The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for their 2022 regular season Week 12 game with a trip to Indianapolis to play the Colts. A tough task for the Steelers who have yet to show any level of success on a consistent basis.
With this being a big game, not like every game isn’t a big game, I was able to ask Chris Shepherd of Stampede Blue, SB Nation’s Indianapolis Colts website, five questions leading up to the game.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
The hiring of Jeff Saturday sent shockwaves throughout the NFL community. How have Colts fans taken to the former center? Are they on board, or weary of what might come of such a strange personnel decision?
Colts fans, in general, are on board. Really, what choice do they have? Most of them misattribute the offensive issues the Colts have had this season to Frank Reich so most weren’t sad to see him go. Then the owner hires a former player with no experience. Most fans of the team seem to have accepted it and are cautiously hopeful if not totally sold on Jeff Saturday as a coach. I’ve seen a lot (and I mean A LOT) of mental gymnastics defending the hire as a smart move. Comparisons to things people have seen at their own workplace have been common. Despite how anyone feels, hiring a guy with no experience to manage the paint department at your local hardware store isn’t even remotely similar to what’s happened here but people have talked themselves into it.
Few of them seem to have considered the more long term implications of this disaster. For a long time the Colts seemed like a good place for front office people and coaches to grow. Chuck Pagano got two full seasons more than he probably should have, GM Ryan Grigson got an extra year as well. The Colts built a highly regarded scouting staff led by Chris Ballard and year after year members of that staff were interviewed and made short lists for open GM positions. The coaching staff they built was very good as evidenced by the fact it was decimated by promotions in other cities.
Jim Irsay’s franchise was a great place to go to further your career. But what about now? Frank Reich’s .547 winning percentage is just a few points off from legendary coaches like Chuck Noll ,566. And I’m not comparing the two at all, you can’t because the 70’s happened but my point is, Frank Reich had a winning coaching record in spite of the fact that he was given seven (7) different starting quarterbacks in five (5) years and he was unceremoniously fired in season, over the phone no less, only to be replaced by a friend of the owner. If a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers offers you a job, you take it. The stability and opportunity is unmatched. If a team like the Indianapolis Colts offers you a job, if you have another offer on the table that isn’t the Lions, Jags or Browns, you probably take that other offer. I fear there are going to be some rough times ahead for the Indianapolis Colts and their fans.
The Colts running game seems to be rounding into form. What was the issue earlier in the season, and what has gotten them turned around?
The biggest difference has been the health of Jonathan Taylor’s ankles. Early in the season he suffered a high ankle sprain and even when he was playing, he was nowhere near the same guy he’s always been. Outside of that I think believing it has been better is a bit of fools gold. They rushed for 135 against the Commanders in week 8 but without backup QB Sam Ehlinger escaping the pocket and scrambling and a long gainer on a jet sweep from Parris Campbell they don’t break the century mark. They rushed for 78 yards against the Patriots in week 9 and half of those yards came from Ehlinger running for his life. Week 10 saw an explosion of 207 rushing yards and it looked like the 2021 Colts rushing attack and then you realize it happened against the Raiders. During Thanksgiving with my family I beat my 11 year old nephew, without mercy, in a game of one on one. It goes down as a Thanksgiving day win for me, but that’s kind of how the Colts were able to rush that well too. The Raiders are terrible. Week 11 against the Eagles things were back to what I expect from this Colts rushing attack. Jonathan Taylor showed off his good vision and incredible ability to make the first defender miss- he looked really, really good and also he finished with 84 yards on 22 carries.
The Indianapolis Colts offensive line is made up of LG Quenton Nelson, RT Braden Smith and the thoughts and prayers of general manager Chris Ballard. It’s bad. The insertion of Will Fries at right guard has been a positive just because it has gotten Matt Pryor off the field but Fries is only a slight improvement from the embarrassment that is Matt Pryor’s 2022 season. At left tackle the Colts originally started Pryor, but he wouldn’t start at left tackle for the Pitt Panthers and the only other viable option the Colts had was a third round developmental prospect out of Central Michigan, Bernhard Raimann. Raimann is a great athlete but he’s only played offensive line for two years so starting him against NFL edge defenders was never going to go super well.
I’ve told you all of this to tell you that the Colts offensive line is really bad and the only reasons they will have any success rushing the ball at all this season are 1. the opponent is terrible or 2. Jonathan Taylor is special and now that he’s healthy he will occasionally do special things.
Indianapolis’ defense is a very underrated defense, in my opinion. However, what is one, or some weaknesses within the defense? How should the Steelers attack the Indy defense?
