The Colts traveled to Pittsburgh Sunday night to take on the Steelers in the second preseason game of the year. Before we dissect the performance of Andrew Luck or discuss which players stood out, we need to start with a much more somber topic.
Austin Collie left the game in the first quarter due to concussion like symptoms. The head injury came on a hit that should never have happened: he was either either already down or very close to being down when Steelers LB Larry Foote drilled him in the head with his forearm. It was a pointless, gutless hit from a member of a team that has been fined and admonished for unsafe hits countless times. The fact that the Steelers have yet to understand the point is rather disturbing.
Beyond the hit itself, our thoughts and prayers are with Collie. Tonight's injury will be his 4th concussion since 2010. Unlike broken bones, pulled muscles, or sprained ligaments, there is no cure for brain injuries. There is no timetable on how they'll heal. In fact, there is little concrete fact and understanding when it comes to brain injuries. While many will write about the impact Collie's injury will have on the Colts offense, I'll just say this: my concern for Collie is not whether or not he plays in the NFL again, only that he can live a happy, healthy life, for many years to come. We often lose sight of the fact that NFL players are humans, too, and regardless of money or fame, no one deserves to suffer through the pains of concussions.
As for the rest of the Colts, the first half of tonight's game, and the first quarter in particular, will serve as a nice wake up call following their near-perfect opener against the Rams last week. The Colts quickly fell behind by 14 points after two bad plays - one play by the defense, which saw PIT WR Antonio Brown take a short pass and turn it into a 53-yard touchdown, juking approximlately 42 Colts players in the process.
The Colts other bad play was authored by none other than Andrew Luck himself. This play saw Luck, who was coming off of an eye-popping performance against the Rams, stare down his receiver for the entire route and compounded the mistake by failing to put enough heat on the pass. The play resulted in a pick-6.
Down by two scores, the Colts showed their fans that they have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the teams' future. As they came back onto the field following the pick-6, the Colts could have panicked. They could have tried to atone for their errors in one play. A penalty or two may have been expected. Instead, the Colts offense went on a 10-play, 80-yard drive, capped off by a 1-yard Donald Brown run. It was a methodical drive, which displayed the calmness, poise, and precision Colts fans can come to expect from Luck.
After the defense continued to hold up their end of the bargain, forcing the Steelers to punt on consecutive drives - we'll only make a cursory mention of TY Hiltons horrendous Misty May-Treanor impersonation which lead to a scoring-drive-killing interception - the offense went back to work, executing another 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
That drive featured everything Colts fans can expect to see this season: Andrew Luck finding Reggie Wayne, some nice play from the running backs, some inconsistent play from the offensive line, and some horrendous, mind-numbing officiating. I would attempt to describe the final 3 "scoring plays" which finally resulted in the Colts pulling even, but "Replacement Ref" is a dead language, and so it is impossible for me to translate it for you.
The Colts starters would exit the game with a 3-point lead (17-14) after finishing off one more scoring drive, which ended in a 53-yard Adam Vinatieri FG as time expired in the first half. While tonight's performance wasn't as effortless or dominating as last week's, it should be viewed as success. The Colts were on the road against a tough team, and, despite two bad plays from their starters, put together very solid performances.
Quick Thoughts, the Good:
- Andrew Luck started off slow, threw a bad pick, and looked like a rookie for most of the first quarter. But Luck is a quick study, and finished the night 16/25 for 175 yards. The box score will also read "2 interceptions", but to count the TY Hilton pizza-making demonstration against Luck would be an assault on common sense. Look past the stats, and you'll see that post-pick-6 Luck was stellar.
- Donald Brown continues to impress. Yes, it's true, he had quite a few runs that went nowhere, but - and I don't mean to sound like a broken record here - his offensive line isn't all that good. When Brown does get time and space, the result is a big play. If Brown can stay healthy this year, he's going to prove a lot of people wrong.
- Vick Ballard is quickly winning the #2 RB spot on the team. He has speed, he has moves, he has power. If he can continue to develop the skills he's shown off in the preseason, there's no reason to believe he cannot transition into the starting role if/when the Colts move on from Donald Brown.
