The Colts have been playing very well this season and are actually a very balanced football team - something most people didn't expect coming into the season. But the Colts boast top-five units both offensively and defensively and are on a five-game winning streak. They travel to Pittsburgh this week looking to make it 3-0 against the AFC North so far this year and looking to make it six games in a row overall they've won, but it definitely won't be easy against the Steelers. Here's your preview for the matchup:
What Happened Last Week?
The Steelers helped the Colts out a bit, defeating the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football 30-23. Ben Roethlisberger completed 23 of 33 passes for 265 yards and 2 scores without a pick, while Antonio Brown caught 9 passes for 90 yards. Le'Veon Bell only rushed for 57 yards on only 12 carries, but he caught 8 passes for 88 yards and a score also. The Steelers defense forced three turnovers, and at one point in the game the Steelers scored 24 points in a span of less than 3:08 (at the end of the first half). With the win, the Steelers improved to 4-3 on the year and 2-1 at home.
The Colts helped the Steelers out a bit, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday 27-0. It was the first shutout since 2008 for the Colts. Andrew Luck completed 27 of 42 passes for 344 yards and 2 touchdowns without an interception, and T.Y. Hilton caught 7 passes for 107 yards. The Colts as a team rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5.0 yards per carry, a very impressive performance running the ball for them - but the focus of the game was definitely on the Colts defense. They limited the Bengals to just 135 total yards of offense, 1 of 13 on third down tries, and opened the game by forcing eight straight three and outs. Ultimately, the Colts notched a rare shutout to solidify their incredibly impressive performance.
Key of the Game for the Colts
Watch out for Le'Veon Bell. Our matchup to watch when the Colts defense is on the field deals with another Steelers offensive player, so we'll look at Bell for the key to the game segment. He's the x-factor for the Steelers offense. Through seven games this season, Bell has 938 combined yards (both rushing and receiving) and two scores on 153 touches (averaging 6.1 yards per touch of the football) - and that's with Ben Roethlisberger saying they haven't used Bell to his full potential yet (which I agree with). He's a dangerous threat both rushing and receiving for the Steelers - he's third in the NFL in rushing yards and second among running backs in receiving yards this season. The Colts really need to key in on Bell this week. They need to be disciplined in their assignments. Their run defense needs to step up and they need to be aware of him in the passing game. Bell is the one Steeler that you absolutely cannot afford to let beat you, because he's the one most likely to do so. The Colts know this and will be focusing on Bell - but actually stopping (or for a player like Bell, limiting) him is a much tougher task, and that's the key to the game for the Colts.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Steelers Defense
A lot of talk has centered around T.Y. Hilton this week and how the Steelers will try to guard him. My guess is that they will give whichever corner is matched up on him some extra help in an effort to not let Hilton beat them deep, but I don't think that will be the biggest matchup to watch. I think that Hilton should have a very good day (like normal), but I think the matchup to watch could come from the Colts' tight ends. Quite simply, every team will have trouble defending the duo that the Colts have when the Colts are utilizing them. Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are a talented and dangerous duo that the Steelers will likely have trouble defending over the middle and down the seam. The Colts are continuing to increase Allen's role in the passing offense (which is a very good thing) and Fleener still provides a threat even though he's not off to a big start to the year. The Steelers will have trouble covering the Colts' tight ends, and especially with Reggie Wayne out look for this to be a matchup the Colts particularly look for. The best way the Steelers have to try to combat this is actually not with their coverage but with their pass rush. If they can get pressure on Luck, the Colts will likely be forced to keep Dwayne Allen (who is one of their best blockers) back to help protect the quarterback on more passing downs, taking away a great option in the passing game. Of course, that doesn't take Fleener away, but covering one tight end is much easier than covering two. Be watching the Colts' tight ends on Sunday, because that could be a matchup that ends up playing a significant role in the outcome of the game.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Steelers Offense
One of the matchups I'm most looking forward to watching this weekend is Antonio Brown against these Colts corners, and in particular Vontae Davis. There has been no better cornerback in football this year than Davis, and you'll find some, like Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson, making the case that Antonio Brown is the best receiver in football. While I think that stopping Le'Veon Bell is a bigger key for the Colts defense in regards to the outcome of the game (and that's what I listed as the key to the game for the team), I think the best matchup we'll watch when the Colts' defense is on the field this week is the matchup between Brown and the Colts corners. The Colts don't move Vontae Davis around - he stays as the right cornerback while Greg Toler stays as the left cornerback. Antonio Brown most often lines up on the right side of the offense - meaning he'll be matched up against Toler more often than Davis - which also makes sense for the Steelers to do. This also will be a matchup to watch, but not because of it being between perhaps the best corner and best receiver this season but because of it being important to the outcome. Toler has done a solid job this year, but Brown should be able to beat him. How will the Colts help Toler out? How will Toler be able to cover Brown? How often will we see Davis on Brown (in other words, how often will Brown play on the left side of the offensive formation)? These are questions we'll have to wait to figure out, but the matchup between the Colts cornerbacks and Antonio Brown is definitely one to watch.
Read more: why the key to the Colts' defensive success this season has been their cornerbacks
Why the Colts Will Win
These aren't the Steelers of old. They're not the dominant Pittsburgh teams of old or even that we've seen in recent years. Instead, this is a Steelers team that has struggled defensively. The Colts boast the league's number one offense in terms of yards and the number two offense in terms of points, and they have a legitimate MVP candidate in quarterback Andrew Luck - who leads the NFL in passing yards. The Colts should be able to move the ball and score points against Pittsburgh. The Colts defense has also been playing at a very high level and are also a top-five unit in the league, and while the Steelers offense is good, they likely won't be able to keep up with the Colts offense in terms of scoring.
Why the Colts Won't Win
There are three big reasons why things could go wrong for the Colts: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le'Veon Bell. Those three make up a very dangerous QB-WR-RB combination and the Colts will have their hands full defending those players. If they're playing well on Sunday, they'll put up some points despite the recent success of the Colts defense. If the Colts offense commits a couple of turnovers (which we've seen them do before), the Steelers offense could keep it close enough to pull out a home win. Really, I think the Steelers' chances boil down to how those three players do - and they're talented enough to do pretty well.
The Steelers used to be the team that wore opponents down with their physical play. On Sunday, I think the Colts will be the ones wearing the Steelers down. Maybe not necessarily physically, although we have seen a much more physical Colts' team this year, but I think that down the stretch the Colts will begin to pull away. I expect this one to be a close game for a couple of quarters, but I think the Colts are clearly the better team and they should score enough points to put it away down the stretch. I'm taking a Colts win in Pittsburgh by ten points.
Colts 31, Steelers 21
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