The Pittsburgh Steelers ended a four-game losing streak last Sunday when they handed the Cleveland Browns their eleventh straight loss this year. Now, on a short week, they will face the Indianapolis Colts on Thanksgiving evening.
Coming off of a game in which they recorded eight sacks, all eyes will be on the Steelers’ defense to repeat their impressive performance. Even if the sacks came against the lowly Browns, the sign of pass rush from the Steelers’ defensive line was a relief to see. With the news that Andrew Luck is under concussion protocol, the defense could be in for another big game.
Next in line under center for the Colts is Scott Tolzien. Tolzien, whose last start was for the Green Bay Packers in 2013, has recorded a 1/5 touchdown to interception ratio in his career. Even with an inexperienced quarterback under center, Indianapolis still has dangerous weapons such as T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief at wide receiver, and veteran Frank Gore at running back.
On offense, Le’Veon Bell amassed a total of 201 yards from scrimmage against Cleveland last week, limiting Ben Roethlisberger to only 167 passing yards, his lowest of the season. The Colts have allowed 4.5 yards per carry to opposing running backs this season, which could lead to another big game for Bell.
The Steelers recorded a 25% efficiency in the red zone last week on the road. They have the ability to march down the field but more often times than not, they have relied on points from field goals rather than touchdowns. If they are able to score early against Indianapolis, they must finish in the red zone. Giving the Colts the opportunity to come back and keep themselves in contention will ruin any chance of gaining a foothold in the AFC North to win the division.
Stephon Tuitt vs. Anthony Castonzo
In the absence of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt has become the most tenured member of the Steelers’ defensive line. In the past two games Tuitt has registered 3.5 sacks, his only of the season at this point. If the Steelers’ pass rush is to continue to prosper, Tuitt must lead the charge as an example to younger linemen such as L.T. Walton and Javon Hargrave.
The Colts offensive line has allowed 35 sacks over a ten game span, 5.5 of those allowed by left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Once considered the strongest link of the Colts’ offensive line, Castonzo has endured through injury and criticism over the past two seasons. If Castonzo continues to struggle, Tuitt can make Tolzien, or whomever is under center’s, night a long one.
Cobi Hamilton vs. Darius Bulter
The depth of the Steelers’ wide receiver corps behind Antonio Brown has been decimated in the 2016 season. Martavis Bryant is on a year-long suspension, Markus Wheaton has been placed on the injured/reserve list, Darrius Heyward-Bey is suffering from a foot injury, and Sammie Coates‘ finger injuries have hindered his ability to catch passes.
Cobi Hamilton has emerged as a temporary number-two option for Roethlisberger. The receiver has caught eight passes for 122 yards and a touchdown in five games this year. He was targeted five times against Cleveland last week, and must become reliable in the Steelers’ passing attack. Antonio Brown will more than likely draw attention from Vontae Davis, leaving Darius Butler to cover Hamilton.
Butler is an experienced defensive back, and will give Hamilton a difficult time attempting to get into contention to catch passes. The Colts’ defense ranks 30th in the league, but they will be out to prove they can contain the Steelers’ offense. If Hamilton has a career game against Indy, it can help secure his spot on the roster in 2017.