Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are the Indianapolis Colts’ daddies. In three matchups against the Colts since 2014, Roethlisberger has thrown seven touchdowns to Brown, including three on Sunday. Brown currently stands as the NFL leader in receptions and receiving touchdowns, which puts him on pace to seal his third consecutive All-Pro nod.
Pittsburgh’s 28-7 victory over the Colts places the Steelers back in sole possession of first place in the AFC North, though Baltimore would reclaim the lead with a win over Cincinnati on Sunday.
Secondary, Stock even (but trending slightly upward)
Meh. Everything can’t be great. Pittsburgh didn’t defeat Indianapolis as badly as the box score indicates. If not for an uncharacteristic missed field goal from Adam Vinatieri (was five-for-five from 50-plus prior to Thursday; missed a 52-yard kick), a few odd coaching decisions (if Chuck Pagano takes field goals, the Colts shrink Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter lead to 21-13, even with Vinatieri’s miss) and some horrendous drops (Philip Dorsett dropped a fourth quarter touchdown that would have made the score 21-14, even with Vinatieri’s miss and Indianapolis’ unsuccessful fourth-and-goal attempt to end the first half), the Colts would have made a game of things.
Star quarterback Andrew Luck missed Thursday’s game, while T.Y. Hilton, Robert Mathis, Vontae Davis and Ryan Kelly all suffered in-game injuries. The Colts were essentially masquerading as the Browns.
This is all a lot of “ifs” to consider.
Scott Tolzien, a career backup, played a very good game, and helped the Colts covert eight of their 15 third-down attempts, several of which came on third-and-long. Indianapolis also converted a pair of fourth downs. Not a good look for the secondary.
With all of that said, Pittsburgh’s defensive backfield figured things out in the red zone, as the Colts converted just one of their nine goal-to-go plays. Tolzien looked just as sharp as Luck at times, but it is safe to say that Thursday’s game was among Pittsburgh’s best defensive performances of 2016; even if it did come against a B-squad.
The killer B’s, Stock up
I don’t like using this nickname due to the fact that Martavis Bryant, who is serving a year-long suspension, is an integral component of the killer B’s. Bryant is the John Frusciante to Ben Roethlisberger’s Anthony Kiedis. And like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Steelers offense is at its best when everyone is involved. But, I digress.
Antonio Brown scored three touchdowns. Roethlisberger is currently ranked fourth in the NFL in passing touchdowns. Le’Veon Bell, who, at this point, might be Pittsburgh’s most valuable player, has gained 100 or more scrimmage yards in seven of the eight games in which he has played this season. There is a real-world possibility that this dude ends up leading the NFL in scrimmage yards despite missing three full games of action. If you read these columns regularly, here it is: pay Le’Veon Bell lots of money, please.
Unexpected deep threats, Stock up
Ladarius Green caught a pair of 30-yard passes on Thursday. Regular trend? Isolated incident? Probably neither. The important thing is that we know he can.
Special teams, Stock down
Allowing a 40-yard kick return and a 35-yard completion from a punter on a trick play (in fairness, Colts punter Pat McAfee is Pittsburgh born and raised and can ball) during a single series is going to shake the tree of even the most unflappable coach.
Coaching, Stock up
With no Luck (pun absolutely intended), the Colts were always going to be underdogs in Thursday’s game, which means they were actually favorites against the Steelers, who really enjoy losing to bad teams. To spoil everyone’s fun, Mike Tomlin went and devised a pretty decent strategy. For the second week in a row, the Steelers blitzed relentlessly (three sacks, but hit Tolzien at least a dozen times) and utilized Bell heavily (27 offensive touches, 142 total yards). Roethlisberger, despite attempting a season-low 20 passes, played perhaps his best, and certainly most efficient game of the season, while both Sammie Coates and Bud Dupree began to ease themselves back into the game plan.
Overall, Stock up
The Steelers are slowly transitioning back to their role of an AFC playoff contender. In fairness to Pittsburgh, their “bad” losses look a little bit better in hindsight, as the Dolphins and Ravens remain firmly in the postseason hunt, while their “good” losses came against Cowboys and Patriots teams that are Super Bowl frontrunners. The remainder of Pittsburgh’s games are extremely winnable (their most difficult test will come against the aforementioned Giants next weekend), and they might only need to win three of those contests, as the Ravens’ and Bengals’ remaining slates of games are decidedly more challenging.