INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Monday night meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Lucas Oil Stadium:
- Kickoff: 8:15 p.m.
- Broadcast: ESPN.
- Spread: Colts by 2½.
History lesson, Part I
It remains the most lopsided series in Colts’ history. No, we’re not talking about Colts-Patriots. We’re talking about Colts-Steelers. Pittsburgh leads the overall series 25-6, and it hasn’t mattered whether the Colts are based in Indy or called Baltimore home. The Steelers won 8 of 11 against the Baltimore Colts and are 17-3 against the Indy edition.
The Colts have lost seven straight against Pittsburgh, their longest active losing streak against any opponent. Want more? They lost nine straight against the Steelers from 1985-2002.
History lesson, Part II
The answer? Peyton Manning and Mike Pagel. The question? Who are the only Colts’ QBs to beat Pittsburgh since the relocation in 1984. Manning went 2-2 against the Steelers, including the last win in the series. That was 24-20 in Pittsburgh in 2008. Pagel directed the Colts to a 17-16 win over the Steelers in ’84. He and Ray Butler collaborated on a 54-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter – it was deflected before reaching Butler – for the upset.
History lesson, Part III
The interesting part of the Colts’ last victory against the Steelers involves two members of Indy’s starting lineup in 2008. Interim head coach Jeff Saturday was the starting center and receivers coach Reggie Wayne one of Manning’s main targets. In the ’05 victory, linebackers coach Cato June contributed as the weakside ‘backer.
No pain, no gain
The Colts have decided to stick with rookie Bernhard Raimann at left tackle and Will Fries at right guard. The rationale: the best way to gain experience is to play. The byproduct: growing pains. In five starts, Raimann has given up five sacks and 14 pressures, and been flagged for six penalties, one of which was declined. In the 17-16 loss to Philadelphia, he was beaten for two sacks and penalized twice. The coaching staff will do whatever possible to slide the protection toward Raimann and give him help with a tight end, but a lot of the times he’s going to have to hold up on his own. Outside speed rushers have presented a particular problem.
The Colts have allowed 40 sacks, tied for most in the league. Pittsburgh ranks in the bottom third of the NFL with 19 sacks, but forget that stat. T.J. Watt is back after missing seven games with a pectoral injury.
What to do with Watt?
And that brings us to T.J. Watt. He’s one of those rare players capable of completely wrecking a game. He’s the reigning Defensive Player of the Year after tying Michael Strahan’s league record with 22.5 sacks despite missing two games. Watt has 1.5 sacks, three QB hits and three tackles for loss in three games, and might just be getting warmed up. Since 2018, he has 67.5 sacks in 65 games. There’s little chance the Colts leave Raimann on an island against Watt. Tight end Mo Alie-Cox might once again spend much of he game as a sixth o-lineman.
And as much attention as Watt undoubtedly will draw, let’s not forget linebacker Alex Highsmith (9 sacks, 13 pressures, seven tackles for loss) and tackle Cameron Heyward (4 sacks, nine pressures, seven tackles for loss).
Pass pro aid
As we’ve mentioned on several occasions this season, one of the best ways to slow down the pass rush is with a reliable run game. The Colts have been more committed to that phase of their offense over the past month with at least 22 attempts in each of the last four games. They’ve averaged 129.8 yards per game and 4.9 yards per attempt during that stretch, and obviously followed Jonathan Taylor’s lead. He’s averaged 91.3 yards per game and 5.2 yards per attempt in his last four games.
However, the Steelers might force playcaller Parks Frazier to lean more on Matt Ryan than Jonathan Taylor. Pittsburgh is 7th against the run (103.4 yards per game) but 32nd against the pass (272.1 yards per game). If Ryan’s protection holds up – a big if – he could do damage with Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell and Alec Pierce.
Pressure the rookie
This is Defense 101. When facing a rookie quarterback, make him do more than he’s ready to do. The Steelers’ future rests on the right arm of Kenny Pickett, the 20th overall pick in the April draft and the only QB taken in the top-73. He’s shown flashes, but he’s also played like the rookie he is: 3 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 20 sacks in six starts.
The Steelers undoubtedly will attempt to ease Pickett’s workload with heavy doses of running back Najee Harris (550 yards, three TDs), but the Colts have been stout against the run (11th in yards per game, 2nd in yards per attempt).
And the winner is
Colts 17, Steelers 16. That final score just seems to stick in our mind. But this time, the Colts will do just enough when it matters to come away with a primetime victory.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.