With each passing week lately, it seems as though the Pittsburgh Steelers are getting further and further away from their girl, having now lost three consecutive games. But, as has been the case for a while now, they have the opportunity to lock up the AFC North with a win today—which will not be easy.
Today’s opponent, visiting Heinz Field in what will be the final NFL game to be played there this season if the Steelers don’t win the division, is the Indianapolis Colts, riding a three-game winning streak. Quarterback Philip Rivers has been playing some of his best football of the season despite nursing a toe injury.
One thing to watch for, however, is the fact that he won’t have either of his starting tackles, as right tackle Braden Smith is on the Reserve/Covid-19 List now and left tackle Anthony Castonzo was ruled out for the game, downgraded yesterday, as he battles an ankle injury.
Even without Bud Dupree on the other side, the Steelers have to be very excited about the prospect of playing against the Colts’ second-string tackles with T.J. Watt on one side. Then again, they have played backups before and done worse, such as when they faced one of their former practice squad guys, Brian Mihalik, as an injury replacement for the Detroit Lions in 2017.
All the pressure in the world defensively, however, won’t get the Steelers’ offense moving, and that’s the big question. How will Ben Roethlisberger play after arguably one of the worst games he has played in the past decade and a half or so?
Then there’s the matter of the running game. Benny Snell performed well last week, rushing for 84 yards. James Conner is back once again after missing most of the past four games, first due to Covid-19 and then due to injury. Can they get something going here?
And can they stop the run? Rivers isn’t going to be running much, but the Colts’ running back tandem led by rookie Jonathan Taylor certainly can, and Indianapolis still has a great interior offensive line that will get push.
Getting Vince Williams back after missing two games should help, but now with Marcus Allen and Ulysees Gilbert III injured, the depth here remains incredibly thin. They just had to sign Tegray Scales to the 53-man roster just to have a third guy behind Avery Williamson.
Another factor here, which hopefully won’t come into play, is the kicking game. Chris Boswell is missing his second game in the past few weeks due to injury. Matthew Wright made all of his few kicks the first time around, but head coach Mike Tomlin shied away from giving him certain opportunities, which affected the game. Will he express more confidence in the first-year kicker this time if they are in a position to kick a field goal where they ordinarily would? That’s a big question, bigger perhaps than many realize.