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Steelers vs. Colts, Week 10: 3 Keys to a Pittsburgh victory

Even at 6-2 and leading their division, there’s still plenty of room for improvement by the Black-and-gold. Sunday’s matchup in Indianapolis will show how much progress the Steelers have made in fine-tuning their capabilities.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

By now, it should be painfully obvious to every Pittsburgh Steelers fan that there’s no such thing as a cakewalk in the NFL. When they take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, the Steelers will carry with them some clear and substantial advantages in overall talent on both sides of the ball. Equally in terms of sheer potential, Pittsburgh scarcely tapped its capabilities during the first half of the 2017 season.

But in the NFL, it always comes down to proving your prowess on the gridiron. Nobody cares about your win/loss record, the stats of your marquee players or how many Lombardi Trophies you’ve got on display in your front office. At the opening kickoff, both teams are on equal terms, and any distinction that emerges during the subsequent 60 minutes of football must be earned.

Last January in Foxborough, the Steelers’ quest for another trip to the Super Bowl came up one game short. If Pittsburgh is to avoid a similar or worse fate this season, they’ll need to utilize a promising second-half schedule as a springboard to bolster both their performance and overall confidence. Quite simply, the Steelers must take care of business by playing up to their potential, regardless of the opponent.

On Sunday, that opponent is a 3-6 Colts team in the midst of an offensive rebuild necessitated by losing the services of Andrew Luck for the entire season. Not long ago, Luck was widely considered to be the league’s most promising young quarterback, but nowadays it’s speculated he might not continue to wear a Colts uniform in 2018.

The Colts’ current, No. 19 ranking in team offense might be considered as semi-respectable, if not for their dead-last ranking in team defense. How bad has the Indy defense been during their first nine games? The Colts have surrendered 1,249 more yards than Pittsburgh’s defense this season for an average of 107 more yards per game than the Steelers (the math being a bit skewed by the fact that Indy has played one more game than Pittsburgh).

That’s a defense far too leaky even for a healthy Andrew Luck to bail out. And despite his current rank a few points ahead of Ben Roethlisberger in passer rating, Jacoby Brissett is hardly a name at this stage of his career to strike fear into the hearts of his opponents. In terms of upside comparison, Roethlisberger has a much higher potential ceiling during the second half of his 2017 season than the relatively inexperienced Brissett.

But even a team as underwhelming as the Colts isn’t going to allow the Steelers to simply roll into town and run them out of their own stadium. Just as they’ve had to do during the first half of the season, the Steelers will need to put in the hard work if they want to come home with a victory.

Which leads us to the Three Keys to Victory for the Black-and-gold in Week 10:

Key No. 1: Minimize turnovers

Nothing equalizes differences in on-field talent like playing fast and loose with the pigskin. This looks like a matchup strongly favoring the Steelers, provided that Pittsburgh’s takes care of the ball on offense and special teams. Indeed, turnovers might represent the only real shot the Colts have for pulling off an upset win.

Key No. 2: Force errors by Brissett

A key stat here is that Brissett has been sacked 32 times in nine games, more than any other quarterback in the NFL and three times as often as Roethlisberger. This speaks volumes about some significant deficiencies in the Colts’ offensive line—issues which the Steelers’ defense must exploit on Sunday. If Brissett is throwing under pressure throughout much of Sunday’s game, Pittsburgh will be the team forcing turnovers and setting up its offense in excellent field position.

Key No. 3: Get off to a fast start

When your offense puts few points on the scoreboard in the first half, this makes it very difficult to win. We saw this in Chicago in Week 3, when the Steelers scored only 7 points in the first half—and later we saw it again in Week 5 when Pittsburgh scored only 6 points in the first half against Jacksonville before completely falling apart in the second half. In fact, their most recent victory in Detroit was the only time this season when the Steelers have won a game after trailing at halftime.

But the cardiac nature of the second half at Ford Field might have been avoided if the Steelers had capitalized on their first-half opportunities—and this scenario has been all too familiar for the team during the past few years. Bottom line: if you expect to beat a team like the Colts in their own house, the longer you wait to put the hammer down, the worse your prospects for success.

In a nutshell, there’s simply no good reason why the Steelers wouldn’t roll into Indy and come out with a convincing win on Sunday. But that’s precisely the reason why, nevertheless, many Steelers fans anticipate another dogfight. Mainly, the outcome at Lucas Oil Stadium will depend on how well prepared the Steelers are for action following their 2-week layoff. If you want to be an NFL champion, you’ve got to be prepared regardless of the relative quality of your competition.