There’s been a theme this week, hasn’t there? Perhaps driven in part by the greater level of unpredictability introduced into the equation from an unorthodox coaching change, there is one thing in particular about the Indianapolis Colts that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ players and coaches can’t seem to stop talking about: running back Jonathan Taylor.
The 2021 rushing champion hasn’t exactly had the sort of encore performance this year as hoped, in part due to injuries, but he has been picking up steam in recent weeks, with some of his best running of the season coming over the course of the past two games under interim head coach Jeff Saturday.
The Steelers have played Taylor before, though not in his breakout sophomore season. As a rookie back in 2020, he rushed for 74 yards against this defense with two touchdowns. But his resume since then speaks for itself, and that includes long breakaway plays, often for touchdowns, albeit fewer this year than last.
“Home run hitter,” defensive captain Cameron Heyward described Taylor, via Teresa Varley on the team’s website. “Hits the hole hard. Any crease he gets, he can take off. We got to make sure we really bottle him up. Multiple guys to the ball and just continue to keep playing good technique. When guys get short, and nobody is able to follow them, it makes it a tough game.”
Taylor rushed for 161 yards in the season opener earlier this year, but his usage had been highly variable, sometimes only seeing nine or 10 carries in a game. He’s had 44 carries in the past two since Saturday took over and he’s put up 231 yards since then with a couple of touchdowns, so they know they have to bring a collective effort to stop him.
It’s about “Making sure we’re on the same page,” Heyward said. “Just finishing games. I think sometimes we have good plays here, good plays there. But it’s about putting a consistent performance throughout the entire game.”
The Steelers’ defense is ostensibly at (near) full strength heading into this game (minus only cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who quite possibly would be a healthy scratch right now if only he were healthy), so it’s time for them to begin rounding into form.
Taylor and his hard running style and big-play threat will be a fitting test for what they’re made of. They have actually done very well against the run since the bye week, allowing under 100 yards combined in the past two games, but not against an offense built to run like this.