2020 Colts Preview: Colts/Steelers, Week 16

Surging down the stretch as they try to earn a spot in the postseason, the Indianapolis Colts (10-4) on Sunday travel to take on the AFC North Division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) in Week 16 action. Check out the official game preview.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts' late-season playoff surge continues on with a tough matchup in the Steel City.

The Colts (10-4), winners of three straight and seven of their last nine, on Sunday travel to take on the AFC North Division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) in their 2020 Week 16 battle at Heinz Field.

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. ET.

The Colts are coming off yet another dramatic victory, 27-20, over the Houston Texans, their second in three weeks against their division rival in which a Houston fumble inside the Indy 3-yard line on their final drive, this time forced by Darius Leonard and recovered in the end zone by Bobby Okereke, helped seal the win. Wide receiver Zach Pascal had two receiving scores on the day for the Colts' offense, while defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, playing a limited role due to an injured ankle, had three sacks and forced a fumble, and would eventually be named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week.

The Steelers, meanwhile, continued their recent struggles last Monday night in their 27-17 road loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Pittsburgh fell in a 17-0 hole against their AFC North rivals and just couldn't quite recover the rest of the way in yet another struggle for their offense, which finished with just 244 total yards and had three turnovers. After starting the season with 11 straight wins, the Steelers head into Sunday's game against the Colts having lost three straight.

So what all should we be looking for when this thing kicks off? Here is the official game preview.

BROADCAST INFORMATION

  • Sunday, Dec. 27, at 1 p.m. ET
  • Pittsburgh; Heinz Field
  • TV: CBS — Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (color) and Tracy Wolfson (sideline)
  • Other radio: Sports USA — John Ahlers (play-by-play) and Brandon Noble (color)
  • Colts Official App (*Geographic and device restrictions apply. Local & primetime games only. Data charges may apply.)
  • Colts.com mobile website (Safari browser ONLY)
  • Yahoo! Sports mobile browser or app
  • Click here for MORE WAYS TO WATCH.
  • To find out what games will be on in your area, click here.
  • Local radio: Colts games can be heard in Indianapolis on 93.5, 107.5 and 1070 The Fan and 97.1 HANK FM, plus the desktop version of Colts.com with Matt Taylor (play-by-play), Rick Venturi (color), Larra Overton (sideline) and Bill Brooks (pregame/postgame analyst) on the call.
  • National radio: Fans can listen to the live local call on Colts.com (desktop only) and NFL Game Pass. Get your free seven-day trial by clicking here.

*Please check your local TV listing to confirm availability. iOS mobile web and app users should "Allow Location Access" (via Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Safari).

ALL-TIME SERIES

  • Steelers lead, 25-6; Colts at 2-16 all-time against the Steelers on the road.
  • Last game — Week 9 of 2019; Steelers won, 26-24, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

COACHING STAFF

Colts:

  • HC Frank Reich
  • OC Nick Sirianni
  • DC Matt Eberflus
  • STC Bubba Ventrone

Steelers:

  • HC Mike Tomlin
  • OC Randy Fichtner
  • DC Keith Butler
  • STC Danny Smith

LAST WEEK

Colts:

  • Won vs. Houston Texans (4-10), 27-20

Steelers:

  • Lost at Cincinnati Bengals (3-10-1), 27-17

See the best images from the Indianapolis Colts Week 15 win over the Houston Texans.

INJURY UPDATE

Colts:

  • OUT — T Anthony Castonzo (knee/ankle), WR Marcus Johnson (quad), T Braden Smith (Reserve/COVID-19 list)
  • DOUBTFUL — N/A
  • QUESTIONABLE — DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (ankle)

Click here to read more on the injury report for Sunday's game.

Steelers:

  • OUT — LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (shoulder), LB Marcus Allen (stinger), K Chris Boswell (groin), LB Ulysees Gilbert III (ankle)
  • DOUBTFUL — N/A
  • QUESTIONABLE — RB Anthony McFarland Jr. (illness)

