PITTSBURGH —The Indianapolis Colts moved to 1-2 on the 2017 preseason with their 19-15 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday night at Heinz Field.
What's top of mind for the Colts as they head home to Indy?
Any win — even in the preseason — is certainly going to welcomed with welcome arms in the National Football Legaue.
Photos from the preseason week 3 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers
But for the Colts, Saturday's victory over the Steelers, as head coach Chuck Pagano alluded to after the game, was about as "needed" as a preseason victory can get.
Indianapolis came into the contest with an 0-2 record after losing at home to the Detroit Lions and on the road to the Dallas Cowboys, and in a third preseason game usually deemed the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season, the Colts faced an always-solid Steelers team. They knew, good or bad, they'd have an idea of where they actually stood after Saturday's matchup.
And, after coming away with the 19-15 win — one that featured a strong start and finish — the Colts can breathe a sigh of relief heading into Thursday's preseason finale at home against the Bengals.
Indianapolis had many more positives — another couple takeaways, way better overall play on offense, young players continuing to step up and more — than negatives by the time the clock struck 0:00, which is exactly what it could want in its situation.
Matthias Farley showed his coverage skills on one key drive in the first quarter, batting down two passes near the end zone to eventually force a Pittsburgh field goal that cut the Colts' early lead to 7-3 with five minutes left in the period. But in the second quarter, it was his prowess as a pass rusher that really helped stall a Steelers drive yet again. After a 45-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal made it 10-3 Colts, Pittsburgh faced a 2nd and 4 from its own 22-yard line. Quarterback Landry Jones, in the no huddle, dropped back on the ensuing play, but Farley would come in virtually untouched to bring him down for a loss of eight. Two plays later, the Steelers would be forced to punt it away, and Indy would respond with yet another Vinatieri field goal, this time from 31 yards, to further increase its lead to 13-3 with 3:26 left in the first half. Farley said after the game the Steelers' offense was so worried about shifting over to cover inside linebacker Jon Bostic that it left him virtually unaccounted for, allowing for the big play.PLAY OF THE GAME
John Simon seems to have a knack for the big play, it seems. In the first preseason game against the Lions, his interception on Detroit's opening possession of the game prematurely ended what looked to be a promising drive. Then, on Saturday, the Steelers got the ball first and were easily driving down the field; a 10-yard run for running back Knile Davis, 11-yard Davis run, 9-yard pass to Davis plus a facemask penalty for 15 more quickly set up a 1st and 10 from the Indianapolis 37. But that's when Simon charged his way in from quarterback Ben Roethelisberger's blind side and knocked the ball out for the sack/forced fumble, which was recovered by second-year defensive lineman Hassan Ridgeway. Three plays and a Pittsburgh penalty later, and the Colts' first-team offense found the end zone for the first time all preseason, and Indy took a 7-0 lead with 10:47 left in the opening quarter.UNSUNG HERO
How about Nate Hairston? The Colts selected Hairston in the fifth round of this year's NFL Draft hoping he could add competition to the cornerback position, but he's done much more than that, putting himself in position to be among those in contention for the starting nickel cornerback job Week 1 of the regular season. His strong play continued Saturday night, as he collected six tackles — all solo stops — while he also had a tackle for a loss of four yards on a Davis run midway through the first quarter.WHAT WENT RIGHT
• Quarterbacks Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris each put in solid performances for the first-team offense on Saturday. Tolzien's first pass would be a 55-yard catch-and-run by Donte Moncrief, setting up the team's 1-yard touchdown run by Frank Gore, and the veteran showed an assertiveness and confidence the rest of the way, completing 7-of-10 passes for 123 yards, throwing one interception. Morris, who then played into the fourth quarter, displayed an impressive touch on several passes on the night, and finished with 12-of-16 completions for 143 yards.
• The Colts came into Saturday's game having converted just 5-of-30 attempts on third down. It's been a huge point of emphasis, and that seemed to pay off on Saturday, as the team would convert 5-of-11 of its attempts on third down. The Colts were also 2-for-2 in Goal to Go scenarios on Saturday, with Gore's touchdown run and another one-yard score in the fourth quarter — the eventual game-winner — by Josh Ferguson.
• Defensive coordinator Ted Monachino on Wednesday stressed the importance of getting more "productive" pass rushes from his players. While the Colts had put in several "effective" rushes, they wanted their blitzes and playcalls to wreak more havoc. That seemed to work pretty well on Saturday, as the Indianapolis defense had three sacks in all — plays by Simon, Farley and Barkevious Mingo — and each of them were certainly timely in their own right. Later in the game, the team had another productive rush, but this one didn't result in a sack: it resulted in an interception. On 1st and Goal from the 1-yard line, the Colts' defensive front collapsed in on Jones, who telegraphed a pass towards wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. But cornerback Chris Milton was right there to pick off the pass in the end zone for a touchback. Talk about productive.
• The Colts' offense line deserves a lot of credit for the way it protected the quarterback on Saturday. Tolzien was sacked just once, and outside of a couple other hits, that's all the Pittsburgh defense would get on the night. The line came into the game allowing an average of three sacks a contest in its first two preseason games, so kudos to that unit for cleaning things up.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• Tackling issues plagued the Colts at times on Saturday, especially in the secondary. Oftentimes, this led to multiple extended drives for the Steelers' offense. At one point, Pittsburgh converted two 3rd and 10s into first downs on one drive alone, and it would convert half of their third downs (7-of-14) in all. Though the defense certainly played with a "bend but don't break" approach, which can win ballgames, you can imagine the coaches will have plenty of pointers about sound tackling when the team returns to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Monday.
• Pagano said he wasn't pleased with how the team started the third quarter. With both the second-team offense and defense now on the field, the Colts' offense opened the second half with a three-and-out, and then the defense allowed an 8-play, 63-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown receptino by Xavier Grimble. Fortunately for Indianapolis, the Steelers would miss the extra point attempt, but Pittsburgh had cut the lead to 13-12.
The following Colts players were injured during Saturday's game:
• Cornerback Vontae Davis (groin; out): Pagano said after the game that Davis will undergo further testing on Sunday.
• Defensive back T.J. Green (unknown; returned): Green was also tended to by team trainers late in the second quarter with an unknown issue, but he would return to the field in the third quarter.WHAT'S NEXT
The Colts wrap up preseason play on Thursday, when they play host to the Bengals. Kickoff from Lucas Oil Stadium is set for 7 p.m. on FOX59.
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