Colts’ Jeff Saturday says he wishes he had used a late time-out

INDIANAPOLIS — Colts interim coach Jeff Saturday, in a reversal of his comments after Monday night’s game Tuesday, said he regretted the team’s handling of a late-game scenario in a 24-17 loss to the Steelers.

Saturday declined to take time out before a crucial third game, opting to stick with a predetermined playcall chosen by the team. The Colts were hoping to catch the Steelers in a suboptimal staffing that would have given them an advantage.

Ultimately, the Colts struggled to line up quickly so the clock could run and the Steelers had a chance to regroup. Pittsburgh stuffed running back Jonathan Taylor without a win in third and third games from the 26-yard line by 30 seconds.

“I wish I’d had that third behind and honestly I wish I’d taken the time-out,” said Saturday. “I’ve only seen it on film… from a timing point of view, I felt good. But you could tell we were in disarray. I just didn’t have a good feeling.”

Part of that mess, Saturday said, was the reality that the third-down playcall required wide receivers to line up in different spots than in the previous game. When that was settled, the music clock ticked down.

The whole situation has put Saturday and new playcaller Parks Frazier under the microscope as both men are in their third games in their new roles. Former coach Frank Reich, who was fired last month, was previously the Colts’ playcaller.

“It’s a learning experience,” said Saturday.

The Colts had all three remaining timeouts before the third game. With the Colts trailing by seven, the ball was snapped with 34 seconds remaining. That means there was 25 seconds between the previous snap and the time the Colts got around to snapping the ball in third place. That was not what the team had in mind. The intention, Saturday said, was to play at a faster pace in this situation to take advantage of the defense perhaps being caught off guard.

“It’s on me [not] understanding what staff is in play, what formations we were in and getting the guys back to their natural positions of where they’re going to line up.

“I was like, ‘Man, let’s get that down real quick first. Keep them on their heels with no backup.’ … I thought we had the advantage but unfortunately we should have taken the time-out to give us our best game and opportunity.

“I wish I had that third behind and honestly, I wish I had used the time off. Just looking at it on film… from a timing point of view, I felt good. But you could see we were in disarray. I just didn’t have a good feeling.”

Jeff Saturday

Among the Colts’ concerns was that the Steelers might switch to a heavier-staffed grouping due to the low-mileage situation. In the previous game, a second-and-17, the Steelers were in a pass defense stance and dropped six men for cover.

But the long delay between snaps allowed the Steelers to regroup and appear to have a good grasp of the Colts’ intentions. Pittsburgh outside linebacker Alex Highsmith said he could sense from the Colts’ formation that the game was likely to be a run. As soon as the ball was snapped, Highsmith shot in, never trying to rush around the edge. The unexpected inside move caught rookie tight end Jelani Woods by surprise and allowed Highsmith to easily attack Taylor.

The Colts attempted a pass to Parris Campbell on the following fourth down, which was incomplete, and the Steelers took possession and timed out the clock.

Factors other than the failure to call a time-out also influenced the situation. Quarterback Matt Ryan’s decision to retire in the second-down game didn’t help. Ryan resourcefully escaped the pocket and climbed 14 meters. But he dove just short of the first-down mark instead of taking on two defenders in front of him. Had the Colts made a first down in the game, they almost certainly would have called a timeout and acted differently.

The Colts players themselves could have used more urgency in final possession. A lack of focus may have contributed to the “mess” seen watching the film on Saturday.

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