The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their fifteenth regular season game of 2020 on Sunday afternoon at home against the Indianapolis Colts as they look to notch their twelfth win after suffering three consecutive losses in their last three games. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with a big home win against the Colts and move to 12-3 on the season and win the AFC North in the process.
Better First Quartering – Just how bad has the Steelers offense been of late? In the last four games against the Baltimore Ravens, Washington Football Team, Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers offense has gone three-and-out on their opening possessions. In total, the Steelers offense has seven three-and-outs on opening possessions so far this season. The ugliness does not stop there, however, as the Steelers have scored a total of just 62 points in the first quarter of games this season. In the Steelers last five games, the team has scored just six first quarter points and those came via the pick-6 by cornerback Joe Haden against the Ravens. Long story, short, the Steelers offense must put some points on the scoreboard early on Sunday at Heinz Field against the Colts. The offense needs to come out of the chute with an opening drive touchdown, something the unit has managed to do just once this season against the Tennessee Titans way back in Week 7. This is an exceptionally good Colts team that the Steelers will face on Sunday. Getting an early lead in this game is a must.
More Snell’s Pace – While it was far from an All-Pro performance against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, Steelers running back Benny Snell Jr. sparked the offense’s running game with starting running back James Conner sidelined with a quadricep injury. Snell is one of those backs that seems to get stronger and more productive as games go on and thus, he needs early touches in the first half to get him to that spot. The Steelers should have rookie guard Kevin Dotson back on Sunday against the Colts and that will be an upgrade over J.C. Hassenauer and Derwin Gray, who split time at that left guard spot against the Bengals. This sets up to be the best Steelers offensive line combination the team has had all season. While Conner is sure to see some playing time on Sunday, that should only be on third downs or every third or fourth series. Snell has earned a shot to carry the load against the Colts. The Steelers need to run the football well in this game so that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t need to throw it another 40 or more times.
Chunky Ben – Against the Bengals, Roethlisberger completed just one pass that flew more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. That completed pass was the touchdown to wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Other than that one completion, Roethlisberger was quite awful against the Bengals. The Steelers are having problems producing chunk plays of 20 yards or longer with their catch short, run offense they have leaned on heavily for most the season. To make matters worse, Roethlisberger seems to be getting worse with his deep passes of 20 yards or longer. He also seems to refuse to attack the middle of the field more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. If the Steelers hope to win on Sunday against the Colts, the team’s offense will need five or more chunk plays with a few of those maybe being double explosive plays. This means Roethlisberger must hit a few of his deep throws against the Colts, who have a defense that has allowed just 16 of 37 passes of 20 air yards or longer to be completed against them on the season.
Ball Hunting Galore – The Steelers defense failed to register a takeaway against the Bengals Monday night and that hurt. Getting the Colts offense to turnover the football on Sunday at Heinz Field will also be a tough chore. To date, the Colts have just 12 giveaways on the season with three of those being fumbles. Colts quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown just three interceptions in his last seven games. It’s been nearly a month since he threw his last one. In short, a Steelers turnover is most likely to come via a fumble of some sorts. Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has yet to force a fumble via a sack all season so he needs to do his best to change that on Sunday. Additionally, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor had a serious fumble problem in college at Wisconsin, so the defense needs to make every effort to stand him up and attempt to rip the football loose from him. Taylor has lost one fumble so far this season. It’s hard to imagine the Steelers beating the Colts if they don’t register at least one takeaway on Sunday. Heck, they will probably need at least two takeaways to win the way the offense has been playing. In three of the Colts four losses this season they have turned the football over twice. Their other loss they turned it over just once. They are 7-0 this season when they do not turn the football over.
T.Y. Can’t Be The Guy – The Colts offense should be forced to go through any player other than wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who enters Sunday’s game with 50 receptions for 675 yards and four touchdowns. Hilton also has nine explosive receptions on the season and those averaged 30 yards gained. Two of the nine explosive play receptions resulted in touchdowns. Steelers running back Nyheim Hines leads the team in receptions with 53 for 412 yards and four touchdowns. Forcing Rivers to use Hines and Taylor out of the backfield on Sunday might be the way to go as long as those running backs are brought down quickly. For the most part, the Steelers pass defense has been strong all season. They are not going to fool the veteran Rivers on Sunday at Heinz Field and they know that. Instead, the Steelers defense needs to focus on taking away the Colts best offensive player on Sunday and that player is Hilton, in my honest opinion.