- Jerry Hughes continues to make plays. He once again put pressure on the quarterback, notching his third sack of the season, and even helped out against the run at times. Like Brown, if Hughes can stay on the field (and get opportunities behind Freeney and Mathis) he could make some people eat a lot of crow.
- Reggie Wayne showed up in a big way tonight, hauling in 6 catches for 74 yards. Luck targetted Wayne 9 times in the first half and you can see the pair developing nice chemistry already. While it's clear Wayne has lost a step, he is still going to be a very productive receiver this year.
- Antoine Bethea and Jerraud Powers both played well in pass defense tonight. They'll have to be at the top of their game all year if the Colts defense is going to have a chance of stopping opposing offenses, as the rest of the secondary looks shaky, at best.
- The Colts young receiving targets (Allen, Fleener, and Brazill) all looked good tonight. All three ran good routes and found open holes in the coverage. Regarding Fleener and Allen specifically: both show good intelligence and game sense by being ready as the hot receiver when Luck found himself under pressure from the Steelers blitzes. One definitely gets the sense that, as these young players continue to grow together, the Colts offense could become quite the dangerous group.
- Griff Whalen, who is fighting for a roster spot, made a strong case tonight, catching 4 of his 5 targets for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Quick Thoughts, the Bad:
- Injuries! We've discussed Collie, we can also add LB Robert Mathis (shoulder) and DE Cory Redding (knee) to the list. Three key players at three key positions. When you're as young and as thin (depth wise) as the Colts, your success will come down to maximizing the output of your best players, and if those three players miss any significant time, it's going to be that much harder for the Colts to have success.
- Cris Collinsworth. Seriously, dude, I get that it's preseason, but a little "try hard" never hurt anyone. Admittedly, Collinsworth has never been my cup-o-tea, but he was in rare form tonight.
- The offensive line. They looked better at times, and Andrew Luck wasn't running for his life nearly as much as he was last week, but the line is still very inconsistent, and is still the unit that will hold the offense back. The right side of the line, in particular, was gloriously cringe-worthy. One has to wonder: what blocks better, Winston Justice, or a 6th-round pick. I'm not referring to an OL drafted in the 6th round, but the actual note card you write that 6th-round pick's name on.
- TY Hilton. I've alluded to it a few times, but his botching of a perfect Andrew Luck pass which lead to an interception is just not the kind of play you can make in the NFL. It's even worse coming from a guy who is trying to win a starting job. Hilton finished with 2 catches (on 6 targets) for 37 yards. He's shown flashes, but he's going to have to grow up quick if he hopes to be starting week 1.
- Chuck Pagano did his best Jim Caldwell impression, punting from the Steelers' 37-yard line. The McAfee punt obviously landed in the end zone, which resulted in a net gain of 17-yards. Even the US Government noted that this probably isn't the most efficient outcome.
Quick Thoughts, the Ugly:
- The replacement refs are horrible. I had been defending them for weeks, reasoning that, if Walt Coleman and Ron Winters can be regular refs, so can these guys. I was wrong. Forgive me, please. We had a touchdown called back because the refs blew the play dead for 12-men on defense (not a play-killing penalty). We had so many horrendous pass interference non-calls that it caused multiple people on twitter to wonder if we were watching the 2003 AFCCG. The worst part of these refs? They're almost making me miss Ron Winters and Walt Coleman. Almost.
Re: the right side of the line, is it too soon for JUUUUSSSTTTIIICCCEEEEE!!!!!!!! - ? I mean, it's no DIIIIIEEEEEMMMMMM!!!, but still pretty good.
After six years of sitting back in zone, Antoine Bethea must cry tears of joy when they draw up a safety blitz like that in practice. If he hadn't been chipped on his way through the line, that would've been a direct shot on Rothleissdjfhksejhver, too.
Luck looked like a rookie in the 1st quarter, and then a seasoned vet in the 2nd. That was quite impressive.
Does anyone know if the Steelers 1st-string defense was in there for the whole 2nd. Not to be skeptical, but that could partially explain Luck's great quarter, and also explain why the run game was really effective. Overall, though, the o-line looked good for a lot of the night, even when it was clearly going up against the #1 defense.
It's still preseason, but Luck looks really good.
