Analysis: Colts' reality bites again

Too many flaws evident in Colts' 45-10 debacle at Pittsburgh.

Somehow, perhaps the most ridiculous moment from the Indianapolis Colts’ latest wake-up call was fitting.

After the Pittsburgh Steelers’ All-World Superman Antonio Brown showed once again how special he is with a 71-yard touchdown punt return, the wide receiver tested his superhero limits and tried to jump and stick to the goal post.

The Steelers sure did jump the Colts and make it stick Sunday night at Heinz Field.

How did the Colts fall short, let us count the ways. And each area of concern is nothing new for those who have been paying attention to this team with discernible eyes.

No pass rush. No pass protection. No solid run game. No run defense. Costly turnovers. Another lousy start. Poor special teams.

Put it all together and the Steelers reminded the Colts that they’re really not anything special in a 45-10 primetime butt-kicking.

This isn’t piling on for effect, folks. This is reality for everyone who got a bit too excited about the recent three-game win streak and thought so many of the obvious problems had somehow been minimized, or worse yet, fixed.

They haven’t been. Sorry that reality can bite as much as it did in a familiar house of horrors. The Steel City is usually unkind to the guys wearing the Horseshoe helmets. Most of us had not forgotten last year’s 51-34 loss, when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger set franchise records with six touchdown passes and 522 yards passing.

“Big” Ben didn’t have to do as much damage this time. Just four touchdown passes and 364 passing yards as the Colts lost for the 11th time in 13 regular-season trips to Pittsburgh, which doesn’t count an 0-3 playoff mark in that city.

Remember how earlier in the year we worried about this pass rush? Outside linebacker Robert Mathis started getting more snaps, had four sacks, and after the Colts had a five-sack game at home against Tampa Bay, there was reason to think the defense was picking up. They did blank the Bucs in the second half.

But the Steelers are a different animal. They’re 7-5 and fighting for a wild-card playoff berth. They’ve been in their share of playoff games over the years and Roethlisberger has a couple of Super Bowl rings for a reason.

The Colts, once again, didn't touch him. And you should know the rule by now. Let a great quarterback have all day to do what he wants and he will ruin your day.

Another topic often broached has been the Colts’ offensive line, which has allowed too many hits for years and in this game gave up five sacks. A 37-year-old James Harrison was suddenly transformed into the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher he once was years ago. The 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year had entered with just two sacks this season. He got three against the Colts.

But that’s what happens when you’re thin up front and move Joe Reitz from right tackle to left tackle because, frankly, there’s not another sensible option to account for losing Anthony Castonzo to a knee sprain. Reitz gives it everything he has, but he was outmatched, as were his O-line mates. When you lose your best offensive lineman, eventually it’s going to have an impact.

Same with the quarterback position, folks. As much as 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck has been efficient and played smart to give the Colts a chance to salvage something from this season with four wins, we were quickly reminded that the 17th-year pro is very mortal and can make mistakes, too.

The Steelers gave the Colts chances with two early turnovers. Hasselbeck missed Andre Johnson on a second-down throw that could have been a touchdown. Then he tried to hit tight end Coby Fleener over the middle, but Fleener wasn’t open. It’s possible the deeper defender could have picked off that pass instead of linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had dropped back into coverage.

In each of four sports talk radio shows last week, someone asked the popular question about if I thought Hasselbeck should stay as the starter when Andrew Luck returned to health. I answered the same each time. Hasselbeck might go down as this season’s savior if the Colts indeed win the AFC South again and make the playoffs, but Luck will determine how far this team can go in the postseason.

When Luck is on, lest so many people have forgotten, he can be Superman. He can put on that cape and carry a team. He did it for the better part of his first three seasons. He’s not perfect, but the potential for greatness is there. A wise, old quarterback who doesn’t get you beat most games will only take you so far.

Hasselbeck exited late with neck and shoulder injuries. It sounds like he’s going to be OK. Those were head coach Chuck Pagano’s words. He’d better be. The Colts need him to revert to previous form and play smart, get everyone involved in the offense and move the chains with his array of short-range passes, which would be enough to win at Jacksonville. And considering Houston, which is tied with the Colts for the division lead, is hosting New England, next Sunday could be a key game in how this division plays out.

Colts owner Jim Irsay spoke up early Sunday and, depending upon how you read the message, basically said he hoped Luck could be back by the following week at home against Houston, and if not then the quarterback should be able to go at Miami on Dec. 27.

Regardless of who plays quarterback, remember what you saw this night from the Colts in so many of the other key areas. They tried basically everything they could think of to defend those receivers, but nothing worked. 

As much as cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Greg Toler were humbled repeatedly, this game still starts up front in this league, on both sides, and if it’s not there then this can happen.

We were reminded the Colts are a flawed bunch and far from the supposed legit Super Bowl contenders so many hyped in the offseason. It’s been a while since we’d been reminded.

Every team has shortcomings, but if you have too many of them and suffer a few key injuries, you’ll get exposed.

Once again, the Steelers sure were pretty good about exposing the Colts.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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