Thu, 07 Dec 2023

At QB, it's veteran vs. rookie as Colts take on Steelers

Field Level Media
25 Nov 2022, 18:40 GMT+10

One quarterback is deep into the back nine of his NFL career. The other just stepped on the course to start what he hopes is a career with the kind of longevity that his counterpart this week has enjoyed.

That's just one of the intriguing plots to Monday night's matchup between the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts.

Neither team is enjoying the type of season it wanted. Pittsburgh (3-7) is likely to miss the playoffs and might endure its worst season under veteran coach Mike Tomlin, while the Colts (4-6-1) fired coach Frank Reich two games ago and hired Jeff Saturday in a move that set NFL Twitter ablaze.

Under Saturday, Indianapolis is 1-1 with a narrow win over the Raiders in Las Vegas and a near-upset last week of the 9-1 Philadelphia Eagles. The Colts led 16-3 before the Eagles rallied behind Jalen Hurts for a 17-16 verdict.

The hiring of Saturday led to the return of veteran Matt Ryan under center for Indianapolis. Reich benched the 15-year starter after he tossed nine interceptions and lost three of 11 fumbles in the team's 3-3-1 start.

Sam Ehlinger was ineffective in his two starts, so Ryan reclaimed the job. And he's quit coughing the ball up. Ryan hasn't committed a turnover under Saturday and new offensive coordinator Parks Frazier.

"He acknowledges that that's something he can't do, is turning the ball over," Frazier said. "He knew that all along, but I think he's really taken that next step of saying, 'I'm going to protect the ball.'"

Ryan is 44 of 60 for 435 yards in the last two games, although critics have noted how infrequently the Colts take shots down the field. In fairness to Ryan, he's been sacked 29 times in nine starts, including four last week, and hasn't had the kind of protection required to pop the defense's top.

He could get that this week with the 29th-ranked Steelers' defense in town. They were torched last week by Joe Burrow (four touchdowns, 355 yards) and Cincinnati in a 37-30 defeat at home.

Pittsburgh yields 24.4 ppg, which is 26th in the league, and ranks near the bottom in sacks with just 19. There was a time when 19 sacks were about five games worth for the once-salty Steelers' defense, but they simply haven't been able to get to the quarterback.

That has made things harder for rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, making his seventh career start under center, or 225 fewer than Ryan. Pickett showed flashes of potential last week, completing 25 of 42 attempts for 265 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

Pickett is completing 65.4 percent of his passes, but is averaging just over 6 yards per completion and has tossed nearly three times as many interceptions (8) as TDs (3). But he's avoided picks the last two games.

"My job is to read the defense and get it to the guy that's open," Pickett said. "That's what I'm going to continue to do."

--Field Level Media

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