By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a much needed bye week where players got some rest and relaxation. But now their focus turns to the Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers’ Week 10 opponent.
The Steelers (6-2) enter their Week 10 contest in Indianapolis on a three-game winning streak. Pittsburgh is currently sitting atop of the AFC playoff standings due to the Steelers owning a tie-breaking advantage over New England. The Patriots (6-2), who are also coming off their bye, own a 3-1 record against conference foes while the Steelers are 4-1.
Indianapolis (3-6) has been a total disaster on both sides of the ball this season, though they have played better the last two weeks. The Colts are coming off a 20-14 victory over the Houston Texans, who were without star rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson on Sunday. The victory snapped the team’s three-game losing streak. The Colts’ other two victories are over the league’s two remaining winless teams, the Browns (31-28) and 49ers (26-23).
Pittsburgh has dominated the all-time series against Indianapolis. The Steelers have won the last four meetings between the clubs and hold a 23-6-0 edge in the series. This is the fifth game between the Steelers and Colts since 2011.
Colts on Offense
The Colts move the ball down the field, but once they get to the redzone they tend to get bogged down. Their biggest problem is a lack of playmakers. They average 1.1 redzone touchdowns a game, which is dead last in the league, as they have reached the endzone on 41.6% of their drives inside the 20, though that number has dropped to 16.6% over the last three games.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been adequate as the fill-in for injured starter Andrew Luck. Brissett, New England’s third round pick in 2016, is coming off one of his best games of the season this past Sunday. The 23-year-old, second year pro threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns, marking the second time this season he has gone over the 300-yard mark. He has thrown four of his seven touchdown passes in the past two games.
Brissett is capable of making big plays with his legs as well as his arm. He isn’t the most accurate quarterback in the league, but he also doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. For the season, Brissett is completing 61.1 percent of his passes for 216.7 yards a game and four touchdowns. He has also added three touchdowns and 147 yards on the ground.
34-year-old Frank Gore has been the featured back all season, though his workload has varied from game-to-game. Gore, who ran for a season-high 82 yards two weeks ago against Cincinnati, is averaging 50.6 yards a game. Backup running back Marlon Mack has big play capability as a runner and pass catcher, but his workload has been sporadic.
Tight end Jack Doyle has done yeomen’s work this year, leading the team with 50 receptions for 441 yards and two touchdowns. Doyle has caught 32 passes and scored both of his touchdowns over the last four weeks.
Colts on Defense
The Colts defense has been downright horrible this season. Indianapolis is permitting a league-high 28.9 points a game and the second-most yards at 393.6 yards a game. They have allowed 27 points or more on five occasions. As with the offense, the defense has been better the last two weeks.
Indianapolis held Houston and Cincinnati to a combined three offensive touchdowns the last two weeks. They also limited the Texans and Bengals to less than 289 yards of total offense apiece while forcing three total turnovers.
The Colts rank 16th against the run (113.9 ypg) and 29th against the pass (279.2 ypg). The biggest issue, however, is with their front seven. The Colts are 26th in the league in pressuring the quarterback, 23rd in sack rate and 23rd in rushing yards before first contact.
The Colts have recorded 18 sacks and have forced 13 turnovers. Linebacker Jonathan Bostic leads the team with 63 tackles. Safety Matthias Farley and linebacker Antonio Morrison are tied for second on the team with 55 tackles. Safety Malik Hooker, the team’s 2017 first round selection, and cornerback Rashaan Melvin top the Colts with three and two interceptions, respectively.
Players to Watch: Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and Linebacker Jabaal Sheard
Hilton is one of the most talented and dangerous receivers in the NFL, and he showed off his big-time playmaking ability against the Texans in Week 9, scoring on two touchdown passes of longer than 40 yards. Hilton finished with five receptions for 175 yards, marking the second time in the last five weeks that he has topped the 175-yard plateau. The 27-year-old, who is fifth in the league in receiving yards per game (72.0), also racked up 157 yards on seven catches and one touchdown against Cleveland in Week 3.
Sheard is one of four members of a much maligned defensive unit to register multiple sacks on the season. Sheard, who has made a career of getting after the quarterback, leads the team with 4.5 sacks. The 28-year-old registered two sacks last week against the Texans and has 29 total tackles, which includes four games of four or more.
Outlook: Steelers 28, Colts 13
The last three years, the Steelers have been very good following their bye week, posting a 15-5 record. However, they are winless in the game immediately following their week off (0-3) since 2013. That should change this week.
Pittsburgh, its game against Detroit notwithstanding, has been dominant on the defensive side of the ball. They have an explosive pass rush that averages over three sacks a game. And the Steelers, who like to mix up their defenses and disguise their blitzes, are up against a porous Colts’ offensive line that has surrendered 32 sacks this year.
Offensively, the Steelers have been better recently. The main reason is that Le’Veon Bell has been rolling. Over his last five games, Bell has produced three 100-yard rushing games and averaged 116 yards per game on the ground and scored four times. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry in the month of October which was an increase of .4 yards a carry from September. Bell also had 22 receptions for an additional 123 yards in the month. The Steelers and Bell should be able to take advantage of the Colts’ shaky front seven.