The Indianapolis Colts hit the road to face the Pittsburgh Steelers late Sunday afternoon. The Colts sit at 5-2, only behind the Broncos in the AFC, while the Steelers inconsistent season has left them at 4-3.
The Steelers haven’t been able to string together wins or convincing performances this year. They’ll shut down a good team then get blown out by the Browns or lose at home to the Buccaneers (which shouldn’t happen to anyone, let alone Pittsburgh).
Last week, the Steelers were three crazy high scoring minutes away from being a team that could lose to the Texans. If not for that Houston implosion, which gave Pittsburgh 24 points, its likely the Steelers finish with just nine points and another home loss.
The Colts have a difficult stretch starting here. The Colts will have to figure out a way to win on the road against a team that is very much a question mark in the league right now, and do it two weeks in a row with a game at the New York Giants next week.
Here’s what fans should be on the lookout for:
- The Three-Headed Monster. The Steelers are basically the collection of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. You might be able to make the same argument for the Colts, but they clearly have more talent across the board on offense. Bell is second in the team in receptions and Brown has even thrown for a touchdown this season. Bell and Brown do all the heavy lifting, which in theory makes it easier to slow down the offense. This will easily be the best offense the Colts have faced on the road since Week 1 and Big Ben will be the second best QB they’ve faced this year.
- Davis vs Brown. Vontae Davis is playing at a Pro Bowl level this season, maybe even All-Pro. So is Antonio Brown. He’s had at least five receptions for 8o-plus yards in every game this season. Brown has also been targeted 10 or more times in all but the season opener. He’s the sort of receiver that can give any CB fits, so expect the Colts to roll coverage over the top of him and double team Brown all game.
- The Pass Rush. The Colts lead the NFL in pass rush this season and are generating a sack on nearly 10-percent of all drop backs. A lot of that has to do with the coverage down field, which might be the best in the league. The Colts are blitzing an awful lot and Roethlisberger has a bad tendency to hold onto the ball for far too long. Couple that with the Steelers shoddy pass protection and it’ll be a rough day for Big Ben.
- The Coverage. T.Y. Hilton is going to have his way with the Steelers secondary. The Steelers are 20th in the NFL against number one receivers (which will definitely be Hilton with Reggie Wayne out). They seem to cover team’s second and third stringers well, but are awful against tight end and running backs meaning Dwayne Allen and Ahmad Bradshaw will feast in the passing game.
- The Boom. It looks like Trent Richardson isn’t going to play on Sunday and he’s listed as questionable without practicing this week. That means Dan Herron will be backing up Bradshaw. Herron only has 13 carries this season, but he’s gone for 4.8 per carry. He showed flashes in the preseason and is a clear north-south runner who hits the hole fast and hard. He honestly could have more success than Richardson simply due to his speed and decisiveness. As long as the pass blocking is there, the Colts won’t be missing Richardson this week.
- Turnovers. The only thing keeping last week’s game against the Bengals from being a true blowout were two fumbles on promising drives. The Colts can’t afford those sort of mistakes against the Steelers, who thrive on momentum breaking plays. You can look at Monday’s game against the Texans as proof. One mistake has a tendency to pile up against an opportunistic defense like the Steelers and they know how to make you pay off a turnover.
- Keeping Pace. Heading into Week 8, Andrew Luck was tied with Peyton Manning with 19 touchdowns. Last night, Manning tossed three more to take the lead. Can Luck keep up with him in a big road game against a once iconic defense?
While winning on the road is tough, the Steelers don’t have the ability to score consistently enough against the Colts. Couple that with a shaky defense and this game should be a comfortable win for Indianapolis.