The Colts take their five game winning streak on the road this week, traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers Sunday afternoon, who are coming off a short week having played Monday night against the Texans. I know it's only one day, but we saw how well the Colts can play when given more time than their opponent last week.
For only the fourth time since Andrew Luck was drafted, the Colts will be playing a game in the Sunday afternoon time slot, which seems a bit low for an up-and-coming team. Two of them were last year when they played in San Francisco and Arizona, games which must be in the late-game slot, and they moved the New England game back in 2012, which turned ugly really fast. Obviously they've played a couple games on Sunday/Monday night, but just found it odd that none of their games got moved last year to get more eyeballs on them. You can bet the Dallas game will also be in this time-slot as well. I'm just glad I can get a little more work done around the house before the Colts game this week.
The Steelers come into Sunday with a 4-3 record, and I mentioned their win last week against the Texans 30-23 on Monday. They scored 24 points in a three minute span at the end of the first half, thanks to turnovers, big plays, and taking advantage of a total self-destruction of the Texans, something we've seen several times front and center. They seem to score in spurts, having big halves against the Browns in Week 1 and Panthers in Week 3, but otherwise their 4-3 record as actually been a bit disappointing, especially considering they've played the easiest schedule in the NFL, according to the Winning Stats. The best team they've played so far, the Ravens, handled them pretty well, so the Colts will definitely be a challenge for them.
The match-up I'm most looking forward to on Sunday will be Antonio Brown vs. Vontae Davis, two guys playing at an elite level this year. For some reason Brown flies under the radar when people bring up the best WR in the game, but he is an absolute stud who rarely is held in check. I believe his streak of consecutive games with at least 5 catches and 50 yards sits at 23 games, an NFL record, so he gets his hands on the ball a lot. Davis, on the other side, has been one of, if not the best CB in the NFL so far this season, and a big reason for the Colts resurgence on Defense. It will be fun to watch these two guys go at it on Sunday.
This will be the first time the Colts and Steelers have played since we entered the "new era" of Colts football, but we know that Chuck Pagano is familiar with the Steelers after spending time in Baltimore, and I think that Rob Chudzinski will be a nice asset to have this week for Pep Hamilton, as going up against a Dick Lebeau Defense is not easy the first time around. The last time these two teams played was early 2011 on a Sunday night, where the Colts were 10 point underdogs at home, and they hung around and hung around, only to fall short after tying the game just before the two-minute warning. It was the end of the Kerry Collins era in Indianapolis, as the concussion he suffered ended his season. Overall the Steelers have dominated this series, winning 11 of the 14 times they've played since moving to Indianapolis. For being in the conference, they sure didn't play each other too often during the Manning years.
How do these teams compare going into Sunday? Let's take a look at the numbers and find out.
Statistical Comparison of the Colts and Steelers (Adjusted):
|Orange Zone Eff||62.7%||5||56.7%||18||47.5%||27||53.6%||13|
|Avg Start Pos||30.9||12||25.3||2||26.8||28||29.6||18|
|3 and Outs||3.02||9||4.89||4||3.40||11||3.55||18|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.838||18||0.855||15||1.132||29||0.876||13|
Keys to the Game:
- The Colts Defense has been other-worldly on 3rd Downs the last four weeks, holding teams to a combined 4-for-41 on 3rd down. As unbelievable as that is, they are bound to start giving up a few, but it doesn't look like the Steelers are a big threat on 3rd/4th Downs, ranking just 24th in the league. The Colts won't have to worry about much if they continue stopping their opponent on 3rd downs.
- The Steelers also struggle in the Orange/Red Zone, ranking towards the bottom of the NFL, but it's the one area the Colts have also struggled in this year on Defense. Last week against the Texans we saw the Steelers score on a WR option play, and a quick hitter to Le'Veon Bell when he had no defender covering him. They clearly took advantage of the situation, but neither was a "conventional" scoring play. This will be an area to watch.
- Field Position will be important for the Colts Defense, as they have a huge advantage on the Steelers Offense. Just one extra first down makes a world of difference.
- I mentioned Le'Veon Bell earlier, and he's been extremely good so far this season, gaining 100 yards from scrimmage in each of their seven games this season. They rank in the top 10 in the two rushing categories, so it's a minor concern, but only if the game stays close. Add in LeGarrette Blount (ugh), and we could see the Steelers try and pound the ball, trying to keep the Colts Offense off the field. We'll see how that works.
- This is clearly not your typical Steelers Defense, ranking just 25th in the NFL so far this season, and struggling mightily against the pass, ranking 28th. We've seen the Colts throw it all over the place during their five game win streak, and it should continue Sunday. Should be quite successful doing it as well. These stats also come when the best QB they've faced this season is a toss-up between Joe Flacco and Cam Newton. I told you they've played an easy schedule.
- Look for the Colts to take some shots down the field, as they rank 3rd in Yards per Play while the Steelers rank just 27th. Even at his age Troy Polamalu needs to be accounted for, but he's not the same player he was just a couple of years ago.
- I see the Colts being able to move the ball pretty easily between the 20s (see all the drive stats and the differences in ranks), but they'll be challenged once they get into scoring range. The Steelers rank 6th in the Red Zone, and while the Colts have improved, they aren't at the level they should be, especially when it comes to turnovers.
- Speaking of Turnovers, this is the type of game where multiple turnovers will kill you. On the road against a semi-unfamiliar opponent (at least for these coaches/players) is just a recipe for disaster if they are careless with the ball.
The Colts are just three point favorites, and since 2001 the Steelers have been home underdogs just 10 times, and they won outright six of those 10, including two of the three last season. Normally I'd be weary of those numbers, but I just don't think the Steelers are that good. I think they've benefited from an easy schedule to get to their record, and I think the Colts strengths will be too much for the Steelers to overcome. I think the Colts will score early and often, and salt it away in the second half.
Colts 32, Steelers 20