INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts (5-2) are winners of three straight games but go on the road this Sunday to face a tough test against one of the NFL's blue bloods in the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4) at Heinz Field.
The Colts have become quite the battle-tested team, as the point differential in their seven games is an average of just 4.7, with all of their games finishing within seven points. There's another difficult matchup in front of them this week against the Steelers, whose record isn't an accurate depiction of the talent on their roster.
Let's take a look at this week's opponent.
The Steelers are fresh off of a Monday Night Football victory over the winless Miami Dolphins last night, separating in the second half and coming out on top, 27-14.
Steelers' Passing Game
Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, who has replaced the injured Ben Roethlisberger for the season, made his own return to the field for the first time since suffering a concussion in Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens. Against Miami, Rudolph went 20-of-36 passing (55.6 percent) for 251 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was also sacked twice.
To no surprise, JuJu Smith-Schuster was Rudolph's top receiver, catching 5-of-9 targets for 103 yards and one of the touchdowns, while rookie receiver Diontae Johnson caught 5-of-7 targets for 84 yards and a touchdown. Both receivers' scores were long gains — Smith-Schuster's a 26-yard jump ball over the defender, and Johnson's a 45-yard catch and run.
Steelers' Run Game
Pittsburgh did well in the passing game overall, but they dominated up front on the ground. They ran the ball 29 times for 158 yards (5.4 avg.) and a touchdown, with James Conner leading the charge with 23 carries for 145 yards (6.3 avg.) and the score.
Dolphins' Passing Game
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Miami offense got off to a hot start, scoring touchdowns on back-to-back drives in the first quarter to take an early 14-0 lead. Fitzpatrick went 21-of-34 passing (61.8 percent) for 190 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions (both by Minkah Fitzpatrick). He was also sacked four times (Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt ).
Receivers DeVante Parker and rookie Preston Williams led the way for Miami's passing attack, with Parker catching 6-of-8 targets for 59 yards (9.8 avg.) and Williams catching 4-of-7 targets for 42 yards (10.5 avg.).
Dolphins' Run Game
Unlike Pittsburgh's run game, Miami's was very sluggish as they totaled 19 carries for 60 yards (3.2 avg.). New starting running back Mark Walton accounted for 35 yards on 11 carries (3.2 avg.).
Steelers' Passing Game
Rudolph's return brings a bit of stability to Pittsburgh's quarterback position, as rookie undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges was forced into action in Roethlisberger and Rudolph's absences for a couple games. Smith-Schuster is the unquestioned top target in Pittsburgh's offense, but Johnson has been a pleasant surprise as a contributing third-round pick. James Washington fills out the Steelers' top pass-catching trio, but he's caught just 37 percent of his targets so far.
The Steelers rank near the bottom of the league in passing, but something that gives them a big boost is that they've allowed the fewest sacks in the league. The Colts' defense, meanwhile, has 19 sacks to its name, proving they're capable of getting to the quarterback. That is especially true considering they've had three games with four sacks and two with three sacks. Overall, the Colts rank 15th against the pass and should be up for the challenge.
- QB Mason Rudolph — 63.8 percent completions, 897 yards, 6.9 YPA, 9 TD, 3 INT, 5 sacks
- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster — 30 catches (46 targets), 443 yards (14.8 avg.), 3 TD
- WR Diontae Johnson — 25 catches (38 targets), 296 yards (11.8 avg.), 3 TD
- RB James Conner — 29 catches (31 targets), 236 yards (8.1 avg.), 2 TD
- WR James Washington — 10 catches (27 targets), 161 yards (16.1 avg.)
Steelers' Run Game
The Steelers are obviously very talented in the backfield, but Conner (shoulder), Snell Jr. (knee) and Samuels (knee) are all banged up currently, and their status for Sunday is still too early to tell. Pittsburgh has had its two best rushing performances of the season in the last two weeks, so they've got momentum there. Overall, they rank lower on the totem pole due to a slow start to the regular season.
The Colts have begun locking down opposing run games recently. Since giving up 188 rushing yards to the Oakland Raiders in Week 4, the Colts are allowing just 83 yards per game in their three games since. Trey Edmunds is currently Pittsburgh's only healthy running back, so that will definitely bear monitoring throughout the week as the Steelers would enter the game clearly one-dimensional.
- RB James Conner — 97 carries, 380 yards (3.9 avg.), 4 TD
- RB Benny Snell Jr. — 28 carries, 118 yards (4.2 avg.)
- RB Jaylen Samuels — 18 carries, 50 yards (2.8 avg.), 1 TD
Colts' Passing Game
The Colts' passing game has been an up-and-down affair this season, putting up at least 300 passing yards twice while having less than 200 in four games. Their run game has been a big part of that, as they're often able to control the tempo by smashing the ball up front. Injuries have also played a role, as Devin Funchess has been out since Week 1, T.Y. Hilton has missed time, as has rookie Parris Campbell. This Sunday is another opportunity for Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett to continue distributing the ball to Hilton as well as his tight ends.
The Steelers rank highly in a couple of critical passing-game areas, including interceptions and sacks. If the Colts can take care of the ball and get it out quickly in the passing game then there's a good chance they can be productive through the air. Pittsburgh has surrendered four games with more than 250 passing yards, including two more than 300.
- QB Jacoby Brissett — 64.5 percent completions, 1,590 yards, 6.9 YPA, 14 TD, 3 INT, 11 sacks
- WR T.Y. Hilton — 32 catches (46 targets), 360 yards (11.3 avg.), 5 TD
- TE Jack Doyle — 21 catches (30 targets), 210 yards (10.0 avg.), 1 TD
- TE Eric Ebron — 16 catches (29 targets), 232 yards (14.5 avg.), 3 TD
- RB Nyheim Hines — 22 catches (26 targets), 167 yards (7.6 avg.)
Colts' Run Game
In seven games, the Colts have run for at least 100 yards in four of them, as running back Marlon Mack ranks No. 8 in the league in rushing yards. When they want to run the ball, they do, whether that means dominating the ball throughout the game or simply picking up 3rd- and 4th-and-shorts on a consistent basis.
The Steelers have been pretty solid against the run. While they rank in the middle of the pack overall, they are near the top in rushing yards per carry allowed. However, the Colts have one of the most dominant offensive fronts in the league and could still establish the run. Pittsburgh has allowed three games of more than 100 rushing yards (and another with 99 yards), so the opportunity is there.
- RB Marlon Mack — 138 carries, 590 yards (4.3 avg.), 3 TD
- QB Jacoby Brissett — 35 carries, 106 yards (3.0 avg.), 1 TD
- RB Jordan Wilkins — 23 carries, 139 yards (6.0 avg.)
- RB Nyheim Hines — 18 carries, 45 yards (2.5 avg.)
STEELERS' 2019 KEY STATS
- 1st in fewest sacks allowed (7)
- 2nd in turnover differential (+10)
- 24th in rushing (88.1 YPG)
- 26th in passing (205.1 YPG)
- Tied-27th in passing yards per attempt (6.6)
- 28th in overall offense (293.3 YPG)
- 28th in red-zone scoring (41.2 percent)
- Tied-2nd in interceptions (10)
- Tied-5th in rushing yards per carry (3.7)
- 6th in red-zone scoring (47.8 percent)
- Tied-6th in sacks (24)
- 24th in third-down conversions (44 percent)