The Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts will square off in Week 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium. To get a better grasp on this matchup, I went behind enemy lines with Chris Blystone of Stampede Blue, SB Nation’s Colts website, to ask him a few questions.
Check out the interview below, as well as what Chris thinks about the game and even a score prediction. A big shout out to Chris for taking the time to help provide content for BTSC.
Q. The Colts are a tough nut to crack so far. Brissett seems to be improving, but is this a team that beats only the winless teams, or is it the team that played solid football vs. the Texans and took the ball away?
A. I think there’s a little merit to the idea that it’s both. The Colts’ defense has been frisky. They can play very solid defense for three quarters before performing truly impressive collapses. Some of this is a lack of depth and guys getting tired, some it is the result of lots of youth and guys just playing inconsistently because they’re inexperienced. Also, there’s the added element of a relatively incompetent coaching staff that doesn’t put the defense in their best looks when trying to hold onto leads. Regardless of where you place the blame, this defense gives up big plays, particularly in the second half, at an alarming rate.
Brissett is certainly improving and has some talent. His biggest problems are struggling to confidently work through his reads and holding onto the ball way too long. When he lets it go and gets out of his own head he can make some really incredible throws. However, I think when he’s saddled with an offensive line that can hang him out to dry and a defense that can fritter away big leads, the pressure gets to him and he struggles. In my opinion this is a team that’s not equipped to win competitive games and will only be able to beat terrible teams. Even the game against the injury-ravaged Texans was nearly lost at the last minute. They’re just too inconsistent to do anything else.
Q. The Colts' roster has changed a lot over the past few years. Who are some players (both offensively and defensively) fans might want to know about who might be flying under the radar?
A. When new General Manager Chris Ballard came to town, he saw the same thing everyone else did. The roster was talent-poor and in need of a rebuild. He got to work quickly and, like you said, there has been a lot of turnover. On the defensive side, there has been more change than anywhere else, and there are several names worth watching.
Rashaan Melvin isn’t a newcomer, having played a good deal last season at the left cornerback spot due to injury. But he’s really had a great season so far and he’s been the Colts’ most consistent cornerback.
John Simon, who might not be playing because he’s been dealing with a stinger, has been Ballard’s most valuable, additional asset on defense at the outside linebacker position. He’s a guy who just keeps making plays for a team who hasn’t had nearly enough consistent defensive players around over the years.
Probably the most encouraging as far as value is fifth-round pick Nate Hairston. Hairston plays the nickel corner spot and does so very effectively. He might be the Colts’ steal of the draft and he’s been a reliable starter all season long.
On offense, there’s less to be excited about. There’s only one under-the-radar player, and it’s Marlon Mack. The Colts’ rookie running back has the kind of big-play ability that gets you really excited to see, because he’s been able to consistently break off big runs and do serious damage in space. But before you get any kind of mild nerves about a guy who has 6 carries of 20+ yards, don’t worry. Our coaching staff has grossly underutilized him, so Steelers fans need not be concerned about him doing any serious damage.
Q. Chuck Pagano is a coach whose name is always mentioned when it comes to the "hot seat". How do the fans view Pagano, and does he have a future with the organization after this year?
A. Colts fans are completely done with Pagano. There was a remnant from last season who was interested in seeing what he could do without the overbearing and contentious atmosphere produced by former GM Ryan Grigson. That group has now abandoned him after watching the same kind of issues cropping up season after season.
Pagano still cannot make in-game adjustments properly to deal with opposing teams. His clock management is abysmal. Despite being a defensive coach, his defenses have consistently been poor in tackling and giving up big plays due to mental errors or schematic issues. On the offensive side of the ball, he’s brought in coordinators who make poor play selections and don’t seem to understand how to take advantage of opposing defenses. Then there are his press conferences. If you ever want to watch someone uttering pointless nonsense that’s both stupid and also uninformative, watch a Chuck Pagano press conference.
I don’t know anyone in the local Indianapolis media who believes there’s a chance Pagano will be the coach next season. It’s generally accepted that Chris Ballard will get his chance to help select a coach of his choosing and retool the staff to his liking, and there are very few if any Colts fans who will be upset about that.
Q. What’s the deal with Andrew Luck? The guy hasn't played in almost three seasons. Are fans worried he’s done for good, or is this something experts think surgery will fix?
A. It definitely seems like he’s been gone that long, but Luck actually played all but one game of the 2016 season, and he threw for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns. That was all done with his shoulder still a mess. Colts fans are divided on how they should feel about Luck. Many are worried that he might be done for good. I think the main reason for that fear is how the Colts deal with the media. They have a history of treating injury information like CIA top-level classified material. In the absence of actual information, fans and some media members have just speculated wildly about what’s going on.
In reality, I think there’s little reason to believe there’s a long-term risk to Luck’s career. We saw him throwing the football 40 yards downfield in those weeks when he returned to practice before being placed on IR. What I’ve seen from General Manager Chris Ballard is an unwillingness to rush Luck back for a team that’s still a major work-in-progress. Ballard sees how this situation was handled and knows that Luck is his most valuable commodity. I think they decided to err on the side of extreme caution and to make sure that, if there was any kind of issue with his recovery not being on the timeline they liked, that they would slow track his return. After watching Jacksonville absolutely terrorize Jacoby Brissett, it’s tough to blame him.
Q. The Colts and Steelers have played every year in the past four seasons, so there’s a familiarity between the two clubs. How do you see this game unfolding, and what is your prediction?
A. Honestly? Like an Antonio Brown highlight reel. If by familiarity you mean the Colts have become familiar with being miserably humiliated (at least) once a year, I agree. Most Colts fans would likely have penciled this game in as a loss even with Andrew Luck on the roster. I personally was hopeful that the defensive improvements would make it more competitive, but without Luck that won’t happen.
What I will say is that I expect the Colts to try to force the Steelers to be one-dimensional by clamping down on the running game. They’ve done that well at least in the first half of games. The problem is that other dimension includes Antonio Brown. If by some miracle the Colts were able to shut him down, I’d still expect JuJu Smith-Schuster or Martavis Bryant to light up the scoreboard. The Colts aren’t picky about who they give up big plays to.
I expect this game to start out close. I think the Colts might even be able to keep it a tight game through the first half. Once the third quarter begins, though, it will begin falling apart and I’d expect the Steelers to win by more than two scores. The good news? The Steelers might get to rest their starters in the fourth quarter in preparation for the short week.