Five Storylines Heading Into Colts-Steelers

Strengths are matched and only a few things differ

Matt Koll
November 01, 2019 - 12:02 pm
Indianapolis Colts offense

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Despite one team being 5-2 and the other 3-4, this is a tight one on paper. Spreads will tell you that (-1 Indianapolis) and the numbers and matchups will tell you that as well. Let's look at some storylines for Colts-Steelers on Sunday. 

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5. Home Field Advantage? 

The Colts have been here before this season. Going into a hostile road environment, a notoriously loud venue that has been known to intimidate and mettle with an opposing team's physique and communication. The first round of that particular kind of test came on October 6th in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

​Indianapolis beat the still Patrick Mahomes-led and then undefeated Chiefs 19-13.  Not only did Indy hand them their first loss but they did it while maintaining discipline on the road and limiting pre-snap penalties. They will use this experience going into Heinz Field. 

The only variable that changes here is the vaunted "open end" at Heinz that may impact things. The Colts used four Adam Vinateiri field goals to beat Kansas City. The weather may not be great on Sunday so kicking success may not come as easily. 

4. No Conner No Problem?

Related: Diontae Johnson ‘Creating Opportunities’ for JuJu, Rudolph

James Conner did not practice prior to Friday and his status for Sunday doesn't look good as of this writing. Conner has been improving as this season has gone on, too. He went over 100 total yards in each of the past two weeks against the Chargers and Dolphins. ​Another injury breaks more questions about him being reliable enough moving forward to be a franchise running back, if that even exists anymore. But that's a whole other discussion. 

With Benny Snell out a couple weeks after minor knee surgery, the Steelers are left with Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds and newly signed Pitt product Darrin Hall. So will it be enough? 

In games in which Samuels has had 10 touches or more, (it's happened four times in his career going back to last year) he is averaging 102.75 total yards per game. That number is inflated by a 172 yard performance against the Patriots of all teams. But at the same time, when he gets that many touches he has never dipped below 64 total yards. 

I think the offense changes with him in there, as he isn't the downhill runner that Conner and Snell are. I think it will open up more of the dink dunk option and maybe the Steelers get a little creative in how to use him throughout the game. He's the best pass catching back they have. He's proven to be a playmaker. Now it's about unlocking that. I'm nervous about what's behind him too, as Trey Edmunds is a total wildcard. 

3. Hilton's Health 

The Colts top receiver practiced in limited form on Wednesday and then apparently regressed and missed practice on Thursday. It's not typical for a player to be limited one day and then miss the next. If Hilton doesn't play it could be a huge blow to Indy's offense. Hilton is far and away their #1 target and he and Jacoby Brissett have created quite the rapport, carrying over from Brissett's work with him back in 2017. 

Hilton's 46 targets are 16 better than the next best in tight end Jack Doyle. His 5 receiving touchdowns also lead the team. If he doesn't play, it would mean guys like Zach Pascal, Chester Rogers and Deon Cain would have to step up. There isn't much behind him in the way of options which leads me to believe Brissett would rely more heavily on his two TE's, Doyle and Eric Ebron. He also has versatile running back Nyheim Hines to go to more frequently.

Even if Hilton goes, I wouldn't think he would be 100%. He's the "take the top off the defense" guy and it's going to be a major element missing from their attack. 

2. Rudolph v. Brissett 

There are some similarities between these two. Both are backup quarterbacks forced into a starting role after the Pro Bowl caliber QB ahead of them was eliminated for the season (or career). They both play a more conservative style, not being asked to do too much within their offense. 

So who would you rather have on Sunday? Who leads their team more effectively? 

This may come down to pure experience. Brissett is one his second stint as season-long starter for the Colts having taken over for Andrew Luck before in 2017. Things were very different back then, as Brissett didn't have nearly the talent around him he does now, particularly along the offensive line. Multiple high round draft choices has this line playing among the best units in the league and has Brissett able to make some plays rather than running from his life. Colts writer Bob Kravitz joined The Fan Morning Show Friday and said Brissett is more than just a "game manager" and said he won them a couple games this year. Most recently, he cites an impressive running throw after escaping the pass rush last week against Denver complete to TY Hilton as being a play in which Brissett keep the Colts chances alive and eventually set up the win. 

Meanwhile, Mason Rudolph is in his first season of starting action and has only beaten two teams who currently do not have one. He's shown flashes of brilliance, showing off his big arm to take shots down the field. His quarterback ratings have all been around 100 this season and he has stayed efficient. I think this game is going to be close throughout and if it comes down to being able to run a 2-minute drill to march down the field and win the game, I'm not sure if Rudolph does it. I say that because I haven't seen him do it yet. He hasn't been a position to, really. Meanwhile Brissett has led 3 game-winning drives in his 24 career starts. 

1. Strengths on Strengths 

It's hard to find the mismatch in his one. In fact, I'm not so sure there is one. It seems like each team matches the other's strengths. 

What's the one thing you hear so much about with the Steelers defense this year? Turnovers. they caused 19 of them in 7 games. But, the Colts take care of the ball. They are tied for 4th in the league in turning the ball over with just 7. The Steelers defense has lived off the takeaway and if it goes from 2 or 3 takeaways to 1 or none...the unit could get exposed. 

Also, the Colts have a great offensive line. I mentioned how they stockpiled talent there and Quenton Nelson is a playmaker at the guard position. Like what?? How is that even possible? But Bob Kravitz said that with the Fan Morning Show Friday and many others in the past have as well. The Steelers are on pace for 55 sacks this season, breaking a franchise record. The Colts are 8th in QB sacks per game allowed. Strengths on strengths. 

Who wins out? Which team can use their strengths to more of their advantage? 

To me, it may just come down to coaching. Since coming over from Philadelphia, Frank Reich has done nothing but win in Indy. 10-6 and the playoffs last year and now 5-2 without Andrew Luck this year. I think his scheming puts his team in a better position to win more consistently than the other side. I give the Colts the edge in this one, but of course, I hope I'm wrong about that. 

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