The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t the same team that has been a menace to the Colts over the past several years. Once an offensive juggernaut featuring Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown, the team now has none of those players at their disposal.
This offense is led by the likes of WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is on pace to just squeak across the 1000-yard mark in receiving yards and RB James Conner who is on pace for an admirable 1400 yards from scrimmage, but who hurt his shoulder last week and may not be active on a short week. Mason Rudolph is the guy taking snaps from under center, and he hasn’t been lighting the world on fire, but has been efficient so far this season since coming in to take over for the injured Roethlisberger.
Unlike in years past, it will be the defense of the Steelers leading the charge against the Colts on Sunday. That defense is a formidable one. They current trail only the Patriots in takeaways, having notched 19 on the season. T.J. Watt has been excellent, racking up 6 sacks, 3 fumbles, an interception, and 3 passes defended. Rookie linebacker Devin Bush has been great as well, with a sack, 2 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries, 3 passes defended, and a touchdown to his credit.
Their trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick also has worked out great for them so far, with Fitzpatrick having grabbed 3 picks, 5 passes defended, and a forced fumble in his 5 games as a Steeler. In all, this is a tough, aggressive defense that aims to take the ball away from its opponents, and that’s what they’ll try to do against the Colts Sunday.
The good news there, is that the Colts have been careful with the ball. They’ve turned it over just 7 times this season, and they’ll need to stay cautious with it if they want to get a win on the road. Along with that good news is some more: This Steelers defense hasn’t been great against the run in 2019. They are ranked 16th in run defense by Football Outsiders, and should be a team the Colts can move the ball on the ground against.
This game should be a good test to see how the Colts hold up yet again going on the road into a tough venue, and bludgeoning an opponent with tough defense and a strong running attack. There should be plenty of room to get Brissett involved in the passing game, but perhaps the best way to take the stars of the Steelers’ defense out of the game is to successfully run the ball and negate their pass rushers.
In addition to being a strong road win, a win at Heinz Field would be the first win against the Steelers since back in 2008, when Peyton Manning was still leading the Colts. Ultimately, few of these Colts feel the pressure to beat that kind of record, but getting a win over an opponent that has seemed to have the team’s number for so many years can only serve to boost this team’s confidence further.
What’s more, the AFC South will be an interesting division after this week. A win for the Colts is critical to keep a lead in the division. The Texans will travel to Jacksonville, and a win for the Texans would put them back atop the division with a Colts loss. In what is bound to be a tight race to the very end, every game matters from here on out.
It would be a mistake to take this Steelers team for granted. They aren’t a great team, but they are not as bad as their record indicates. All four of their losses have come against teams who are very likely to make the playoffs. The Colts will need to come prepared to play Sunday, and they are currently not in the greatest shape in terms of health. Denico Autry, Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore, Jabaal Sheard, and Khari Willis all missed Wednesday’s practice.
The Steelers will be facing plenty of injury concerns of their own, and they’ll do it on a shorter week than they’d usually get after hosting the Miami Dolphins for Monday Night Football. That could end up being a factor in what is likely to be a close game.
This is a week where the offense needs to come out swinging, and both Marlon Mack and Jacoby Brissett need to be on their “A” games from the start. If they don’t, they could struggle against a tough defense that has proven capable of giving their mediocre offense a lot of chances to put up points.