1. TURNOVERS — Yeah, in capital letters for maximum emphasis. The Colts have turned it over 13 times, five more than the Steelers. It’s imperative the Colts don’t cough it up, they’ve had 10 fumbles and lost six. Andrew Luck also needs to avoid throwing the ball to the other guys. In addition to seven interceptions, he’s had too many passes inexplicably thrown directly to defenders who have dropped them. Nobody is saying Luck won’t take his shots. He leads the NFL with 2,331 passing yards, so the results have been far more positive than negative. But sometimes it’s wise not to make the risky throw, especially after extending the play and avoiding the pass rush. He’s such a proficient scrambler, it’s probably better if Luck would just tuck it and run on broken plays. Steelers opponents have fumbled the ball a dozen times, but Pittsburgh has been able to fall on just five of them.
2. Stick close to Bell — The Colts’ ninth-ranked run defense should get a boost from the return of defensive tackle Arthur Jones. But keeping tabs on Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell requires team defense because he’s fast enough to rip off a run at any time. He’s averaging 5.1 yards per rush with a long run of 81 yards. That means the D-line must occupy the Steelers’ blockers to keep linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman free to do what they do best, run down ballcarriers. The other concern is when Bell sprints out of the backfield to give Ben Roethlisberger another pass option. The Steelers were going nowhere against the Texans until Bell got isolated on a linebacker for a big pass play. That’s too easy. Pittsburgh will try to get him into space against the Colts, too. Safety help might be necessary. Bell is the Steelers’ No. 2 receiver with 36 catches for 339 yards and one TD.
3. Utilize the tight ends — The Steelers have just 10 sacks and the pass rush has been an issue, so the Colts probably won’t need to use the tight ends to stay home as much to help block. That turns Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle loose to catch some passes. Allen is capable of a monster game because linebackers can’t cover him and he has been able to get separation from safeties, too. The Colts’ tight-end trio has combined to catch 47 passes for 577 yards and nine TDs. There should be plenty of opportunities to continue that trend, considering the Steelers’ inconsistent play at linebacker.
4. Get Nicks involved — Presuming wide receiver Hakeem Nicks can get open, work him into the offense early and often to take some of the pressure off T.Y. Hilton, who the Steelers are sure to shadow with an extra defender on most plays. Hilton can still be a threat, especially using his speed on the crossing routes, but the Steelers haven’t seen Hicks do much when they’ve studied the film. This is his best chance for a breakout game with Reggie Wayne sidelined. Rookie Donte Moncrief is also sure to draw man coverage and he’s already proven he can contribute. Whatever it takes to get the Steelers worried about other pass catchers, that will help Hilton find his openings and potentially provide big plays at opportune times.
5. Brown demands extra attention — Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown continues to amaze. Even on a team still searching for other wide receivers to generate offense, Brown delivers. It doesn’t matter that he’s the obvious target. He has the speed to make a number of plays, be it running after the catch, taking a quick pitch for a rush or even throwing the ball. He had a touchdown pass Monday night. He leads the Steelers with 50 catches for 719 yards and five TDs. The Colts obviously realize that wherever Brown goes, the ball is inevitably going to come his direction on a great percentage of plays. While Colts cornerbacks have been steady, it won’t hurt to have either safety Mike Adams or Sergio Brown mindful when Brown is on their side of the field.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.