STORYLINES/THINGS TO WATCH

  • Colts' tackle situation vs. Steelers' top-ranked pass-rush attack — This should've been a space highlighting one of the best strength-on-strength matchups to watch on Sunday, as the Steelers lead the NFL with 47 sacks (3.4 per game), while the Colts allow sacks at the second-lowest rate in the league (3.26 percent of dropbacks). But with news Friday that right tackle Braden Smith has been placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning he'll have to sit out this game, and that left tackle Anthony Castonzo, already hampered by a knee injury, suffered an ankle injury in practice this week that on Saturday downgraded him to out on Sunday, that has left the Indy offense looking for contingency plans off the edge. Head coach Frank Reich said Friday the team has Plans A, B and C at both left and right tackle: All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson could be an option at either position if needed; the team also two reserve tackles, Chaz Green and Will Holden, on its active roster, and then on Saturday elevated two other offensive linemen, Jake Eldrenkamp and J'Marcus Webb, to the active roster from the practice squad; and 2020 fifth-round pick Danny Pinter, primarily a guard/center, played right tackle his last two years at Ball State, and could be in consideration as a fill-in at that spot, as well. It'll be quite the challenge against the likes of T.J. Watt (13 sacks), Stephon Tuitt (nine sacks), Bud Dupree (eight sacks), Cameron Heyward (three sacks from the interior) & Co., but no matter what the opponent, and no matter who's playing up front, in these situations, the Colts absolutely can't flinch.
  • Reverse the trend in Pittsburgh? — Nov. 9, 2008: Colts 24, Steelers 20. That's the last time Indy won a game in Pittsburgh. Sept. 29, 1968: Baltimore Colts 41, Steelers 7. That's the only other time in franchise history the Colts have won in Pittsburgh. Since 1950, the Steelers lead the all-time series over the Colts, 25-6, which is telling enough (and doesn't even account for a couple particularly stinging losses in the playoffs), but the Steelers have been downright dominant in their matchups against the Colts in the Steel City, boasting a 16-2 record in games played in Pittsburgh. The Colts have had a 12-game road losing streak to the Steelers, which was snapped in 2008, and are currently on a three-game road losing streak to the Steelers, including last year's narrow 26-24 Week 9 defeat at Heinz Field, in which quarterback Jacoby Brissett was knocked out of the game early with a knee injury, and Indy missed a potential game-winning 43-yard field goal with 1:11 left in the fourth quarter. So what does all of this have to do with Sunday's game? Well, in the grand scheme of things, nothing. But the Colts can't begin the process of reversing this trend against the Steelers without eventually earning an elusive road win. Why not start that process on Sunday?
  • Playoff implications for Colts — The Colts aren't facing a win-and-you're-in scenario when it comes to the postseason just yet, but depending on the outcome of one game being played on Saturday night, and another game kicking off at the same time as this Colts-Steelers matchup on Sunday, Indy, if it can find a way to earn a win, could find itself playoff-bound for the second time in three seasons under head coach Frank Reich. The Colts, currently the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture, can clinch a spot in the postseason Sunday with a win over the Steelers and a loss by either the Miami Dolphins, who travel to take on the Las Vegas Raiders (7-7) Saturday night, or the Baltimore Ravens, who play host to the streaky New York Giants (5-9) on Sunday. There are also a couple clinching scenarios with ties, but you can go here to check those out. As for the AFC South Division race, while it's still very much up in the air with the Colts and Tennessee Titans both possessing 10-4 records, you'll want to keep an eye on the Titans' matchup against the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers (11-3) on Sunday Night Football; a win for the Titans, and they at least clinch a playoff berth, but a win for the Titans Sunday coupled with a Colts loss to the Steelers, meanwhile, and Tennessee would be crowned AFC South champs.