I am angry, Angry, ANGRY about the headhunting on Collie. That was bullshit. Don't tell me that a tackler needs to lead with his damn elbow. A legit tackle would've been a **tackle** i.e. wrapping his arms around the guy. That hit was a damn head shot.
Stuff like that pisses me off to no end. Those bastards are trying to drive Collie out of the NFL by virtue of dirty play. Makes me mad.
@AJ_ And in a PRE-SEASON game. Seriously???
@buymymonkey @AJ_ I wish the NFL implemented a rule: If you *intentionally* inflict an injury, you're out for the same number of games (or some other formula, such as same number plus 1) as the player you put out. And if you force a player to retire from the league, you're gone too.
Now of course, when I calm down and think rationally, I realize that there are issues with that. For starters, the league would have to be fair and have a really stringent, tough burden of proof for proving intent to harm; in short, just how obvious does it have to be before it's triggered? Plus, what about a case where a player who's been given an injury settlement can eventually play again, but is simply never re-signed by any team. What would that end up imposing on the other player in question? Yeah, in calmer moments, I do see the problems, and I don't have answers for them. But, right now, I fully admit I'm choosing to indulge in anger rather than reason. I'm pissed. Collie's a great guy, a hard worker, and doesn't deserve to be driven out of the league because freakin' dirty-ass linebackers think "tackling" means "running elbow to the helmet". My point is less about what the specifics of a rule would be, it's that I wish to God that the NFL would get tougher about such headhunting.
I feel awful for Collie's sake. He doesn't deserve this. But the NFL is really harsh in one way: Deserves got nothing to do with who gets hurt. And that's a whole lot of what makes me mad.
I totally agree that the hit on Collie was competely unneccessary. (It reminded me of the hits the Pats and Jags put on Collie in 2010 both times he tried to come back. And yes, I think both teams intentionally attempted and succeeded in taking Collie out of the game.)
Yet, I would also say the hit last night was not that egregious. (Easy for me to say sitting on my couch.) I have always been one of those people that believe players should be free to make their own decisions about their lives and careers. But man, if Collie can't even take that kind of hit without suffering "concussion Like" symptomns, he needs to retire.
@DougEngland This is NOT directed at you, Doug, but more the media who continues to push this: I can't stand the phrase "concussion-like symptoms".
Generally speaking, if you're experiencing concussion-like symptoms, it's because you have a concussion. The only other explanation I've seen is some sort of neck injury. Either way, I feel like the media thinks it's hiding the reality or severity of the situation by adding 'like.'
Dude took a head shot and is now experiencing concussion symptoms. Given that he has a history of concussions, I think it's safe to say he's not feeling air sick.
@GregC I totally agree with you. That is why I put "concussion-like" in quotations in my post. And it is also why I am so fearful for Collie being able to continue to play football.
If Whalen ends up making the roster, I sure hope he understands the responsibility that comes with that #84 jersey ... #blueblood ;)
Not to mention the defensive pass interference. Oh Lordy! The Steelers were hanging all over the Colts. Really frustrating to watch.
And boy am I sick of the Steelers; the so called Steel Town Boys. James Harrison, one of the dirtiest players around. Just a dirty team. Rothlesberger who has not turned his life around after being a jerk. And the rabid fans who walk around thinking their team is just a bunch of guys playing football after a hard day in the steel mill. Was glad to see the Patriots beat them out of the playoffs last year.
The whole botching of the TD plays was terrible. Called no TD on a play that shouldn't have been overturned, and then didn't review a play that should have been overturned. I'm not complaining, because the end result was what was correct (the Colts got a TD), but it was ugly.
Seriously, the refs were AWFUL tonight. Not just because they gave questionable calls to the other team. They called a whiffed low block a chop block on the edge where no one touched the blitzing defender including the supposed "chop blocker." I thought it was atrocious, and it went in our favor. Then calling back an inconclusive TD play and spotting it on the 1 yard line (coming after the blown dead play), then not even reviewing the Luck slide that probably should have been marked short....I guess in the end fixed the mistake, but jeez was it ugly. Our receivers getting held HARD early, the hit on Collie, etc., etc. Someone please just pay some real refs to go out there and keep our players and the game safe.