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Winners and Losers from the Steelers' 28-24 win over the Colts

Updated: Dec 29, 2020



Winners


T.J. Watt - With the offense doing absolutely nothing in the first quarter, the defense took matters into their own hands. On the Colts' third possession of the game, Watt had a strip-sack and Mike Hilton recovered the loose ball and returned it 14 yards to the Colts' 3-yard line. The Steelers took advantage of the turnover and James Conner plunged in for a 1-yard score to tie the game at 7-7 with 13:47 remaining in the second quarter. Watt is the first player in Steelers history with 14-plus sacks in multiple seasons. Watt finished the game with three total tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, a quarterback hit and two passes defended. Watt has 15 sacks this season, which leads the league. He can break James Harrison's single-season sack record of 16 set in 2008 with two sacks against the Cleveland Browns next week. Harrison won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 when he posted 16 sacks. Watt could win DPOY this year as well. It's pretty much between him and Los Angeles Rams' defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The Steelers have recorded 52 sacks this year, which leads the league. The Steelers are the first team in the NFL to record 50-plus sacks in four consecutive seasons since the New York Giants did it in 1985-88.


Diontae Johnson - After failing to score on the goal line in the third quarter and turning the ball over on downs, the Steelers got great field position following a three-and-out forced by the defense. On the first play of the possession from the Colts' 39-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger threw deep to Johnson and the second-year receiver made an incredible diving grab in the end zone for a touchdown to cut the Colts' lead to 24-14 with 3:16 left in the third quarter. On the Steelers' second scoring drive in the second half, Johnson drew two pass interference penalties for a combined 45 yards. The offense was set up at the Colts' 5-yard after pass interference was called on cornerback T.J. Carrie and Roethlisberger threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Eric Ebron to get the Steelers within three points, 24-21. Johnson on the day had eight receptions for 75 yards (9.4 average) on a team-high 14 targets and a touchdown.


Ben Roethlisberger - Roethlisberger looked awful in the first half, but he pulled it together in the second half and showed Steelers fans and the doubters that he's not done. Roethlisberger started throwing the ball downfield more in the second half and the offense started to excel. Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers to a 17-point comeback win, which was the Steelers' first win under Mike Tomlin when trailing by 17-plus points in the second half. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, today was the Steelers' fifth win in franchise history when overcoming at least a 17-point second-half deficit. It is their first such win since the 2002 Wild Card against the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers trailed 24-7 with 9:23 left in the third quarter. Roethlisberger was 34 of 49 (64.9%) for a season-high 342 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 109.4 in the game. Roethlisberger had a 68.3 passer rating in the first half and a 136.2 passer rating in the second half. Ben Roethlisberger started the first half 11 of 20 for 98 yards. He finished the game 34 of 49 for 342 yards and three touchdowns.


JuJu Smith-Schuster - Smith-Schuster got a lot of heat this week from the media for his pregame TikTok dance ritual that he did on the opposing team's logo, which was put to an end this week after having a talk with Mike Tomlin. Smith-Schuster showed up today and was all business with a team-high nine receptions for 96 yards (10.7 average) and a touchdown, which was a 25-yard game-winning contested catch by No. 19.


Mike Hilton - Hilton is going to cash in on a big payday this offseason, whether it's from the Steelers or not. He's one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league. Hilton finished the game with four total tackles (two solos), an interception, two passes defended and a fumble recovery. Hilton's interception came in the fourth quarter following Smith-Schuster's touchdown that gave the Steelers a 28-24 lead that they wouldn't squander.


Alex Highsmith - Speaking of Hilton's interception, Highsmith provided pressure on Philip Rivers on the play and forced the ill-advised pass. On fourth-and-8 at the Steelers' 33-yard line and trailing by four points with 1:14 remaining in the game, Highsmith had a nice spin-move on left tackle J'Marcus Webb that pressured Rivers as he threw an incompletion intended for Zach Pascal, forcing a turnover on downs. Highsmith finished the game with eight total tackles (four solos) and two quarterback hits.