INTRIGUING MATCHUPS

  • Colts (insert right tackle here) vs. Steelers EDGE T.J. Watt: Up until Friday, this spot was going to feature the highly-anticipated matchup between Colts right tackle Braden Smith (who is having a tremendous year and, frankly, should've been named to the Pro Bowl earlier this week) and Watt, the fourth-year pass rusher out of Wisconsin who, like his brother, J.J., is now a perennial NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. But with Smith now ruled out of Sunday's game after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, it's anybody's guess who will fill in his spot at right tackle on Sunday in this matchup against Watt. And now with left tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee and ankle) also ruled out on Sunday, it could be Quenton Nelson, Chaz Green, Will Holden or Danny Pinter making the start at right tackle; the team on Saturday also elevated offensive linemen Jake Eldrenkamp and J'Marcus Webb to the active roster from the practice squad. Whoever it is, they'll likely need a good bit of help trying to stop Watt, who leads the NFL with 13.0 sacks and 27 quarterback hits and does pretty much all of his damage lined up on the left edge against the right tackle.
  • Colts RB Jonathan Taylor vs. Steelers LB Avery Williamson: The Colts' 21 run plays of 10 or more yards the last four weeks ranks second in the NFL, and Jonathan Taylor's ascension has been a huge reason why; since Week 12, Taylor ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing yards (324) and tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns (3), and his 14 explosive run plays (10-plus) yards are second-most over that span. The Steelers will counter with one of the best run-stuffing linebackers in the NFL in Avery Williamson. Acquired Nov. 2 in a trade with the New York Jets, Williamson's stat line on the year — 89 total tackles (one for a loss) with no sacks, one quarterback hit, one interception and three passes defensed — aren't exactly eye-popping, but taking a deeper look, Williamson ranks second among all qualifying NFL linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus, in run stop percentage (11.0), or plays that constitute a negative result for the offense. The Colts could be doing themselves a huge favor if they can find success on the ground with Taylor and Nyheim Hines, which could help neutralize that talented Steelers pass rush, but it certainly won't come easy against Williamson and the Pittsburgh run defense.
  • Colts DT DeForest Buckner vs. Steelers LG Kevin Dotson: Welcome back, Kevin Dotson: after missing time with a shoulder injury, you just happen to return to the lineup with a matchup against a guy in DeForest Buckner who might be just a tad bit angry that he was absolutely snubbed of a Pro Bowl selection this week. Buckner, of course, is also the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week after sacking quarterback Deshaun Watson three times and also forcing a fumble in last Sunday's win over the Houston Texans in a game in which Buckner was playing a limited role due to an ankle injury. I can't imagine what Buckner hopes to do with his ankle now feeling better and wanting to prove fans/other players/coaches wrong for not selecting him to the Pro Bowl. Dotson has been in and out of the lineup this year due to a variety of issues, but the rookie has been solid when he's been able to play; in fact, his 88.5 pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus is second best among all guards in the NFL, as he's allowed just one pressure, a hurry, all season.
  • Colts S Julian Blackmon vs. Steelers TE Eric Ebron: One can imagine Eric Ebron, who had one of the best seasons by a tight end in Colts franchise history in 2018, will be quite inspired in this matchup against his former team on Sunday. While a back injury was responsible for knocking Ebron out of last week's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, all indications are he'll be ready to go for this matchup against Indy, in which he'll undoubtedly continue to be a favorite target of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger; in 14 games this season, Ebron has 51 receptions for 511 yards and four touchdowns. The rookie Julian Blackmon could be counted on to put the clamps down against Ebron in the red zone, where the former first-round pick did a ton of damage in Indy just two seasons ago, when he had 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 receiving scores and was named to his only Pro Bowl. Keep an eye on No. 85 in black and gold on Sunday.

REFEREE ASSIGNMENT

BETTING LINE

REGULAR SEASON LEADERS

Colts:

  • Passing — QB Philip Rivers (3,735 yards)
  • Rushing — RB Jonathan Taylor (842 yards)
  • Receiving — WR T.Y. Hilton (675 yards)
  • Touchdowns — RB Jonathan Taylor (8)
  • Tackles — LB Darius Leonard (103)
  • Sacks — DT/DE Denico Autry, DT DeForest Buckner, DE Justin Houston (7.5 each)
  • Interceptions — CB Kenny Moore II (4)

Steelers:

  • Passing — QB Ben Roethlisberger (3,462 yards)
  • Rushing — RB James Conner (663 yards)
  • Receiving — WR Diontae Johnson (753 yards)
  • Touchdowns — WR Chase Claypool (10)
  • Tackles — S Minkah Fitzpatrick (63)
  • Sacks — OLB T.J. Watt (13.0)
  • Interceptions — S Minkah Fitzpatrick (4)

COMPARING 2020 STATS

Colts:

  • Total offense — 12th (374.8 YPG)
  • Scoring — 8th (28.5 PPG)
  • Passing offense — 9th (260.8 YPG)
  • Sack percentage allowed — 2nd (3.26)
  • Rushing offense — 15th (114.0 YPG)
  • Third down offense — 23rd (40.23 percent)
  • Red zone offense — 20th (58.49 percent)
  • Total defense — 7th (334.1 YPG)
  • Scoring defense — Tied-11th (22.9 PPG)
  • Passing defense — 17th (236.0 YPG)
  • Sacks — Tied-15th (33)
  • Rushing defense — 5th (98.1 YPG)
  • Third down defense — 21st (43.50 percent)
  • Red zone defense — 13th (59.57 percent)
  • Time of possession — 14th (30:43)
  • Turnover differential — Tied-1st (+12)

Steelers:

