Two 5-5 NFL teams playing against each other on Thanksgiving night doesn’t sound too appetizing, but with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts both needing every victory to win their divisions to make the playoffs, this game is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth after your dinner feast.
The last two times these teams have played, Ben Roethlisberger has put up Arena Football numbers.
Last season in a 45-10 Steelers win at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger threw for 364 yards and 4 touchdowns. Andrew Luck missed the game due to injury, and is likely to miss this week’s matchup as well. Luck is currently in the league’s concussion protocol. If he can’t play, Scott Tolzien would get the start for Indianapolis.
In 2014, the teams combined for 85 points, with the Steelers winning 51-34. Roethlisberger was 40 of 49 for 522 yards and threw 6 touchdown passes. It was apart of his NFL record steak of two consecutive games throwing 6 TDs. Le’Veon Bell rushed for 92 yards on 24 carries, and had 6 catches for 56 yards. Antonio Brown caught 10 passes for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Luck had an impressive day as well. He was 26 of 45 for 400 yards and 3 touchdowns, but 2 interceptions. TY Hilton and Donte Moncrief had their way with the Steelers secondary. Hilton had 6 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown, while Moncrief went for 113 yards and a touchdown on 7 receptions.
Pittsburgh has had the upper hand lately as they’ve won 4 of the last 5 games dating back to the 2006 Divisional playoff game. Steelers fans know it as the “Immaculate Tackle” game. The Steelers have also won the last two meetings in Indianapolis (23-20 in 9/25/11; 21-18 in 1/15/06).
The Steelers defense should have plenty of confidence coming off a NFL season high 8 sacks and 2 turnovers, while holding the Cleveland Browns to 9 points and 209 total yards. But it was the 0-11 Browns, who have the 28th ranked total offense and 30th ranked scoring offense. But that confidence will grow exponentially if Luck is held out due to a concussion. His backup Scott Tolzien, who is in his first season with the Colts, has started 2 games in his 6-year career, and has seen action in only 6 games. Tolzien last saw significant action in 2013 with the Green Bay Packers. In 3 games he threw 5 interceptions, was sacked 3 times and thew only one touchdown pass, while completing 61% of his passes (55/90) for 717 yards (239 ypg). The Steelers need to only look to last season’s December 27th matchup with the Baltimore Ravens to remind themselves not to overlook a backup quarterback with limited experience. Ryan Mallett made his first start for Baltimore against them and went 28 of 41 for 274 yards with a touchdown to beat the Steelers 20-17.
The defense will obviously focus much of its attention on TY Hilton who is 5th in the NFL in receiving yards (888) and 6th in yards per game (88.8). Of course his game will suffer without Luck in the lineup, but you still have to expect their offensive game plan to center around him.
But, they’ll need to make sure they pay close attention to 12-year running back Frank Gore who averages 3.9 yards per carry and is 12th in the NFL in rushing yards (642). Gore is still a threat out of the backfield, averaging 7.2 yards per catch. Tight end Jack Doyle will require special attention from Keith Butler’s unit as well. Doyle is the Colts second leading receiver with 37 catches for 386 yards (10.4 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. Everyone knows when a QB is in trouble he looks for the safety blankets of a sure handed tight end and a safety valve in his running back.
When the Steelers are on offense, offensive coordinator Todd Haley should continue the trend they’ve gone with the past two games by ringing the Bell, as in Le’Veon. In the last two games, against the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns, Bell has gained 134 (57 rushing; 77 receiving) and 201 (146 rushing; 55 receiving) yards from scrimmage on 26 and 36 total touches.
The Colts are 10th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (113.1) and tied for 5th in yards allowed per carry (4.5). I’m not saying Bell should get the ball 36 times, but it should be no less than 25.
Indianapolis also has the worse defense against the pass, allowing 284.5 yards per game and is 7th in yards allowed per pass (7.7). But Roethlisberger and company shouldn’t get pass happy. Run everything through Bell first and allow the passing lanes to open up even greater once the Colts D commits to stop him.
Both teams will view this as a must-win to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans who currently lead their divisions. The AFC North and South appear to be headed towards only getting their division champions in the playoffs this season. Therefore expect a highly competitive game, which have been few and far between on Thursday nights this season.
Kickoff is set for 8:37 at Lucas Oil Stadium.