The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the (5-5) Indianapolis Colts on the road Thursday night and will be attempting to win a second-consecutive game in the process and their first on Thanksgiving since 1950. Below are seven things that I believe the team will need to do in order to come away with their sixth win of the season against a Colts team who will be without a few of their key starters.
Don’t Get Gored – Colts running back Frank Gore has only had one run of 20-yards or longer all season. With quarterback Andrew Luck out Thursday night, expect the Colts offense to lean heavily on the run early with most of their attack aimed between the guards. Being as the Colts like to use two tight ends quite a bit, the Steelers will likely have to counter with their base defense most of the game so Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave and Ricardo Mathews must control the line while keeping their legs underneath them so that linebackers Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons can rack-up the run stops. While Gore can do damage on the ground, he’s also the Colts third-leading reciver heading into Thursday night so the Steelers needs to make sure account for him regardless of the down and distance when he’s on the field. 49 of his 201 receiving yards this season came on one play.
Do It Tuitt Again – Tuitt is coming off a great game against the Cleveland Browns and that was expected. Against the Colts, the Steelers former second-round draft pick should be expected to have another great game and especially when lined up on the left side of the defense as that’s when he’ll be facing right guard Denzelle Good and right tackle Joe Haeg. Tuitt should harass Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien quite a bit on Thanksgiving.
See Green – The Colts defense has already allowed opposing tight ends to catch 62 passes so far this season and only two other teams have allowed more. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said earlier this week that tight end Ladarius Green should be a full-go this week and if that’s true, we should see the prized free agent play more than he has since his return to action. Green should have a tasty matchup when in the game and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needs to use him in the middle of the field and vertically down the seams.
Ring The Left Bell Early – The Colts defense has allowed 4.54 yards per carry so far this season with a lot of the damage coming on runs to left guard and left tackle. The Steelers should try a healthy combination of split-zone and counter runs to the left against the Colts in an attempt to spring running back Le’Veon Bell for a big run or two. The Steelers enter this game having just two runs on offense of 20 yards or longer on the season and Bell’s responsible for just one of those. There’s a good chance he’ll add to that total Thursday night.
Brown Ankle Attack – If Colts cornerback Vontae Davis winds up playing Thursday night, he’ll do so on a bad ankle. Regardless of whether or not Davis sits, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown should be open quite a bit Thursday night even in the instances when he’s doubled with a safety over the top. In addition to Davis being banged-up, the Colts will be without one of their starting safeties Thursday night as Clayton Geathers will miss the game due to a concussion.
Where’s Walden? – The Colts have 22 sacks on the season so far and 8 of those belong to edge-rusher Erik Walden. While not all 8 sacks are what you would consider high-quality wins, Walden still has a nose for finding the quarterback and getting him down on the ground. Walden will line up on both sides of the Colts defense and he can use his get-off to gain an advantage outside. Steelers tackles Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva will certainly have their hands full with him Thursday night and must keep him away from Roethlisberger.
Road Red Zone Woes Can’t Continue – While the Steelers offense has scored 62.07% of the time in the red zone so far this season (10th-best in the league), on the road they’ve only scored 45.45% of the time (7th-worst in the league). Last week against the Browns, the Steelers offense only scored on one of their four red zone trips despite putting together some very long drives. Thursday night the Steelers offense will face a Colts red zone defense that has allowed 50.00% of all home red zone drives to end in touchdowns. In short, Roethlisberger and Haley need to solve their road red zone issues starting Thursday night in Indianapolis.