  • Total offense — 25th (329.0 YPG)
  • Scoring — 13th (26.1 PPG)
  • Passing offense — 17th (240.1 YPG)
  • Sack percentage allowed — 1st (2.13)
  • Rushing offense — 31st (88.9 YPG)
  • Third down offense — 16th (42.08 percent)
  • Red zone offense — 13th (63.83 percent)
  • Total defense — 2nd (297.9 YPG)
  • Scoring defense — 2nd (18.9 PPG)
  • Passing defense — 2nd (193.3 YPG)
  • Sacks — 1st (47)
  • Rushing defense — 8th (104.6 YPG)
  • Third down defense — 6th (53.85 percent)
  • Red zone defense — 3rd (36.55 percent)
  • Time of possession — Tied-8th (31:15)
  • Turnover differential — Tied-4th (+8)

NOTES AND QUOTES

Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship

• With one point, he will pass Mike Vanderjagt (125 in 2001) and Adam Vinatieri (125 in 2016) for the seventh-most single-season points in franchise history.

• With four points, he will tie Adam Vinatieri (129 in 2010) for the sixth-most single-season points in franchise history.

• With five points, he will pass Adam Vinatieri (129 in 2010) for the sixth-most single-season points in franchise history.

• With 10 points, he will tie Cary Blanchard (135 in 1996) for the fifth-most single-season points in franchise history.

• With 11 points, he will pass Cary Blanchard (135 in 1996) for the fifth-most single-season points in franchise history.

• With one field goal made, he will tie Raul Allegre (30) for the most field goals made by a rookie in franchise history.

• With two field goals made, he will pass Raul Allegre (30) for the most field goals made by a rookie in franchise history.

Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner

• With two solo tackles, he will reach 200 career solo tackles.

Cornerback T.J. Carrie

• With one defensive or special teams return for a touchdown, he will tie Ray Buchanan and Terrence Wilkins (three) for the most such touchdowns in single-season franchise history.

Cornerback T.J. Carrie, cornerback Kenny Moore, cornerback Xavier Rhodes & safety Khari Willis

• With one interception returned for a touchdown, they will tie numerous players for the second-most interceptions returned for a touchdown (two) in single-season franchise history.

Tight end Jack Doyle

• With two receptions, he will tie Ken Dilger (261) for the fourth-most receptions by a tight end in team history.

• With three receptions, he will pass Ken Dilger (261) for the fourth-most receptions by a tight end in team history.

• With four receptions, he will tie Marcus Pollard (263) for the third-most receptions by a tight end in team history.

• With five receptions, he will pass Marcus Pollard (263) for the third-most receptions by a tight end in team history.

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton

• With one touchdown, he will pass Jimmy Orr (50) and tie Marshall Faulk (51) for the eighth-most total touchdowns in team history.

• With one receiving touchdown, he will tie Jimmy Orr (50) for the fourth-most receiving touchdowns in team history.

• With two receiving touchdowns, he will pass Jimmy Orr (50) for the fourth-most receiving touchdowns in team history.

• With two receiving yards, he will tie Raymond Berry (9,275) for the third-most receiving yards in team history.

• With three receiving yards, he will pass Raymond Berry (9,275) for the third-most receiving yards in team history.

• With one game with 10+ receptions, he will pass Don McCauley, Lydell Mitchell, Joe Washington, Anthony Johnson and Dallas Clark, all with three, for the third-most games with 10+ receptions in team history.

Running back Nyheim Hines

• With four receptions, he will tie Marshall Faulk (164) for the most receptions by a Colts running back and the fifth-most by a Colts player in their first three seasons.

• With five receptions, he will pass Marshall Faulk (164) for the most receptions by a Colts running back and the fifth-most by a Colts player in their first three seasons.

Defensive end Justin Houston

 Needs 3.0 sacks to reach 100.0 for his career. He would become the 35th player in NFL history to reach that plateau since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

• With one safety, he will pass Ted Hendricks, Doug English and Jared Allen (four) for the most safeties in NFL history.

Linebacker Darius Leonard

• With five tackles, he will tie Duane Bickett (398) for the most tackles in a player's first three seasons in Colts history.

• With six tackles, he will pass Duane Bickett (398) for the most tackles in a player's first three seasons in Colts history.

Quarterback Philip Rivers

• With one game with three-or-more touchdown passes, he will tie Dan Marino (62) for the sixth-most games of three-or-more touchdown passes in NFL history.

• With one game with 400+ passing yards, he will tie Ben Roethlisberger (12) for the fourth-most games with 400+ passing yards in NFL history.

