With the Indianapolis Colts facing the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson talked with Behind the Steel Curtain's Jeff Hartman about the Steelers and this Sunday's matchup. The questions are in bold and then Jeff's responses follow.
1. This Steelers passing offense is very dangerous and prolific with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, with a number of different receiving threats (including the incredible Antonio Brown). Has any team really been able to slow them down this year, or are the Steelers simply a team that you have to outscore in a shootout to win?
With Roethlisberger healthy, they are a tough unit to slow down. Teams have done it, but they are few and far between. The St. Louis Rams controlled the Steelers, until Roethlisberger went down with a knee sprain, and the Cincinnati Bengals held Pittsburgh to 10 points when Roethlisberger returned from his knee injury. Big Ben seems healthy now, and the offense is clicking on all cylinders.
This is a group that is built to carry their mediocre defense, and it looks like opposing teams will have to outscore the Steelers to win, just as the Seattle Seahawks did in a 39-30 win in Week 12.
2. Le'Veon Bell going down for the year was obviously a big loss, but the signing of DeAngelo Williams has seemed to work out pretty well. How much of a drop off has there been from Bell to Williams in the running game?
To be honest, both players have had almost identical touches in the ground game this season and Williams' numbers are equal to Bell's prior to his injury. Williams has been by far the best offseason the Steelers have acquired in the past 5 years, and he is proving to do what LeGarrette Blount was unable to do in 2014. Be a team-first player, and be ready if/when your number is called.
The biggest surprise from Williams wasn't in the run game, but his receiving. Williams has never been known as a great pass catcher, but give credit to him and the offense for working on it to the point where he is a legitimate threat out of the backfield, and in the slot.
3. Regarding the Steelers' defense, what are the unit's strengths and weaknesses?
The strengths of this defense are found in the front 3 of the 3-4 defense. Some might say the front 7, but that may be a stretch. The anchors of the defense are Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward and their ability to stop the run and collapse the pocket from their interior positions. The weaknesses are in the secondary, primarily the cornerbacks. Antwon Blake is one of the most targeted cornerbacks in the NFL, and there is a reason. He struggles against quick wide receivers, something the Colts have at their disposal with Hilton and Moncrief. If the Colts want to beat the Steelers defense, it is against a pass defense which ranks in the bottom quarter of the league.
4. One of the biggest question marks for the Colts going into the game is their offensive line (a couple of starters are on the injury report this week), so the obvious question Colts fans have is this: how are the Steelers in the trenches? Can they stop the run well? Can they rush the quarterback? Is this an area where you expect them to win on Sunday?
The Steelers are certainly capable of winning the line of scrimmage battle on both sides of the ball, especially at home. The Steelers are a team who stop the run well, and want to make opposing offenses one-dimensional. The issue is they struggle against the pass, and if the pass rush isn't getting to the quarterback they are typically hung out to dry. The Steelers pass rush has been good this year, they have 30 sacks through 11 games and that is tied for 7th in the NFL as a team. Still, the way to beat the Steelers is following the blue print Seattle used. Protect the quarterback, and get rid of the ball on time to abuse a very porous secondary.
5. Knowing what you do of the Steelers, how would you attack them if you were the Colts' offensive and defensive coordinator?
On the defensive side of the ball, it is truly a pick your poison approach to stopping the Steelers. Not many can stop them, but you want to stand tall when it matters most, in the red-zone. The Steelers amass incredible yards on offense, but still struggle in the red-zone. Take Williams out of the equation by stuffing the run, and pin your ears back to get after Roethlisberger. You are playing with fire, but if the Steelers are able to attain balance and give Roethlisberger time to throw...it could be lights out.
As for the offensive side of the ball, the equation is simple. Run enough to keep the Steelers honest, and pick apart the Steelers secondary by spreading out the defense and forcing their cornerbacks to be on an island with man-to-man coverage. As a whole, you don't want to make mistakes as the Steelers have been an opportunistic defense when given the opportunity.
Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer these questions, and be sure to check out Behind the Steel Curtain for complete coverage from the Steelers side of things!