What We Learned: Colts at Steelers

Greg Talmage took a good look at Sunday's game in Pittsburgh and points out five things we learned about the Colts as they nudged over the .500 mark with a win over the Steelers.

1. Getting off the field on third down is still a problem: An inability to get off the field on third down continued to plague the Indianapolis defense this week. However, unlike previous weeks, this time the Colts defense did come up with turnovers in key situations and even made some very big plays on third down. Just ask Eric Foster — his stuff of Mewelde Moore on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line is the type of play that could change the complexion of this defense.

Tim Jennings' big interception with less than five minutes to go in the game was also a defensive play made on third down. Maybe, just maybe, things are beginning to change. We can hope, right?

2. Manning and Harrison are still not on the same page, timing wise: Each week, the timing between the most prolific passing combination in the history of the NFL still seems to be a bit off. This seems a little weird to most observers, considering how long these two have played and practiced together. But so much of what they do is based on timing that if one is even a split second off it messes up the whole thing.


Tim Jennings came up with some big plays for the Colts Sunday
Rick Stewart/Getty

Will Peyton and Marvin ever return to the ways of yesteryear? Probably not, but that doesn't mean this duo can't have plenty of successful performances. They proved that against Baltimore on October 12. It just won't come as often as we're used to. It's been trending that way for that past several seasons and was only heightened by recent injuries to both.

3. Keiwan Ratliff may supplant Tim Jennings as the other outside corner when Kelvin Hayden returns: Although Jennings came up with a pivotal interception late in the fourth quarter, of the two corners filling in for CBs Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson, it's Ratliff who has actually looked better. He's showing good instincts and seems to trust himself more than Jennings. This confidence in turn leads to more consistent play and tighter coverage. Plus, Ratliff showed very impressive open-field tackling skills when left in single coverage.

This should present a very interesting decision for Coach Dungy and Defensive Coordinator Ron Meeks when a healthy Kelvin Hayden returns. Will Ratliff or Jennings start on the right side? Right now, the house money is likely on Jennings because of experience and familiarity, but if Ratliff continues to play like he did today that could change.

4. Tony Ugoh's continued struggles against outside speed rusher are a cause for concern: Maybe he's not a 100 percent healthy yet, but LT Tony Ugoh continues to struggle against the outside speed rush. It's been that way ever since the preseason when Julius Peppers abused the second-year tackle in a preseason game at Carolina.

Ugoh needs to spend some time watching tape of Tarik Glenn. Tony seems to think he has the speed to match these defensive ends off the ball. That's just not the case. Opposing speed rushers are getting to his outside shoulder too quickly. This gets the young tackle off balance and out of position. He needs to use his wingspan more. It's all right to be a little defensive off the snap.

Engaging the initial block is not always the right move, especially in pass protection and when you have a long enough wingspan to make the rushers' path to the quarterback a tad longer. Just an extra split second can make all the difference for a quarterback like Peyton Manning.

5. The bounces and breaks are starting to go the Colts' way: All season, it's seemed as if the breaks and bounces have consistently gone against Indianapolis.

That wasn't the case this week as the Colts were on the right side of several tipped balls and just misses. I know that over a course of a season these things usually even themselves out. If that's true then hopefully we can expect more of the same in these final seven weeks.

Are the Colts contenders? At 4-4, they went into one of the toughest road environments in the NFL and got a win against a very good football team. This will all be for naught if the Colts cannot back it up with a home win again next week against the Houston Texans. One word separates the contenders from the pretenders — consistency. Right now, only a few teams in the league have shown much.

In this league it makes little sense to look at the last seven games and say the Colts will go 5-2 and be playoff bound, because you never know what to expect each week. So the easiest thing is to just take it one week at a time.


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