The 6-2 Pittsburgh Steelers will play the 3-6 Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Field Sunday afternoon in a Week 10 AFC matchup and ahead of that game kicking off, there are several key storylines worth pointing out.
Below are what I consider to be the top five storylines for both teams ahead of Sunday’s game that will kickoff at 1:00 p.m. EST in Indianapolis.
Unbenched Bryant – After being sat down for the team’s Week 8 game against the Detroit Lions for a social media outburst, wide receiver Martavis Bryant is expected to be back on the field for Sunday’s road game against the Colts. Bryant’s return comes at a great time and against an opponent whose defense has struggled to defend deep passes this season. The Steelers need quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to get his deep passing on track during the second half of the season and hopefully Bryant can become a big part of that ultimately happening. Disgruntlement and all, Bryant is poised to have a great second half of the season after catching all of 18 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown on 36 total targets in the 321 total offensive snaps played during the first half.
Mending fences – While the Steelers did beat the Lions prior to their bye week, their defense still allowed quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw 423 yards on 27 completions. 7 of those completions resulted in gains of 20 yards or more and one other ultimately topped that mark thanks to a penalty. The Steelers defense played quite a bit of zone once again against the Lions and thus it probably isn’t surprising that the veteran quarterback picked it apart. If not for their stellar red zone defensive play in Detroit, the Lions probably would have easily won that game. As for the Steelers other fence, the offense, that side of the football is still having problems scoring touchdowns inside the red zone. Against the Lions, the Steelers offense was 1-of-3 on red zone opportunities and you now have to go all the way back to Week 4 to find a game in which they converted more than red zone trip into a touchdown.
Over tolling Bell? – After missing all of training camp and the preseason due to contract issues, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has since received a very heavy workload. Bell not only currently leads all NFL running backs this season in total offensive snaps played (494), he’s also the league leader in total touches (229). The Steelers certainly will need to start lightening the load of Bell soon, one would think, and especially due to his late-season injury history. While rookie running back James Conner has struggled some in pass protection in his limited snaps played this season, the Steelers coaches might have to start putting him on the field more in running situations in an effort to spell Bell. The Steelers will play the Tennessee Titans just four days after they play the Colts on Sunday and they need to keep that in mind when it comes to Bell’s usage in Indianapolis.
Healthy returns – Sunday in Indianapolis the Steelers expect to get three key players back from injuries. After missing the team’s last two games, defensive end Stephon Tuitt (back) and tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) both avoided the injury report this past week. Tuitt has only played in four games this season and one of those he left early after playing just two snaps. As for Gilbert, he’s only played in three games this season and finished just one of them on his way to playing just 141 offensive snaps. The Steelers should also get tight end Vance McDonald back on Sunday as the knee injury he reportedly suffered back in Week 7 now appears to be fine. It will be interesting to see if McDonald receives work as the lone tight end in 11 personnel packages against the Colts.
Lost horsepower – The Colts enter Sunday’s game against the Steelers extremely undermanned from an overall talent perspective. Additionally, they no longer have cornerback Vontae Davis on their roster as they decided to part ways with the injured and seemingly disgruntled player just this past week. If that’s not enough, the Colts had to place starting defensive end Henry Anderson on their Reserve/Injured list this past week due to a throat injury. Outside linebacker John Simon and wide receiver Kamar Aiken also won’t play against the Steelers on Sunday due to injuries and top wide receiver T.Y. Hilton ended the week listed as questionable on the Colts Friday injury report with a groin injury.