Second-half defense - The defense dominated in the second half after giving up 21 points in the first two quarters. They allowed the Colts to drive down the field for a field goal on their first possession of the third quarter to take a 24-7 lead, but from there on out, Indianapolis punted three times, Rivers threw an interception, and they turned the ball over on downs on their final possession of the game. On the Colts' three possessions after the field goal, they produced just one first down on 11 plays for 28 yards. The defense also had three of their five sacks in the second half, none bigger than Stephon Tuitt's red zone sack on third-and-3 to force the Colts to kick a field goal.


Losers


Slow starts - The Steelers went three-and-out to start the game and the plays called were incredibly predictable. Randy Fichtner had all week to script plays and he called three straight slants to start the game and they all fell incomplete. The Steelers managed to get a first down on their second possession, but Benny Snell Jr. got tackled for a 2-yard loss by defensive end Justin Houston on third-and-1. Alejandro Villanueva got beat on the play. On their third possession, the offense went three-and-out again. Roethlisberger got sacked for a 9-yard loss by strong safety Khari Willis on second-and-8. Chuks Okorafor missed Willis on the safety blitz. The Steelers have gone three-and-out on their first possession in five straight games and haven't scored a single offensive point in the first quarter since Week 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers have had just one touchdown drive on their opening possession this season and that was against the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. Before that, they didn't have an opening drive touchdown since Week 15 of 2018 against the New England Patriots.


Inconsentcy on offense - If it's not Roethlisberger being off on his passes, the receivers are dropping the ball. The offensive line needs to be rebuilt as well. The offense started to succeed in the second half when Roethlisberger started to finally throw the ball down the field. Why it took Fichtner until the third quarter to throw the ball down the field is mind-boggling, especially since the short dink-and-dunk passes were not working in the first half, and in the four previous games defenses have exposed the Steelers' offense. The offense had more space to work with in the second half and Roethlisberger started completing passes underneath because the Colts' defense respected the deep ball. Too often this year, the Steelers are playing halves well and not a full 60 minutes, especially when it comes to starting off games. The Steelers will have to be more consistent moving forward and in the playoffs or they won't last long.


The first-half defense - The Colts had two long touchdown drives and scored on a deep shot in the first half. On the Colts' opening possession to start the game, the defense allowed a nine-play, 70-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a 6-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Taylor. The drive took 4:45 off the clock. In the second quarter, the Colts had a 12-play, 85-yard scoring drive that took 7:12 off the clock and was concluded with a 1-yard score by Taylor on a great second effort. The Colts' defense forced another three-and-out and Nyheim Hines had a 22-yard punt return with 10 yards added on due to an illegal block above the waist called on Justin Layne. The big return and the penalty set the Colts up at the Steelers' 42-yard line. Two plays later, Rivers off play-action completed a 42-yard touchdown pass to Pascal to give the Colts a 21-7 lead with 4:02 remaining in the second quarter. The Steelers blitz inside linebackers Vince Williams and Avery Williamson on a cross blitz and the Colts' offensive line along with Taylor picked it up perfectly. Joe Haden got burned by Pascal for the touchdown on a deep post route.


Run game - The Steelers' running game continues to be abysmal this year. They rushed for just 4 yards on seven carries in the first half, an average of 0.6 yards per attempt. In total, the Steelers rushed for a season-low 20 yards on 14 carries, an average of 1.4 yards per carry. Heading into the final week of the regular season, it's clear that the Steelers can't run the ball, which could be a problem in the playoffs. The Steelers miraculously have won three games this season while rushing for under 50 yards. That’s tied for the most such games within a season since 1950.


Clock management - The Steelers were down 21-7 and the Colts had the ball on their own 9-yard line with 1:10 left in the first half. On second-and-20, Rivers handed the ball off to Hines for a 2-yard gain, and the Colts ran the clock all the way down to 26 seconds and handed the ball off to Hines again for four yards. For some inexplicable reason, Tomlin didn't call a timeout right after the first carry by Hines and waited until 22 seconds left in the half to call a timeout. He had all three timeouts left. The Colts ended up punting and the Steelers took over at their own 43-yard line with 14 seconds remaining. After an incompletion intended for Johnson on first down, Roethlisberger completed two consecutive passes to Smith-Schuster for a combined 39 yards, but time ran out and the Steelers went into halftime trailing 21-7. It ended up not costing the Steelers the game, but in a four-point win, the mishap at the end of the first half by Tomlin could have cost his team the game.


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