluate a player. It may not be fair and I do try not to let it influence me too much but I must admit it plays a role.

    Golden made me wish that Stafford hadn’t retired. I have no idea how good Stafford would have been but I have to think he wouldn’t have been that bad. (Stafford’s retirement being another symptom of the whole CTE thing… I wonder how much of that was part of Worild’s thinking when he retired).

    I am hoping we see Mike Mitchell come regular season. The defence is definitely worse without him. We seem to be 2 or 3 guys away from a truly dominant defence . Those guys might be on the roster but I don’t know if they are ready yet (Sutton/Watt/who ever is baking up Mitchell).

    To end on a positive note, I will say this… I like JJSS.


    • APPALLING: Jesse James. According to Ed Bouchette in the PG, it was the Outlaw who was responsible for linebacker John Simon’s strip sack of Ben Roethlisberger. Bouchette writes that James, lined up outside the tackle, was supposed to pick up Simon but instead mistakenly blocked down inside for a run. That, and the dropped pass, were killers.

      James’ blocking stills are marginal at best. He had a bad game, and we certainly can’t afford a sophomore slump from him.


      • cold_old_steelers_fan

        That would make sense. It certainly looked like there was confusion over the assignments.


      • Not to be a smart alec, but it would be a junior slump, as last year was James sophomore year. Seriously, there have been a number of writers who’ve said that James has not played well this summer. The trade today for McDonald would seem to indicate that MIke Tomlin agrees.

        I like Jesse James and I thought he played well last year. but you’re right, he’s got to get better.


  • I really try hard not to allow things to get under my skin too much, especially in preseason games, but that Seattle Special interception at the goal line sent me off the rails. Hearing Jones’ explanation after the game was a little comforting, but it was still too reminiscent of that Super Bowl play, as well as the divisional playoff game against the Chiefs. Offensive coordinators are just too clever for their own good some times. What is it about having first and goal on the one yard line, and your running back has been averaging over five yards a carry that you don’t understand?

    Another consideration based upon a post game comment: the Colts are the one preseason opponent that we will also be seeing in the regular season. Didn’t really want to show them much that they could prepare for.


    • cold_old_steelers_fan

      I viewed that play, like the move of putting Dobbs in for the last 2 minutes, as being an attempt to see what the QB could do in that situation. It was pretty obvious that we could run the ball in, considering how we had been moving it down the field, but could Landry make that play. Developing Jones and Dobbs (as well as the other Steelers players) is far more important than winning a preseason game.


    • I hear you Ivan (but then again, I’m STILL defending Chan Gailey for calling those pass plays in the 1997 AFC Championship game…) but let’s look at it this way. Preseason is the time to make those kinds of calls.


  • There are people who write click bait headlines…and then there’s Rebecca! I didn’t watch the game and I couldn’t bring myself to read the “appalling” section. I’ll take your word for it and assume it was that trickery business–imagine how flabberghasted the Colts will be in the regular season.


  • Well, the above was me and I thought I logged in. In fact, it says I”m loggedin. Now it wants me to “modify my email address” and take a photo of myself. Why do I need to modify my email address?

    Anyhoo, it’s Earthling and I seem to be in some sort of WordPress (or Gravatar?) Kafkaesque business. Last year it kept telling me I already had an account, this year it dropped that nonsense, made me create a blog and has new demands.



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