The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their eighth regular season game of 2019 at home Sunday afternoon against the Indianapolis Colts with a chance to get their fourth win of the season and get back to .500. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the Sunday game to come away victorious for a fourth time this season.
Mack attack – You can look for the Colts offense to lean heavily on their running game Sunday against the Steelers and that’ll mean a lot of running back Marlon Mack carrying the football behind a very good Indianapolis offensive line. Mack not only enters Sunday with a healthy yards per carry average of 4.28, but an equally impressive successful run rate of 48.6%. The Steelers defense has been very good against the run in their last four games as not only has that unit only allowed a 3.29 yards per carry average, but a low successful run rate of just 40.2%. Stopping Mack and the Colts offense on the ground in this game will be a chore for the Steelers defense if they manage to do so, it could be the key difference-maker
Tight on the tights – The Colts offense won’t have wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on Sunday and that’s huge. The Colts, however, still have a very good tight end tandem to contend with in Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle and the two have combined to catch 37 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns this season. The Steelers defense has had issues with tight ends again this season to the tune of 35 reception for 352 yards and four touchdowns. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler better make sure to completely take away Ebron first and foremost. Doyle is a weapon, but not as likely to create explosive plays like Ebron has shown he’s been able to do.
Don’t let Houston be a problem – Colts defensive end Justin Houston leads Indianapolis in sacks with five entering Week 9. While four of his five sacks have come from the right side this season, he’s still been very productive as a pass rusher on the left side. Steelers tackles Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler both figure to have their hands full with Houston on Sunday and neither can allow the veteran to be a problem for quarterback Mason Rudolph throughout the contest. It’s always good to run at Houston wherever possible.
Get a piece of the Rock – With Colts cornerback Pierre Desir likely to miss Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury look for rookie cornerback Rock Ya-Sin to start in his place again. Ya-Sin has struggled quite a bit so far this season as he’s allowed 19 receptions for 317 yards and two touchdowns to date. The physical Temple product has been a bit too physical at times this season to boot as he’s been penalized seven times already for either defensive holding, pass interference or illegal contact. The Steelers will get wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie Diontae Johnson lined up against Ya-Sin several times during Sunday’s game and Rudolph shouldn’t be afraid to attack the rookie cornerback.
Heavy group action – The Colts linebackers really like to bite on play-action this season and especially whenever it comes with a quarterback under center. The Steelers will rightfully look to establish their power running game early in Sunday’s game and the Colts defense will be stacking the box to prevent that from happening. The Steelers could possibly hit the Colts defense with a few big plays off play-action out of heavy personnel groupings. Some levels concepts or tight ends up the seam could be the ticket off play-under-center action.
Watt a nuisance – The Colts beat the Houston Texans a few weeks ago and while quarterback Jacoby Brissett did throw for 326 yards and four touchdowns in that game, he was bothered all game by defensive end J.J. Watt, the older brother of Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Brissett hasn’t turned the football over much this season and he’s only been sacked 11 times to boot. The only way any of that changes on Sunday at Heinz Field is if the younger Watt has an even better game than his older brother had a few weeks ago. The Steelers Watt already has three forced f fumbles on the season and if he registers a fourth one on Sunday and the defense recovers it, it might be a difference-making play that leads to a win. Colts right tackle Braden Smith has had an impressive season to date, but he’s had a few hiccups the last two weeks. T.J. Watt needs to be another hiccup for him on Sunday and one that won’t go away.
Free Mason – Rudolph had a grow up game of sorts on Monday night and while his play-by-play performance wasn’t great in that contest, he did have his moments and exited that win a better quarterback overall. Rudolph also threw the football down the field a lot more in that game and now he needs to work on completing a few more of those deeper throws. Against the Colts, Rudolph should have the entire playbook open to him. The Indianapolis pass defense is average at best so the Steelers young quarterback should be able to attack it at will. A stronger start this week by Rudolph is a must and he simply can’t turn the football over to the Colts defense on a short field. It’s time for Rudolph to take another small step forward Sunday against the Colts with a more complete game filled with completions both short and long.