Standing Out: Players Who Took a Step Forward Against the Steelers

Andrew Luck's handling of adversity was impressive Sunday night. (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)As we expected, and predicted, the Steelers were a much better test of talent against this Colts team than the abysmal Rams were in Week One of the preseason. 

There were performances both good and bad this week, both as a team and individually. As the first roster cuts approach next Tuesday, which players are impressed last night? 

Andrew Luck

Luck was a little jittery for the majority of the first quarter, going 2-8 for 16 yards, and an interception returned for a touchdown. However, Luck showed poise that is generally missing in a rookie, going 14-17 for a 159 yards after that, which included a spike ball and a perfect downfield throw to T.Y. Hilton that would have been a touchdown if Hilton hadn’t jarred the ball into the air, leading to an interception. Luck led three scoring drives, finishing out the half on top 17-14. 

Luck and the offensive line looked to be out of sync early on, having trouble reading and adjusting to Pittsburgh’s zone blitzes and hidden coverages. However, as the game went on, the protection, and quarterback reads, improved immensely, leading to much more success on the offensive end. Luck showed a very good connection with Reggie Wayne in the first half as well, hitting him six times for 74 yards. 

Donald Brown

Despite receiving lackluster blocking while in the game, Brown made the most of his carries tonight, gaining 30 yards on just six carries, along with a touchdown. Brown started out with a tough four-yard run, made some nifty cuts to get a yard with defenders getting penetration into the backfield, and showed his explosiveness with a 21-yard carry to set up first and goal. He finished the night with a couple of tough runs to pound in a touchdown. 

Brown’s game pass blocking, on first impression, was decent. He seemed to make the right reads, but occasionally was called back to block, and didn’t end up having anyone getting through to help, ending up just looking wasted in the backfield. I’ll have to re-watch his snaps to make a better judgement, but it seemed neither good nor bad on first impression. 

Vick Ballard

The more we see of Ballard, the more everybody is impressed. Ballard runs touch, is agile enough to make moves to get extra yards, and has the vision to find creases in a suspect offensive line. Overall he had very good game, starting out sub-par (two unimpressive runs for one yard, setting up the 3rd and 9 where Luck threw the pick-six), but going on to have an impressive outing with 34 yards on ten carries. Ballard was also stuffed at the line a few times, but had some great moves for a pair of twelve and eight-yard runs.

Going into the season Brown and Ballard should be the 1-2 backs, with the two sharing the load. Moore doesn’t bring enough running the ball, and Carter should be limited to short yardage situations, in my opinion.

Coby Fleener

Fleener was invisible last week, although he earned criticism with a poor drop, but had a much better game this week. Fleener was targeted three times, and caught all three for 33 yards, including a few in traffic when a hard hit was coming. Fleener was Luck’s hot read on one play, and came up with the solid catch, and the two former teammates hooked up for a 24-yard gain as well. Fleener’s fellow rookie tight end Dwayne Allen had an impressive all-around game as well.

Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison

The two backup outside linebackers continue on their impressive preseason, with both players making plays all night. Hughes was the team’s leading tackler on the night with six, and seemed to show up all over the place cleaning up run plays, something that we generally don’t expect from him. However, he made several plays on runs, both penetrating and stopping in the backfield (two tackles for a loss) and running down backs/wide receivers from behind (seven tackles total). Hughes also got after the quarterback, officially getting one sack and one quarterback hit, and also indirectly causing another that Drake Nevis cleaned up. 

Mario Addison was all over the backfield tonight again, getting into the backfield and pressuring the quarterback numerous times. He also got a sack tonight, as well as a quarterback hit. Addison had just two tackles on the night, but his presence was definitely felt in the backfield. 

Between the two, I’m feeling more and more comfortable about the depth behind Freeney and Mathis, something I haven’t had since Raheem Brock was around. Even then, it was really just him. These two players could be some big assets in this 3-4. 

Jerraud Powers and Antoine Bethea

These two stalwarts in the secondary showed why their beloved in Indianapolis last night, both making plays in a very thin secondary. Powers had a great pass defense on 2nd-and-8, leading to a long third down that didn’t get converted. Powers also forced a fumble and had two tackles on the night. 

Bethea had an interception on the Steelers first drive, the only turnover for the night for the Colts’ defense. He also had five tackles and quarterbacked a defense that held the Steelers’ offense to just seven points in the first half, including going just 2-7 on third down. Other than the 57-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown, where nobody wanted to tackle, the first string defense played pretty well, and it all starts in the back with Bethea. 

Griff Whalen

Of all of the second half scrubs, Whalen was the only one that really stuck out of the crowd, catching four balls for 59 yards, including a beautiful 27-yarder and a four-yard touchdown. Whalen also had a nice eight-yard catch from his buddy Andrew Luck to set up the end-of-the-half field goal from Adam Vinatieri. Whalen’s 27-yard catch and another 22-yard catch came on third downs with a long ways to go, making great plays to extend the drive. 

The wide receiver position is very crowded, with Wayne, Collie (if possible head injury doesn’t take that away), Hilton, and Brazill seemingly certain to make the roster. Donnie Avery, Kris Adams, Quan Cosby, and Whalen are all vying for that last spot (or two if they go with six, but I’d bet on five WRs with a practice squad spot open). You can’t ever hurt your chances when you have a performance like Whalen had in the second half. 

Jerry Brown

Brown, is an undrafted rookie from Illinois, and made some nice plays on the ball during the final quarter of Sunday night’s game. Brown is vying mostly for a special teams spot, and is helping his case with seven tackles on the night. Brown looked instinctive versus the Steelers’ scrubs, and also had a great “effort” play when he leap-frogged the line and got a hand on the Steelers’ game-winning field goal. The Steelers were so close that the attempt got over the goal post (barely), but the effort and play made by Jerry Brown and another lineman (Jason Shirley) was fantastic. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.