In what could be another defining game for the AFC playoff picture, the Indianapolis Colts travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers on Sunday Night Football. The Colts are tied with the Texans for first place in the AFC South despite having a slow start. Matt Hasselbeck has filled in capably for Andrew Luck, who handed Denver their first loss in his last game. Indianapolis have improved over the past few weeks, but still have several crippling flaws. Despite three injuries to Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are still in the hunt in the AFC wild card race. Roethlisberger is likely to play on Sunday and leads one of the league’s most explosive offenses. Linebacker Ryan Shazier is also expected to play, which is good news for Pittsburgh’s underrated defense.
Three Keys to the Game:
1. Can the Colts pressure Ben Roethlisberger?
Roethlisberger is the key to Pittsburgh’s offense. In the shootout against the Seahawks, Roethlisberger threw for 456 yards, and could’ve gone over 500 were it not for a penalty that took 50 yards away from Martavis Bryant. The Colts sacked Jameis Winston five times in last week’s win over Tampa Bay, but could struggle to have the same production this week. The Steelers allowed just two sacks against Seattle’s defense and have played well despite losing center Maurkice Pouncey early in the season.
2. Protecting Matt Hasselbeck
Hasselbeck is 4-0 as a starter in place of Luck, but started to show signs of wear and tear after his first two game stretch. Hasselbeck is 40 years old and will soon start to struggle. He was sacked three times by the Buccaneers, and faces a strong front seven against the Steelers. Pittsburgh have accumulated 30 sacks and 11 forced fumbles this season.
3. Can Indy run the ball?
If Indianapolis could get their running game going, that would ease some of the pressure on Hasselbeck. However, the Colts have struggled to run the ball this season. They rank 26th in the league with just 92 yards per game and have not had any runner eclipse 100 yards in a game this season. Over the past two weeks Indy have not eclipsed 70 yards total in either game. This is bad news when they face a Steelers defense that ranks 7th against the run, allowing just 93.6 yards per game. It’s safe to say that Hasselbeck won’t be getting any help from the run game this week either.
Matchup to watch: Vontae Davis vs Antonio Brown
Davis has had a quiet season this year, with just two interceptions. But he has defended 12 passes and could present a challenge for Antonio Brown. Brown is Ben Roethlisberger’s best weapon and has been having another great year. Brown is second in the league with 1192 receiving yards, behind only Atlanta’s Julio Jones. But even if Davis can lock down Brown like Richard Sherman did last week, the Steelers will still have plenty of other weapons with which to spread the Colts out and find weaknesses.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite a close loss to the Seahawks, the Steelers look like one of the AFC’s dark horses. The defense is playing well, and Roethlisberger’s offense is one of the best in the league. Pittsburgh should be able to stop the Colts from running the ball and get to Hasselbeck, who isn’t the kind of quarterback that can hang with Roethlisberger in a high-octane shootout.