The Indianapolis Colts play the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight, and to get a better idea of the Steelers and this football game we asked five questions to Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman. Our questions are in bold and Jeff’s answers follow!
1. Entering the season the Steelers were expected to have one of the very best offenses in the NFL, but it doesn't really seem as though they've reached that level so far. Is that an accurate assessment, and if so, why is that?
That absolutely is an accurate assessment. It happens when your All Pro RB misses the first three game with a suspension, your QB gets injured and essentially misses 3 weeks (although he played in two of those games), and your No. 2 WR is nothing but a roladex of names on a weekly basis. The Steelers offense has yet to be completely healthy, and they won't be for the rest of 2016. Markus Wheaton was slated to be the team's No. 2 WR threat, but a shoulder injury landed him on IR. Sammie Coates proved worthy of the spot before breaking two fingers and not being right since. Darrius Heyward-Bey was the next up, but a foot injury has sidelined him the past three weeks. In other words, they miss someone to take the attention off Antonio Brown, but the team seems to be settling in the past few weeks. Hopefully that continues inside the dome of Lucas Oil.
2. Defensively the Steelers had a big game last week. What went right, and can they replicate that on a consistent basis moving forward?
What went right was a struggling pas rush (13 sacks through the first 9 games) finally got to the QB (8 sacks vs. CLE in Week 11). Now, the game was against Cleveland so take that with a grain of salt, but at the same time the Steelers finally saw success as a pass rushing unit. This was essentially the same unit who had 48 sacks in 2015, and they are starting to round into form. As their secondary gets more experience, the more aggressive the blitzes are getting. I don't think 8 sacks a week is expected, but if they could be around the 4 sacks a game range, it would certainly help their sagging defense.
3. Overall, what are the feelings of Steelers fans about the way this season has gone? Are they encouraged, disappointed, optimistic, etc. - what's the sense you get from Steelers nation?
Steelers fans might be the most spoiled in the NFL. During the team's 4-game losing streak, we thought we were going to have to call the local police department to watch the bridges in the city for fans who might be jumping. That may sound severe, but it is the truth. Many fans have thrown in the towel already, stating a playoff berth isn't good enough, and although this team might be worthy of a playoff spot via a division title, they don't feel they are Super Bowl worthy. There are pockets of positivity here and there, but they are few and far between.
4. Are there any injury situations with the Steelers that Colts fans should be aware of?
Sammie Coates' hand injury (two broken fingers) might be the most significant injury, in regards of players who actually will be on the field Thursday night. Coates suffered the injury in Week 5, and the thought is he should be healed sooner than later, and Todd Haley even gave him a verbal nudge this week. If Coates is on the field, he provides a big, strong and fast option opposite Antonio Brown. In other words, he opens up the entire offense with the ability to take the top off the defense. Keep an eye on how much time No. 14 sees outside of special teams.
5. Knowing what you do of the Steelers, how would you attack them if you were the Colts' offensive and defensive coordinators?
As the offensive coordinator I would focus on short, quick passes to help nullify the Pittsburgh pass rush. They haven't been consistent getting to the quarterback, but when they do it is lights out for opponents. When the young secondary starts to crowd the line of scrimmage, that is when you can take your shot down field. You have to be patient with the Steelers defense as they are bend, but don't break, unit.
As the defensive coordinator it is all about stopping Le'Veon Bell. Antonio Brown is a beast, but Bell is such a dual threat as a runner and receiver, you have to stop Bell to stop the offense. The problem are the mismatches he creates wherever he is on the field. The Steelers deploy him in the flanker position, out wide and out of the backfield. Put a linebacker on him and there isn't one in the league who can stop him. Throw a safety on him and you are leaving yourself vulnerable in the back half with Brown and Company running wild. Bell had 38 total touches against the Browns last week, to suggest he is the main cog of the offense is a huge understatement. To stop the Steelers offense, you stop Le'Veon Bell.