• With one game with 100.0+ passer rating, he will tie Peyton Manning (112) for the third-most such games in NFL history.

• With one game with a 110.0+ passer rating, he will tie Peyton Manning (78) for the third-most such games in NFL history.

• With one game started, he will pass Tony Gonzalez (238) and tie London Fletcher (239) for the seventh-most games started in NFL history.

• With 265 passing yards, he will reach 4,000 for the season.

• With 4,000 passing yards this season, he will pass Tom Brady (11) and tie Drew Brees (12) for the second-most 4,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history.

• With 4,000 passing yards this season, he will mark eight consecutive seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards, which would tie Peyton Manning for the third-longest such streak in NFL history.

• With one touchdown pass, he will tie Dan Marino (420) for the fifth-most touchdown passes in NFL history.

• With two touchdown passes, he will pass Dan Marino (420) for the fifth-most touchdown passes in NFL history.

Punter Rigoberto Sanchez

• If he finishes one game with a 50.0+ punting average, he will tie Chris Gardocki and David Lee (nine) for the fourth-most games with a 50.0+ punting average in franchise history.

• If he finishes two games with a 50.0+ punting average, he will pass Chris Gardocki and David Lee (nine) for the fourth-most games with a 50.0+ punting average in franchise history.

Running back Jonathan Taylor

• With 119 rushing yards, he will tie Alan Ameche (961) for the fifth-most rushing yards by a rookie in franchise history.

• With 120 rushing yards, he will pass Alan Ameche (961) for the fifth-most rushing yards by a rookie in franchise history.

• With 158 rushing yards, he will reach 1,000 rushing yards for the season. He would become just the fifth rookie in franchise history to reach that plateau and the first since Joseph Addai in 2006.

• With 188 yards from scrimmage, he will tie Dominic Rhodes (1,328) for the fourth-most yards from scrimmage by a rookie in franchise history.

• With 189 yards from scrimmage, he will pass Dominic Rhodes (1,328) for the fourth-most yards from scrimmage by a rookie in franchise history.

"We know that it's December so we've talked about playing meaningful games in December and controlling our own destiny, and as long as we're winning that is what we're doing. The way to control your own destiny is to take care of your business day-to-day – come to practice, lock in mentally and physically. Our philosophy is to keep things as small as possible. Those other things can become distractions so we try not to get caught up in too many of those scenarios. Let's just keep our world manageable and small and focus on what is required to play good football to win a football game." — Colts head coach Frank Reich, on the importance of these last two games knowing 11 wins still might not earn a spot in the postseason.

"Yeah, that's remarkable isn't it? For him to be able to one, come back and then – when he hurt his ankle in the practice, we were all holding our breath saying, 'Hey, hopefully he comes back.' He always had a positive attitude and I think that's part of it in terms of the healing and treatment, to have that positive attitude and have your body and mind respond the correct way. He did everything he could to get ready and then the impact that he had in that football game with the three sacks and the pressures. Then playing some first and second down for us. Then just his leadership in terms of just his character and what he brings to our defense was just outstanding, so his impact was definitely felt." — Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus on defensive tackle DeForest Buckner's impact in last Sunday's win over the Texans despite playing a limited role due to an ankle injury.

"I just think it's those reps that he's been getting and the confidence. The confidence is such an amazing thing. You make a play that you haven't made yet in the NFL and then you're like, 'I can do this. I can do this, I can make this cut.' I think it's confidence, and confidence is built because of the reps you have in practice and the games and the success that you have off of it – and his preparation. He is a great student of the game and a great player that is just going to continue to rise and get better." — Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni on what's changed, if anything, about rookie Jonathan Taylor's running style throughout the season.

"The Pro Bowl is – it is what it is. I'll say this, for him to be able to lead the league in special teams tackles by as many as he does – I think he leads the league by six tackles and to not get elected in is kind of puzzling. He should without a doubt be All-Pro. He's contributed a lot to our unit and our unit has contributed to a lot of wins for this team. It's a testament to him for his effort. George (Odum) is a team player too. He does everything that we ask him to do for the team. He is a selfless player, plays with injury and he has done a good job. He is a fighter. Yeah, of course I would have liked for him to get selected for himself and to represent his teammates. I don't even know why we vote for the Pro Bowl at times. I feel like the All-Pro is more deserving. It feels like a popularity contest at times, but it is what it is." — Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone on George Odum, the league's leader in special teams tackles, being left out of the Pro Bowl.

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