Skip to main content

How Shane Steichen's Colts didn't flinch, again, and planted their flag firmly in AFC playoff race with Week 15 win over Steelers

The Colts overcame several injuries to key players on offense to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-13, on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers arrived in Indianapolis armed with the NFL's No. 7 scoring defense, allowing just 19.2 points per game behind a defense filled with league-wide stars and Pro Bowlers and coached by the universally-respected Mike Tomlin. 

The Colts scored 30 points against that vaunted Steelers defense on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. They did so with a backup quarterback throwing three touchdowns, third-and-fourth-string running backs engineering a scoring drive featuring 13 consecutive running plays, a backup wide receiver catching a touchdown in place of a thousand-yard wideout and a backup right tackle holding his own against NFL sack leader T.J. Watt.

These are who the 2023 Colts are: A team that doesn't flinch in the middle of a playoff race, and with three games to go controls its destiny for a spot in the postseason.

And defining the Colts starts with first-year head coach Shane Steichen.

"Here's the thing I really enjoy about Shane: It doesn't faze him," general manager Chris Ballard said last month. "You never hear 'woe is me.' It's like, alright, who we got up? Alright, let's find a way to make it work."

Steichen and the Colts came into Saturday knowing they'd be without running back Jonathan Taylor (thumb) and right tackle Braden Smith (knee). Minshew, of course, has started since Week 6 with Anthony Richardson on injured reserve.

The Colts on Saturday lost running back Zack Moss to an arm injury when he was horse collar-tackled on a touchdown reception, then lost wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. to a concussion – with Steelers safety Damontae Kazee ejected for the hit on the play. Both injuries came in the first half.

The next men up, then, were quarterback Gardner Minshew II, running backs Trey Sermon and Tyler Goodson, wide receiver D.J. Montgomery and right tackle Blake Freeland.

Minshew completed 18 of 28 passes for 215 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 123.4 passer rating.

Sermon, who had 37 yards on 11 carries entering Week 15, ripped off 88 yards on 17 attempts. Goodson, who was elevated to the active roster from the practice squad for Saturday's game and didn't have a rushing attempt in his pro career, gained 69 yards on 11 carries. Together, Sermon and Goodson combined for 157 yards on 28 rushes, good for an average of 5.6 yards per attempt.

Montgomery bounced back from dropping a touchdown to, on the next drive, snagging a 34-yard catch and then a 14-yard touchdown to put the Colts up just before halftime.

And while Freeland gave up a sack to Watt in the first quarter, he didn't allow a pressure over the Colts' final seven drives, per Pro Football Focus.

No stretch of Saturday emphasized the Colts' top-down ability to not be fazed like a possession that began at their own 17-yard line with about three minutes left in the third quarter.

The first playcall was a run. So was the second. And the third. And the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th plays of the drive.

Sermon and Goodson combined for 70 yards on those 13 consecutive running plays, which included three third down conversions – one of which came on a third-and-five to move the Colts into the red zone. The drive ended with a Minshew incompletion and a Gay field goal, which put the Colts up by 14.

But the damage was done: Nearly nine minutes were chewed off the clock, the Colts' defense had an extended rest and the energy was sapped out of the Steelers.

"Certainly that progression in the game, running it over and over and over, wears them down," center Ryan Kelly said. "They don't want to keep getting up off the ground and do the same thing over again knowing it's going to happen. It's a real special feeling.

"... It just helps everything. It helps morale. It helps everybody out. It's fun for us too."

Or, as tight end Mo Alie-Cox put it: "It shows that we can run the ball against one of the best defenses in the league."

Plenty of credit goes to the Colts' offensive line for clearing guys like Watt (a x-time first-team AP All-Pro) and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward (also a three-time first-team AP All-Pro) out of the way. And plenty of credit goes to Sermon and Goodson for running with speed, vision and physicality.

But plenty of credit also goes to Steichen and his offensive coaching staff for having the right plays in place, and for the Colts head coach's willingness to stick with the run over and over and over again. 

"They're a good front seven," Kelly said. "Historically they've been one of the best front sevens in the league for a long time, they got really good players. It's fun when you're able to do that because you can see the will kind of being sucked out a little bit — they don't want it. (Thirteen) straight runs plays, they'd rather rush the passer and get in third and long. We avoided that, took a massive chunk of time off the clock. It's a good day at the office."

It shouldn't be lost, too, that the Colts' defense didn't allow a single point in the final 44 minutes of Saturday's game. That group locked in after giving up 34 points to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14 and not only smothered the Steelers' offense, but forced three turnovers – giving them at least one takeaway in their last 19 games.

"It wasn't comfortable, but I feel like that's how it's supposed to be," Franklin said of the Colts' lead-up to Saturday following that loss to the Bengals. "Coming off the disappointing loss we had last week, I think it was a gut check for everybody. At this point in the season, some teams tail off, other teams keep grinding.

"I think today we showed we're one of those teams that can keep grinding."

The Colts will wake up Sunday still as the AFC No. 7 seed, and with their win over the Steelers didn't just put pressure on the rest of the conference's wild card contenders, but also on the AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars, who at 8-5 face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football in Week 15.

At the very least, the Colts control their postseason destiny; at best, the Colts could win out and push the Jaguars for a division title. But one thing is clear as the Colts move on into the holiday season: No matter what challenges are thrown this team's way, they've proven they can handle them.

"At this point it's winning games – that's all it is," Minshew said. "However you've got to get that done, we're going to try to find a way."

View the best photos from the Colts' 30-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.

Related Content

Single Game Tickets On Sale Now!

Single Game Tickets On Sale Now!

Our 2024 schedule is set! Secure your seats to all home games at Lucas Oil Stadium now.