By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are well aware that the Indianapolis Colts have won five straight NFL games heading into their week eight game at Heinz Field. There are three areas where the Steelers could use more focus to be successful and keep the game under their control. Week eight will be a true on-field battle where every player will be called on to give their best for a full sixty minutes and do it well.
Forget about last week
Wide receiver Antonio Brown was incensed when officials ruled him out of bounds on what could have been another touchdown against the Houston Texans. Brown took to Twitter to post a derogatory remark about the fourth-quarter play, added a photograph that appeared to show both of his feet in bounds. On his Tuesday radio show on 970 ESPN, Brown said, “When you’re passionate about something, you speak your mind.” The controversial call came after Brown caught a 16-yard pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone where he was pushed out by Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye. Brown later apologized on Twitter and Dean Blandino, the NFL’s head of officials, said the call was correct upon review. “Touchdowns are hard to come by in the NFL,” said Brown. “That would have given us a two-touchdown lead and made it harder for [Houston].”
“I thought it was an extremely close play,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “Usually when plays are that close, they stay with the call on the field. It’s tough to argue with the call on the field regardless of what it is. They ruled it a touchdown on the field, so I was of the impression it was going to remain that. It didn’t. Thankfully, we were able to move forward and still secure victory.”
It is unclear if Brown will receive any formal reprimand from the league or the Steelers for using Twitter to express himself, but Brown needs to let it go and focus on Indianapolis. Brown has become the number one receiving target for the Steelers this season and will be called upon to continue playing at a high level against the Colts’ defensive backfield. There is potential for the Steelers to take advantage of Indianapolis in that area. If Brown can get his head right and refocus, he and Roethlisberger will have the entire game to show just how skilled the young receiver is at bringing in tough catches and keeping his feet inbounds.
Utilize a strong offensive line
On Monday night, starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert was forced to leave the game in the first half due to a head injury that was later confirmed as a concussion. His exit led to Mike Adams, who hadn’t played in a regular-season game for the Steelers since December against the Green Bay Packers, coming onto the field and demonstrating why the Steelers used a second-round pick on him in the 2014 NFL Draft. Adams went on to play 48 snaps without allowing a single sack in spite of the pass rush Houston threw at the offensive line — including J.J. Watt.
The intensity and level that Adams played at was impressive for a player who has week-in and week-out watched others play his position. “I thought he did an admirable job,” Tomlin said in his Tuesday press conference. “I thought he played with great energy and finish…great night for him.” Adams also received praise from center Maurkice Pouncey, “That goes to show if someone goes down, (Mike) can step in there and do the job the right way.”
Gilbert may not be available to play on Sunday, which makes the job of the offensive line an important area of focus this week in practice. The line showed a good push in the second half of the Monday night game, getting some Houston defenders into their own backfield, and moving to the next level.
Colts pass-rusher Robert Mathis tore his Achilles’ tendon and is out for the season as Indianapolis’ 2013 sack leader, but despite what defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois called their “nameless” defense, the team has put together 21 sacks through seven games — tied for third in the league. Ten different players on the Colts defense have at least one. According to Pro Football Focus, the Colts rank seventh in the league with 26 quarterback hits.
The Steelers have to answer back by wearing down the Colts’ ability to get past them, playing positional football and opening lanes for Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. It will be nearly impossible to focus on a one-man attack like Houston offered in Watt. The linemen could benefit from extra blocking help from the tight ends, but not in every offensive set. While week seven was a game of defenses, week eight may turn into a battle in the trenches in order to put points on the scoreboard.
Execute the game plan and adjust as necessary
There is one lesson the Steelers can take away from week seven and that is to execute their game plan immediately. Coming back 24 points in around three minutes against the Colts would be like Pittsburgh winning the lottery, and no one wants to take that bet. One of the ways that the Steelers were able to be successful was adjusting when momentum turned in their favor.
The Colts defense has weaknesses. Cornerbacks have been forced into single coverage downfield. Linebackers have been forced to wrangle down opposing rushers. Against Cincinnati, the Colts prevented a single first down in eight drives and gave up on 135 total yards. Coach Chuck Pagano has seen Roethlisberger at work. When asked about how his defense will stack up against the Steelers quarterback, Pagano called it “a huge challenge”. “We know (Roethlisberger) extremely well,” Pagano said. “We know how difficult of a guy he is to get to the ground and how he can extend plays.”
With Martavis Bryant emerging as an up-and-coming deep threat, there is less likelihood that Brown will be double-teamed as often as the Colts defense tries to limit extended downfield plays. With receiving threats, the Steelers should be able to adjust accordingly and utilize the running game. While Blount isn’t known to have the greatest hands in passing situations, Bell is, and could give Roethlisberger a needed target in situations where he needs to get the ball out quicker.
On defense, the Steelers will execute a similar plan to the Colts – contain the quarterback and limit his ability to be effective. Sloppy play by cornerbacks will be detrimental against Andrew Luck who is more than capable to ripping open an opposing defense. Yet again, the Steelers will be called upon to play their position, get to the ball quickly, tackle efficiently and watch for opportunities to take advantage of mistakes made by their opponent.
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on