Colts’ Opponent Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers
Sweet victory! Wait, hang on. Crap, they won! Wait…what are we rooting for again? Being a Colts fan is confusing this year. Fans want the team to win now, obviously, but other fans want the team to lose out this year to get better draft position, which is beneficial for the long-term success of the franchise. Some fans want both. No matter what outcome fans were hoping for on Sunday, the Colts beat the Houston Texans to move to 3-6 and actually looked good on both sides of the ball. Houston is decimated by injury, so some of that can be easily explained away. However, what had started to become a clear picture of who and what the Colts are became muddy again. So it goes.
The win did not come cheap, as starting defensive end Henry Anderson was lost for the year with a broken larynx (sidenote: holy shit, ow!). And, as of this morning, the team has released cornerback Vontae Davis. Davis was clearly not himself this season, and a lingering groin injury was the main culprit; in recent weeks, friction has clearly grown between him and Chuck Pagano, so this is not terribly surprising. It does, though, leave an already bad defense without two of its best players.
With that in mind, please welcome the 6-2 Pittsburgh Steelers, proud owner of a legitimate top-five defense and the “Killer Bs” on offense. This should go well!
Mike Tomlin is in his 11th season at the helm in Steel City. He is, famously, only the third head coach the organization has had since the late 1960s (Chuck Noll, 1969-1991; Bill Cowher, 1992-2006). He has adjusted his 4-3, Tampa-2 defense to the Steelers’ vaunted history of 3-4 zone blitzes. While former coordinator Dick LeBeau is gone (to Tennessee), the identity remains. This team runs a lot of “safe pressures” that allow blitzes from multiple angles while still keeping six men or more in coverage. Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier is fast and athletic, and he covers a lot of ground underneath. Rookie T.J. Watt has been a revelation at outside linebacker, and James Harrison comes in to harass quarterbacks at the ripe old age of 39.
“Blitzburgh” is fifth in the NFL in total yards per game (286.63), second in pass yards per game (180), second in points per game (16.38), fourth in third down conversion percentage (31.63), and tied for fourth in sacks (26). So yeah, they’re pretty good.
Offensively, things are hardly any easier for the Colts. Antonio Brown leads the league in total receiving yards (835—133 yards ahead of second place T.Y. Hilton), Le’Veon Bell is third in the league in rushing yards (760, which is only 40 behind leader Kareem Hunt), and Ben Roethlisberger has thrown the longest touchdown pass of the NFL season thus far (a 97 yard catch-and-run by rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster). JuJu is talented as hell, by the way. So maybe the Killer Bs are actually the Killer BJs…no, no, this is a family article. Sorry.
When the Steelers have the ball, watch their outstanding guards: Ramon Foster and David DeCastro. Foster is a seasoned veteran, and DeCastro was Andrew Luck’s classmate at Stanford; he was also drafted in the first round in 2012. The blocking that these two (and center Maurkice Pouncey) provide in the run game allows Bell to use his trademark patience to wait for holes to develop. It’s boring to always watch the ball. The guards will lead you to the play, anyway.
When the Colts are struggling to score, keep an eye on cornerback Joe Haden. It’s no secret that Indianapolis’ offense flows through T.Y. Hilton these days. As he goes, so goes the team’s ability to produce. Haden was acquired in the offseason after being released by Cleveland. Hey, man, Browns gonna Browns. Now, Haden teams with Artie Burns and William Gay to lock down opposing receivers. If he is able to do so, it could be a very long afternoon for the home crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts put forth a valiant effort, but Pittsburgh is much too much, and they pull away late.
Steelers 42, Colts 21.