The long holiday weekend concludes with the Indianapolis Colts hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Steelers (3-7) and Colts (4-6-1) have had a rollercoaster type of season with ups and downs, but mostly downs for both teams. Pittsburgh enters Monday’s game in fourth place in the AFC North, while Indianapolis stands in second place in the AFC South.
Pittsburgh’s offense has not been consistent on a week-to-week basis. Despite scoring a season-high 30 points in Week 11 against the Bengals, Mike Tomlin’s squad ranks 27th in total offense and 28th in scoring. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett is the only first-year player from the 2022 draft class to be a consistent starter, but the rookie QB has yet to throw two touchdowns in a game despite having six career starts.
Indianapolis will be playing its first prime-time game since firing Frank Reich and interim head coach Jeff Saturday joining the sidelines. Saturday has gone 1-1 in his first two games. With Matt Ryan taking back the starting job in Indy, the team is outside of the AFC playoff bubble. The other team behind the Colts ... the Steelers. Which team will prevail and move up in the AFC standings?
Here are four things to watch for when the Steelers visit the Colts on Monday night:
- Will the Steelers’ offense involve more pass catchers? It was a busy offseason for Pittsburgh as the team selected a new signal-caller to take over for Ben Roethlisberger. But another headline was the Steelers re-signing Diontae Johnson to a two-year, $36.71 million extension. After having a 2021 breakout campaign with 107 receptions for 1,161 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns, Johnson hasn’t replicated his Pro Bowl year. In 10 games this season, Johnson has 51 receptions with 456 yards and zero TDs. However, Pickett has had a solid connection with fellow rookie wide receiver George Pickens. With Pittsburgh trading Chase Claypool, Pickens has filled in the No. 2 role nicely totaling 453 receiving yards on 33 catches with two TDs. Which wide receiver could break out on Monday?
- Can Jonathan Taylor continue his recent success? The Colts running back has performed like his All-Pro self recently under Saturday. In six games under Reich, Taylor averaged 17.8 carries a game for 77 yards. With Saturday on the sidelines, those numbers have increased to 22 carries and 115.5 yards per game. Indy’s RB is scoring a rushing TD and 80-plus yards in the last two games, something he hasn’t done since Week 1, per NFL Research. Despite only having three rush TDs (18 in the 2021 season), the Colts' offense is seeing their young talented wide receivers contribute. Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell and Alec Pierce have been bright spots and have shown flashes when healthy all season. This year, Indy’s trio combined for a total of 139 catches, 1,542 yards and five TDs.
- How will T.J. Watt look in his third game back from injury? With the edge defender missing seven games due to an injured pectoral muscle, Pittsburgh’s defense has been inconsistent. The Steelers' defense ranks 28th in total defense and is at the bottom against the pass. However, Pittsburgh is seventh in rushing defense, which favors the team’s defensive line against Taylor. Indy’s offensive line hasn’t been what it used to be the last couple of seasons, so getting to Ryan in the pocket is achievable for the Watt-led defense. Plus, having Minkah Fitzpatrick back for his second game after having his appendix removed in Week 10 will only strengthen Pittsburgh’s defense. Third-year pro Alex Highsmith is having a stellar season, contributing nine sacks, while offseason addition Myles Jack leads the team with 48 tackles in his first season with Pittsburgh. Can this be the breakthrough week for Watt, or will we see more of the same for the Steelers defense?
- Could the Colts’ defense get to Pickett? Indy possesses a dynamic duo in the front line with DeForest Buckner and Yannick Ngakoue, who will look to disrupt Pickett early and often to limit his playmaking abilities. Both defensive linemen are big difference makers in getting to the QB with Ngakoue leading the team with 6.5 sacks to Buckner’s 5.5 sacks. Last season, Indy’s defense had a total of 19 interceptions, and heading into the 12th game of the season there have been four. Stephon Gilmore recorded one INT back in Week 5, while 2021 Pro Bowler Kenny Moore II has zero heading into Monday’s game. One bright spot for Indy’s defense is Ngakoue’s play, as the pass rusher needs 1.5 sacks (which could happen against Pickett) to give him at least eight sacks in each of his first seven seasons in the NFL. The first-year Colt would be the seventh player in NFL history to accomplish that feat, joining Aaron Donald (2014-2020). Can Ngakoue get to the Steelers rookie QB to keep their playoff hopes alive?