So much for Vegas and so much for Peyton Manning. On an evening and for a game where the Steelers were favored heavily, the Indianapolis Colts gave the Steelers a run for their money and almost left Lucas Oil with a win. The Steelers did nothing short of simply surviving the affair – and they just barely did that. But, at what cost was this win? The Steelers have a huge problem ahead of them and need some answers and results quickly. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
The first quarter looked like it would be a total domination from the Steelers on both sides of the ball. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 171 yards, including a beautiful deep ball strike to Mike Wallace for a touchdown. Did you see that nod Ben gave Wallace before the snap – it was like it was out of The Waterboy. Wallace would end up with his third 100+ yard game with 144 yards. The offensive line actually looked good in their pass protection, but they had a hard time opening up holes for Rahsard Mendenhall. Though, the lack of a running game all game falls more squarely on Mendenhall’s shoulders rather than the O-line’s – I think Me Mo proved that during the final drive.
Something happened in the second quarter and the wheels just about fell off the offense. With the running game out the window, the Colts were able to press more with their linebackers and secondary. Their blitzing scheme adjusted, and guys like Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert found themselves one-on-one with Freeney and Mathis. Ben began to settle into old habits and held onto the ball to long before committing to throw it away or run with it. He literally was looking over his shoulder to see where Freeney and Mathis were. Ben turned the ball over 3 times – two fumbles and an INT. Before you knew it, the Colts had a 13-10 edge on the Steelers going into halftime. The defense did their job by holding the Cots to two field goals, but Ben’s fumble allowed a return for a TD to give the Colts seven more points.
Things didn’t improve in the second half with Tomlin telling NBC reporters that he was not planning on changing the running game. Really? Tomlin couldn’t see that Mendy was so busy dancing around that he couldn’t just run through the brief small ones his line was providing him? Tomlin is quick to sub out Farrior for Foote on the defensive side of the ball (base on ‘performance’) yet he refused to try Redman or Mewelde Moore to see if one of those guys could do better with the situation. So, the running game continued its production woes placing more responsibility on Big Ben to take care of the game.
The Steelers needed their defense, as they have so many times in the past, to bail them out with a key turnover late in the game. QB Curtis Painter (filling in for an injured Collins) dropped back to pass and was quickly sacked by James Harrison (welcome to the regular season James). The sack led to a fumble that was quickly snatched up by Troy Polamalu (welcome to you as well) who ran it in for a quick six points. The Steelers had the lead, and with the way the defense was playing, many in Steelers Nation figured it was locked up. Au contraire. In what will probably be a recurring theme this season, the defense had some near misses and allowed the Colts to drive 80 yards and tie the game back up at 20 a piece. Troy Polamalu was all over the field the entire night and was effective in disrupting run and passing plays. He had two near misses at the ball during the Colts’ game tying drive that could have caused fumbles and sealed the game for the Black and Gold.
The Steelers and Big Ben were able to drive the ball down the field for a game winning field goal. The success of that drive was in part due to Ben’s cool collective manner in these situations. The other part to the successful two-minute drill was Me-Mo. Moore found the holes he needed to and ran the ball for nine yards and had a catch for 22 yards. I found myself wondering would the game have been different in the second half were Tomlin to put in Redman or Moore after watching Moore bust through the line for four and five yard gains. No dancing around for Moore.
So at what cost did the Steelers win? Well the offensive line was getting so beat at the line by the Colts’ front four that it began to cause injuries. Marcus Gilbert went out first with a shoulder injury. Next was Doug Legursky with another shoulder injury. The icing on the cake came late in the fourth quarter when Jonathan Scott, who was quite literally Freeney’s bi!@$, went down with what looked to be a high ankle or calf injury injury. Not that it mattered if he was in the game anyways. The Steelers might as well just let Freeney run freely into the backfield and have a running back put a body on him. At one point Scott was literally lifted off the ground by Freeney. When have you ever seen a 300+lb lineman get jacked up like that?
If people thought the Steelers’ offensive line was in trouble before (refer to numerous articles on NPC) then the outlook is very bleak for the next few weeks. Final injury reports aren’t in from the game yet – perhaps Legursky, Gilbert and Scott are fine… not that that is an improvement from how things looked during the game. We’ll hear from Tomlin soon on the status of these guys. But the true achilles heal was exposed last night during this game – forget the secondary, the offensive line is the worst it has ever been on this team. Expect teams from here on out to blitz like crazy off the edges to put pressure on Big Ben. Unless the Steelers can salvage a running game with one of their backs, it’s going to be a long and painful season… for everyone.
Thank God the Steelers didn’t have to worry about Peyton Manning on the field.