Ahead of the Colts’ matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, we talked with Jeff Hartman from Behind the Steel Curtain to get some answers to a few of our questions. Here is what he had to say:
While they have still found very good success, the Steelers have not been scoring at the electrifying rate that many, myself included, thought they would before the season. Has the offense not completely been clicking, or is this more a symptom of the teams they have played?
I think it is a little bit of both. The offense has underperformed, and that isn't being questioned by anyone, but the unit just hasn't clicked yet. They have gotten close, and are moving the ball well between the 20s, but their third down, and red-zone, offenses are keeping them from hitting full-on elite status. You get the feeling the breakout game is coming soon, but who knows when. I will say this, the Steelers have played some pretty tough defenses in the first half of the season, namely the Ravens, Vikings, Jaguars, Bengals and even the Bears. Have to give credit where credit is due.
Who is the most exciting player on this Steelers team that Colts fans don’t know about yet?
If you asked me this three weeks ago I would have said JuJu Smith-Schuster, but after his stolen bike saga, combined with his breakout game vs. Detroit in Week 8, I will go a different direction. Mike Hilton, No. 31, is a second year cornerback the team picked up as a free agent this offseason. He was a cast off of the Jaguars and Patriots, and has found a nice home with the Steelers as their nickel cornerback and primary slot defender. However, his game is so much more than that. A tremendous blitzer, sniffs out the run with the best of them and isn't shabby in pass coverage too. A great find who has helped solidify a shaky secondary coming into 2017.
Ben Roethlisberger has talked about retirement as a real possibility very soon. What is the expectation surrounding the quarterback position for the Steelers going forward?
No one really knows, and that is the honest truth. I do think his retirement talk is serious, and Steelers fans are preparing themselves for a Brett Favre-type of "will he" or "won't he" after every season. As for a prediction? I think Roethlisberger at least comes back for the 2018 season. He has to see the team returning and think he has a shot at another title, but a lot rides on how this season ends, and his health. In other words...who the hell knows.
What is the deal with Martavis Bryant? For a short time it seemed like a really toxic environment might be setting in, but now it seems that he is set to start against the Colts. What gives?
A lot of people, including Steelers fans, hate on Mike Tomlin relentlessly, but he knows how to handle his players. The Steelers had some drama in the first half of the season, and Tomlin still was able to get his team to a 6-2 record at the midway point. He is a master at getting the best out of his players, and after benching Bryant before the bye week, he clearly feels is good-to-go. I trust Tomlin, and I expect Bryant to have a big game Sunday.
What are the Steelers’ biggest strength and biggest weakness?
The strength is slowly becoming their defense. 26 sacks (4th in the NFL) and the league's 2nd best pass defense has turned a one mediocre unit into a defense a lot of people are talking about. When you think Steelers, you think hard-hitting defense, and that is coming to fruition once again in 2017. Their weakness is what I mentioned earlier. They struggle tremendously in the red-zone and on third down. Some of the issues there are easy fixes, but they still have to get the job done in those areas if they want to win another Super Bowl.
What is your prediction for this game?
No shock here, but I like the Steelers. I was watching some of the game last year, and fans forget how close that Thanksgiving day game was. It required two fourth-and-goal stops for the Steelers to win that contest. I expect a tough game early, but for Pittsburgh to finally connect on some big plays, and create a turnover or two, to turn the tide in the second half. I'll say Pittsburgh - 34
Indy - 17