Week 10 is here and with it, the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Andrew Luck and our whole complement of healthy starters, this is a game I would have honestly been excited about. With the injury-ravaged mess that this team has turned into, this game has the potential to get ugly quickly. If the Colts want to have even the slightest chance to make this a game, these five guys absolutely must shine.
This season Rashaan Melvin has put together has been absolutely excellent. He has been a dependable playmaker and just about as good a corner as you can ask for in a league with the kind of receiver and quarterback talent as there is right now. Through all the injuries and drama and everything else swirling around this season, Melvin has been dependable week in and week out. Not bad for a guy who is on the books for less than a million dollars!
Sunday his job will get a lot harder. Melvin will have to deal with the likes of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Brown leads the NFL in receiving yards with 835. He also has 17 catches for 20 yards or more. It is possible and even likely that Pierre Desir will be the guy who ends up facing off with Brown, but it will be critical that Melvin shuts down whoever is across from him so that the safety help can roll to Brown.
According to Pro Football Focus, he should be up to the task, as he ranks 5th among their corners. While their rankings can be suspect at times, these facts aren’t:
The Colts need Melvin to have an excellent game to have a hope of being within striking distance at the final whistle.
When the Colts signed Jabaal Sheard, many hoped he could contribute to the pass rush that they had lacked so badly in the previous seasons. That did not exactly pan out. In fact, Sheard had a fairly rough start to the season. His impact both on film and on paper seemed to be that of a role player. Given that he was the Colts’ second biggest offseason acquisition, that was not really satisfactory.
In the game against Seattle, though, Sheard seemed to begin to come into his own. From that point forward he has been getting better and better, and his best game yet was last week against the Texans when he had 2 sacks, 1 QB hit, 6 QB pressures, and of course, the walk-off strip sack to end the game.
The Colts will need every bit of that to be in the game against the Steelers. If Ben Roethlisberger is given time to sit in the pocket he will carve this Colts defense up like a juicy Thanksgiving turkey. The only way this team has any chance at all is for the pass rush to get going and get home with the rushes early and often. That starts with Sheard.
Right now Hilton is second in the league in receiving yards to Antonio Brown. When he has played well the Colts have won. When he disappears, so do the Colts’ chances to win. They will likely need a 150 plus yard effort from Hilton Sunday to keep pace with the Steelers. The good news is that the Steelers offense has been averaging less than 21 points per game. The bad news? The Colts have averaged 18. That means needs to get north of 20 points in this game to get a win, and they aren’t doing that if Hilton has an off game.
It has looked over the last couple weeks like Hilton and Jacoby Brissett are developing some chemistry. It also seems that there is more of an effort in the game plan to get the ball to Hilton. Why this was not happening all season long is anyone’s guess, but if they make concerted efforts to get the ball into his hands it is certainly more useful than bouncing 5 or 6 passes off Kamar Aiken’s hands.
If you have read Chris Shepherd’s scouting report on the Steelers’ defense, which you really should, you’ll know that the Steelers have one of the best linebacking corps in football. That means it will likely be a tough day for Jack Doyle, who has started to look like himself again after a truly puzzling early season. If the Colts entire game plan is to get the ball to Hilton, it will be pretty tough to have success. That means it will be important for Doyle to have an impact on this game.
While Hilton makes a great deep threat, Jacoby Brissett will desperately need a reliable outlet who he can get the ball to in a hurry. This Steelers defense will get after him with their pass rush, and Doyle having a big game can save Brissett from a lot of hits as well as keep the offense from being too reliant upon Hilton.
That leads us to the real guy who controls how this offense does this week. Jacoby Brissett has been a big part of the good things that have happened on the offense. He has also contributed to a lot of the issues. His indecisiveness, tendency to hold the ball too long, and questionable late-game decision-making have been costly.
Against the Steelers, he will have to be willing to take some chances and get the ball to his playmakers. If the Colts are able to get a fast start it will alleviate some of the pressure that he seems to struggle with. He has become more and more comfortable each week in this offense and has built rapport with the receivers, which is critical. For the Colts to have any chance at all to hang around in this game, Brissett will need to pick up where he left off against Houston.
The Steelers aren’t an unbeatable team, but the offense cannot leave the defense on the field a disproportionate amount because of turnovers and an anainability to move the ball. We can bemoan the poor play of the offensive line, and that certainly plays a part, but that is not a new reality. The Colts will have to find ways to succeed in spite of those issues. That starts with Brissett getting rid of the ball quickly and making good decisions.