Remember that old saying about a gift horse? The Steelers met theirs in Week 11 of this season when they beat the Cleveland Browns, 24-9, on the road Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. The offense produced its third-highest rushing output of the season, and the defense allowed the fewest points they’ve had all season while recording their most sacks they’ve had in a game in 11 seasons.
Thursday they’ll face an Indianapolis Colts team with an identical 5-5 record, a similar theme of unmet potential and a handful of equally disappointing bad road losses. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin might call this scenario “Two trains on the same track,” except this is a track neither wants to be on. And judging from the news out of Indianapolis that quarterback Andrew Luck is in concussion protocol and may not play, the Colts may not get off that track anytime soon, which, in turn, helps the Steelers.
Is there an old saying buried anywhere about two gift horses?
The Steelers now have a chance to answer a four-game losing streak with back-to-back wins, the second of which coming against an offense who has allowed their quarterback to be sacked 35 times in 10 games and a defense that is the ninth-worst in the league against the run, the absolute worst in the league against the pass, seventh-worst in points allowed and has caused the third-fewest turnovers. Add in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s three straight performances of 360-plus yards and a passer rating of at least 97 or better in three straight wins and it becomes the perfect Thanksgiving recipe this team needs right about now.
Some might find the potential absence of Luck in this game the perfect stroke of luck for the Steelers (see what I did there?), and hereby writing it off as a game they shouldn’t get credit for winning. But by using that logic, wouldn’t it be fair to write off the losses to New England (Roethlisberger and defensive end Cam Heyward were both injured) and Miami (without Heyward and inside linebacker Ryan Shazier)?
Injuries affect every team, regardless of whom a team they have next on their schedule. The Steelers finally have a chance to have an injury give them an advantage in a situation where every game from here on out is now the most critical on their schedule. And for the second week in a row, they can use that advantage in the exact same way: a healthy dose of running back Le’Veon Bell against a defense who has allowed 115 rushing yards or more in seven of 10 games, an aggressive offensive game plan with an aim to score as many points as humanly possible against a defense who can’t stop almost anybody and a defensive game plan to confound the opposing quarterback (or possibly his backup) behind a sieve of a protective front.
The Steelers still have serious challenges waiting for them over the final five weeks of the season, but for now, a couple of swings of fortune in their favor won’t hurt if they take advantage.