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Seven Things To Watch For: Colts/Steelers Edition

Posted Nov 10, 2017

Intro: The Colts (3-6) return home to Lucas Oil Stadium to play host to the AFC North Division-leading Steelers (6-2) on Sunday. Here are seven things to look for in this matchup.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts look to win consecutive games for the first time in 2017 on Sunday, when they play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It’ll be easier said than done, however, as the Steelers come into Sunday’s matchup not only leading the AFC North Division (6-2), but they’ll be fresh coming off their bye week. In their latest game on Oct. 29, the Steelers went on the road to defeat the Detroit Lions, 20-15.

The Colts, meanwhile, improved to 3-6 on the season last Sunday with a road win of their own over their AFC South Division rival, the Houston Texans, 20-14.

So what should fans be looking for in this Colts/Steelers Week 10 matchup on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium?

1. Here’s Your Chance
Sunday’s game represents a quality opportunity for two Colts defenders in particular to take their new starting opportunities and run with them. Up front, Margus Hunt is expected to replace Henry Anderson, who suffered a season-ending throat injury and on Thursday was placed on Injured Reserve, at defensive end. Then, in the secondary, Pierre Desir will get his fourth start of the season at cornerback, but his first since the team released its former No. 1 corner, Vontae Davis, also on Thursday. For both players, the challenges are clear: Hunt is tasked with keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger contained to the pocket, while also limiting the ultra-patient Le’Veon Bell at running back; Desir, meanwhile, will have his hands full with the league’s leading receiver, Antonio Brown, as well as the up-and-coming rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, and Hunt and Desir will get a prime opportunity on Sunday.

2. Can The Ghost Re-Appear?

It’s a common theme that bears repeating: the Colts generally go as T.Y. Hilton goes. Last week, Hilton went off, catching five passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns en route to his first-ever AFC Offensive Player of the Week award, and the Colts won the game over the Texans. The previous three weeks, Hilton had just five catches total for 61 yards, and Indianapolis went winless over that stretch. The last time Hilton logged 100-plus receiving yards in consecutive games was in 2014, when he went wild against the Texans (nine catches, 223 yards, TD) and had another solid outing the next week against the Cincinnati Bengals (seven catches, 107 yards), and, wouldn’t you know it? Both came in wins for the Horseshoe. If he can get to the century mark again on Sunday against the Steelers — who held him to three receptions (on five targets) for 54 yards last season in Pittsburgh’s 28-7 Thanksgiving Night victory at Lucas Oil Stadium — then one would imagine the score will be very close.

3. The One And Only Billy Sheard

With John Simon out for a third straight game with a stinger, the Colts have relied upon Jabaal Sheard to step it up from a pass-rushing perspective. Sheard did that, and then some, last Sunday against the Texans, as he had two strip sacks — the second of which sealed the victory on the final play of the game from the Indianapolis seven-yard line — to go with four total quarterback hits. According to Pro Football Focus, Sheard had six total hurries in 43 pass rushing snaps, earning an overall grade of 91.5 on the day. The Colts clearly need that kind of consistent pressure each and every week, but it’s even more of a premium against Roethlisberger, who thrives on bouncing things out of the pocket and making off-schedule plays. But if he doesn’t even get the opportunity to do that, and Sheard and the defensive front can keep him contained to the pocket, then that plays right into the Colts’ hands — if they can find a way to get Big Ben to the ground. “He’s getting the ball out, doesn’t take sacks, is hard to get on the ground,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said. “You don’t get that right arm wrapped up, he finds a way to get it out. Still throwing the deep ball. Guys are making plays for him. Got the run game. Got a lot of weapons around him.”

4. Protect The QB

While keeping the quarterback clean should be a point of emphasis each and every week, there’s two reasons why it will be of the utmost importance on Sunday against the Steelers: Pittsburgh is among the league leaders in sacks, and the last time the Indy offense took the field at home, it allowed 10 — yes, 10 — sacks of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. The Steelers have 26 sacks so far on the season, which is tied for the fourth most in the NFL, and feature a defense with six players with at least 3.0 sacks, led by defensive end Cameron Heyward’s 5.0. Meanwhile, since that poor performance against the Jaguars, the Colts have done much better protecting the quarterback, allowing four sacks the next week against the Cincinnati Bengals, and three sacks last Sunday in their win against the Texans. If Brissett can continue working on quickly getting the ball out of his hand, and if the offensive line can keep the pocket clean long enough to allow deeper routes to develop down the field when needed, then this offense has displayed the ability to move the ball, and there’s no reason why it couldn’t on Sunday.

5. Wildcard

As if covering the likes of Brown and Smith-Schuster wasn’t enough, the Steelers could choose to utilize a wildcard on Sunday for the first time in a while: Martavis Bryant. Bryant. who has 18 receptions for 234 yards and a touchdown this season, was suspended for the Steelers’ most recent game Week 8 against the Lions after he made remarks on social media that he’s better than the rookie Smith-Schuster; Bryant had also been publicly seeking a trade. Since that time — and since his suspension — however, Bryant has kept quiet, even as head coach Mike Tomlin demoted him all the way to the scout team temporarily to earn his spot back. Indications are the talented, yet controversial, Bryant will be part of the Steelers’ game plan on Sunday against the Colts, adding yet another talented piece to an offense that was already tough to cover in the first place.

6. Refreshed?

The Steelers enter Sunday’s game fresh off their bye week, and their injury report certainly reflects that fact. As of Thursday, just two players were listed, and only one of them — linebacker James Harrison (back) — was a non-participant. The Colts, meanwhile, have certainly had their share of bumps and bruises so far this season as 12 players have already been placed on IR, with returner/receiver Quan Bray and Anderson being the latest additions this week. But Indianapolis does have momentum on its side from last Sunday’s divisional win, and if they can get a victory against the Steelers heading into their bye week, then all of a sudden you’re looking at a team gaining confidence with several key pieces — safety Clayton Geathers and tight end Erik Swoope among them — expected to be back in a couple weeks.

7. Milestone Watch

Here are a few potential milestones to keep an eye on Sunday, courtesy of Colts PR:

• Kicker Adam Vinatieri, with one field goal from 30-39 yards, would tie John Carney (165) for the fourth-most made field goals from that distance in NFL history; if Vinatieri connects on one field goal from 50-plus yards, he’ll tie Jason Elam and Phil Dawson (39) for the sixth-most made field goals from that distance.

• With 10 receptions, tight end Jack Doyle would set a new single-season career high (60), which would rank as the fourth-most among tight ends in Colts history.

• Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton needs four receptions to pass Bill Brooks (411) for the fifth-most in franchise history. Next up on that list is Dallas Clark with 427 receptions. Hilton also needs three receiving touchdowns to pass Marcus Pollard (35) for the ninth-most in franchise history.

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