The devolution (or evolution?) of the 2017 Indianapolis Colts roster continued this week. Two of the biggest returning defensive players from 2016 were both lost. Defensive lineman Henry Anderson was just starting to look like the guy who showed flashes of dominance in his rookie season. Vontae Davis had been struggling but got into a ridiculous fight with the Colts coaching staff and front office over being demoted. He elected to get surgery on a groin injury that may have still be bothering him and was subsequently released.
The positive news is that the secondary play has continued improving over the course of the season with young players leading the way. Rashaan Melvin is having the best season of his career and one of the best in the NFL. Pierre Desir has shown impressive resilience against A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins in back-to-back games. Rookie Nate Hairston made an aggressive play to knock down a pass intended for Hopkins to help seal the win for Indianapolis in Houston a week ago.
We broke down film this week targeting Desir specifically and the secondary generally and reached the conclusion that this group is entirely capable of frustrating opposing offenses if they stay aggressive. When in press man coverage, particularly on the outside, they have made life very difficult for Andy Dalton and Tom Savage. Granted, Ben Roethlisberger is a better quarterback than either and Antonio Brown is arguably the best wide receiver in the league. This game represents the tallest task Melvin and Desir have face all year but if they stay aggressive throughout the game they will fair better than if they get back on their heels.
The loss of Anderson on the defensive line may present a bigger challenge. While Margus Hunt has been effective generating pressure from the defensive line this season, having him play more snaps and play a bigger role in limiting Le’Veon Bell will represent one of the biggest challenges of the game. It will be interesting to see how Hunt responds to receiving more snaps.
Another scary proposition for the defense is that without John Simon, Barkevious Mingo and rookie Tarell Basham will have to play a bigger role in limiting Le’Veon Bell. Neither are even close to as good as Simon as edge setters and when Bell gets the outside with a man to beat, he makes big plays happen. The Colts will have their hands full enough dealing with Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant that they can ill afford to let Bell have a career day.
On the offensive side of the ball, expect to see Marlon Mack play a larger role in the game. The Colts have often split carries between Mack and Gore based upon the scoreboard. When the team is playing from behind and needs a more dynamic presence in the backfield, they give Mack more opportunities to make big plays. When Indianapolis has the lead and wants to put together longer sustained drives, they keep Gore in to carry the ball up the middle and soften up the defense. The Colts will likely be behind in this game so Mack could get his biggest opportunity yet to shine.
The game also presents a face-off between the #1 and #2 overall receiving yards leaders in the NFL. Last year, Hilton lead the league in receiving yards. Don’t be surprised if Brown hasn’t been thinking about that all year. How the two receivers will response and how Rob Chudzinski and Jacoby Brissett get Hilton involved in the game could play a huge role in the outcome. Watch out for Brissett to get picked trying to force the ball to Hilton as well — the Steelers secondary will likely be on high alert for opportunities to create turnovers in these situations.
WR Kamar Aiken (hamstring), Matt Jones (ankle), D.J. White, John Simon (neck), Le’Raven Clark, Isaiah Williams, Tyreek Burwell
This means that Hilton will play, even though he was limited all week with a groin injury. Also, Quincy Wilson is active for the first time since Week 2 and Chester Rogers will get considerably more snaps than he has in any game this season.
5 Keys to the Game:
- Limit Le’Veon Bell — There is little doubt that Bell is going to get yards and likely even score a touchdown today. If he does that, if he is only solid, the Colts have a chance to stay in the game. What Indianapolis cannot afford is to let Bell run wild. If he runs for over 150 yards, the play-action will be back breaking. This will require a great deal of discipline from Margus Hunt, Barkevious Mingo, and Tarrell Basham. It will also require more snaps of Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods, along with never putting two down linemen on the line.
- Win one-on-one match-ups in the secondary — While Antonio Brown is the obvious leader of the Steelers receiving corps, Schuster and Bryant are legitimate weapons on their own. Indianapolis needs to be able to handle their match-ups in man coverage and cannot afford to take the other weapons lightly. Brown deserves to be double-teamed the whole game but that means the rest of the secondary must stay disciplined to stop his teammates.
- Marlon Mack needs to break out — If the Colts expect to upset the Steelers, they will need big plays. While T.Y. Hilton is certainly the most established big play threat on the team, Mack is the x-factor if the team wants to upset Pittsburgh at home. It is likely that Indianapolis will be playing from behind for much of the game and that the team will need to take the Steelers by surprise late to win. When the time comes, if they are able to keep the game in reach, Hilton will be smothered. The heavy lifting could fall on Mack.
- T.Y. Hilton needs to show up — Hilton’s receiving stats in games after he goes for over 100 yards are not inspiring. If you are going based upon those numbers, you would expect that Hilton will not have a big game today. However, last week he looked to build some pretty positive rapport with Brissett. While he may not need to have a consecutive 100 yard game to win, he needs to haul in some targets, likely more than 5, to keep the Steelers defense honest. If Hilton is a “ghost” in this one, it could be tough sledding for Brissett.
- Generate pressure on Roethlisberger — One of the biggest benefits of playing press man and bump-n-run coverage in the secondary is that it forces quarterbacks to hold onto the football longer than they would like. At this point in his career, Roethlisberger isn’t much more than a statue in the pocket. If you can get the edge, you can get him to the ground — well that’s a big harder but you get the idea. Either way, the defense must be complimentary in this game to win. The secondary must make it difficult to get rid of the ball in the first 2.5-3 seconds of each passing play and the pass rush must get pressure in that window to keep Big Ben uncomfortable in the pocket and force him to make mistakes.
1:00 PM ET on Sunday, November 12, 2017
Lucas Oil Stadium — Indianapolis, IN
CBS — Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Jamie Erdahl (sideline)
WFNI (107.5FM/1070 The Fan) and WLHK (Country 97.1 Hank FM) — Bob Lamey, Jim Sorgi, Matt Taylor (sideline)
TV National Broadcast Map
See which games will be shown in your area, from 506Sports.com.
(Retractable roof stadium) Mid-40’s, morning rain, 40% chance precipitation, wind SE 6 mph
Clete Blakeman. He is in his 10th year of NFL officiating.
Over/Under: 45.0 | Spread: Steelers (-10.0) (topbet)