This might be the best Indianapolis Colts defense I’ve ever seen. That’s not hyperbole, I mean it. From top to bottom, every level of this defense is good. Fans of both the Chiefs and Eagles have had slight panics after watching their teams offense struggle against this Colts defense but most everyone has. You see the record, you see the Colts fire their coach and replace him with Jeff Saturday and your first thought is “oh this is an easy win” but the problem is general manager Chris Ballard is a really good scout, he’s proven to be bad at building a team, but he invested a lot of resources on the defensive side of the ball and the players he’s brought in have almost all been really good.
The weakest link so far has been CB Brandon Facyson, but even he was solid against the Eagles last week. I won’t tell you that the Steelers won’t put together a couple 10-12 play, 70-80 yard touchdown drives on Monday night, it could absolutely happen, but most of the touchdowns that have been scored against this defense seem to have come when the Colts offense turns the ball over and the opponent has a short field and at the end of games when the Colts offense needs the defense to bail them out once again but the defense is absolutely exhausted from spending most of the day on the field.
I do wonder how long the defense is going to play at a high level. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be a part of such a good unit only to have your teammates let you down in such an obvious way. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of those defenders start to check out mentally and start to think about being healthy for 2023. So anything could happen, but with it being on Monday night, Steelers fans shouldn’t panic if their offense looks bad- this Colts defense does that to their opponents. You may want to panic if the Colts rush for 150 yards, but I really don’t see that happening.
Matt Ryan was brought in to help transform the Colts into a Super Bowl contender. This year has been odd with how the team has handled the quarterback position. What are your thoughts on Ryan, how the job was handled and who might be the answer moving forward?
Matt Ryan was never supposed to have to elevate anyone. The Colts built a very, very good defense and they expected to once again have one of the top offensive lines and top rushing attacks in football. Ryan’s job was to keep the offense running efficiently, making smart plays by taking the easy stuff that the defense gave him, handing the ball off to Jonathan Taylor and being a good leader for a unit that needed leadership. Instead Chris Ballard did nothing to improve the offensive line and watched as their starting right guard left to sign with the New York Giants. I’ve already addressed the disaster at left tackle but I’ve never seen a team struggle so much to fill the right guard position with a player that wasn’t at least below average. Below average would be quite the improvement there. Then at center, career above-average-to-good Ryan Kelly seems to have aged 10 years in the past 10 months.
So instead of Matt Ryan coming in and managing an offense ready built for an experienced veteran to take the reins and lead it to success, the 2022 Indianapolis Colts have asked Matt Ryan to elevate everyone around him and I can’t put into words just how unfair that is. He’s old. He can’t do it. This isn’t what he was promised.
The answer moving forward? Who knows. The guy isn’t on the roster. Owner Jim Irsay forced Carson Wentz out of town (a lot to unpack on that move) then told Frank Reich to bench Matt Ryan, then fired Reich two games later, then he let his buddy Saturday name his own starter and Saturday did what anyone with eyes would do and started the obviously better player. So a well run organization would probably take this season as a way to either 1- draft their QB of the future or 2- acquire future draft capital to move around the 2024 draft and take their QB of the future after a bad 2023 campaign. So those would be reasonable courses of action. With Jim Irsay meddling more and more, it’s impossible to say what will happen but either way the headlines will probably write themselves.
DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the Colts as 2.5 point favorites in prime time. What do you think of the spread, and how do you see this game shaking out between two middle-of-the-road football teams?
First, I take great offense to the Colts being called middle-of-the-road, they’re bad and don’t you forget it. The problem with the Colts is their defense. The Steelers offense is going to struggle. It’s going to come down to the Steelers ability to create turnovers, specifically in scoring position and their ability to rush the passer. Jonathan Taylor might pop off on a long run at some point, but I doubt it. The Steelers rush defense has been too good. If the Steelers can’t hit Matt Ryan and force a couple of turnovers the Colts offense could get some things going through the air as Ryan has been fine this season when he has time to throw. One thing you don’t want to do if you’re the Steelers is give Matt Ryan the ball back late in the fourth quarter in a one score game, the lights still come on for Matty Ice in those situations, so if the game comes down to the final drive the Steelers pass rush needs to be what wins them the game.
2.5 points is probably about right but the only bet I would take in this game is the under. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll take it. Ultimately I see this being an ugly slog of a game, the kind you expect from two teams with bad offenses. I’ll pick it 17-16 in favor of the Colts but this is absolutely a game the Steelers can win. The only thing that would surprise me is if this one is exciting to watch.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for their Week 12 game vs. the Colts Monday night in Indianapolis.