INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts lost a heartbreaker on Sunday, as they fell by a score of 26-24 to the host Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
Despite the loss there were some positives to take away from this contest, especially considering starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett was forced out early in the second quarter with a knee injury, and the team entered the game without starting wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and top cornerback Pierre Desir. Through all of this, the Colts still had a shot to win it in the final minutes, but just couldn't get the job done this time around.
Although there were 50 combined points in this matchup, this game spawned four members of Pro Football Focus' "NFL Week 9 Team of the Week" on defense. There were also several other members of the Colts to rank highly in PFF's weekly grades.
In order of highest grade first, here are the Colts players who earned top-10 grades at their respective positions on Sunday:
Kenny Moore II and Marvell Tell III
Cornerback No. 1 (86.6 [62 snaps, 98 percent]) and No. 2 (83.8 [37 snaps, 59 percent]), respectively.
It's not such a bad thing when two of your top three cornerbacks for the game make the "Team of the Week," earning the two best cornerback grades across the league in the process.
Moore II earned his highest grade of the season, also collecting his first interception of the year when he was on the spot to collect a tipped pass off of the hands of JuJu Smith-Schuster, returning it 35 yards. On the day, Moore II was credited with eight tackles, one interception and one pass breakup. PFF also logged him with two quarterback hurries, seven "stops" — which constitutes a "failure" by the offense — and only 19 yards allowed on three defended receptions. Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph had a passer rating of just 44.8 while targeting Moore II. Per PFF:
"Moore had a strong day against the run and in coverage in Pittsburgh this week. He recorded seven defensive stops, allowed just 19 yards in coverage and logged an interception on Sunday."
Tel III, the Colts' fifth-round project who has converted from college safety to pro cornerback, made a big impression against Pittsburgh, also earning his highest grade of the season. The Colts very much needed Tell III to step up like he did, as Desir's absence took the Colts' best lengthy cornerback option off the table. Tell III allowed 3-of-5 targets for just 26 yards, including two stops. In all, he totaled four tackles, one forced fumble and one pass breakup. Per PFF:
"Opposite of Moore, rookie USC product Tell got the nod at outside cornerback with Pierre Desir out with an injury. Tell allowed just three receptions from five targets for 26 yards en route to an impressive coverage grade."
Edge Defender tied-No. 3 (85.3), 43 snaps (68 percent)
On the television broadcast on Sunday, the announcers mentioned how the Colts had yet to get to Rudolph, and shortly thereafter Houston came through with a strip-sack, his fifth sack in the last four games... for a safety, no less.
Houston has been paying dividends for the Colts this season, leading them in sacks and terrorizing quarterbacks. That was no different against the Steelers — he totaled three tackles (one for loss), one sack, one forced fumble, one quarterback hit and one safety. PFF credited him with two quarterback pressures and one stop.
Quarterback No. 5 (81.8), 56 snaps (79 percent)
After Brissett went down with a sprained MCL in his left knee during the second quarter, Hoyer was thrust into the lineup and did an admirable job considering he was acquired right before the regular season began.
The 11-year veteran went 17-of-26 passing (65.4 percent) for 168 yards (6.5 YPA), three touchdowns, one interception, four sacks and a passer rating of 105.9. He also ran once for six yards. After his first pass attempt of the game went for an 11-yard touchdown to tight end Jack Doyle, Hoyer's fourth pass was intercepted by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and returned 96 yards for a touchdown. Hoyer shook it off and bounced back to post the highest quarterback grade of the season for the Colts, leading three of their four scoring drives.
His three touchdown passes tied his career high, which he reached five times previously. It is, however, his first occurrence since Week 13 of 2015.
Wide Receiver No. 10 (81.1), 67 snaps (94 percent) | Kick Returner No. 9 (63.5), 10 snaps (38 percent)
It turns out no matter what role you put Zach Pascal in, he's gonna be pretty good. On Sunday, he assumed the role of the Colts' WR1 with Hilton sidelined with a calf injury. Pascal caught five of the six targets thrown his way for 76 yards (15.2 avg.) and his fourth touchdown of the season.
With the Colts down by two points and with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the game, Pascal drew a 35-yard pass interference penalty, and then two plays later made the acrobatic, 19-yard catch (below) that helped set the Colts up for a potential go-ahead field goal attempt.
Pascal also, in part, resumed his role as the Colts' kickoff returner, logging two returns for 55 yards (27.5 avg.), including a 31-yarder.
Safety No. 7 (76.7), 56 snaps (89 percent)
Aside from deterring opposing quarterbacks from testing the Colts downfield and making highlight reel-worthy interceptions, Hooker has become very serviceable as a tackler. In fact, it was an area in Hooker's game that defensive backs coach Alan Williams recently singled out when speaking with reporters.
Against Pittsburgh, Hooker made five tackles, including one for a loss, and three stops according to PFF. On Moore II's interception, it appears Hooker would have been there for the pick himself had the Colts' slot defender not been right there.
Center No. 2 (73.4), 21 snaps (30 percent)
Although a burner limited Kelly to just 21 snaps, it was enough to make him the league's second-highest graded center this week. Kelly saw a significant grade as a runner blocker (83.3) as the Colts ran the ball 13 times for 70 yards (5.4 avg.) in the first half, while Kelly allowed two quarterback hurries and one hit according to PFF. It was an overall rough day in pass protection for the Colts, though, as they allowed five sacks.
Punter No. 10 (61.4), 12 snaps (46 percent)
Sanchez was on his game Sunday, punting three times for both an average and net of 45.0 yards. Two of the three were downed inside Pittsburgh's 20-yard line, including a huge kick downed at the one-yard line (below). Only one of the punts was returned, for zero yards.
On kickoffs, Sanchez kicked five times, three of them going for touchbacks, and the other two being returned for a total of 40 yards. The Steelers' average starting field position was the 21.8-yard line.