The Indianapolis Colts have a pretty dismal history against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Knowing that history, there is some reason to hope that the lock room is rallying together to buck a long-standing trend. This Steelers team is as vulnerable a group as Indianapolis has played for the better part of a decade or so, giving some reason to have confidence that today could be a positive outcome.
One of the big reasons to feel confident today is that franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be watching from the sideline and young backup Mason Rudolph will be forced back into action.
One of the big reasons that may not matter is that the Colts have a slew of injuries that could impact their performance as well. Namely, T.Y. Hilton will miss the next handful of games. He joins the presumed #2 receiver Devin Funchess as a spectator. This leaves Zach Pascal as the default number one receiver with Chester Rogers and the as yet unproven Parris Campbell to round out the receiver room.
It has gotten to the point that Frank Reich has to be prepared to give Ashton Dulin live game reps and may have to flex out Nyheim Hines as a receiver in some of the base sets. Throw in that Jacoby Brissett has shown some difficulty moving through his progressions, which has coincided with Colts receivers struggling to get open, and there is plenty of reason to be concerned about the offensive output Sunday afternoon.
Can the Colts overcome offensive injuries to get the job done? Can the defense continue doing just enough to give Brissett and Reich a chance?
Here are 3 keys to the game:
REICH WILL NEED TO EARN HIS PAYCHECK
One of the most successful areas of the Colts offense in 2019 has been red zone efficiency and impressive play-calling with the game on the line. Some masterfully drawn up plays have met with pretty execution to generate points and put pressure on opponents.
Some of the play calling has been suspect though. One has to wonder about the longevity of Marlon Mack if the Colts continue to work his 210 pound frame so hard every week. Why has Jordan Wilkins been used so infrequently? What is the infatuation with offensive series that features numerous runs up the gut to Nyheim Hines?
Ultimately, proven offensive personnel is lacking. Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni will need to do a masterful job to get the most of the players who do take the field.
TURNOVER BATTLE IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been dealing with considerable adversity. They lost Ben Roethlisberger, they lost Antonio Brown over the off-season, and they will be without their workhorse back James Conner. Despite the adversity, the Steelers enter Sunday’s game with back-to-back wins.
One of the ways Pittsburgh has kept themselves in games is with an opportunistic defense. The unit is tied for second in the league with 10 interceptions and has also recovered 9 fumbles in just 7 games. This defensive style is what Matt Eberflus is hoping to create in Indianapolis.
Who will win the turnover battle? Can the Colts take advantage of the Steelers’ depleted backfield and get pressure in Mason Rudolph’s face? Can the Colts jump routes and give the offense exta possessions? Can Jacoby Brissett continue his streak of impressive efficiency and take care of the ball in the pocket?
If the Colts win the turnover battle, they should be in the driver’s seat. If the Steelers continue to create momentum with big defensive plays, the Colts could fall short.
RUN THE DAMN BALL
This will be an ongoing mantra for the Colts. With one of the league’s best offensive lines, the Colts have to find a way to punch opponents in the mouth in the trenches and generate yards on the ground. If they can manage to control time of possession and grind out long scoring drives, Mason Rudolph will be under immense pressure to make something happen. This bods well for turnover opportunities.
The Steelers are a middle of the road run defense. Is Quenton Nelson completely healthy? Can he rebound from what might have been his worst game against the Denver Broncos a week ago?
If Nelson and the offensive line are on the same page, Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins should have opportunities to do some real damage. If not, this could be a painful offensive day.